But against this untimely weakness Lady Penelope was guarded, by the strong shield of self-conceit. She minced, ambled, and, notwithstanding the slight appearance of her person, and the depredations which time had made on a countenance that had never been very much distinguished for beauty, seemed desirous to top the part of the beautiful daughter of Egeus. The sullenness which was proper to the character of Hermia, was much augmented by the discovery that Miss Mowbray was so much better dressed than herself,—a discovery which she had but recently made, as that young lady had not attended on the regular rehearsals at the Well, but once, and then without her stage habit. Her ladyship, however, did not permit this painful sense of inferiority, where she had expected triumph, so far to prevail over her desire of shining, as to interrupt materially the manner in which she had settled to represent her portion of the scene. The nature of the exhibition precluded much action, but Lady Penelope made amends by such a succession of grimaces, as might rival, in variety at least, the singular display which Garrick used to call "going his rounds." She twisted her poor features into looks of most desperate love towards Lysander; into those of wonder and offended pride, when she turned them upon Demetrius; and finally settled them on Helena, with the happiest possible imitation of an incensed rival, who feels the impossibility of relieving her swollen heart by tears alone, and is just about to have recourse to her nails.
No contrast could be stronger in looks, demeanour, and figure, than that between Hermia and Helena. In the latter character, the beautiful form and foreign dress of Miss Mowbray attracted all eyes. She kept her place on the stage, as a sentinel does that which his charge assigns him; for she had previously told her brother, that though she consented, at his importunity, to make part of the exhibition, it was as a piece of the scene, not as an actor, and accordingly a painted figure could scarce be more immovable. The expression of her countenance seemed to be that of deep sorrow and perplexity, belonging to her part, over which wandered at times an air of irony or ridicule, as if she were secretly scorning the whole exhibition, and even herself for condescending to become part of it. Above all, a sense of bashfulness had cast upon her cheek a colour, which, though sufficiently slight, was more than her countenance was used to display; and when the spectators beheld, in the splendour and grace of a rich Oriental dress, her whom they had hitherto been accustomed to see attired only in the most careless manner, they felt the additional charms of surprise and contrast; so that the bursts of applause which were vollied towards the stage, might be said to be addressed to her alone, and to vie in sincerity with those which have been forced from an audience by the most accomplished performer.
"Oh, that puir Lady Penelope!" said honest Mrs. Blower, who, when her scruples against the exhibition were once got over, began to look upon it with particular interest,—"I am really sorry for her puir face, for she gars it work like the sails of John Blower's vesshel in a stiff breeze.—Oh, Doctor Cacklehen, dinna ye think she wad need, if it were possible, to rin ower her face wi' a gusing iron, just to take the wrunkles out o't?"
"Hush, hush! my good dear Mrs. Blower," said the Doctor; "Lady Penelope is a woman of quality, and my patient, and such people always act charmingly—you must understand there is no hissing at a private theatre—Hem!"
"Ye may say what ye like, Doctor, but there is nae fule like an auld fule—To be sure, if she was as young and beautiful as Miss Mowbray—hegh me, and I didna use to think her sae bonny neither—but dress—dress makes an unco difference—That shawl o' hers—I daur say the like o't was ne'er seen in braid Scotland—It will be real Indian, I'se warrant."
"Real Indian!" said Mr. Touchwood, in an accent of disdain, which rather disturbed Mrs. Blower's equanimity,—"why, what do you suppose it should be, madam?"
"I dinna ken, sir," said she, edging somewhat nearer the Doctor, not being altogether pleased, as she afterwards allowed, with the outlandish appearance and sharp tone of the traveller; then pulling her own drapery round her shoulders, she added, courageously, "There are braw shawls made at Paisley, that ye will scarce ken frae foreign."
"Not know Paisley shawls from Indian, madam?" said Touchwood; "why, a blind man could tell by the slightest touch of his little finger. Yon shawl, now, is the handsomest I have seen in Britain—and at this distance I can tell it to be a real Tozie."
"Cozie may she weel be that wears it," said Mrs. Blower. "I declare, now I look on't again, it's a perfect beauty."
"It is called Tozie, ma'am, not cozie," continued the traveller; "the Shroffs at Surat told me in 1801, that it is made out of the inner coat of a goat."
"Of a sheep, sir, I am thinking ye mean, for goats has nae woo'."
"Not much of it, indeed, madam, but you are to understand they use only the inmost coat; and then their dyes—that Tozie now will keep its colour while there is a rag of it left—men bequeath them in legacies to their grandchildren."
"And a very bonny colour it is," said the dame; "something like a mouse's back, only a thought redder—I wonder what they ca' that colour."
"The colour is much admired, madam," said Touchwood, who was now on a favourite topic; "the Mussulmans say the colour is betwixt that of an elephant and the breast of the faughta."
"In troth, I am as wise as I was," said Mrs. Blower.
"The faughta, madam, so called by the Moors, (for the Hindhus call it hollah,) is a sort of pigeon, held sacred among the Moslem of India, because they think it dyed its breast in the blood of Ali.—But I see they are closing the scene.—Mr. Cargill, are you composing your sermon, my good friend, or what can you be thinking of?"
Mr. Cargill had, during the whole scene, remained with his eyes fixed, in intent and anxious, although almost unconscious gaze, upon Clara Mowbray; and when the voice of his companion startled him out of his reverie, he exclaimed, "Most lovely—most unhappy—yes—I must and will see her!"
"See her?" replied Touchwood, too much accustomed to his friend's singularities to look for much reason or connexion in any thing he said or did; "Why, you shall see her and talk to her too, if that will give you pleasure.—They say now," he continued, lowering his voice to a whisper, "that this Mowbray is ruined. I see nothing like it, since he can dress out his sister like a Begum. Did you ever see such a splendid shawl?"
"Dearly purchased splendour," said Mr. Cargill, with a deep sigh; "I wish that the price be yet fully paid!"
"Very likely not," said the traveller; "very likely it's gone to the book; and for the price, I have known a thousand rupees given for such a shawl in the country.—But hush, hush, we are to have another tune from Nathaniel—faith, and they are withdrawing the screen—Well, they have some mercy—they do not let us wait long between the acts of their follies at least—I love a quick and rattling fire in these vanities—Folly walking a funeral pace, and clinking her bells to the time of a passing knell, makes sad work indeed."
A strain of music, beginning slowly, and terminating in a light and wild allegro, introduced on the stage those delightful creatures of the richest imagination that ever teemed with wonders, the Oberon and Titania of Shakspeare. The pigmy majesty of the captain of the fairy band had no unapt representative in Miss Digges, whose modesty was not so great an intruder as to prevent her desire to present him in all his dignity, and she moved, conscious of the graceful turn of a pretty ankle, which, encircled with a string of pearls, and clothed in flesh-coloured silk, of the most cobweb texture, rose above the crimson sandal. Her jewelled tiara, too, gave dignity to the frown with which the offended King of Shadows greeted his consort, as each entered upon the scene at the head of their several attendants.
The restlessness of the children had been duly considered; and, therefore, their part of the exhibition had been contrived to represent dumb show, rather than a stationary picture. The little Queen of Elves was not inferior in action to her moody lord, and repaid, with a look of female impatience and scorn, the haughty air which seemed to express his sullen greeting,
"Ill met by moonlight, proud Titania."
The other children were, as usual, some clever and forward, some loutish and awkward enough; but the gambols of childhood are sure to receive applause, paid, perhaps, with a mixture of pity and envy, by those in advanced life; and besides, there were in the company several fond papas and mammas, whose clamorous approbation, though given apparently to the whole performers, was especially dedicated in their hearts to their own little Jackies and Marias,—for Mary, though the prettiest and most classical of Scottish names, is now unknown in the land. The elves, therefore, played their frolics, danced a measure, and vanished with good approbation.
The anti-mask, as it may be called, of Bottom, and his company of actors, next appeared on the stage, and a thunder of applause received the young Earl, who had, with infinite taste and dexterity, transformed himself into the similitude of an Athenian clown; observing the Grecian costume, yet so judiciously discriminated from the dress of the higher characters, as at once to fix the character of a thick-skinned mechanic on the wearer. Touchwood, in particular, was loud in his approbation, from which the correctness of the costume must be inferred; for that honest gentleman, like many other critics, was indeed not very much distinguished for good taste, but had a capital memory for petty matters of fact; and, while the most impressive look or gesture of an actor might have failed to interest him, would have censured most severely the fashion of a sleeve, or the colour of a shoe-tie.
But the Earl of Etherington's merits were not confined to his external appearance; for, had his better fortunes failed him, his deserts, like those of Hamlet, might have got him a fellowship in a cry of players. He presented, though in dumb show, the pragmatic conceit of Bottom, to the infinite amusement of all present, especially of those who were well acquainted with the original; and when he was "translated" by Puck, he bore the ass's head, his newly-acquired dignity, with an appearance of conscious greatness, which made the metamorphosis, though in itself sufficiently farcical, irresistibly comic. He afterwards displayed the same humour in his frolics with the fairies, and the intercourse which he held with Messrs. Cobweb, Mustard-seed, Pease-blossom, and the rest of Titania's cavaliers, who lost all command of their countenances at the gravity with which he invited them to afford him the luxury of scratching his hairy snout. Mowbray had also found a fitting representative for Puck in a queer-looking, small-eyed boy of the Aultoun of St. Ronan's, with large ears projecting from his head like turrets from a Gothic building. This exotic animal personified the merry and mocking spirit of Hobgoblin with considerable power, so that the group bore some resemblance to the well-known and exquisite delineation of Puck by Sir Joshua, in the select collection of the Bard of Memory. It was, however, the ruin of the St. Ronan's Robin Goodfellow, who did no good afterwards,—"gaed an ill gate," as Meg Dods said, and "took on" with a party of strolling players.
