"How is this possible, Emilie?" said she. "Here is a woman who would give me half her fortune, and who yet seems to wish that I should not recover the whole of mine! Here is a woman who would move heaven and earth to serve me in her own way; but who, nevertheless, will not give me either a word of advice or a look of sympathy, in the most important affair and the most anxious moment of my life! But this is more than bizarre—this is intolerably provoking. For my part, I would rather a friend would deny me any thing than sympathy: without sympathy, there is no society—there is no living—there is no talking. I begin to feel my obligations a burden; and, positively, with the first money I receive from my estates, I will relieve myself from my pecuniary debt to this generous but incomprehensible Englishwoman."
Every day Emilie dreaded the arrival of the post, when her mother asked, "Are there any letters from Paris?"—Constantly the answer was—"No."—Mrs. Somers' look was triumphant; and Mad. de Coulanges applied regularly to her smelling-bottle or her snuff-box to conceal her emotion, which Mrs. Somers increased by indirect reflections upon the absurdity of those who listen to idle reports, and build castles in the air. Having set her opinion in opposition to Lady Littleton's, she supported it with a degree of obstinacy, and even acrimony, which made her often transgress the bounds of that politeness which she had formerly maintained in all her differences with the comtesse.
Mad. de Coulanges could no longer consider her humour as merely bizarre, she found it insupportable; and Mrs. Somers appeared to her totally changed, and absolutely odious, now that she was roused by her own sufferings to the perception of those evils which Emilie had long borne with all the firmness of principle, and all the philosophy of gratitude. Not a day passed without her complaining to Emilie of some grossierete from Mrs. Somers. Mad. de Coulanges suffered so much from irritation and anxiety, that her vapeurs noirs returned with tenfold violence. Emilie had loved Mrs. Somers, even when most unreasonable towards herself, as long as she behaved with kindness to her mother; but now that, instead of a source of pleasure, she became the hourly cause of pain to Mad. de Coulanges, Emilie's affection could no farther go; and she really began to dislike this lady—to dread to see her come into the room—and to tremble at hearing her voice. Emilie could judge only by what she saw; and she could not divine that Mrs. Somers was occupied, all this time, with the generous scheme of marrying her to her son and heir, and of settling upon her a large fortune; nor could she guess, that all the ill-humour in Mrs. Somers originated in the fear that her friends should be made either rich or happy without her assistance. Her son's delaying to return home, according to her mandate, had disappointed and vexed her extremely. Every day, when the post came in, she inquired for letters with almost as much eagerness as Mad. de Coulanges. At length a letter came from Mr. Somers, to inform his impatient mother that he should certainly be in town the beginning of the ensuing week. Delighted by this news, she could not refrain from the temptation of opening her whole mind to Emilie; though she had previously resolved not to give the slightest intimation of her scheme to any one, not even to Lady Littleton, till a definitive answer had been received from Paris, respecting the fortune of Mad. de Coulanges. Often, when Mrs. Somers was full of some magnanimous design, the merest trifle that interrupted the full display of her generosity threw her into a passion, even with those whom she was going to serve. So it happened in the present instance. She went, with her open letter in her hand, to the countess's apartment, where unluckily she found M. de Brisac, who was going to read the French newspapers to madame. Mrs. Somers sat down beside Emilie, who was painting the last flower of her watch of Flora. Mrs. Somers wrote on a slip of paper, "Don't ask M. de Brisac to read the papers, for I want to speak to you." She threw down the note before Emilie, who was so intent upon what she was about, that she did not immediately see it—Mrs. Somers touched her elbow—Emilie started, and let fall her brush, which made a blot upon her dial-plate.
"Oh! what a pity!—Just as I had finished my work," cried Emilie, "I have spoiled it!"
M. de Brisac laid down the newspaper to pour forth compliments of condolence.—Mrs. Somers tore the piece of paper as he approached the table, and said, with some asperity, "One would think this was a matter of life and death, by the terms in which it is deplored."
M. de Brisac, who stood so that Mrs. Somers could not see him, shrugged his shoulders, and looked at Mad. de Coulanges, who answered him by another look, that plainly said, "This is English politeness!"
Emilie, who saw that her mother was displeased, endeavoured to change the course of her thoughts, by begging M. de Brisac to go on with what he was reading from the French papers. This was a fresh provocation to Mrs. Somers, who forgot that Emilie had not read the words on the slip of paper which had been torn; and consequently could not know all Mrs. Somers' impatience for his departure. M. de Brisac read, in what this lady called his unemphatic French tone, paragraph after paragraph, and column after column, whilst her anxiety to have him go every moment increased. She moulded her son's letter into all manner of shapes as she sat in penance. To complete her misfortunes, something in the paper put Mad. de Coulanges in mind of former times; and she began a long history of the destruction of some fine old tapestry hangings in the Chateau de Coulanges, at the beginning of the Revolution: this led to endless melancholy reflections; and at length tears began to flow from the fine eyes of the countess.
Just at this instant a butterfly flew into the room, and passed by Mad. de Coulanges, who was sitting near the open window. "Oh! the beautiful butterfly!" cried she, starting up to catch it. "Did you ever see such a charming creature? Catch it, M. de Brisac!—Catch it, Emilie!—Catch it, Mrs. Somers!"
With the tears yet upon her cheeks, Mad. de Coulanges began the chase, and M. de Brisac followed, beating the air with his perfumed handkerchief, and the butterfly fluttered round the table at which Emilie was standing.
"Eh! M. de Brisac, catch it!—Catch it, Emilie!" repeated her mother.—"Catch it, Mrs. Somers, for the love of Heaven!"
"For the love of Heaven!" repeated Mrs. Somers, who, immovably grave, and sullenly indignant, kept aloof during this chase.
"Ah! pour le coup, papillon, je te tiens!" cried la comtesse, and with eager joy she covered it with a glass, as it lighted on the table.
"Mlle. de Coulanges," cried Mrs. Somers, "I acknowledge, now, that I was wrong in my criticism of Caroline de Lichteld. I blamed the author for representing Caroline, at fifteen, or just when she is going to be married, as running after butterflies. I said that, at that age, it was too frivolous—out of drawing—out of nature. But I should have said only, that it was out of English nature.—I stand corrected."
Mad. de Coulanges and M. de Brisac again interchanged looks, which expressed "Est-il possible!" And la comtesse then, with an unusual degree of deliberation and dignity in her manner, walked out of the room. Emilie, who saw that her mother was extremely offended, was much embarrassed—she went on washing the blot out of her drawing. M. de Brisac stood silently looking over her, and Mrs. Somers opposite to him, wishing him fairly at the antipodes. M. de Brisac, to break the silence, which seemed to him as if it never would be broken, asked Mlle. de Coulanges if she had ever seen the stadtholder's fine collection of butterflies, and if she did not admire them extremely? No, she never had; but she said that she admired extremely the generosity the stadtholder had shown in sacrificing, not only his fine collection of butterflies, but his most valuable pictures, to save the lives of the poor French emigrants, who were under his protection.
At the sound of the word generosity, Mrs. Somers became attentive; and Emilie was in hopes that she would recover her temper, and apologize to her mother: but at this moment a servant came to tell Mlle. de Coulanges that la comtesse wished to speak to her immediately. She found her mother in no humour to receive any apology, even if it had been offered: nothing could have hurt Mad. de Coulanges more than the imputation of being frivolous.
"Frivole!—frivole!—moi frivole!" she repeated, as soon as Emilie entered the room. "My dear Emilie! I would not live with this Mrs. Somers for the rest of my days, were she to offer me the Pitt diamond, or the whole mines of Golconda!—Bon Dieu!—neither money nor diamonds, after all, can pay for the want of kindness and politeness!—There is Lady Littleton, who has never done us any favour, but that of showing us attention and sympathy; I protest I love her a million of times better than I can love Mrs. Somers, to whom we owe so much. It is in vain, Emilie, to remind me that she is our benefactress. I have said that over and over to myself, till I am tired, and till I have absolutely lost all sense of the meaning of the word. Bitterly do I repent having accepted of such obligations from this strange woman; for, as to the idea of regaining our estate, and paying my debt to her, I have given up all hopes of it. You see that we have no letters from France. I am quite tired out. I am convinced that we shall never have any good news from Paris. And I cannot, I will not, remain longer in this house. Would you have me submit to be treated with disrespect? Mrs. Somers has affronted me before M. de Brisac, in a manner that I cannot, that I ought not, to endure—that you, Emilie, ought not to wish me to endure. I positively will not live upon the bounty of Mrs. Somers. There is but one way of extricating ourselves. M. de Brisac—Why do you turn pale, child?—M. de Brisac has this morning made me a proposal for you, and the best thing we can possibly do is to accept of it."
"The best!—Pray don't say the best!" cried Emilie. "Ah! dear mamma, for me the worst! Let me beseech you not to sacrifice my happiness for ever by such a marriage!"
"And what other can you expect, Emilie, in your present circumstances?"
"None," said Emilie.
"And here is an establishment—at least an independence for you—and you call it sacrificing your happiness for ever to accept of it!"
"Yes," said Emilie; "because it is offered to me by one whom I can neither love nor esteem. Dearest mamma! can you forget all his former meanness of conduct?"
"His present behaviour makes amends for the past," said Mad. de Coulanges, "and entitles him to my esteem and to yours, and that is sufficient. As to love—well educated girls do not marry for love."
"But they ought not to marry without feeling love, should they?" said Emilie.
"Emilie! Emilie!" said her mother, "these are strange ideas that have come into the heads of young women since the Revolution. If you had remained safe in your convent, I should have heard none of this nonsense."
"Perhaps not, mamma," said Emilie, with a deep sigh. "But should I have been happier?"