The entertainment closed with a grand parade of all the characters that had appeared, during which Mowbray concluded that the young lord himself, unremarked, might have time enough to examine the outward form, at least, of his sister Clara, whom, in the pride of his heart, he could not help considering superior in beauty, dressed as she now was, with every advantage of art, even to the brilliant Amazon, Lady Binks. It is true, Mowbray was not a man to give preference to the intellectual expression of poor Clara's features over the sultana-like beauty of the haughty dame, which promised to an admirer all the vicissitudes that can be expressed by a countenance lovely in every change, and changing as often as an ardent and impetuous disposition, unused to constraint, and despising admonition, should please to dictate. Yet, to do him justice, though his preference was perhaps dictated more by fraternal partiality than by purity of taste, he certainly, on the present occasion, felt the full extent of Clara's superiority; and there was a proud smile on his lip, as, at the conclusion of the divertisement, he asked the Earl how he had been pleased. The rest of the performers had separated, and the young lord remained on the stage, employed in disembarrassing himself of his awkward visor, when Mowbray put this question, to which, though general in terms, he naturally gave a particular meaning.
"I could wear my ass's head for ever," he said, "on condition my eyes were to be so delightfully employed as they have been during the last scene.—Mowbray, your sister is an angel!"
"Have a care that that headpiece of yours has not perverted your taste, my lord," said Mowbray. "But why did you wear that disguise on your last appearance? You should, I think, have been uncovered."
"I am ashamed to answer you," said the Earl; "but truth is, first impressions are of consequence, and I thought I might do as wisely not to appear before your sister, for the first time, in the character of Bully Bottom."
"Then you change your dress, my lord, for dinner, if we call our luncheon by that name?" said Mowbray.
"I am going to my room this instant for that very purpose," replied the Earl.
"And I," said Mowbray, "must step in front, and dismiss the audience; for I see they are sitting gaping there, waiting for another scene."
They parted upon this; and Mowbray, as Duke Theseus, stepped before the screen, and announcing the conclusion of the dramatic pictures which they had had the honour to present before the worshipful company, thanked the spectators for the very favourable reception which they had afforded; and intimated to them, that if they could amuse themselves by strolling for an hour among the gardens, a bell would summon to the house at the expiry of that time, when some refreshments would wait their acceptance. This annunciation was received with the applause due to the Amphitryon ou l'on dine; and the guests, arising from before the temporary theatre, dispersed through the gardens, which were of some extent, to seek for or create amusement to themselves. The music greatly aided them in this last purpose, and it was not long ere a dozen of couples and upwards, were "tripping it on the light fantastic toe," (I love a phrase that is not hackneyed,) to the tune of Monymusk.
Others strolled through the grounds, meeting some quaint disguise at the end of every verdant alley, and communicating to others the surprise and amusement which they themselves were receiving. The scene, from the variety of dresses, the freedom which it gave to the display of humour amongst such as possessed any, and the general disposition to give and receive pleasure, rendered the little masquerade more entertaining than others of the kind for which more ample and magnificent preparations have been made. There was also a singular and pleasing contrast between the fantastic figures who wandered through the gardens, and the quiet scene itself, to which the old clipt hedges, the formal distribution of the ground, and the antiquated appearance of one or two fountains and artificial cascades, in which the naiads had been for the nonce compelled to resume their ancient frolics, gave an appearance of unusual simplicity and seclusion, and which seemed rather to belong to the last than to the present generation.
[II-1] At Kilruddery, the noble seat of Lord Meath, in the county of Wicklow, there is a situation for private theatrical exhibitions in the open air, planted out with the evergreens which arise there in the most luxuriant magnificence. It has a wild and romantic effect, reminding one of the scene in which Bottom rehearsed his pageant, with a green plot for a stage, and a hawthorn brake for a tiringroom.
[II-2] See Mr. William Stewart Rose's very interesting Letters from the North of Italy, Vol. I. Letter XXX., where this curious subject is treated with the information and precision which distinguish that accomplished author.
[II-3] "The Arnaouts or Albanese," (says Lord Byron,) "struck me forcibly by their resemblance to the Highlanders of Scotland, in dress, figure, and manner of living. Their very mountains seem Caledonian, with a kinder climate. The kilt, though white; the spare, active form; their dialect Celtic, in the sound, and their hardy habits, all carried me back to Morven."—Notes to the Second Chapter of Childe Harold's Pilgrimage.
For revels, dances, masks, and merry hours, Fore-run fair Love, strewing his way with flowers.
Love's Labour's Lost.
Worthies, away—the scene begins to cloud.
Mr. Touchwood, and his inseparable friend, Mr. Cargill, wandered on amidst the gay groups we have described, the former censuring with great scorn the frequent attempts which he observed towards an imitation of the costume of the East, and appealing with self-complacence to his own superior representation, as he greeted, in Moorish and in Persic, the several turban'd figures who passed his way; while the clergyman, whose mind seemed to labour with some weighty and important project, looked in every direction for the fair representative of Helena, but in vain. At length he caught a glimpse of the memorable shawl, which had drawn forth so learned a discussion from his companion; and, starting from Touchwood's side with a degree of anxious alertness totally foreign to his usual habits, he endeavoured to join the person by whom it was worn.
"By the Lord," said his companion, "the Doctor is beside himself!—the parson is mad!—the divine is out of his senses, that is clear; and how the devil can he, who scarce can find his road from the Cleikum to his own manse, venture himself unprotected into such a scene of confusion?—he might as well pretend to cross the Atlantic without a pilot—I must push off in chase of him, lest worse come of it."
But the traveller was prevented from executing his friendly purpose by a sort of crowd which came rushing down the alley, the centre of which was occupied by Captain MacTurk, in the very act of bullying two pseudo Highlanders, for having presumed to lay aside their breeches before they had acquired the Gaelic language. The sounds of contempt and insult with which the genuine Celt was overwhelming the unfortunate impostors, were not, indeed, intelligible otherwise than from the tone and manner of the speaker; but these intimated so much displeasure, that the plaided forms whose unadvised choice of a disguise had provoked it—two raw lads from a certain great manufacturing town—heartily repented their temerity, and were in the act of seeking for the speediest exit from the gardens; rather choosing to resign their share of the dinner, than to abide the farther consequences that might follow from the displeasure of this highland Termagant.
Touchwood had scarcely extricated himself from this impediment, and again commenced his researches after the clergyman, when his course was once more interrupted by a sort of pressgang, headed by Sir Bingo Binks, who, in order to play his character of a drunken boatswain to the life, seemed certainly drunk enough, however little of a seaman. His cheer sounded more like a view-hollo than a hail, when, with a volley of such oaths as would have blown a whole fleet of the Bethel Union out of the water, he ordered Touchwood "to come under his lee, and be d——d; for, smash his old timbers, he must go to sea again, for as weather-beaten a hulk as he was."
Touchwood answered instantly, "To sea with all my heart, but not with a land-lubber for commander.—Harkye, brother, do you know how much of a horse's furniture belongs to a ship?"
"Come, none of your quizzing, my old buck," said Sir Bingo—"What the devil has a ship to do with horse's furniture?—Do you think we belong to the horse-marines?—ha! ha! I think you're matched, brother."
"Why, you son of a fresh-water gudgeon," replied the traveller, "that never in your life sailed farther than the Isle of Dogs, do you pretend to play a sailor, and not know the bridle of the bow-line, and the saddle of the boltsprit, and the bit for the cable, and the girth to hoist the rigging, and the whip to serve for small tackle?—There is a trick for you to find out an Abram-man, and save sixpence when he begs of you as a disbanded seaman.—Get along with you! or the constable shall be charged with the whole pressgang to man the workhouse."
A general laugh arose at the detection of the swaggering boatswain; and all that the Baronet had for it was to sneak off, saying, "D—n the old quiz, who the devil thought to have heard so much slang from an old muslin nightcap!"
Touchwood being now an object of some attention, was followed by two or three stragglers, whom he endeavoured to rid himself of the best way he could, testifying an impatience a little inconsistent with the decorum of his Oriental demeanour, but which arose from his desire to rejoin his companion, and some apprehension of inconvenience which he feared Cargill might sustain during his absence. For, being in fact as good-natured a man as any in the world, Mr. Touchwood was at the same time one of the most conceited, and was very apt to suppose, that his presence, advice, and assistance, were of the most indispensable consequence to those with whom he lived; and that not only on great emergencies, but even in the most ordinary occurrences of life.
Meantime, Mr. Cargill, whom he sought in vain, was, on his part, anxiously keeping in sight of the beautiful Indian shawl, which served as a flag to announce to him the vessel which he held in chase. At length he approached so close as to say, in an anxious whisper, "Miss Mowbray—Miss Mowbray—I must speak with you."
"And what would you have with Miss Mowbray?" said the fair wearer of the beautiful shawl, but without turning round her head.
"I have a secret—an important secret, of which to make you aware; but it is not for this place.—Do not turn from me!—Your happiness in this, and perhaps in the next life, depends on your listening to me."
The lady led the way, as if to give him an opportunity of speaking with her more privately, to one of those old-fashioned and deeply-embowered recesses, which are commonly found in such gardens as that of Shaws-Castle; and, with her shawl wrapped around her head, so as in some degree to conceal her features, she stood before Mr. Cargill in the doubtful light and shadow of a huge platanus tree, which formed the canopy of the arbour, and seemed to await the communication he had promised.
"Report says," said the clergyman, speaking in an eager and hurried manner, yet with a low voice, and like one desirous of being heard by her whom he addressed, and by no one else,—"Report says that you are about to be married."
"And is report kind enough to say to whom?" answered the lady, with a tone of indifference which seemed to astound her interrogator.
"Young lady," he answered, with a solemn voice, "had this levity been sworn to me, I could never have believed it! Have you forgot the circumstances in which you stand?—Have you forgotten that my promise of secrecy, sinful perhaps even in that degree, was but a conditional promise?—or did you think that a being so sequestered as I am was already dead to the world, even while he was walking upon its surface?—Know, young lady, that I am indeed dead to the pleasures and the ordinary business of life, but I am even therefore the more alive to its duties."
"Upon my honour, sir, unless you are pleased to be more explicit, it is impossible for me either to answer or understand you," said the lady; "you speak too seriously for a masquerade pleasantry, and yet not clearly enough to make your earnest comprehensible."
"Is this sullenness, Miss Mowbray?" said the clergyman, with increased animation; "Is it levity?—Or is it alienation of mind?—Even after a fever of the brain, we retain a recollection of the causes of our illness.—Come, you must and do understand me, when I say, that I will not consent to your committing a great crime to attain temporal wealth and rank, no, not to make you an empress. My path is a clear one; and should I hear a whisper breathed of your alliance with this Earl, or whatever he may be, rely upon it, that I will withdraw the veil, and make your brother, your bridegroom, and the whole world, acquainted with the situation in which you stand, and the impossibility of your forming the alliance which you propose to yourself, I am compelled to say, against the laws of God and man."
"But, sir—sir," answered the lady, rather eagerly than anxiously, "you have not yet told me what business you have with my marriage, or what arguments you can bring against it."
"Madam," replied Mr. Cargill, "in your present state of mind, and in such a scene as this, I cannot enter upon a topic for which the season is unfit, and you, I am sorry to say, are totally unprepared. It is enough that you know the grounds on which you stand. At a fitter opportunity, I will, as it is my duty, lay before you the enormity of what you are said to have meditated, with the freedom which becomes one, who, however humble, is appointed to explain to his fellow-creatures the laws of his Maker. In the meantime, I am not afraid that you will take any hasty step, after such a warning as this."
So saying, he turned from the lady with that dignity which a conscious discharge of duty confers, yet, at the same time, with a sense of deep pain, inflicted by the careless levity of her whom he addressed. She did not any longer attempt to detain him, but made her escape from the arbour by one alley, as she heard voices which seemed to approach it from another. The clergyman, who took the opposite direction, met in full encounter a whispering and tittering pair, who seemed, at his sudden appearance, to check their tone of familiarity, and assume an appearance of greater distance towards each other. The lady was no other than the fair Queen of the Amazons, who seemed to have adopted the recent partiality of Titania towards Bully Bottom, being in conference such and so close as we have described, with the late representative of the Athenian weaver, whom his recent visit to his chamber had metamorphosed into the more gallant disguise of an ancient Spanish cavalier. He now appeared with cloak and drooping plume, sword, poniard, and guitar, richly dressed at all points, as for a serenade beneath his mistress's window; a silk mask at the breast of his embroidered doublet hung ready to be assumed in case of intrusion, as an appropriate part of the national dress.
It sometimes happened to Mr. Cargill, as we believe it may chance to other men much subject to absence of mind, that, contrary to their wont, and much after the manner of a sunbeam suddenly piercing a deep mist, and illuminating one particular object in the landscape, some sudden recollection rushes upon them, and seems to compel them to act under it, as under the influence of complete certainty and conviction. Mr. Cargill had no sooner set eyes on the Spanish cavalier, in whom he neither knew the Earl of Etherington, nor recognised Bully Bottom, than with hasty emotion he seized on his reluctant hand, and exclaimed, with a mixture of eagerness and solemnity, "I rejoice to see you!—Heaven has sent you here in its own good time."
"I thank you, sir," replied Lord Etherington, very coldly, "I believe you have the joy of the meeting entirely on your side, as I cannot remember having seen you before."
"Is not your name Bulmer?" said the clergyman. "I—I know—I am sometimes apt to make mistakes—But I am sure your name is Bulmer?"
"Not that ever I or my godfathers heard of—my name was Bottom half an hour ago—perhaps that makes the confusion," answered the Earl, with very cold and distant politeness;—"Permit me to pass, sir, that I may attend the lady."
"Quite unnecessary," answered Lady Binks; "I leave you to adjust your mutual recollections with your new old friend, my lord—he seems to have something to say." So saying, the lady walked on, not perhaps sorry of an opportunity to show apparent indifference for his lordship's society in the presence of one who had surprised them in what might seem a moment of exuberant intimacy.
"You detain me, sir," said the Earl of Etherington to Mr. Cargill, who, bewildered and uncertain, still kept himself placed so directly before the young nobleman, as to make it impossible for him to pass, without absolutely pushing him to one side. "I must really attend the lady," he added, making another effort to walk on.
"Young man," said Mr. Cargill, "you cannot disguise yourself from me. I am sure—my mind assures me, that you are that very Bulmer whom Heaven hath sent here to prevent crime."
"And you," said Lord Etherington, "whom my mind assures me I never saw in my life, are sent hither by the devil, I think, to create confusion."
"I beg pardon, sir," said the clergyman, staggered by the calm and pertinacious denial of the Earl—"I beg pardon if I am in a mistake—that is, if I am really in a mistake—but I am not—I am sure I am not!—That look—that smile—I am NOT mistaken. You are Valentine Bulmer—the very Valentine Bulmer whom I—but I will not make your private affairs any part of this exposition—enough, you are Valentine Bulmer."
"Valentine?—Valentine?" answered Lord Etherington, impatiently,—"I am neither Valentine nor Orson—I wish you good-morning, sir."
"Stay, sir, stay, I charge you," said the clergyman; "if you are unwilling to be known yourself, it may be because you have forgotten who I am—Let me name myself as the Reverend Josiah Cargill, minister of St. Ronan's."
"If you bear a character so venerable, sir," replied the young nobleman,—"in which, however, I am not in the least interested,—I think when you make your morning draught a little too potent, it might be as well for you to stay at home and sleep it off, before coming into company."
"In the name of Heaven, young gentleman," said Mr. Cargill, "lay aside this untimely and unseemly jesting! and tell me if you be not—as I cannot but still believe you to be—that same youth, who, seven years since, left in my deposit a solemn secret, which, if I should unfold to the wrong person, woe would be my own heart, and evil the consequences which might ensue!"
"You are very pressing with me, sir," said the Earl; "and, in exchange, I will be equally frank with you.—I am not the man whom you mistake me for, and you may go seek him where you will—It will be still more lucky for you if you chance to find your own wits in the course of your researches; for I must tell you plainly, I think they are gone somewhat astray." So saying, with a gesture expressive of a determined purpose to pass on, Mr. Cargill had no alternative but to make way, and suffer him to proceed.
The worthy clergyman stood as if rooted to the ground, and, with his usual habit of thinking aloud exclaimed to himself, "My fancy has played me many a bewildering trick, but this is the most extraordinary of them all!—What can this young man think of me? It must have been my conversation with that unhappy young lady that has made such an impression upon me as to deceive my very eyesight, and causes me to connect with her history the face of the next person that I met—What must the stranger think of me!"
"Why, what every one thinks of thee that knows thee, prophet," said the friendly voice of Touchwood, accompanying his speech with an awakening slap on the clergyman's shoulder; "and that is, that thou art an unfortunate philosopher of Laputa, who has lost his flapper in the throng.—Come along—having me once more by your side, you need fear nothing. Why, now I look at you closer, you look as if you had seen a basilisk—not that there is any such thing, otherwise I must have seen it myself, in the course of my travels—but you seem pale and frightened—What the devil is the matter?"
"Nothing," answered the clergyman, "except that I have even this very moment made an egregious fool of myself."
"Pooh, pooh, that is nothing to sigh over, prophet.—Every man does so at least twice in the four-and-twenty hours," said Touchwood.
"But I had nearly betrayed to a stranger, a secret deeply concerning the honour of an ancient family."
"That was wrong, Doctor," said Touchwood; "take care of that in future; and, indeed, I would advise you not to speak even to your beadle, Johnie Tirlsneck, until you have assured yourself, by at least three pertinent questions and answers, that you have the said Johnie corporeally and substantially in presence before you, and that your fancy has not invested some stranger with honest Johnie's singed periwig and threadbare brown joseph—Come along—come along."