"A fine question, truly!—How can I tell? But this I can ask you—How can any girl expect to be happy, who abandons the principles in which she was bred up, and forgets her duty to the mother by whom she has been educated—the mother, whose pride, whose delight, whose darling, she has ever been? Oh, Emilie! this is to me worse than all I have ever suffered!"
Mad. de Coulanges burst into a passion of tears, and Emilie stood looking at her in silent despair.
"Emilie, you cannot deceive me," cried her mother; "you cannot pretend that it is simply your want of esteem for M. de Brisac which renders you thus obstinately averse to the match. You are in love with another person."
"Not in love," said Emilie, in a faltering voice.
"You cannot deceive me, Emilie—remember all you said to me about the stranger who was our fellow prisoner at the Abbaye. You cannot deny this, Emilie."
"Nor do I, dear mamma," said Emilie. "I cannot deceive you, indeed I would not; and the best proof that I do not wish to deceive you—that I never attempted it—is, that I told you all I thought and felt about that stranger. I told you that his honourable, brave, and generous conduct towards us, when we were in distress, made an impression upon my heart—that I preferred him to any person I had ever seen—and I told you, my dear mamma, that—"
"You told me too much," interrupted Mad. de Coulanges; "more than I wished to hear—more than I will have repeated, Emilie. This is romance and nonsense. The man, whoever he was—and Heaven knows who he was!—behaved very well, and was a very agreeable person: but what then? are you ever likely to see him again? Do you even know his birth—his name—his country—or any thing about him, but that he was brave and generous?—So are fifty other men, five hundred, five thousand, five million, I hope. But is this any reason that you should refuse to marry M. de Brisac? Henry the Fourth was brave and generous two hundred years ago. That is as much to the purpose. You have as much chance of establishing yourself, if you wait for Henry the Fourth to come to life again, as if you wait for this nameless nobody of a hero—who is perhaps married, after all—who knows!—Really, Emilie, this is too absurd!"
"But, dear mamma, I cannot marry one man and love another—love I did not quite mean to say. But whilst I prefer another, I cannot, in honour, marry M. de Brisac."
"Honour!—Love!—But in France, in my time, who ever heard of a young lady's being in love before she was married? You astonish, you frighten, you shock me, child! Recollect yourself, Emilie! Misfortune may have deprived you of the vast possessions to which you are heiress; but do not, therefore, degrade yourself and me by forgetting your principles, and all that the representative of the house of Coulanges ought to remember. And as for myself—have I no claim upon your affections, Emilie?—have not I been a fond mother?"
"Oh, yes!" said Emilie, melting into tears. "Of your kindness I think more than of any thing else!—more than of the whole house of Coulanges!"
"Do not let me see you in tears, child!" said Mad. de Coulanges, moved by Emilie's grief. "Your tears hurt my nerves more even than Mrs. Somers' grossierete. You must blame Mrs. Somers, not me, for all this—her temper drives me to it—I cannot live with her. We have no alternative. Emilie, my sweet child! make me happy!—I am miserable in this house. Hitherto you have ever been the best of daughters, and you shall find me the most indulgent of mothers. One whole month I will give you to change your mind, and recollect your duty. At the end of that time, I must see you Mad. de Brisac, and in a house of your own.—In the house of Mrs. Somers I will not, I cannot longer remain."
Poor Emilie was glad of the reprieve of one month. She retired from her mother's presence in silent anguish, and hastened to her own apartment, that she might give way to her grief. There she found Mrs. Somers waiting for her, seated in an arm-chair, with an open letter in her hand.
"Why do you start, Emilie? You look as if you were sorry to find me here," cried Mrs. Somers—"IF THAT be the case, Mlle. de Coulanges—"
"Oh, Mrs. Somers! do not begin to quarrel with me at this moment, for I shall not be able to bear it—I am sufficiently unhappy already!" said Emilie.
"I am extremely sorry that any thing should make you unhappy, Emilie," said Mrs. Somers; "but I think that you had never less reason than at this moment to suspect me of an intention of quarrelling with you—I came here with a very different design. May I know the cause of your distress?"
Emilie hesitated, for she did not know how to explain the cause without imputing blame either to Mrs. Somers or to her mother—she could only say—"M. de Brisac—"
"What!" cried Mrs. Somers, "your mother wants you to marry him?"
"In one month."
"And you have consented?"
"But—Good Heavens! Emilie, what weakness of mind there is in that but—"
"Is it weakness of mind to fear to disobey my mother—to dread to offend her for ever—to render her unhappy—and to deprive her, perhaps, even of the means of subsistence?"
"The means of subsistence! my dear. This phrase, you know, can only be a figure of rhetoric," said Mrs. Somers. "Your refusing M. de Brisac cannot deprive your mother of the means of subsistence. In the first place, she expects to recover her property in France."
"No," said Emilie; "she has given up these hopes—you have persuaded her that they are vain."
"Indeed I think them so. But still you must know, my dear, that your mother can never be in want of the means of subsistence, nor any of the conveniences, and, I may add, luxuries of life, whilst I am alive."
Emilie sighed; and when Mrs. Somers urged her more closely, she said, "Mamma has not, till lately, been accustomed to live on the bounty of others; the sense of dependence produces many painful feelings, and renders people more susceptible than perhaps they would be, were they on terms of equality."
"To what does all this tend, my dear?" interrupted Mrs. Somers. "Is Mad. de Coulanges offended with me?—Is she tired of living with me?—Does she wish to quit my house?—And where does she intend to go?—Oh! that is a question that I need not ask!—Yes, yes—I have long foreseen it—you have arranged it admirably—you go to Lady Littleton, I presume?"
"To M. de Brisac?"
"Mamma wishes to go—"
"Then to M. de Brisac, for Heaven's sake, let her go," cried Mrs. Somers, bursting into a fit of laughter, which astonished Emilie beyond measure. "To M. de Brisac let her go—'tis the best thing she can possibly do, my dear; and seriously to tell you the truth, I have always thought it would be an excellent match. Since she is so much prepossessed in his favour, can she do better than marry him? and, as he is so much attached to the house of Coulanges, when he cannot have the daughter, can he do better than marry the mother?—Your mother does not look too old for him, when she is well rouged; and I am sure, if she heard me say so, she would forgive me all the rest—butterfly, frivolity, and all inclusive. Permit me, Emilie, to laugh."
"I cannot permit any body to laugh at mamma," said Emilie; "and Mrs. Somers is the last person whom I should have supposed would have been inclined to laugh, when I told her that I was really unhappy."
"My dear Emilie, I forgive you for being angry, because I never saw you angry before; and that is more than you can say for me. You do me justice, however, by supposing that I should be the last person to laugh when you are in woe, unless I thought—unless I was sure—that I could remove the cause, and make you completely happy."
"That, I fear, is impossible," said Emilie: "for mamma's pride and her feelings have been so much hurt, that I do not think any apology would now calm her mind."
"Apology!—I am not in the least inclined to make any. Can I tell Mad. de Coulanges that I do not think her frivolous?—Impossible, indeed, my dear! I will do any thing else to oblige you. But I have as much pride, and as much feeling, in my own way, as any of the house of Coulanges: and if, after all I have done, madame can quarrel with me about a butterfly, I must say, not only that she is the most frivolous, but the most ungrateful woman upon earth; and, as she desires to quit my house, far from attempting to detain her, I can only wish that she may accomplish her purpose as soon as possible—as soon as it may suit her own convenience. As for you, Emilie, I do not suspect you of the ingratitude of wishing to leave me—I can make distinctions, even when I have most reason to be angry. I do not blame you, my dear—I do not ever ask you to blame your mother. I respect your filial piety—I am sure you must think her to blame, but I do not desire you to say so. Could any thing be more barbarously selfish than the plan of marrying you to this M. de Brisac, that she might have an establishment more to her taste than my house has been able to afford?"
Emilie attempted, but in vain, to say a few words for her mother. Mrs. Somers ran on with her own thoughts.
"And at what a time, at what a cruel time for me, did Mad. de Coulanges choose to express her desire to leave my house—at the moment when my whole soul was intent upon a scheme for the happiness of her daughter! Yes, Emilie, for your happiness!—and, my dear, your mother's conduct shall change nothing in my views. You I have always found uniformly kind, gentle, grateful—I will say no more—I have found in you, Emilie, real magnanimity. I have tried your temper much—sometimes too much—but I have always found you proof against these petty trials. Your character is suited to mine. I love you, as if you were my daughter, and I wish you to be my daughter.—Now you know my whole mind, Emilie. My son—my eldest son, I should with emphasis say, if I were speaking to Mad. de Coulanges—will be here in a few days: read this letter. How happy I shall be if you find him—or if you will make him—such as you can entirely approve and love! You will have power over him—your influence will do what his mother's never could accomplish. But whatever reasons I may have to complain of him, this is not the time to state them—you will connect him with me. At all events, he is a man of honour and a gentleman; and as he is not, thank Heaven! under the debasing necessity of considering fortune in the choice of a wife, he is, at least in this respect, worthy of my dear and high-minded Emilie."
Mrs. Somers paused, and fixed her eyes eagerly on Emilie, impatient for her answer, and already half provoked by not seeing the sudden transition of countenance which she had pictured in her imagination. With a mixture of dignity and affectionate gratitude in her manner, Emilie was beginning to thank Mrs. Somers for the generous kindness of her intention; but this susceptible lady interrupted her, and exclaimed, "Spare me your thanks, Mlle. de Coulanges, and tell me at once what is passing in your mind; for something very extraordinary is certainly passing there, which I cannot comprehend. Surely you cannot for a moment imagine that your mother will insist upon your now accepting of M. de Brisac; or, if she does, surely you would not have the weakness to yield. I must have some proof of strength of mind from my friends. You must judge for yourself, Emilie, or you are not the person I take you for. You will have full opportunity of judging in a few days. Will you promise me that you will decide entirely for yourself, and that you will keep your mind unbiassed? Will you promise me this? And will you speak, at all events, my dear, that I may understand you?"