So saying, he hurried forward the perplexed clergyman, who in vain made all the excuses he could think of in order to effect his escape from the scene of gaiety, in which he was so unexpectedly involved. He pleaded headache; and his friend assured him that a mouthful of food, and a glass of wine, would mend it. He stated he had business; and Touchwood replied that he could have none but composing his next sermon, and reminded him that it was two days till Sunday. At length, Mr. Cargill confessed that he had some reluctance again to see the stranger, on whom he had endeavoured with such pertinacity to fix an acquaintance, which he was now well assured existed only in his own imagination. The traveller treated his scruples with scorn, and said, that guests meeting in this general manner, had no more to do with each other than if they were assembled in a caravansary.
"So that you need not say a word to him in the way of apology or otherwise—or, what will be still better, I, who have seen so much of the world, will make the pretty speech for you." As they spoke, he dragged the divine towards the house, where they were now summoned by the appointed signal, and where the company were assembling in the old saloon already noticed, previous to passing into the dining-room, where the refreshments were prepared. "Now, Doctor," continued the busy friend of Mr. Cargill, "let us see which of all these people has been the subject of your blunder. Is it yon animal of a Highlandman?—or the impertinent brute that wants to be thought a boatswain?—or which of them all is it?—Ay, here they come, two and two, Newgate fashion—the young Lord of the Manor with old Lady Penelope—does he set up for Ulysses, I wonder?—The Earl of Etherington with Lady Bingo—methinks it should have been with Miss Mowbray."
"The Earl of what, did you say?" quoth the clergyman, anxiously. "How is it you titled that young man in the Spanish dress?"
"Oho!" said the traveller; "what, I have discovered the goblin that has scared you?—Come along—come along—I will make you acquainted with him." So saying, he dragged him towards Lord Etherington; and before the divine could make his negative intelligible, the ceremony of introduction had taken place. "My Lord Etherington, allow me to present Mr. Cargill, minister of this parish—a learned gentleman, whose head is often in the Holy Land, when his person seems present among his friends. He suffers extremely, my lord, under the sense of mistaking your lordship for the Lord knows who; but when you are acquainted with him, you will find that he can make a hundred stranger mistakes than that, so we hope that your lordship will take no prejudice or offence."
"There can be no offence taken where no offence is intended," said Lord Etherington, with much urbanity. "It is I who ought to beg the reverend gentleman's pardon, for hurrying from him without allowing him to make a complete eclaircissement. I beg his pardon for an abruptness which the place and the time—for I was immediately engaged in a lady's service—rendered unavoidable."
Mr. Cargill gazed on the young nobleman as he pronounced these words, with the easy indifference of one who apologizes to an inferior in order to maintain his own character for politeness, but with perfect indifference whether his excuses are or are not held satisfactory. And as the clergyman gazed, the belief which had so strongly clung to him that the Earl of Etherington and young Valentine Bulmer were the same individual person, melted away like frostwork before the morning sun, and that so completely, that he marvelled at himself for having ever entertained it. Some strong resemblance of features there must have been to have led him into such a delusion; but the person, the tone, the manner of expression, were absolutely different; and his attention being now especially directed towards these particulars, Mr. Cargill was inclined to think the two personages almost totally dissimilar.
The clergyman had now only to make his apology, and fall back from the head of the table to some lower seat, which his modesty would have preferred, when he was suddenly seized upon by the Lady Penelope Penfeather, who, detaining him in the most elegant and persuasive manner possible, insisted that they should be introduced to each other by Mr. Mowbray, and that Mr. Cargill should sit beside her at table.—She had heard so much of his learning—so much of his excellent character—desired so much to make his acquaintance, that she could not think of losing an opportunity, which Mr. Cargill's learned seclusion rendered so very rare—in a word, catching the Black Lion was the order of the day; and her ladyship having trapped her prey, soon sat triumphant with him by her side.
A second separation was thus effected betwixt Touchwood and his friend; for the former, not being included in the invitation, or, indeed, at all noticed by Lady Penelope, was obliged to find room at a lower part of the table, where he excited much surprise by the dexterity with which he dispatched boiled rice with chop-sticks.
Mr. Cargill being thus exposed, without a consort, to the fire of Lady Penelope, speedily found it so brisk and incessant, as to drive his complaisance, little tried as it had been for many years by small talk, almost to extremity. She began by begging him to draw his chair close, for an instinctive terror of fine ladies had made him keep his distance. At the same time, she hoped "he was not afraid of her as an Episcopalian; her father had belonged to that communion; for," she added, with what was intended for an arch smile, "we were somewhat naughty in the forty-five, as you may have heard; but all that was over, and she was sure Mr. Cargill was too liberal to entertain any dislike or shyness on that score.—She could assure him she was far from disliking the Presbyterian form—indeed she had often wished to hear it, where she was sure to be both delighted and edified" (here a gracious smile) "in the church of St. Ronan's—and hoped to do so whenever Mr. Mowbray had got a stove, which he had ordered from Edinburgh, on purpose to air his pew for her accommodation."
All this, which was spoken with wreathed smiles and nods, and so much civility as to remind the clergyman of a cup of tea over-sweetened to conceal its want of strength, and flavour, required and received no farther answer than an accommodating look and acquiescent bow.
"Ah, Mr. Cargill," continued the inexhaustible Lady Penelope, "your profession has so many demands on the heart as well as the understanding—is so much connected with the kindnesses and charities of our nature—with our best and purest feelings, Mr. Cargill! You know what Goldsmith says:—
——'to his duty prompt at every call, He watch'd, and wept, and felt, and pray'd for all.'
And then Dryden has such a picture of a parish priest, so inimitable, one would think, did we not hear now and then of some living mortal presuming to emulate its features," (here another insinuating nod and expressive smile.)
"'Refined himself to soul to curb the sense, And almost made a sin of abstinence. Yet had his aspect nothing of severe, But such a face as promised him sincere; Nothing reserved or sullen was to see, But sweet regard and pleasing sanctity.'"
While her ladyship declaimed, the clergyman's wandering eye confessed his absent mind; his thoughts travelling, perhaps, to accomplish a truce betwixt Saladin and Conrade of Mountserrat, unless they chanced to be occupied with some occurrences of that very day, so that the lady was obliged to recall her indocile auditor with the leading question, "You are well acquainted with Dryden, of course, Mr. Cargill?"
"I have not the honour, madam," said Mr. Cargill, starting from his reverie, and but half understanding the question he replied to.
"Sir!" said the lady in surprise.
"Madam!—my lady!" answered Mr. Cargill, in embarrassment.
"I asked you if you admired Dryden;—but you learned men are so absent—perhaps you thought I said Leyden."
"A lamp too early quenched, madam," said Mr Cargill; "I knew him well."
"And so did I," eagerly replied the lady of the cerulean buskin; "he spoke ten languages—how mortifying to poor me, Mr. Cargill, who could only boast of five!—but I have studied a little since that time—I must have you to help me in my studies, Mr. Cargill—it will be charitable—but perhaps you are afraid of a female pupil?"
A thrill, arising from former recollections, passed through poor Cargill's mind, with as much acuteness as the pass of a rapier might have done through his body; and we cannot help remarking, that a forward prater in society, like a busy bustler in a crowd, besides all other general points of annoyance, is eternally rubbing upon some tender point, and galling men's feelings, without knowing or regarding it.
"You must assist me, besides, in my little charities, Mr. Cargill, now that you and I are become so well acquainted.—There is that Anne Heggie—I sent her a trifle yesterday, but I am told—I should not mention it, but only one would not have the little they have to bestow lavished on an improper object—I am told she is not quite proper—an unwedded mother, in short, Mr. Cargill—and it would be especially unbecoming in me to encourage profligacy."
"I believe, madam," said the clergyman, gravely, "the poor woman's distress may justify your ladyship's bounty, even if her conduct has been faulty."
"O, I am no prude, neither, I assure you, Mr. Cargill," answered the Lady Penelope. "I never withdraw my countenance from any one but on the most irrefragable grounds. I could tell you of an intimate friend of my own, whom I have supported against the whole clamour of the people at the Well, because I believe, from the bottom of my soul, she is only thoughtless—nothing in the world but thoughtless—O Mr. Cargill, how can you look across the table so intelligently?—who would have thought it of you?—Oh fie, to make such personal applications!"
"Upon my word, madam, I am quite at a loss to comprehend"——
"Oh fie, fie, Mr. Cargill," throwing in as much censure and surprise as a confidential whisper can convey—"you looked at my Lady Binks—I know what you think, but you are quite wrong, I assure you; you are entirely wrong.—I wish she would not flirt quite so much with that young Lord Etherington though, Mr. Cargill—her situation is particular.—Indeed, I believe she wears out his patience; for see he is leaving the room before we sit down—how singular!—And then, do you not think it very odd, too, that Miss Mowbray has not come down to us?"
"Miss Mowbray!—what of Miss Mowbray—is she not here?" said Mr. Cargill, starting, and with an expression of interest which he had not yet bestowed on any of her ladyship's liberal communications.
"Ay, poor Miss Mowbray," said Lady Penelope, lowering her voice, and shaking her head; "she has not appeared—her brother went up stairs a few minutes since, I believe, to bring her down, and so we are all left here to look at each other.—How very awkward!—But you know Clara Mowbray."