Emilie, who saw that even before she spoke Mrs. Somers was on the brink of anger, trembled at the idea of confessing the truth—that her heart was already biassed in favour of another: she had, however, the courage to explain to her all that passed in her mind. Mrs. Somers heard her with inexpressible disappointment. She was silent for some minutes. At last she said, in a voice of constrained passion, "Mlle. de Coulanges, I have only one question to ask of you—you will reflect before you answer it, because on your reply depends the continuance or utter dissolution of our friendship—do you, or do you not, think proper to refuse my son before you have seen him?"
"Before I have seen Mr. Somers, it surely can be no affront to you or to him," said Emilie, "to decline an offer that I cannot accept, especially when I give as my reason, that my mind is prepossessed in favour of another. With that prepossession, I cannot unite myself to your son: I can only express to you my gratitude—my most sincere gratitude—for your kind and generous intentions, and my hopes that he will find, amongst his own countrywomen, one more suited to him than I can be. His fortune is far above—"
"Say no more, I beg, Mlle. de Coulanges—I asked only for a simple answer to a plain question. You refuse my son—you refuse to be my daughter. I am satisfied—perfectly satisfied. I suppose you have arranged to go to Lady Littleton's. I heartily hope that she may be able to make her house more agreeable to you than I could render mine. Shake hands, Mlle. de Coulanges. You have my best wishes for your health and happiness—Here we part."
"Oh! do not let us part in anger!" said Emilie.
"In anger!—not in the least—I never was cooler in my life. You have completely cooled me—you have shown me the folly of that warmth of friendship which can meet with no return."
"Would it be a suitable return for your warm friendship to deceive your son?" said Emilie.
"To deceive me, I think still less suitable!" cried Mrs. Somers.
"And how have I deceived you?"
"You know best. Why was I kept in ignorance till the last moment? Why did you never confide your thoughts to me, Emilie? Why did you never till now say one word to me of this strange attachment?"
"There was no necessity for speaking till now," said Emilie. "It is a subject I never named to any one except to mamma—a subject on which I did not think it right to speak to any one but to a parent."
"Your notions of right and wrong, ma'am, differ widely from mine—we are not fit to live together. I have no idea of a friend's concealing any thing from me: without entire confidence, there is no friendship—at least no friendship with me. Pray no tears. I am not fond of scenes. Nobody ever is that feels much.—Adieu!—Adieu!"
Mrs. Somers hurried out of the room, repeating, "I'll write directly—this instant—to Lady Littleton. Mad. de Coulanges shall not be kept prisoner in my house." Emilie stood motionless.
In a few minutes Mrs. Somers returned with an unfolded letter, which she put into Emilie's passive hand. "Read it, ma'am, I beg—read it. I do every thing openly—every thing handsomely, I hope—whatever may be my faults."
The letter was written with a rapid hand, which was scarcely legible, especially to a foreigner. Emilie, with her eyes full of tears, had no chance of deciphering it.
"Do not hurry yourself, ma'am," said Mrs. Somers. "I will leave you my letter to show to madame la comtesse, and then you will be so good as to despatch it.—Mlle. de Coulanges," cried Mrs. Somers, "you will be so obliging as to refrain from mentioning to the countess the foolish offer that I made you in my son's name this morning. There is no necessity for mortifying my pride any farther—a refusal from you is quite decisive—so pray let there be no consultations. As to the rest, the blame of our disagreement will of course be thrown upon me."
As Emilie moved towards the door, Mrs. Somers said, "Mlle. de Coulanges, I beg pardon for calling you back: but should you ever think of this business or of me, hereafter, you will do me the justice to remember that I made the proposal to you at a time when I was under the firm belief that you would never recover an inch of your estates in France."
"And you, dear Mrs. Somers, if you should ever think of me hereafter," said Emilie, "will, I hope, remember that my answer was given under the same belief."
With a look which seemed to refuse assent, Mrs. Somers continued, "I am as well aware, ma'am, as you, or Mad. de Coulanges, can be, that if you should recover your hereditary property, the heiress of the house of Coulanges would be a person to whom my son should not presume to aspire."
"Oh, Mrs. Somers! Is not this cruel mockery—undeserved by me—unworthy of you?"
"Mockery!—Ma'am, it is not three days since your mother was so positive in her expectations of being in the Hotel de Coulanges before next winter, that she was almost in fits because I ventured to differ on this point from her and Lady Littleton—Lady Littleton's judgment is much better than mine, and has, of course, had its weight—very justly—But I insist upon your understanding clearly that it had no weight with me in this affair. Whatever you may imagine, I never thought of the Coulanges estate."
"Believe me, I never could have imagined that you did. If I could suspect Mrs. Somers of interested motives," said Emilie, with emotion so great that she could scarcely articulate the words, "I must be an unfeeling—an ungrateful idiot!"
"No, not an idiot, Mlle. de Coulanges—nobody can mistake you for an idiot: but, as I was going to say, if you inquire, Lady Littleton can tell you that I was absolutely provoked when I first heard you had a chance of recovering your property—you may smile, ma'am, but it is perfectly true. I own I might have been more prudent; but prudence, in affairs of the heart, is not one of my virtues: I own, however, it would have been more prudent to have refrained from making this proposal, till you had received a positive answer from France."
"And why?" said Emilie. "Whatever that answer might have been, surely you must be certain that it would not have made any alteration in my conduct.—You are silent, Mrs. Somers!—You wound me to the heart!—Oh! do me justice!—Justice is all I ask."
"I think that I do you justice—full justice—Mlle. de Coulanges; and if it wounds you to the heart, I am sorry for it; but that is not my fault."
Emilie's countenance suddenly changed from the expression of supplicating tenderness to haughty indignation. "You doubt my integrity!" she exclaimed: "then, indeed, Mrs. Somers, it is best that we should part!"
Mlle. de Coulanges disappeared, and Mrs. Somers shut herself up in her room, where she walked backwards and forwards for above an hour, then threw herself upon a sofa, and remained nearly another hour, till Mrs. Masham came to say that it was time to dress for dinner. She then started up, saying aloud, "I will think no more of these ungrateful people."
"They are gone, ma'am," said Mrs. Masham—"gone, and gave no vails!—which I don't think on, upon my own account, God knows! for if millions were offered me, in pocket-pieces, I would not touch one from any soul that comes to the house, having enough, and more than enough, from my own generous lady, who is the only person I stoop to receive from with pleasure. But there are others in the house who are accustomed to vails, and, after staying so long, it was a little ungenteel to go without so much as offering any one any thing—and to go in such a hurry and huff—taking only a French leave, after all! I must acknowledge with you, ma'am, that they are the ungratefullest people that ever were seen in England. Why, ma'am, I went backwards and forwards often enough into their apartments, to try to make out the cause of the packings and messages to the washer-woman, that I might inform you, but nothing transpired; yet I am certain, in their hearts, they are more black and ungrateful than any that ever were born; for there!—at the last moment, when even, for old acquaintance sake, the tears stood in my eyes, there was Miss Emilie, sitting as composedly as a judge, painting a butterfly's wing on some of her Frenchifications! Her eyes were red, to do her justice; but whether with painting or crying, I can't pretend to be certain. But as to Mad. de Coulanges, I can answer for her that the sole thing in nature she thought of, in leaving this house, was the bad step of the hackney-coach."
"Hackney-coach!" cried Mrs. Somers, with surprise. "Did they go away in a hackney-coach?"
"Yes, ma'am, much against the countess' stomach, I am sure: I only wish you had seen the face she made when the glass would not come up."
"But why did not they take my carriage, or wait for Lady Littleton's? They were, it seems, in a violent hurry to be gone," said Mrs. Somers.
"So it seems, indeed, ma'am—no better proof of their being the most ungratefullest people in the universe: but so it is, by all accounts, with all of their nation—the French having no constant hearts for any thing but singing, and dancing, and dressing, and making merry-andrews of themselves. Indeed, I own, till to-day, I thought Miss Emilie had less of the merry-andrew nature than any of her country; but the butterfly has satisfied me that there is no striving against climate and natural character, which conquer gratitude and every thing else."
Mrs. Somers sighed, and told Masham that she had said enough upon this disagreeable subject. At dinner the subject was renewed by many visitors, who, as soon as they found that Mad. and Mlle. de Coulanges had left Mrs. Somers, began to find innumerable faults with the French in general, and with the countess and her daughter in particular. On the chapter of gratitude they were most severe; and Mrs. Somers was universally pitied for having so much generosity, and blamed for having had so much patience. Every body declared that they foresaw how she would be treated; and the exclamations of wonder at Lady Littleton's inviting to her house those who had behaved so ill to her friend were unceasing. Mrs. Somers all the time denied that she had any cause of complaint against either Mad. de Coulanges or her daughter; but the company judiciously trusted more to her looks than her words. Every thing was said or hinted that could exasperate her against her former favourites: for Mad. de Coulanges had made many enemies by engrossing an unreasonable share in the conversation; and Emilie by attracting too great a portion of attention by her beauty and engaging manners. Malice often overshoots the mark: Mrs. Somers was at first glad to hear the objects of her indignation abused; but at last she began to think the profusion of blame greater than was merited, and when she retired to rest at night, and when Masham began with "Oh, ma'am! do you know that Mlle. de Coulanges—" Mrs. Somers interrupted her, and said, "Masham, I desire to hear nothing more about Mlle. de Coulanges: I have heard her and her mother abused, without ceasing, these two hours, and that is enough."
"Lord! ma'am, I was not going to abuse them—God forbid! I was just going to tell you," cried Masham, "that never was any thing so mistaken as all I said before dinner. Just now, ma'am, when I went into the little dressing-room, within Mad. de Coulanges' room, and happened to open the wardrobe, I was quite struck back with shame at my own unjustice: there, ma'am, poor Miss Emilie left something—and out of her best things!—to every maid-servant in the house; all directed in her own hand, and with a good word for each; and this ring for me, which she is kind enough to say is of no value but to put me in mind of all the attentions I have shown her and her mother—which, I am sure, were scarcely worth noticing, especially at such a time when she had enough to do, and her heart full, no doubt, poor soul!—There are her little paintings and embroideries, and pretty things, that she did when she was confined with her sprain, all laid out in order—'tis my astonishment how she found time!—and directed to her friends in London, as keep-sakes:—and the very butterfly that I was so angry with her for staying to finish, is on something for you, ma'am; and here's a packet that was with it, and that nobody saw till this minute."
"Give it me!" cried Mrs. Somers. She tore it open, and found, in the first place, the pocketbook, full of bank notes, which she had given Mad. de Coulanges, with a few polite but haughty lines from the countess, saying that only twenty guineas had been used, which she hoped, at some future period, to be able to repay. Then came a note from Emilie, in which Mrs. Somers found her own letter to Lady Littleton. Emilie expressed herself as follows.
"Many thanks for the enclosed, but we have determined not to go to Lady Littleton's: at least we will take care not to be the cause of quarrel between friends to whom we are so much obliged.—No, dear Mrs. Somers! we do not part in anger. Excuse me, if the last words I said to you were hasty—they were forced from me by a moment of passion—but it is past: all your generosity, all your kindness, the recollection of all that you have done, all that you have wished for my happiness, rush upon my mind; and every other thought, and every other feeling, is forgotten. Would to Heaven that I could express to you my gratitude by actions!—but words, alas! are all that I have in my power—and where shall I find words that can reach your heart? I had better be silent, and trust to time and to you. I know your generous temper—you will soon blame yourself for having judged too severely of Emilie. But do not reproach yourself—do not let this give you a moment's uneasiness: the clouds pass away, and the blue sky remains. Think only—as I ever shall—of your goodness to mamma and to me. Adieu!
"EMILIE DE COULANGES."
Mrs. Somers was much affected by this letter, and by the information that Emilie and her mother had declined taking refuge with Lady Littleton, lest they should occasion jealousies between her and her friend. Generous people are, of all others, the most touched by generosity of sentiment or of action. Mrs. Somers went to bed, enraged against herself—but it was now too late.
In the mean time, Emilie and her mother were in an obscure lodging, at a haberdasher's near Golden Square. The pride of Mad. de Coulanges, at first, supported her even beyond her daughter's expectations; she uttered no complaints, but frequently repeated, "Mais nous sommes bien ici, tres bien—we cannot expect to have things as well as at the Hotel de Coulanges." In a short time she was threatened with fits of her vapeurs noirs; but Emilie, with the assistance of her whole store of French songs, a bird-organ, a lap-dog, and a squirrel, belonging to the girl of the house, contrived to avert the danger for the present—as to the future, she trembled to think of it. M. de Brisac seemed to be continually in her mother's thoughts; and whatever occurred, or whatever was the subject of conversation, Mad. de Coulanges always found means to end with "a propos de M. de Brisac." Faithful to her promise, however, which Emilie, with the utmost delicacy, recalled to her mind, she declared that she would not give M. de Brisac an answer till the end of the month, which she had allowed her daughter for reflection, and that, till that period, she would not even let him know where they were to be found. Emilie thought that the time went very fast, and her mother evidently rejoiced at the idea that the month would soon be at an end. Emilie endeavoured, with all her skill, to demonstrate to her mother that it would be possible to support themselves, by her industry and ingenuity, without this marriage; and to this, Mad. de Coulanges at first replied, "Try, and you will soon be tired, child." Emilie's spirits rose on receiving this permission: she began by copying music for a music-shop in the neighbourhood; and her mother saw, with astonishment, that she persevered in her design, and that no fatigue or discouraging circumstances could vanquish her resolution.
"Good Heavens! my child," said she, "you will wear yourself to a skeleton with copying music, and with painting, and embroidery, besides stooping so many hours over that tambour frame. My dear, how can you bear all this?"
"How!—Oh! dear mamma!" said Emilie, "there is no great difficulty in all this to me—the difficulty, the impossibility would be, to live happily with a man I despise."
"I wish," cried Mad. de Coulanges, "I wish to all the saints, that that hero of yours, that fellow-prisoner of ours at the Abbaye, with his humanity, and his generosity, and his courage, and all his fine qualities, had kept out of your way, Emilie: I wish he were fairly at the bottom of the Black Sea."
"But you forget that he was the means of obtaining your liberty, mamma."
"I wish I could forget it—I am always doomed to be obliged to those whom I cannot love. But, after all, you might as well think of the khan of Tartary as of this man, whom we shall never hear of more. Marry M. de Brisac, like a reasonable creature, and do not let me see you bending, as you do, for ever, over a tambour frame, wasting your fine eyes and spoiling your charming shape."
"But, mamma," said Emilie, "would it not be much worse to marry one man, and like another?"
"For mercy's sake! say something new to me, Emilie; at all events, I have heard this a hundred times."
"The simple truth, alas!" said Emilie, "must always be the same: I wish I could put it in any new light that would please you, dear mamma."
"It never can please me, child," cried Mad. de Coulanges, angrily; "nor can you please me, either, as you are going on. Fine heroism, truly!—you will sacrifice your duty and your mother to your obstinacy in an idle fancy. But, remember, the last days of the month are at hand—longer I will not listen to such provoking nonsense—it has half killed me already."
Neither lap-dog, squirrel, bird-organ, nor Emilie's whole stock of French songs, could longer support the vivacity of Mad. de Coulanges; for some days she had passed the time in watching and listening to the London cries, as she sat at her window: the figures and sounds in this busy part of the town were quite new to her; and, whilst the novelty lasted, she was, like a child, good-humoured and full of exclamations. The want of some one to listen to these exclamations was an insupportable evil; she complained terribly of her daughter's silence, whilst she was attending to her different employments. This want of conversation, and of all the luxuries she enjoyed at the house of Mrs. Somers, her anger against that lady, her loss of all hope of hearing from France, and her fear that Emilie would at last absolutely refuse to obey and marry M. de Brisac, all together operated so powerfully upon Mad. de Coulanges, that she really felt sick, and kept her bed. Emilie now confined herself to her mother's room, and attended her with the most affectionate care, and with a degree of anxiety, which those only can comprehend who have believed themselves to be the cause of the illness of a friend—of a parent. Mad. de Coulanges would sometimes reply, when her daughter asked her if such or such a thing had done her good, "No, my child, nothing will do me good but your obedience, which you refuse me—perhaps on my deathbed."
Though Emilie did not apprehend that her mother was in any immediate danger, yet these continual fits of low spirits and nervous attacks excited much alarm. Emilie's reflections on her own helpless situation contributed to magnify her fears: she considered that she was a stranger, a foreigner, without friends, without credit, almost without money, and deprived, by the necessary attendance on her sick mother, of all power to earn any by her own exertions. The bodily fatigue that she endured, even without any mental anxiety, would have been sufficient to wear out the spirits of a more robust person than Emilie. She had no human being to assist her but a young girl, a servant-maid belonging to the house, who, fortunately, was active and good-natured; but her mistress was excessively cross, vulgar, and avaricious; avarice, indeed, often seemed to conquer in her the common feelings of humanity. Once, whilst Mad. de Coulanges was extremely ill, she forced her way into her bedchamber, to insist upon changing the counterpane upon the bed, which she said was too good to be stained with coffee: another day, when she was angry with Mlle. de Coulanges, for having cracked a basin by heating some soup for her mother, she declared, in the least ceremonious terms possible, that she hated to have any of the French refugees and emigrants in the house, for that she was not accustomed to let her lodgings to folk that nobody ever came near to visit, and that lived only upon soups and salads, and such low stuff; "and who, when they were ill, never so much as called in a physician, or even a nurse, but must take up the time of people that were not bound to wait upon them."
Mlle. de Coulanges bore all this patiently rather than run the hazard of removing to other lodgings whilst her mother was so ill. The countess had a prejudice against English physicians, as she affirmed that it was impossible that they could understand French constitutions, especially hers, which was different from that of any other human being, and which, as she said, only one medical man in France rightly understood. At last, however, she yielded to the persuasions of her daughter, and permitted Emilie to send for a physician. When she inquired what he thought of her mother, he said, that she was in a nervous fever, and that unless her mind was kept free from anxiety he could not answer for her recovery. Mad. de Coulanges looked full at her daughter, who was standing at the foot of her bed; a mist came before Emilie's eyes, a cold dew covered her forehead, and she was forced to hold by the bed-post to support herself.
At this instant the door opened, and Lady Littleton appeared. Emilie sprang forward, and threw herself into her arms—Mad. de Coulanges started up in her bed, exclaiming "Ah Ciel!" and then all were silent—except the mistress of the house, who went on making apologies about the dirt of her stairs, and its being Friday night. But as she at length perceived that not a soul in the room knew a word she was saying, she retreated. The physician took leave—and, when they were thus left at liberty, Lady Littleton seated herself in the broken arm-chair beside the bed, and told Mad. de Coulanges that Mrs. Somers had been very unhappy, in consequence of their quarrel; and that she had been indefatigable in her inquiries and endeavours to find out the place of their retreat; that she had at last given up the search in despair. "But," continued Lady Littleton, "it has been my good fortune to discover you by means of this flower of Emilie's painting"—(she produced a little hand-screen, which Emilie had lately made, and which she had sent to be disposed of at the Repository for Ingenious Works). "I knew it to be yours, my dear, because it is an exact resemblance of one upon your watch of Flora, which was drawn from the flower I brought you from Kew Gardens. Now you must not be angry with me for finding you out, nor for begging of you to be reconciled to poor Mrs. Somers, who has suffered much in your absence—much from the idea of what you would endure—and more from her self-reproaches. She has, indeed, an unfortunate susceptibility of temper, which makes her sometimes forget both politeness and justice: but, as you well know, her heart is excellent. Come, you must promise me to meet her at my house, as soon as you are able to go out, my dear Mad. de Coulanges."