"I, madam?" said Mr. Cargill, who was now sufficiently attentive; "I really—I know Miss Mowbray—that is, I knew her some years since—but your ladyship knows she has been long in bad health—uncertain health at least, and I have seen nothing of the young lady for a very long time."
"I know it, my dear Mr. Cargill—I know it," continued the Lady Penelope, in the same tone of deep sympathy, "I know it; and most unhappy surely have been the circumstances that have separated her from your advice and friendly counsel.—All this I am aware of—and to say truth, it has been chiefly on poor Clara's account that I have been giving you the trouble of fixing an acquaintance upon you.—You and I together, Mr. Cargill, might do wonders to cure her unhappy state of mind—I am sure we might—that is, if you could bring your mind to repose absolute confidence in me."
"Has Miss Mowbray desired your ladyship to converse with me upon any subject which interests her?" said the clergyman, with more cautious shrewdness than Lady Penelope had suspected him of possessing. "I will in that case be happy to hear the nature of her communication; and whatever my poor services can perform, your ladyship may command them."
"I—I—I cannot just assert," said her ladyship with hesitation, "that I have Miss Mowbray's direct instructions to speak to you, Mr. Cargill, upon the present subject. But my affection for the dear girl is so very great—and then, you know, the inconveniences which may arise from this match."
"From which match, Lady Penelope?" said Mr. Cargill.
"Nay, now, Mr. Cargill, you really carry the privilege of Scotland too far—I have not put a single question to you, but what you have answered by another—let us converse intelligibly for five minutes, if you can but condescend so far."
"For any length of time which your ladyship may please to command," said Mr. Cargill, "provided the subject regard your ladyship's own affairs or mine,—could I suppose these last for a moment likely to interest you."
"Out upon you," said the lady, laughing affectedly; "you should really have been a Catholic priest instead of a Presbyterian. What an invaluable father confessor have the fair sex lost in you, Mr. Cargill, and how dexterously you would have evaded any cross-examinations which might have committed your penitents!"
"Your ladyship's raillery is far too severe for me to withstand or reply to," said Mr. Cargill, bowing with more ease than her ladyship expected; and, retiring gently backward, he extricated himself from a conversation which he began to find somewhat embarrassing.
At that moment a murmur of surprise took place in the apartment, which was just entered by Miss Mowbray, leaning on her brother's arm. The cause of this murmur will be best understood, by narrating what had passed betwixt the brother and sister.
Seek not the feast in these irreverent robes; Go to my chamber—put on clothes of mine.
The Taming of the Shrew.
It was with a mixture of anxiety, vexation, and resentment, that Mowbray, just when he had handed Lady Penelope into the apartment where the tables were covered, observed that his sister was absent, and that Lady Binks was hanging on the arm of Lord Etherington, to whose rank it would properly have fallen to escort the lady of the house. An anxious and hasty glance cast through the room, ascertained that she was absent, nor could the ladies present give any account of her after she had quitted the gardens, except that Lady Penelope had spoken a few words with her in her own apartment, immediately after the scenic entertainment was concluded.
Thither Mowbray hurried, complaining aloud of his sister's laziness in dressing, but internally hoping that the delay was occasioned by nothing of a more important character.
He hastened up stairs, entered her sitting-room without ceremony, and knocking at the door of her dressing-room, begged her to make haste.
"Here is the whole company impatient," he said, assuming a tone of pleasantry; "and Sir Bingo Binks exclaiming for your presence, that he may be let loose on the cold meat."
"Paddock calls," said Clara from within; "anon—anon!"
"Nay, it is no jest, Clara," continued her brother; "for here is Lady Penelope miauling like a starved cat!"
"I come—I come, greymalkin," answered Clara, in the same vein as before, and entered the parlour as she spoke, her finery entirely thrown aside, and dressed in the riding-habit which was her usual and favourite attire.
Her brother was both surprised and offended. "On my soul," he said, "Clara, this is behaving very ill. I indulge you in every freak upon ordinary occasions, but you might surely on this day, of all others, have condescended to appear something like my sister, and a gentlewoman receiving company in her own house."
"Why, dearest John," said Clara, "so that the guests have enough to eat and drink, I cannot conceive why I should concern myself about their finery, or they trouble themselves about my plain clothes."
"Come, come, Clara, this will not do," answered Mowbray; "you must positively go back into your dressing-room, and huddle your things on as fast as you can. You cannot go down to the company dressed as you are."
"I certainly can, and I certainly will, John—I have made a fool of myself once this morning to oblige you, and for the rest of the day I am determined to appear in my own dress; that is, in one which shows I neither belong to the world, nor wish to have any thing to do with its fashions."
"By my soul, Clara, I will make you repent this!" said Mowbray, with more violence than he usually exhibited where his sister was concerned.
"You cannot, dear John," she coolly replied, "unless by beating me; and that I think you would repent of yourself."
"I do not know but what it were the best way of managing you," said Mowbray, muttering between his teeth; but, commanding his violence, he only said aloud, "I am sure, from long experience, Clara, that your obstinacy will at the long run beat my anger. Do let us compound the point for once—keep your old habit, since you are so fond of making a sight of yourself, and only throw the shawl round your shoulders—it has been exceedingly admired, and every woman in the house longs to see it closer—they can hardly believe it genuine."
"Do be a man, Mowbray," answered his sister; "meddle with your horse-sheets, and leave shawls alone."
"Do you be a woman, Clara, and think a little on them, when custom and decency render it necessary.—Nay, is it possible!—Will you not stir—not oblige me in such a trifle as this?"
"I would indeed if I could," said Clara; "but since you must know the truth—do not be angry—I have not the shawl. I have given it away—given it up, perhaps I should say, to the rightful owner.—She has promised me something or other in exchange for it, however. I have given it to Lady Penelope."
"Yes," answered Mowbray, "some of the work of her own fair hands, I suppose, or a couple of her ladyship's drawings, made up into fire-screens.—On my word—on my soul, this is too bad!—It is using me too ill, Clara—far too ill. If the thing had been of no value, my giving it to you should have fixed some upon it.—Good-even to you; we will do as well as we can without you."
"Nay, but, my dear John—stay but a moment," said Clara, taking his arm as he sullenly turned towards the door; "there are but two of us on the earth—do not let us quarrel about a trumpery shawl."
"Trumpery!" said Mowbray; "It cost fifty guineas, by G—, which I can but ill spare—trumpery!"
"O, never think of the cost," said Clara; "it was your gift, and that should, I own, have been enough to have made me keep to my death's day the poorest rag of it. But really Lady Penelope looked so very miserable, and twisted her poor face into so many odd expressions of anger and chagrin, that I resigned it to her, and agreed to say she had lent it to me for the performance. I believe she was afraid that I would change my mind, or that you would resume it as a seignorial waif; for, after she had walked a few turns with it wrapped around her, merely by way of taking possession, she dispatched it by a special messenger to her apartment at the Well."
"She may go to the devil," said Mowbray, "for a greedy unconscionable jade, who has varnished over a selfish, spiteful heart, that is as hard as a flint, with a fine glossing of taste and sensibility!"
"Nay, but, John," replied his sister, "she really had something to complain of in the present case. The shawl had been bespoken on her account, or very nearly so—she showed me the tradesman's letter—only some agent of yours had come in between with the ready money, which no tradesman can resist.—Ah, John! I suspect half of your anger is owing to the failure of a plan to mortify poor Lady Pen, and that she has more to complain of than you have.—Come, come, you have had the advantage of her in the first display of this fatal piece of finery, if wearing it on my poor shoulders can be called a display—e'en make her welcome to the rest for peace's sake, and let us go down to these good folks, and you shall see how pretty and civil I shall behave."
Mowbray, a spoiled child, and with all the petted habits of indulgence, was exceedingly fretted at the issue of the scheme which he had formed for mortifying Lady Penelope; but he saw at once the necessity of saying nothing more to his sister on the subject. Vengeance he privately muttered against Lady Pen, whom he termed an absolute harpy in blue-stockings; unjustly forgetting, that in the very important affair at issue, he himself had been the first to interfere with and defeat her ladyship's designs on the garment in question.
"But I will blow her," he said, "I will blow her ladyship's conduct in the business! She shall not outwit a poor whimsical girl like Clara, without hearing it on more sides than one."
With this Christian and gentlemanlike feeling towards Lady Penelope, he escorted his sister into the eating-room, and led her to her proper place at the head of the table. It was the negligence displayed in her dress, which occasioned the murmur of surprise that greeted Clara on her entrance. Mowbray, as he placed his sister in her chair, made her general apology for her late appearance, and her riding-habit. "Some fairies," he supposed, "Puck, or such like tricksy goblin, had been in her wardrobe, and carried off whatever was fit for wearing."
There were answers from every quarter—that it would have been too much to expect Miss Mowbray to dress for their amusement a second time—that nothing she chose to wear could misbecome Miss Mowbray—that she had set like the sun, in her splendid scenic dress, and now rose like the full moon in her ordinary attire, (this flight was by the Reverend Mr. Chatterly,)—and that "Miss Mowbray being at hame, had an unco gude right to please hersell;" which last piece of politeness, being at least as much to the purpose as any that had preceded it, was the contribution of honest Mrs. Blower; and was replied to by Miss Mowbray with a particular and most gracious bow.