"I do not know when that will be," replied Mad. de Coulanges, in a sick voice: "I was never so ill in my life—and so the physician says. But I am revived by seeing Lady Littleton—she is, and ever has been, all goodness and politeness to us. I am ashamed that she should see us in such a miserable place. Emilie, give me my other night-riband, and the wretched little looking-glass."
Mad. de Coulanges sat up and arranged her head-dress. At this moment, Lady Littleton took Emilie aside, and put into her hand a letter from France!—"I would not speak of it suddenly to your mother, my dear," said she; "but you will find the proper time. I hope it contains good news—at present I will have patience. You shall see me again soon; and you must, at all events, let me take you from this miserable place. Mrs. Somers has been punished enough.—Adieu!—I long to know the news from France."
The news from France was such as made the looking-glass drop from the hand of Mad. de Coulanges. It was a letter from the son of her old steward, to tell her that his father was dead—that he was now in possession of all the family fortune, which he was impatient to restore to the wife and daughter of his former master and friend.
"Heaven be praised!" exclaimed Mad. de Coulanges, in an ecstasy of joy—"Heaven be praised! we shall once more see dear Paris, and the Hotel de Coulanges!"
"Heaven be praised!" cried Emilie, "I shall never more see M. de Brisac. My mother, I am sure, will no longer wish me to marry him."
"No, in truth," said the countess, "it would now be a most unequal match, and one to which he is by no means entitled. How fortunate it is that I had not given him my promise!—After all, your aversion to him, child, was quite providential. Now you may form the most splendid alliance that your heart can desire."
"My heart," said Emilie, sighing, "desires no splendid alliance. But had you not better lie down, dear mamma?—You will certainly catch cold—and remember, your mind must be kept quiet."
It was impossible to keep her mind quiet; she ran on from one subject to another with extravagant volubility; and Emilie was afraid that she would, the next day, be quite exhausted; but, on the contrary, after talking above half the night, she fell into a sound sleep; and when she wakened, after having slept fourteen hours, she declared that she would no longer be kept a prisoner in bed. The renovating effects of joy and the influence of the imagination were never more strongly displayed. "Le malheur passe n'est bon qu'a etre oublie," was la comtesse's favourite maxim—and to do her justice, she was as ready to forget past quarrels as past misfortunes. She readily complied with Emilie's request that she would, as soon as she was able to go out, accompany her to Lady Littleton's, that they might meet and be reconciled to Mrs. Somers.
"She has the most tormenting temper imaginable," said the countess; "and I would not live with her for the universe—Mais d'ailleurs c'est la meilleure femme du monde."
If, instead of being the best woman in the world, Mrs. Somers had been the worst, and if, instead of being a benefactress, she had been an enemy, it would have been all the same thing to the countess; for, in this moment, she was, as usual, like a child, a friend to every creature of every kind.
Her volubility was interrupted by the arrival of Lady Littleton, who came to carry Mad. de Coulanges and Emilie to her house, where, as her ladyship said, Mrs. Somers was impatiently waiting for them. Lady Littleton had prevented her from coming to this poor lodging-house, because she knew that the being seen there would mortify the pride of some of the house of Coulanges.
Mrs. Somers was indeed waiting for them with inexpressible impatience. The moment she heard their voices in the hall at Lady Littleton's, she ran down stairs to meet them; and as she embraced Emilie she could not refrain from bursting into tears.
"Tears of joy, these must be," cried Mad. de Coulanges: "we are all happy now—perfectly happy—Are not we?—Embrace me, Mrs. Somers—Emilie shall not have all your heart—I have some gratitude as well as my daughter; and I should have none if I did not love you—especially at this moment."
Mad. de Coulanges was, by this time, at the head of the stairs; a servant opened the drawing-room door; but something was amiss with the strings of her sandals—she would stay to adjust them—and said to Emilie, "Allez, allez—entrez."
Emilie obeyed. An instant afterwards Mad. de Coulanges thought she heard a sudden cry, either of joy or grief, from Emilie—she hurried into the drawing-room.
"Bon Dieu! c'est notre homme de l'Abbaye!" cried she, starting back at the sight of a gentleman who had been kneeling at Emilie's feet, and who arose as she entered.
"My son!" said Mrs. Somers, eagerly presenting him to Mad. de Coulanges—"my son! whom it is in your power to make the happiest or the most miserable of men!"
"In my power!—in Emilie's, you mean, I suppose," said the countess, smiling. "She is so good a girl that I cannot make her miserable; and as for you, Mrs. Somers, the honour of your alliance—and our obligations—But then I shall be miserable myself if she does not go back with me to the Hotel de Coulanges—Ah! Ciel!—And then poor M. de Brisac, he will be miserable, unless, to comfort him, I marry him myself."—Half laughing, half crying, Mad. de Coulanges scarcely knew what she said or did.
It was some time before she was sufficiently composed to understand clearly what was said to her by any person in the room, though she asked, half a dozen times, at least, from every one present, an explanation of all that had happened.
Lady Littleton was the only person who could give an explanation. She had contrived this meeting, and even Mrs. Somers had not foreseen the event—she never suspected that her own son was the very person to whom Emilie was attached, and that it was for Emilie's sake her son had hitherto refused to comply with her earnest desire that he should marry and settle in the world. He had no hopes that she would consent to his marrying a French girl without fortune, because she formerly quarrelled with him for refusing to marry a rich lady of quality, who happened to be, at that time, high in her favour. Upon the summons home that he received from her, he was alarmed by the apprehension that she had some new alliance in view for him, and he resolved, before he saw his mother, to trust his secret to Lady Littleton, who had always been a mediatrix and peace-maker. He declined telling the name of the object of his affections; but, from his description, and from many concomitant dates and circumstances, Lady Littleton was led to suspect that it might be Emilie de Coulanges. She consequently contrived an interview, which she knew must be decisive.
Mad. de Coulanges, whose imagination was now at Paris, felt rather disappointed at the idea of her daughter's marrying an Englishman, who was neither a count, a marquis, nor even a baron; but Lady Littleton at length obtained that consent which she knew would be necessary to render Emilie happy, even in following the dictates of her heart, or her reason.
Some conversation passed between Lady Littleton and Mrs. Somers about a dormant title in the Somers' family, which might be revived. This made a wonderful impression on the countess. She yielded, as she did every thing else, with a good grace.
History does not say, whether she did or did not console M. de Brisac: we are only informed that, immediately after her daughter's marriage, she returned to Paris, and gave a splendid ball at her Hotel de Coulanges. We are further assured that Mrs. Somers never quarrelled with Emilie from the day of her marriage till the day of her death—but that is incredible.
THE MODERN GRISELDA.
"And since in man right reason bears the sway, Let that frail thing, weak woman, have her way."
"Blest as th'immortal gods is he, The youth who fondly sits by thee, Who sees and hears thee all the while, Softly speak and sweetly smile."
"Is not this ode set to music, my dear Griselda?" said the happy bridegroom to his bride.
"Yes, surely, my dear: did you never hear it?"
"Never; and I am glad of it, for I shall have the pleasure of hearing it for the first time from you, my love: will you be so kind as to play it for me?"
"Most willingly," said Griselda, with an enchanting smile; "but I am afraid that I shall not be able to do it justice," added she, as she sat down to her harp, and threw her white arm across the chords.
"Charming! Thank you, my love," said the bridegroom, who had listened with enthusiastic devotion.—"Will you let me hear it once more?"
The complaisant bride repeated the strain.
"Thank you, my dear love," repeated her husband. This time he omitted the word "charming"—she missed it, and, pouting prettily, said,
"I never can play any thing so well the second time as the first."—She paused: but as no compliment ensued, she continued, in a more pettish tone, "And for that reason, I do hate to be made to play any thing twice over."
"I did not know that, my dearest love, or I would not have asked you to do it; but I am the more obliged to you for your ready compliance."
"Obliged!—Oh, my dear, I am sure you could not be the least obliged to me, for I know I played it horridly: I hate flattery."
"I am convinced of that, my dear, and therefore I never flatter: you know I did not say that you played as well the last time as the first, did I?"
"No, I did not say you did," cried Griselda, and her colour rose as she spoke: she tuned her harp with some precipitation—"This harp is terribly out of tune."
"Is it? I did not perceive it."
"Did not you, indeed? I am sorry for that."
"Why so, my dear?"
"Because, my dear, I own that I would rather have had the blame thrown on my harp than upon myself."
"Blame? my love!—But I threw no blame either on you or your harp. I cannot recollect saying even a syllable that implied blame."
"No, my dear, you did not say a syllable; but in some cases the silence of those we love is the worst, the most mortifying species of blame."
The tears came into Griselda's beautiful eyes.
"My sweet love," said he, "how can you let such a trifle affect you so much?"
"Nothing is a trifle to me which concerns those I love," said Griselda.—Her husband kissed away the pearly drops which rolled over her vermeil-tinctured cheeks. "My love," said he, "this is having too much sensibility."
"Yes, I own I have too much sensibility," said she, "too much—a great deal too much, for my own happiness.—Nothing ever can be a trifle to me which marks the decline of the affection of those who are most dear to me."