Mrs. Blower ought to have rested her colloquial fame, as Dr. Johnson would have said, upon a compliment so evidently acceptable, but no one knows where to stop. She thrust her broad, good-natured, delighted countenance forward, and sending her voice from the bottom to the top of the table, like her umquhile husband when calling to his mate during a breeze, wondered "why Miss Clara Moubrie didna wear that grand shawl she had on at the play-making, and her just sitting upon the wind of a door. Nae doubt it was for fear of the soup, and the butter-boats, and the like;—but she had three shawls, which she really fand was ane ower mony—if Miss Moubrie wad like to wear ane o' them—it was but imitashion, to be sure—but it wad keep her shouthers as warm as if it were real Indian, and if it were dirtied it was the less matter."
"Much obliged, Mrs. Blower," said Mowbray unable to resist the temptation which this speech offered; "but my sister is not yet of quality sufficient, to entitle her to rob her friends of their shawls."
Lady Penelope coloured to the eyes, and bitter was the retort that arose to her tongue; but she suppressed it, and nodding to Miss Mowbray in the most friendly way in the world, yet with a very particular expression, she only said, "So you have told your brother of the little transaction which we have had this morning?—Tu me lo pagherai—I give you fair warning, take care none of your secrets come into my keeping—that's all."
Upon what mere trifles do the important events of human life sometimes depend! If Lady Penelope had given way to her first movements of resentment, the probable issue would have been some such half-comic half-serious skirmish, as her ladyship and Mr. Mowbray had often amused the company withal. But revenge which is suppressed and deferred, is always most to be dreaded; and to the effects of the deliberate resentment which Lady Penelope cherished upon this trifling occasion, must be traced the events which our history has to record. Secretly did she determine to return the shawl, which she had entertained hopes of making her own upon very reasonable terms; and as secretly did she resolve to be revenged both upon brother and sister, conceiving herself already possessed, to a certain degree, of a clew to some part of their family history, which might serve for a foundation on which to raise her projected battery. The ancient offences and emulation of importance of the Laird of St. Ronan's, and the superiority which had been given to Clara in the exhibition of the day, combined with the immediate cause of resentment; and it only remained for her to consider how her revenge should be most signally accomplished.
Whilst such thoughts were passing through Lady Penelope's mind, Mowbray was searching with his eyes for the Earl of Etherington, judging that it might be proper, in the course of the entertainment, or before the guests had separated, to make him formally acquainted with his sister, as a preface to the more intimate connexion which must, in prosecution of the plan agreed upon, take place betwixt them. Greatly to his surprise, the young Earl was no where visible, and the place which he had occupied by the side of Lady Binks had been quietly appropriated by Winterblossom, as the best and softest chair in the room, and nearest to the head of the table, where the choicest of the entertainment is usually arranged. This honest gentleman, after a few insipid compliments to her ladyship upon her performance as Queen of the Amazons, had betaken himself to the much more interesting occupation of ogling the dishes, through the glass which hung suspended at his neck by a gold chain of Maltese workmanship. After looking and wondering for a few seconds, Mowbray addressed himself to the old beau-garcon, and asked him what had become of Etherington.
"Retreated," said Winterblossom, "and left but his compliments to you behind him—a complaint, I think, in his wounded arm.—Upon my word, that soup has a most appetizing flavour!—Lady Penelope, shall I have the honour to help you?—no!—nor you, Lady Binks?—you are too cruel!—I must comfort myself, like a heathen priest of old, by eating the sacrifice which the deities have scorned to accept of."
Here he helped himself to the plate of soup which he had in vain offered to the ladies, and transferred the further duty of dispensing it to Mr. Chatterly; "it is your profession, sir, to propitiate the divinities—ahem!"
"I did not think Lord Etherington would have left us so soon," said Mowbray; "but we must do the best we can without his countenance."
So saying, he assumed his place at the bottom of the table, and did his best to support the character of a hospitable and joyous landlord, while on her part, with much natural grace, and delicacy of attention calculated to set every body at their ease, his sister presided at the upper end of the board. But the vanishing of Lord Etherington in a manner so sudden and unaccountable—the obvious ill-humour of Lady Penelope—and the steady, though passive, sullenness of Lady Binks, spread among the company a gloom like that produced by an autumnal mist upon a pleasing landscape. The women were low-spirited, dull, nay, peevish, they did not well know why; and the men could not be joyous, though the ready resource of old hock and champagne made some of them talkative.—Lady Penelope broke up the party by well-feigned apprehension of the difficulties, nay, dangers, of returning by so rough a road. Lady Binks begged a seat with her ladyship, as Sir Bingo, she said, judging from his devotion to the green flask, was likely to need their carriage home. From the moment of their departure, it became bad tone to remain behind; and all, as in a retreating army, were eager to be foremost, excepting MacTurk and a few stanch topers, who, unused to meet with such good cheer every day of their lives, prudently determined to make the most of the opportunity.
We will not dwell on the difficulties attending the transportation of a large company by few carriages, though the delay and disputes thereby occasioned were of course more intolerable than in the morning, for the parties had no longer the hopes of a happy day before them, as a bribe to submit to temporary inconvenience. The impatience of many was so great, that, though the evening was raw, they chose to go on foot rather than await the dull routine of the returning carriages; and as they retired they agreed, with one consent, to throw the blame of whatever inconvenience they might sustain on their host and hostess, who had invited so large a party before getting a shorter and better road made between the Well and Shaws-Castle.
"It would have been so easy to repair the path by the Buck-stane!"
And this was all the thanks which Mr. Mowbray received for an entertainment which had cost him so much trouble and expense, and had been looked forward to by the good society at the Well with such impatient expectation.
"It was an unco pleasant show," said the good-natured Mrs. Blower, "only it was a pity it was sae tediousome; and there was surely an awfu' waste of gauze and muslin."
But so well had Dr. Quackleben improved his numerous opportunities, that the good lady was much reconciled to affairs in general, by the prospect of coughs, rheumatisms, and other maladies acquired upon the occasion, which were likely to afford that learned gentleman, in whose prosperity she much interested herself, a very profitable harvest.
Mowbray, somewhat addicted to the service of Bacchus, did not find himself freed, by the secession of so large a proportion of the company, from the service of the jolly god, although, upon the present occasion, he could well have dispensed with his orgies. Neither the song, nor the pun, nor the jest, had any power to kindle his heavy spirit, mortified as he was by the event of his party being so different from the brilliant consummation which he had anticipated. The guests, stanch boon companions, suffered not, however, their party to flag for want of the landlord's participation, but continued to drink bottle after bottle, with as little regard for Mr. Mowbray's grave looks, as if they had been carousing at the Mowbray Arms, instead of the Mowbray mansion-house. Midnight at length released him, when, with an unsteady step, he sought his own apartment; cursing himself and his companions, consigning his own person with all dispatch to his bed, and bequeathing those of the company to as many mosses and quagmires, as could be found betwixt Shaws-Castle and St. Ronan's Well.
Oh! you would be a vestal maid, I warrant, The bride of Heaven—Come—we may shake your purpose; For here I bring in hand a jolly suitor Hath ta'en degrees in the seven sciences That ladies love best—He is young and noble, Handsome and valiant, gay, and rich, and liberal.
The morning after a debauch is usually one of reflection, even to the most determined boon companion; and, in the retrospect of the preceding day, the young Laird of St. Ronan's saw nothing very consolatory, unless that the excess was not, in the present case, of his own seeking, but had arisen out of the necessary duties of a landlord, or what were considered as such by his companions.
But it was not so much his dizzy recollections of the late carouse which haunted him on awakening, as the inexplicability which seemed to shroud the purposes and conduct of his new ally, the Earl of Etherington.
That young nobleman had seen Miss Mowbray, had declared his high satisfaction, had warmly and voluntarily renewed the proposal which he had made ere she was yet known to him—and yet, far from seeking an opportunity to be introduced to her, he had even left the party abruptly, in order to avoid the necessary intercourse which must there have taken place between them. His lordship's flirtation with Lady Binks had not escaped the attention of the sagacious Mowbray—her ladyship also had been in a hurry to leave Shaws-Castle; and Mowbray promised to himself to discover the nature of this connexion through Mrs. Gingham, her ladyship's attendant, or otherwise; vowing deeply at the same time, that no peer in the realm should make an affectation of addressing Miss Mowbray a cloak for another and more secret intrigue. But his doubts on this subject were in great measure removed by the arrival of one of Lord Etherington's grooms with the following letter:—
"My Dear Mowbray,—You would naturally be surprised at my escape from the table yesterday before you returned to it, or your lovely sister had graced it with her presence. I must confess my folly; and I may do so the more boldly, for, as the footing on which I first opened this treaty was not a very romantic one, you will scarce suspect me of wishing to render it such. But I did in reality feel, during the whole of yesterday, a reluctance which I cannot express, to be presented to the lady on whose favour the happiness of my future life is to depend, upon such a public occasion, and in the presence of so promiscuous a company. I had my mask, indeed, to wear while in the promenade, but, of course, that was to be laid aside at table, and, consequently, I must have gone through the ceremony of introduction; a most interesting moment, which I was desirous to defer till a fitter season. I trust you will permit me to call upon you at Shaws-Castle this morning, in the hope—the anxious hope—of being allowed to pay my duty to Miss Mowbray, and apologize for not waiting upon her yesterday. I expect your answer with the utmost impatience, being always yours, &c. &c. &c.
"This," said St. Ronan's to himself, as he folded the letter deliberately, after having twice read it over, "seems all fair and above board; I could not wish any thing more explicit; and, moreover, it puts into black and white, as old Mick would say, what only rested before on our private conversation. An especial cure for the headache, such a billet as this in a morning."
So saying, he sat him down and wrote an answer, expressing the pleasure he should have in seeing his lordship as soon as he thought proper. He watched even the departure of the groom, and beheld him gallop off, with the speed of one who knows that his quick return was expected by an impatient master.
Mowbray remained for a few minutes by himself, and reflected with delight upon the probable consequences of this match;—the advancement of his sister—and, above all, the various advantages which must necessarily accrue to himself, by so close an alliance with one whom he had good reason to think deep in the secret, and capable of rendering him the most material assistance in his speculations on the turf and in the sporting world. He then sent a servant to let Miss Mowbray know that he intended to breakfast with her.
"I suppose, John," said Clara, as her brother entered the apartment, "you are glad of a weaker cup this morning than those you were drinking last night—you were carousing till after the first cock."
"Yes," said Mowbray, "that sandbed, old MacTurk, upon whom whole hogsheads make no impression, did make a bad boy of me—but the day is over, and they will scarce catch me in such another scrape.—What did you think of the masks?"
"Supported as well," said Clara, "as such folk support the disguise of gentlemen and ladies during life; and that is, with a great deal of bustle, and very little propriety."
"I saw only one good mask there, and that was a Spaniard," said her brother.
"O, I saw him too," answered Clara; "but he wore his visor on. An old Indian merchant, or some such thing, seemed to me a better character—the Spaniard did nothing but stalk about and twangle his guitar, for the amusement of my Lady Binks, as I think."
"He is a very clever fellow, though, that same Spaniard," rejoined Mowbray—"Can you guess who he is?"
"No, indeed; nor shall I take the trouble of trying. To set to guessing about it, were as bad as seeing the whole mummery over again."
"Well," replied her brother, "you will allow one thing at least—Bottom was well acted—you cannot deny that."
"Yes," replied Clara, "that worthy really deserved to wear his ass's head to the end of the chapter—but what of him?"
"Only conceive that he should be the very same person with that handsome Spaniard," replied Mowbray.
"Then there is one fool fewer than I thought there was," replied Clara, with the greatest indifference.
Her brother bit his lip.
"Clara," he said, "I believe you are an excellent good girl, and clever to boot, but pray do not set up for wit and oddity; there is nothing in life so intolerable as pretending to think differently from other people.—That gentleman was the Earl of Etherington."
This annunciation, though made in what was meant to be an imposing tone, had no impression on Clara.
"I hope he plays the peer better than the Fidalgo," she replied, carelessly.
"Yes," answered Mowbray, "he is one of the handsomest men of the time, and decidedly fashionable—you will like him much when you see him in private."
"It is of little consequence whether I do or no," answered Clara.
"You mistake the matter," said Mowbray, gravely; "it may be of considerable consequence."
"Indeed!" said Clara, with a smile; "I must suppose myself, then, too important a person not to make my approbation necessary to one of your first-rates? He cannot pretend to pass muster at St. Ronan's without it?—Well, I will depute my authority to Lady Binks, and she shall pass your new recruits instead of me."
"This is all nonsense, Clara," said Mowbray. "Lord Etherington calls here this very morning, and wishes to be made known to you. I expect you will receive him as a particular friend of mine."
"With all my heart—so you will engage, after this visit, to keep him down with your other particular friends at the Well—you know it is a bargain that you bring neither buck nor pointer into my parlour—the one worries my cat, and the other my temper."
"You mistake me entirely, Clara—this is a very different visitor from any I have ever introduced to you—I expect to see him often here, and I hope you and he will be better friends than you think of. I have more reasons for wishing this, than I have now time to tell you."
Clara remained silent for an instant, then looked at her brother with an anxious and scrutinizing glance, as if she wished to penetrate into his inmost purpose.
"If I thought,"—she said, after a minute's consideration, and with an altered and disturbed tone; "but no—I will not think that Heaven intends me such a blow—least of all, that it should come from your hands." She walked hastily to the window, and threw it open—then shut it again, and returned to her seat, saying, with a constrained smile, "May Heaven forgive you, brother, but you frightened me heartily."
"I did not mean to do so, Clara," said Mowbray, who saw the necessity of soothing her; "I only alluded in joke to those chances that are never out of other girls' heads, though you never seem to calculate on them."
"I wish you, my dear John," said Clara, struggling to regain entire composure, "I wish you would profit by my example, and give up the science of chance also—it will not avail you."
"How d'ye know that?—I'll show you the contrary, you silly wench," answered Mowbray—"Here is a banker's bill, payable to your own order, for the cash you lent me, and something over—don't let old Mick have the fingering, but let Bindloose manage it for you—he is the honester man between two d——d knaves."
"Will not you, brother, send it to the man Bindloose yourself?"
"No,—no," replied Mowbray—"he might confuse it with some of my transactions, and so you forfeit your stake."
"Well, I am glad you are able to pay me, for I want to buy Campbell's new work."
"I wish you joy of your purchase—but don't scratch me for not caring about it—I know as little of books as you of the long odds. And come now, be serious, and tell me if you will be a good girl—lay aside your whims, and receive this English young nobleman like a lady as you are?"
"That were easy," said Clara—"but—but—Pray, ask no more of me than just to see him.—Say to him at once, I am a poor creature in body, in mind, in spirits, in temper, in understanding—above all, say that I can receive him only once."
"I shall say no such thing," said Mowbray, bluntly; "it is good to be plain with you at once—I thought of putting off this discussion—but since it must come, the sooner it is over the better.—You are to understand, Clara Mowbray, that Lord Etherington has a particular view in this visit, and that his view has my full sanction and approbation."
"I thought so," said Clara, in the same altered tone of voice in which she had before spoken; "my mind foreboded this last of misfortunes!—But, Mowbray, you have no child before you—I neither will nor can see this nobleman."
"How!" exclaimed Mowbray, fiercely; "do you dare return me so peremptory an answer?—Think better of it, for, if we differ, you will find you will have the worst of the game."
"Rely upon it," she continued, with more vehemence, "I will see him nor no man upon the footing you mention—my resolution is taken, and threats and entreaties will prove equally unavailing."
"Upon my word, madam," said Mowbray, "you have, for a modest and retired young lady, plucked up a goodly spirit of your own!—But you shall find mine equals it. If you do not agree to see my friend Lord Etherington, ay, and to receive him with the politeness due to the consideration I entertain for him, by Heaven! Clara, I will no longer regard you as my father's daughter. Think what you are giving up—the affection and protection of a brother—and for what?—merely for an idle point of etiquette.—You cannot, I suppose, even in the workings of your romantic brain, imagine that the days of Clarissa Harlowe and Harriet Byron are come back again, when women were married by main force? and it is monstrous vanity in you to suppose that Lord Etherington, since he has honoured you with any thoughts at all, will not be satisfied with a proper and civil refusal—You are no such prize, methinks, that the days of romance are to come back for you."
"I care not what days they are," said Clara—"I tell you I will not see Lord Etherington, or any one else, upon such preliminaries as you have stated—I cannot—I will not—and I ought not.—Had you meant me to receive him, which can be a matter of no consequence whatever, you should have left him on the footing of an ordinary visitor—as it is, I will not see him."
"You shall see and hear him both," said Mowbray; "you shall find me as obstinate as you are—as willing to forget I am a brother, as you to forget that you have one."
"It is time, then," replied Clara, "that this house, once our father's, should no longer hold us both. I can provide for myself, and may God bless you!"
"You take it coolly, madam," said her brother, walking through the apartment with much anxiety both of look and gesture.
"I do," she answered, "for it is what I have often foreseen—Yes, brother, I have often foreseen that you would make your sister the subject of your plots and schemes, so soon as other stakes failed you. That hour is come, and I am, as you see, prepared to meet it."
"And where may you propose to retire to?" said Mowbray. "I think that I, your only relation and natural guardian, have a right to know that—my honour and that of my family is concerned."
"Your honour!" she retorted, with a keen glance at him; "your interest, I suppose you mean, is somehow connected with the place of my abode.—But keep yourself patient—the den of the rock, the linn of the brook, should be my choice, rather than a palace without my freedom."
"You are mistaken, however," said Mowbray, sternly, "if you hope to enjoy more freedom than I think you capable of making a good use of. The law authorizes, and reason, and even affection, require, that you should be put under restraint for your own safety, and that of your character. You roamed the woods a little too much in my father's time, if all stories be true."
"I did—I did indeed, Mowbray," said Clara, weeping; "God pity me, and forgive you for upbraiding me with my state of mind—I know I cannot sometimes trust my own judgment; but is it for you to remind me of this?"
Mowbray was at once softened and embarrassed.
"What folly is this?" he said; "you say the most cutting things to me—are ready to fly from my house—and when I am provoked to make an angry answer, you burst into tears!"