The tenderest protestations of undiminished and unalterable affection could not for some time reassure this timid sensibility: but at length the lady suffered herself to be comforted, and with a languid smile said, that she hoped she was mistaken—that her fears were perhaps unreasonable—that she prayed to Heaven they might in future prove groundless.
A few weeks afterwards her husband unexpectedly met with Mr. Granby, a friend, of whose company he was particularly fond: he invited him home to dinner, and was talking over past times in all the gaiety and innocence of his heart, when suddenly his wife rose and left the room.—As her absence appeared to him long, and as he had begged his friend to postpone an excellent story till her return, he went to her apartment and called "Griselda!—Griselda, my love!"—No Griselda answered.—He searched for her in vain in every room in the house: at last, in an alcove in the garden, he found the fair dissolved in tears.
"Good Heavens! my dear Griselda, what can be the matter?"
A melancholy, not to say sullen, silence was maintained by his dear Griselda, till this question had been reiterated in all the possible tones of fond solicitude and alarm: at last, in broken sentences, she replied that she saw he did not love her—never had loved her; that she had now but too much reason to be convinced that all her fears were real, not imaginary; that her presentiments, alas! never deceived her; that she was the most miserable woman on earth.
Her husband's unfeigned astonishment she seemed to consider as an aggravation of her woes, and it was an additional insult to plead ignorance of his offence.
If he did not understand her feelings, it was impossible, it was needless, to explain them. He must have lost all sympathy with her, all tenderness for her, if he did not know what had passed in her mind.
The man stood in stupid innocence. Provoked to speak more plainly, the lady exclaimed, "Unfeeling, cruel, barbarous man!—Have not you this whole day been trying your utmost skill to torment me to death? and, proud of your success, now you come to enjoy your triumph."
"Yes, triumph!—I see it in your eyes—it is in vain to deny it. All this I owe to your friend Mr. Granby. Why he should be my enemy!—I who never injured him, or any body living, in thought, word, or deed—why he should be my enemy!"—
"Enemy!—My love, this is the strangest fancy! Why should you imagine that he is your enemy?"
"He is my enemy—nobody shall ever convince me of the contrary; he has wounded me in the tenderest point, and in the basest manner: has not he done his utmost, in the most artful, insidious way,—even before my face,—to persuade you that you were a thousand times happier when you were a bachelor than you are now—than you ever have been since you married me?"
"Oh, my dear Griselda, you totally misunderstand him: such a thought never entered his mind."
"Pardon me, I know him better than you do."
"But I have known him ever since I was a child."
"That is the very reason you cannot judge of him as well as I can: how could you judge of character when you were a child?"
"But now that I am a man—"
"Now that you are a man you are prejudiced in his favour by all the associations of your childhood—all those associations," continued the fair one, renewing her tears, "all those early associations, which are stronger than every other species of affection—all those associations which I never can have in your mind, which ever must act against me, and which no merit—if I had any merit—no tenderness, no fidelity, no fondness of mine, can ever hope to balance in the heart of the man I love."
"My dearest Griselda! be reasonable, and do not torment yourself and me for no earthly purpose about these associations: really it is ridiculous. Come, dry these useless tears, let me beseech you, my love. You do not know how much pain they give me, unreasonable as they are."
At these words they flowed more bitterly.
"Nay, my love, I conjure you to compose yourself, and return to the company: you do not know how long you have been away, and I too. We shall be missed; we shall make ourselves ridiculous."
"If it be ridiculous to love, I shall be ridiculous all my life. I am sorry you think me so; I knew it would come to this; I must bear it if I can," said Griselda; "only be so kind to excuse me from returning to the company to-night—indeed I am not fit, I am not able: say that I am not well; indeed, my love, you may say so with truth.—Tell your friend that I have a terrible head-ache, and that I am gone to bed—but not to rest," added she, in a lower and more plaintive tone, as she drew her hand from her husband's, and in spite of all his entreaties retired to her room with an air of heart-broken resignation.
Whoever has had the felicity to be beloved by such a wife as our Griselda, must have felt how much the charms of beauty are heightened by the anguish of sensibility. Even in the moment when a husband is most tormented by her caprices, he feels that there is something so amiable, so flattering to his vanity in their source, that he cannot complain of the killing pleasure. On the contrary, he grows fonder of his dear tormentor; he folds closer to him this pleasing bosom ill.
Griselda perceived the effects, and felt the whole extent of the power of sensibility; she had too much prudence, however, at once to wear out the excitability of a husband's heart; she knew that the influence of tears, potent as it is, might in time cease to be irresistible, unless aided by the magic of smiles; she knew the power of contrast even in charms; she believed the poets, who certainly understand these things, and who assure us that the very existence of love depends on this blest vicissitude. Convinced, or seemingly convinced, of the folly of that fond melancholy in which she persisted for a week, she next appeared all radiant with joy; and she had reason to be delighted by the effect which this produced. Her husband, who had not yet been long enough her husband to cease to be her lover, had suffered much from the obstinacy of her sorrow; his spirits had sunk, he had become silent, he had been even seen to stand motionless with his arms folded; he was in this attitude when she approached and smiled upon him in all her glory. He breathed, he lived, he moved, he spoke.—Not the influence of the sun on the statue of Memnon was ever more exhilarating.
Let any candid female say, or, if she will not say, imagine, what she should have felt at that moment in Griselda's place.—How intoxicating to human vanity, to be possessed of such powers of enchantment!—How difficult to refrain from their exercise!—How impossible to believe in their finite duration!
"Some hope a lover by their faults to win, As spots on ermine beautify the skin."
When Griselda thought that her husband had long enough enjoyed his new existence, and that there was danger of his forgetting the taste of sorrow, she changed her tone.—One day, when he had not returned home exactly at the appointed minute, she received him with a frown,—such as would have made even Mars himself recoil, if Mars could have beheld such a frown upon the brow of his Venus.
"Dinner has been kept waiting for you this hour, my dear."
"I am very sorry for it; but why did you wait, my dear? I am really very sorry I am so late, but (looking at his watch) it is only half past six by me."
"It is seven by me."
They presented their watches to each other; he, in an apologetical, she, in a reproachful attitude.
"I rather think you are too fast, my dear," said the gentleman.
"I am very sure you are too slow, my dear," said the lady.
"My watch never loses a minute in the four-and-twenty hours," said he.
"Nor mine a second," said she.
"I have reason to believe I am right, my love," said the husband, mildly.
"Reason!" exclaimed the wife, astonished; "what reason can you possibly have to believe you are right, when I tell you I am morally certain you are wrong, my love?"
"My only reason is, that I set my watch by the sun to-day."
"The sun must be wrong, then," cried the lady, hastily.—"You need not laugh; for I know what I am saying—the variation, the declination, must be allowed for in computing it with the clock. Now you know perfectly well what I mean, though you will not explain it for me, because you are conscious I am in the right."
"Well, my dear, if you are conscious of it, that is sufficient. We will not dispute any more about such a trifle.—Are they bringing up dinner?"
"If they know that you are come in; but I am sure I cannot tell whether they do or not.—Pray, my dear Mrs. Nettleby," cried the lady, turning to a female friend, and still holding her watch in her hand, "what o'clock is it by you? There is nobody in the world hates disputing about trifles as much as I do; but I own I do love to convince people that I am in the right."
Mrs. Nettleby's watch had stopped. How provoking!—Vexed at having no immediate means of convincing people that she was in the right, our heroine consoled herself by proceeding to criminate her husband, not in this particular instance, where he pleaded guilty, but upon the general charge of being always late for dinner, which he strenuously denied.
There is something in the species of reproach, which advances thus triumphantly from particulars to generals, peculiarly offensive to every reasonable and susceptible mind: and there is something in the general charge of being always late for dinner, which the punctuality of man's nature cannot easily endure, especially if he be hungry. We should humbly advise our female friends to forbear exposing a husband's patience to this trial, or at least to temper it with much fondness, else mischief will infallibly ensue. For the first time Griselda saw her husband angry; but she recovered him by saying, in a softened tone, "My love, you must be sensible that I can have but one reason for being so impatient for your return home.—If I liked your company less, I should not complain so much of your want of punctuality."
Finding that this speech had the desired effect, it was afterwards repeated with variations whenever her husband stayed from home to enjoy any species of amusement, or to gratify any of his friends. When he betrayed symptoms of impatience under this constraint, the expostulations became more urgent, if not more forcible.
"Indeed, my dear, I take it rather unkindly of you that you pay so little attention to my feelings—"
"I see I am of no consequence to you now; I find every body's society is preferred to mine: it was not always so.—Well! it is what I might have expected—"
Griselda's sighs were still persuasive, and her husband, notwithstanding that he felt the restraints which daily multiplied upon his time and upon his personal liberty becoming irksome, had not the barbarity to give pain to the woman by whom he was so tenderly beloved. He did not consider that in this case, as well as in many others, apparent mercy is real cruelty. The more this monopolizing humour of his wife's was indulged, the more insatiable it became. Every person, every thing but herself, was to be excluded from his heart; and when this sole patent for pleasure was granted to her, she became rather careless in its exercise, as those are apt to be who fear no competitors. In proportion as her endeavours to please abated, her expectations of being adored increased: the slightest word of blame, the most remote hint that any thing in her conduct, manners, or even dress, could be altered for the better, was the signal for battle or for tears.
One night she wept for an hour, and debated for two, about an alteration in her head-dress, which her husband unluckily happened to say made it more becoming. More becoming! implied that it was before unbecoming. She recollected the time when every thing she wore was becoming in his eyes—but that time, alas! was completely past; and she only wished that she could forget that it had ever been.
"To have been happy is additional misery."