"Say you did not mean what you said, my dearest brother!" exclaimed Clara; "O say you did not mean it!—Do not take my liberty from me—it is all I have left, and, God knows, it is a poor comfort in the sorrows I undergo. I will put a fair face on every thing—will go down to the Well—will wear what you please, and say what you please—but O! leave me the liberty of my solitude here—let me weep alone in the house of my father—and do not force a broken-hearted sister to lay her death at your door.—My span must be a brief one, but let not your hand shake the sand-glass!—Disturb me not—let me pass quietly—I do not ask this so much for my sake as for your own. I would have you think of me, sometimes, Mowbray, after I am gone, and without the bitter reflections which the recollection of harsh usage will assuredly bring with it. Pity me, were it but for your own sake.—I have deserved nothing but compassion at your hand—There are but two of us on earth, why should we make each other miserable?"
She accompanied these entreaties with a flood of tears, and the most heart-bursting sobs. Mowbray knew not what to determine. On the one hand, he was bound by his promise to the Earl; on the other, his sister was in no condition to receive such a visitor; nay, it was most probable, that if he adopted the strong measure of compelling her to receive him, her behaviour would probably be such as totally to break off the projected match, on the success of which he had founded so many castles in the air. In this dilemma, he had again recourse to argument.
"Clara," he said, "I am, as I have repeatedly said, your only relation and guardian—if there be any real reason why you ought not to receive, and, at least, make a civil reply to such a negotiation as the Earl of Etherington has thought fit to open, surely I ought to be intrusted with it. You enjoyed far too much of that liberty which you seem to prize so highly during my father's lifetime—in the last years of it at least—have you formed any foolish attachment during that time, which now prevents you from receiving such a visit as Lord Etherington has threatened?"
"Threatened!—the expression is well chosen," said Miss Mowbray; "and nothing can be more dreadful than such a threat, excepting its accomplishment."
"I am glad your spirits are reviving," replied her brother; "but that is no answer to my question."
"Is it necessary," said Clara, "that one must have actually some engagement or entanglement, to make them unwilling to be given in marriage, or even to be pestered upon such a subject?—Many young men declare they intend to die bachelors, why may not I be permitted to commence old maid at three-and-twenty?—Let me do so, like a kind brother, and there were never nephews and nieces so petted and so scolded, so nursed and so cuffed by a maiden aunt, as your children, when you have them, shall be by aunt Clara."
"And why not say all this to Lord Etherington?" said Mowbray; "wait until he propose such a terrible bugbear as matrimony, before you refuse to receive him. Who knows, the whim that he hinted at may have passed away—he was, as you say, flirting with Lady Binks, and her ladyship has a good deal of address, as well as beauty."
"Heaven improve both, (in an honest way,) if she will but keep his lordship to herself!" said Clara.
"Well, then," continued her brother, "things standing thus, I do not think you will have much trouble with his lordship—no more, perhaps, than just to give him a civil denial. After having spoken on such a subject to a man of my condition, he cannot well break off without you give him an apology."
"If that is all," said Clara, "he shall, as soon as he gives me an opportunity, receive such an answer as will leave him at liberty to woo any one whatsoever of Eve's daughters, excepting Clara Mowbray. Methinks I am so eager to set the captive free, that I now wish as much for his lordship's appearance as I feared it a little while since."
"Nay, nay, but let us go fair and softly," said her brother. "You are not to refuse him before he asks the question."
"Certainly," said Clara; "but I well know how to manage that—he shall never ask the question at all. I will restore Lady Binks's admirer, without accepting so much as a civility in ransom."
"Worse and worse, Clara," answered Mowbray; "you are to remember he is my friend and guest, and he must not be affronted in my house. Leave things to themselves.—Besides, consider an instant, Clara—had you not better take a little time for reflection in this case? The offer is a splendid one—title—fortune—and, what is more, a fortune which you will be well entitled to share largely in."
"This is beyond our implied treaty," said Clara. "I have yielded more than ever I thought I should have done, when I agreed that this Earl should be introduced to me on the footing of a common visitor; and now you talk favourably of his pretensions. This is an encroachment, Mowbray, and now I shall relapse into my obstinacy, and refuse to see him at all."
"Do as you will," replied Mowbray, sensible that it was only by working on her affections that he had any chance of carrying a point against her inclination,—"Do as you will, my dear Clara; but, for Heaven's sake, wipe your eyes."
"And behave myself," said she, trying to smile as she obeyed him,—"behave myself, you would say, like folks of this world; but the quotation is lost on you, who never read either Prior or Shakspeare."
"I thank Heaven for that," said Mowbray. "I have enough to burden my brain, without carrying such a lumber of rhymes in it as you and Lady Pen do.—Come, that is right; go to the mirror, and make yourself decent."
A woman must be much borne down indeed by pain and suffering, when she loses all respect for her external appearance. The madwoman in Bedlam wears her garland of straw with a certain air of pretension; and we have seen a widow whom we knew to be most sincerely affected by a recent deprivation, whose weeds, nevertheless, were arranged with a dolorous degree of grace, which amounted almost to coquetry. Clara Mowbray had also, negligent as she seemed to be of appearances, her own art of the toilet, although of the most rapid and most simple character. She took off her little riding-hat, and, unbinding a lace of Indian gold which retained her locks, shook them in dark and glossy profusion over her very handsome form, which they overshadowed down to her slender waist; and while her brother stood looking on her with a mixture of pride, affection, and compassion, she arranged them with a large comb, and, without the assistance of any femme d'atours, wove them, in the course of a few minutes, into such a natural head-dress as we see on the statues of the Grecian nymphs.
"Now let me but find my best muff," she said, "come prince and peer, I shall be ready to receive them."
"Pshaw! your muff—who has heard of such a thing these twenty years? Muffs were out of fashion before you were born."
"No matter, John," replied his sister; "when a woman wears a muff, especially a determined old maid like myself, it is a sign she has no intentions to scratch; and therefore the muff serves all the purposes of a white flag, and prevents the necessity of drawing on a glove, so prudentially recommended by the motto of our cousins, the M'Intoshes."[II-4]
"Be it as you will, then," said Mowbray; "for other than you do will it, you will not suffer it to be.—But how is this!—another billet?—We are in request this morning."
"Now, Heaven send his lordship may have judiciously considered all the risks which he is sure to encounter on this charmed ground, and resolved to leave his adventure unattempted," said Miss Mowbray.
Her brother glanced a look of displeasure at her, as he broke the seal of the letter, which was addressed to him with the words, "Haste and secrecy," written on the envelope. The contents, which greatly surprised him, we remit to the commencement of the next chapter.
[II-4] The well known crest of this ancient race, is a cat rampant with a motto bearing the caution—"Touch not the cat, but [i.e. be out, or without] the glove."
——Ope this letter; I can produce a champion that will prove What is avouched there.——
The billet which Mowbray received, and read in his sister's presence, contained these words:—
"Sir,—Clara Mowbray has few friends—none, perhaps, excepting yourself, in right of blood, and the writer of this letter, by right of the fondest, truest, and most disinterested attachment, that ever man bore to woman. I am thus explicit with you, because, though it is unlikely that I should ever again see or speak to your sister, I am desirous that you should be clearly acquainted with the cause of that interest, which I must always, even to my dying breath, take in her affairs.
"The person, calling himself Lord Etherington, is, I am aware, in the neighbourhood of Shaws-Castle, with the intention of paying his addresses to Miss Mowbray; and it is easy for me to foresee, arguing according to the ordinary views of mankind, that he may place his proposals in such a light as may make them seem highly desirable. But ere you give this person the encouragement which his offers may seem to deserve, please to enquire whether his fortune is certain, or his rank indisputable; and be not satisfied with light evidence on either point. A man may be in possession of an estate and title, to which he has no better right than his own rapacity and forwardness of assumption; and supposing Mr. Mowbray jealous, as he must be, of the honour of his family, the alliance of such a one cannot but bring disgrace. This comes from one who will make good what he has written."
On the first perusal of a billet so extraordinary, Mowbray was inclined to set it down to the malice of some of the people at the Well, anonymous letters being no uncommon resource of the small wits who frequent such places of general resort, as a species of deception safely and easily executed, and well calculated to produce much mischief and confusion. But upon closer consideration, he was shaken in this opinion, and, starting suddenly from the reverie into which he had fallen, asked for the messenger who had brought the letter. "He was in the hall," the servant thought, and Mowbray ran to the hall. No—the messenger was not there, but Mowbray might see his back as he walked up the avenue.—He hollo'd—no answer was returned—he ran after the fellow, whose appearance was that of a countryman. The man quickened his pace as he saw himself pursued, and when he got out of the avenue, threw himself into one of the numerous bypaths which wanderers, who strayed in quest of nuts, or for the sake of exercise, had made in various directions through the extensive copse which surrounded the Castle, and were doubtless the reason of its acquiring the name of Shaws, which signifies, in the Scottish dialect, a wood of this description.
Irritated by the man's obvious desire to avoid him, and naturally obstinate in all his resolutions, Mowbray pursued for a considerable way, until he fairly lost breath; and the flier having been long out of sight, he recollected at length that his engagement with the Earl of Etherington required his attendance at the Castle.