This misery may appear comic to some people, but it certainly was not so to our heroine's unfortunate husband. It was in vain that, in mitigation of his offence, he pleaded total want of knowledge in the arcana of the toilette, absolute inferiority of taste, and a willing submission to the decrees of fashion.
This submission was called indifference—this calmness construed into contempt. He stood convicted of having said that the lady's dress was unbecoming—she was certain that he thought more than he said, and that every thing about her was grown disagreeable to him.
It was in vain he represented that his affection had not been created, and could not be annihilated, by such trifles; that it rested on the solid basis of esteem.
"Esteem!" cried his wife—"that is the unkindest stroke of all! When a man begins to talk of esteem, there is an end of love."
To illustrate this position, the fair one, as well as the disorder of her mind would permit, entered into a refined disquisition, full of all the metaphysics of gallantry, which proved that love—genuine love—is an aethereal essence, a union of souls, regulated by none of those formal principles, and founded upon none of those vulgar moral qualities on which friendship, and the other connexions of society, depend. Far, far above the jurisdiction of reason, true love creates perfect sympathy in taste, and an absolute identity of opinion upon all subjects, physical, metaphysical, moral, political, and economic. After having thus established her theory, her practice was wonderfully consistent, and she reasonably expected from her husband the most exact conformity to her principles—of course, his five senses and his understanding were to be identified with hers. If he saw, heard, felt, or understood differently from her, he did not, could not, love her. Once she was offended by his liking white better than black; at another time she was angry with him for loving the taste of mushrooms. One winter she quarrelled with him for not admiring the touch of satin, and one summer she was jealous of him for listening to the song of a blackbird. Then because he could not prefer to all other odours the smell of jessamine, she was ready "to die of a rose in aromatic pain." The domain of taste, in the more enlarged sense of the word, became a glorious field of battle, and afforded subjects of inextinguishable war. Our heroine was accomplished, and knew how to make all her accomplishments and her knowledge of use. As she was mistress not only of the pencil, but of all "the cant of criticism," had infinite advantages in the wordy war. From the beau ideal to the choice of a snuffer-dish, all came within her province, and was to be submitted, without appeal, to her instinctive sense of moral order.—Happy fruits of knowledge!—Happy those who can thus enlarge their intellectual dominion, and can vary eternally the dear delight of giving pain. The range of opinion was still more ample than the province of taste, affording scope for all the joys of assertion and declamation—for the opposing of learned and unlearned authorities—for the quoting the opinions of friends—counting voices instead of arguments—wondering at the absurdity of those who can be of a different way of thinking—appealing to the judgment of the whole world—or resting perfectly satisfied with her own. Sometimes the most important, sometimes the most trivial, and seemingly uninteresting subjects, gave exercise to Griselda's powers; and in all cases being entirely of her opinion was the only satisfactory proof of love.
Our heroine knew how, with able generalship, to take advantage of time and situation.—Just before the birth of their child, which, by-the-bye, was born dead, a dispute arose between the husband and wife concerning public and private education, which, from its vehemence, alarmed the gentleman into a perfect conviction that he was in the wrong. Scarcely had Griselda gained this point, when a question arose at the tea-table respecting the Chinese method of making tea. It was doubted by some of the company whether it was made in a tea-pot or a tea-cup. Griselda gave her opinion loudly for the tea-pot—her lord and master inclined to the tea-cup; and as neither of them had been in China, they could debate without fear of coming to a conclusion. The subject seemed at first insignificant; but the lady's method of managing it supplied all deficiencies, and roused all the passions of human nature on the one side or the other. Victory hung doubtful; but our heroine won the day by taking time into the account.—Her adversary was in a hurry to go to meet some person on business, and quitted the field of battle.
"Self-valuing Fancy, highly-crested Pride, Strong sovereign Will, and some desire to chide."
"There are," says Dr. Johnson, "a thousand familiar disputes which reason can never decide; questions that elude investigation, and make logic ridiculous—cases where something must be done, and where little can be said.—Wretched would be the pair above all names of wretchedness who should be doomed to adjust by reason every morning all the detail of a domestic day."
Our heroine made a double advantage of this passage: for she regularly reasoned where logic was ridiculous, and could not be prevailed upon to listen to reason when it might have been useful.—She substituted her will most frequently for arguments, and often opposed it to her husband's, in order to give him the merit of sacrificing his wishes. When he wanted to read, she suddenly wished to walk; when he wished to walk, she was immersed in her studies. When he was busy, she was talkative; when he was eager to hear her converse, she was inclined to be silent. The company that he liked, she disliked; the public amusements that she most frequented were those of which he least approved. This species of wilfulness was the strongest proof of her solicitude about his good opinion.—She could not bear, she said, that he should consider her as a child, who was not able to govern herself. She could not believe that a man had confidence in her unless he proved it by leaving her at liberty to decide and act for herself.
Sometimes she receded, sometimes she advanced in her claims; but without marking the daily ebbs and flows of her humour, it is sufficient to observe, that it continually encroached upon her husband's indulgence. She soon insisted upon being consulted, that is, obeyed, in affairs which did not immediately come under the cognizance of her sex—politics inclusive. This apparently exorbitant love of power was veiled under the most affectionate humility.
"Oh, my love! I know you despise my abilities; you think these things above the comprehension of poor women. I know I am but your plaything after all: you cannot consider me for a moment as your equal or your friend—I see that!—You talk of these things to your friend Mr. Granby—I am not worthy to hear them.—Well, I am sure I have no ambition, except to possess the confidence of the man I love."
The lady forgot that she had, upon a former occasion, considered a profession of esteem from her husband as an insult, and that, according to her definition of true love, esteem was incompatible with its existence.
Tacitus remarks, that it is common with princes to will contradictories; in this characteristic they have the honour to resemble some of the fair sex, as well as all spoiled children. Having every feasible wish gratified, they are obliged to wish for what is impossible, for want of something to desire or to do: they are compelled to cry for the moon, or for new worlds to conquer.—Our heroine having now attained the summit of human glory and happiness, and feeling almost as much ennui as was expressed by the conqueror of the world, yawned one morning, as she sat tete-a-tete with her husband, and said—
"I wish I knew what was the matter with me this morning.—Why do you keep the newspaper all to yourself, my dear?"
"Here it is for you, my dear: I have finished it."
"I humbly thank you for giving it to me when you have done with it—I hate stale news.—Is there any thing in the paper? for I cannot be at the trouble of hunting it."
"Yes, my dear, there are the marriages of two of our friends—"
"Your friend the Widow Nettleby, to her cousin John Nettleby."
"Mrs. Nettleby! Lord! but why did you tell me?"
"Because you asked me, my dear."
"Oh! but it is a hundred times pleasanter to read the paragraph one's self: one loses all the pleasure of the surprise by being told.—Well! whose was the other marriage?"
"Oh! my dear, I will not tell you—I will leave you the pleasure of the surprise."
"But you see I cannot guess it.—How provoking you are, my dear! Do pray tell it me."
"Our friend Mr. Granby."
"Mr. Granby!—Dear! Why did not you make me guess? I should have guessed him directly: but why do you call him our friend? I am sure he is no friend of mine, nor ever was; I took an aversion to him, as you may remember, the very first day I saw him: I am sure he is no friend of mine."
"I am sorry for it, my dear; but I hope you will go and see Mrs. Granby?"
"Not I, indeed, my dear.—Who was she?"
"Cooke!—but there are so many Cookes.—Can't you distinguish her any way?—Has she no Christian name?"
"Emma, I think—yes, Emma."
"Emma Cooke!—No; it cannot be my friend Emma Cooke—for I am sure she was cut out for an old maid."
"This lady seems to me to be cut out for a good wife."
"May be so—I am sure I'll never go to see her—Pray, my dear, how came you to see so much of her?"
"I have seen very little of her, my dear: I only saw her two or three times before she was married."
"Then, my dear, how could you decide that she is cut out for a good wife?—I am sure you could not judge of her by seeing her only two or three times, and before she was married."
"Indeed, my love, that is a very just observation."
"I understand that compliment perfectly, and thank you for it, my dear.—I must own I can bear any thing better than irony."
"Irony! my dear; I was perfectly in earnest."
"Yes, yes; in earnest—so I perceive—I may naturally be dull of apprehension, but my feelings are quick enough: I comprehend you too well. Yes—it is impossible to judge of a woman before marriage, or to guess what sort of a wife she will make. I presume you speak from experience; you have been disappointed yourself, and repent your choice."
"My dear, what did I say that was like this? Upon my word I meant no such thing; I really was not thinking of you in the least."
"No—you never think of me now: I can easily believe that you were not thinking of me in the least."
"But I said that only to prove to you that I could not be thinking ill of you, my dear."
"But I would rather that you thought ill of me than that you did not think of me at all."
"Well, my dear," said her husband, laughing, "I will even think ill of you, if that will please you."
"Do you laugh at me?" cried she, bursting into tears. "When it comes to this, I am wretched indeed! Never man laughed at the woman he loved! As long as you had the slightest remains of love for me, you could not make me an object of derision: ridicule and love are incompatible, absolutely incompatible. Well, I have done my best, my very best, to make you happy, but in vain. I see I am not cut out to be a good wife. Happy, happy Mrs. Granby!"
"Happy I hope sincerely that she will be with my friend; but my happiness must depend on you, my love; so, for my sake, if not for your own, be composed, and do not torment yourself with such fancies."
"I do wonder," cried our heroine, starting from her seat, "whether this Mrs. Granby is really that Miss Emma Cooke. I'll go and see her directly; see her I must."
"I am heartily glad of it, my dear; for I am sure a visit to his wife will give my friend Granby real pleasure."
"I promise you, my dear, I do not go to give him pleasure, or you either; but to satisfy my own—curiosity."
The rudeness of this speech would have been intolerable to her husband if it had not been for a certain hesitation in the emphasis with which she pronounced the word curiosity, which left him in doubt as to her real motive.
Jealousy is sometimes thought to be a proof of love; and, in this point of view, must not all its caprices, absurdities, and extravagances, be graceful, amiable, and gratifying?
A few days after Griselda had satisfied her curiosity, she thus, in the presence of her husband, began to vent her spleen:
"For Heaven's sake, dear Mrs. Nettleby," cried she, addressing herself to the new-married widow, who came to return her wedding visit—"for pity's sake, dear Mrs. Nettleby, can you or any body else tell me what possessed Mr. Granby to marry Emma Cooke?"
"I am sure I cannot tell, for I have not seen her yet."
"You will be less able to tell after you have seen her, and still less after you have heard her."
"What, then, she is neither a wit nor a beauty! I'm quite surprised at that; for I thought, to be sure, Mr. Granby, who is such a judge and such a critic, and so nice about female manners, would not have been content without something very extraordinary."
"Nothing can be more ordinary."
"Astonishing! but I am quite tired of being astonished at marriages! One sees such strange matches every day, I am resolved never to be surprised at any thing: who can, that lives in the world? But really now I am surprised at Mr. Granby. What! is she nothing?"
"Nothing—absolutely nothing; a cipher; a nonentity."
"Now really? you do not tell me so," said Mrs. Nettleby. "Well, I am so disappointed; for I always resolved to take example by Mr. Granby's wife."
"I would rather that she should take warning by me," said Griselda, laughing. "But to be candid, I must tell you that to some people's taste she is a pattern wife—a perfect Grizzle. She and I should have changed names—or characters. Which, my dear?" cried she, appealing to her husband.
"Not names, my dear," answered he.
The conversation might here have ended happily, but unluckily our heroine could not be easily satisfied before Mrs. Nettleby, to whom she was proud of showing her conjugal ascendancy.
"My dear," said she to her husband, "a-propos to pattern wives: you have read Chaucer's Tales. Do you seriously like or dislike the real, original, old Griselda?"
"It is so long since I have seen her that I cannot tell," replied he.
"Then, my dear, you must read the story over again, and tell me without evasion."
"And if he could read it before Mrs. Granby and me, what a compliment that would be to one bride," added the malicious Mrs. Nettleby, "and what a lesson for another!"
"Oh, it must be so! it must be so!" cried Griselda. "I will ask her here on purpose to a reading party; and you, my dear Mrs. Nettleby, will come for your lesson. You, my love, who read so well—and who, I am sure, will be delighted to pay a compliment to your favourite, Mrs. Granby—you will read, and I will—weep. On what day shall it be? Let me see: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, I'm engaged: but Sunday is only a party at home; I can put that off:—then Sunday let it be."
"Sunday, I am unluckily engaged, my dear," said her husband.
"Engaged? Oh, nonsense! You have no engagements of any consequence: and when I put off my party on purpose to have the pleasure of hearing you read, oblige me, my love, for once."
"My love, to oblige you, I will do any thing."
Griselda cast a triumphant glance at Mrs. Nettleby, which said as plainly as a look could say, "You see how I rule him!"
"Feels every vanity in fondness lost, And asks no power but that of pleasing most."
On Sunday evening a large company assembled at our heroine's summons. They were all seated in due form: the reader with his book open, and waiting for the arrival of the bride, for whom a conspicuous place was destined, where the spectators, and especially Mrs. Nettleby and our Griselda, could enjoy a full view of her countenance.
"Lord bless me! it is getting late: I am afraid—I am really afraid Mrs. Granby will not come."
The ladies had time to discuss who and what she was: as she had lived in the country, few of them had seen, or could tell any thing about her; but our heroine circulated her opinion in whispers, and every one was prepared to laugh at the pattern wife, the original Griselda revived, as Mrs. Nettleby sarcastically called her.
Mrs. Granby was announced. The buzz was hushed and the titter suppressed; affected gravity appeared in every countenance, and all eyes turned with malicious curiosity upon the bride as she entered.—The timidity of Emma's first appearance was so free both from awkwardness and affectation, that it interested at least every gentleman present in her favour. Surrounded by strangers, but quite unsuspicious that they were prepared to consider her as an object of ridicule or satire, she won her way to the lady of the house, to whom she addressed herself as to a friend.
"Is not she quite a different person from what you had expected?" whispered one of the ladies to her neighbour, as Emma passed. Her manner seemed to solicit indulgence rather than to provoke envy. She was very sorry to find that the company had been waiting for her; she had been detained by the sudden illness of Mr. Granby's mother.
Whilst Emma was making this apology, some of the audience observed that she had a remarkably sweet voice; others discovered that there was something extremely feminine in her person. A gentleman, who saw that she was distressed at the idea of being seated in the conspicuous place to which she was destined by the lady of the house, got up, and offered his seat, which she most thankfully accepted.
"Oh, my dear Mrs. Granby, I cannot possibly allow you to sit there," cried the lady of the house. "You must have the honours of the day," added she, seizing Emma's hand to conduct her to the place of honour.
"Pray excuse me," said Mrs. Granby, "honours are so little suited to me: I am perfectly well here."
"But with that window at your back, my dear madam!" said Mrs. Nettleby.
"I do not feel the slightest breath of air. But perhaps I crowd these ladies."
"Not in the least, not in the least," said the ladies, who were on each side of her: they were won by the irresistible gentleness of Emma's manner. Our heroine was vexed to be obliged to give up her point; and relinquishing Mrs. Granby's hand, returned to her own seat, and said in a harsh tone to her husband,
"Well! my dear, if we are to have any reading to-night, you had better begin."
The reading began; and Emma was so completely absorbed, that she did not perceive that most of the audience were intent upon her. Those who act any part may be ridiculous in the playing it, but those are safe from the utmost malignity of criticism who are perfectly unconscious that they have any part to perform. Emma had been abashed at her first appearance in an assembly of strangers, and concerned by the idea that she had kept them waiting; but as soon as this embarrassment passed over, her manners resumed their natural ease—a degree of ease which surprised her judges, and which arose from the persuasion that she was not of sufficient consequence to attract attention. Our heroine was provoked by the sight of this insolent tranquillity, and was determined that it should not long continue. The reader came to the promise which Gualtherus exacts from his bride:—
"Swear that with ready will, and honest heart, Like or dislike, without regret or art, In presence or alone, by night or day, All that I will, you fail not to obey; All I intend to forward, that you seek, Nor ever once object to what I speak. Nor yet in part alone my wish fulfil; Nor though you do it, do it with ill-will; Nor with a forced compliance half refuse; And acting duty, all the merit lose. To strict obedience add a willing grace, And let your soul be painted in your face; No reasons given, and no pretences sought, To swerve in deed or word, in look or thought."
"Well, ladies!" cried the modern Griselda, "what do you think of this?"
Shrill exclamations of various vehemence expressed with one accord the sentiments, or rather feelings, of almost all the married ladies who were present.
"Abominable! Intolerable! Insufferable! Horrible! I would rather have seen the man perish at my feet; I would rather have died: I would have remained unmarried all my life rather than have submitted to such terms."
A few young unmarried ladies who had not spoken, or who had not been heard to speak in the din of tongues, were appealed to by the gentlemen next them. They could not be prevailed upon to pronounce any distinct opinion: they qualified, and hesitated, and softened, and equivocated, and "were not positively able to judge, for really they had never thought upon the subject."
Upon the whole, however, it was evident that they did not betray that natural horror which pervaded the more experienced matrons. All agreed that the terms were "hard terms," and ill expressed: some added, that only love could persuade a woman to submit to them: and some still more sentimental maidens, in a lower voice, were understood to say, that as nothing is impossible to Cupid, they might be induced to such submission; but that it must be by a degree of love which they solemnly declared they had never felt or could imagine as yet.
"For my part," cried the modern Griselda, "I would sooner have lived an old maid to the days of Methusalem than have been so mean as to have married any man on earth upon such terms. But I know there are people who can never think 'marriage dear-bought.' My dear Mrs. Granby, we have not yet heard your opinion, and we should have had yours first, as bride."
"I forgot that I was bride," said Emma.
"Forgot! Is it possible?" cried Mrs. Nettleby: "now this is an excess of modesty of which I have no notion."
"But for which Mr. Granby," continued our heroine, turning to Mr. Granby, who at this moment entered the room, "ought to make his best bow. Here is your lady, sir, who has just assured us that she forgot she was a bride: bow to this exquisite humility."
"Exquisite vanity!" cried Mr. Granby; "she knows
"'How much the wife is dearer than the bride.'"
"She will be a singularly happy woman if she knows that this time twelvemonth," replied our heroine, darting a reproachful look at her silent husband. "In the mean time, do let us hear Mrs. Granby speak for herself; I must have her opinion of Griselda's promise to obey her lord, right or wrong, in all things, no reasons given, to submit in deed, and word, and look, and thought. If Mrs. Granby tells us that is her theory, we must all reform our practice."
Every eye was fixed upon Emma, and every ear was impatient for her answer.
"I should never have imagined," said she, smiling, "that any person's practice could be influenced by my theory, especially as I have no theory."
"No more humility, my dear; if you have no theory, you have an opinion of your own, I hope, and we must have a distinct answer to this simple question: Would you have made the promise that was required from Griselda?"
"No," answered Emma; "distinctly no; for I could never have loved or esteemed the man who required such a promise."
Disconcerted by this answer, which was the very reverse of what she expected; amazed at the modest self-possession with which the timid Emma spoke, and vexed by the symptoms of approbation which Emma's words and voice excited, our heroine called upon her husband, in a more than usually authoritative tone, and bid him—read on.