Sir Fulke mourned his due time "in the customary suit of solemn black;" but he was a man of a lofty and social spirit, by no means inclined to be disconsolate, and held "a fair help-mate" to be an indispensable appendage to his domestic state. In this temper, (just before the election of a new parliament, when contending interests were running very close,) he obtained the not less eagerly disputed hand of Lady Arabella Studeley, whose elder sister (as has been mentioned) had made a magnificent marriage, only a year or two before, with John of Beaufort, the lord of the noble domain of Beaufort in the Weald of Kent—a lineal endowment from his princely ancestor, John of Gaunt. This illustrious pair dwelt on the land, like its munificent owners in the olden times, revered and beloved; and they were the parents of their two equally-honored representatives— Guy, afterwards Admiral Beaufort, and Edith, who subsequently became the adored wife of her also tenderly-beloved cousin, Robert Somerset.
But before that fondly-anticipated event took place, the young lover had to pass through a path of thorns, some of which pierced him to the end. From his childhood to manhood, he saw little of Algernon, his elder brother, who always seemed to him more like an occasional brilliant phantom, alighting amongst them, than a dear member of the family coming delightedly to cheer and to share his paternal home. Algernon was either at Eaton school, or at one of the universities, or travelling somewhere on the continent; and at all these places, or from them all, he became the enchanted theme of every tongue. Meanwhile, Robert—though, perhaps, equally endowed by nature yet certainly of a milder radiance—was the object of so apprehensive a solicitude in his gentle mother's breast for the puritas well as the intellectual accomplishments of her son, that she obtained Sir Fulke's reluctant consent to his being brought up in what is called "a home education;" that is, under the especial personal care of the best private tutors, and which were found to the great credit of her judgment. He showed an ardent devotedness to his studies; and though, like his mother, he was one of the mildest of human beings in his dealings with those around him, yet his aspirations towards high attainments were as energetic as they were noiseless, and ever on steady wind soaring upward. Robert Somerset was then unconsciously forming himself for what he afterwards became—the boast of the country of his birth, the glory of England, to whose prosperity he dedicated all his noble talents, showing what it is to be a true English country gentleman. Being alike "the oak or laurel" of "Old England's fields and groves."
"With sickle or with sword, Or bardic minstrelsy!"
he was permitted to pass a term or two at Oxford, where he acquitted himself with honor, particularly in the classics, to the repeated admiration of their then celebrated professor, the late Thomas Warton. But the young student was also fond of rural pursuits and domestic occupations. He lived mostly at home, enjoying the gentle solace of elegant modern literature and the graces of music, with the ever blameless delights of an accomplished female society, at the head of which his revered mother had presided, accompanied by his lively sister Dorothy and the sweet Edith Beaufort, whom he had gradually learned to love like his own soul. His heart became yet more closely knit to her when his beloved parent died, which sad event occurred about a year after the death of Edith's own mother, who on her widowhood had continued to live more with her sister, Lady Arabella Somerset, than at her bereaved home. Edith's filial sorrow was renewed in the loss of her maternal aunt, and her tenderest sympathy reciprocated the tears of her son. Their hearts blended together in those tears, and both felt that "they were comforted."
Time did not long pass on before the happy Robert communicated their mutual attachment to his father, petitioning for his consent to woo for the hand of her whose heart he had already gained. But the baronet, in some surprise at what he heard, refused to give his sanction to any such premature engagement, first, on account of the applicant's "extreme youth;" and second, being a younger scion of his house, it might not be deemed well of in the world should he, the guardian of his niece and her splendid fortune, show so much haste to bestow her on his comparatively portionless son. The baronet, with some of his parliamentary acumen, drew another comparison, which touched the disappointed lover with a feeling almost of despair. He compared what he denominated his romantic fancies for "woods and wilds," and book-worm pursuits in the old crypts of the castle or the college, with the distinguished consideration held by his travelled brother in courts and councils, whether abroad or at home, closing the parallel by telling him "to follow Algernon's example, and become more like a man of some account amongst men before he dared pretend to a hand of so much importance as that of the heiress of Beaufort."
Robert was standing silent and dismayed, as one struck by a thunder- flash, when his brother (who had been only a month arrived from a long revisit to the two Sicilies) suddenly entered his father's library, as Sir Fulke had again resumed his discourse with even more severity. At sight of the animated object of his contrasting eulogy, he instantly described to his new auditor what had been mutually said, and referred the subject to him.
"Romance, indeed! whether in merry Sherwood, with hound and horn, or with gentle dames in bower and hall, you have had enough of, my brother," replied the gay-spirited traveller. "Neither men nor women like philandering after deer or doe, or a lady's slipper, beyond the greenwood season. So I say, for the glory of your manhood up and away! Abroad, abroad! My father is right. That is the only ground for such a race and guerdon as you aspire to. I admire your taste, and not less your ambition, my brave boy. Do not thwart him, Sir Fulke," added he, to the baronet, who began to frown: "let him enter the lists with the boldest of us; faint heart never won fair lady! So, forward, Robert! and give me another sweet sister to love and to cherish as I do our blithe little Dora."
At this far from unwelcome advice, Robert smiled and sighed; but the smile swallowed up the sigh, for his soul kindled with hope. His father smiled also; the cloud of a stern authority had passed from his brow, and before that now perfectly reconciled party rose, it was decided that Robert should make immediate preparations for commencing a regulated course of continental travels, the route to be drawn out by his brother and his expenses in the tour to be liberally supplied by his father. The length of the probation was not then thought on, at least not mentioned. Shortly afterwards, when Robert hastened from the library to communicate what had passed to the beloved object of the discussion, he left his father and his brother together to think and to plan all the rest for him.
But Edith Beaufort wept when she heard of the separation; her heart failed within her. For since her first coming under the roof of her guardian uncle, she had never been without seeing her brother-like cousin beyond a few days or weeks at most. He was now going to be banished (and, it was asserted, for her sake too) into far distant countries, and for an indefinite period—months, perhaps years. And these saddening thoughts made her weep afresh, though silently; for her full-flowing tears were soft and noiseless, like the heart from whence they sprung. Robert, with all his now sanguine expectations, sought to cheer her, but in vain. She felt an impression, that should he go, they would never meet again. But she did not betray that feeling to him; yet the infection of her despondency, by its continuance, so wrought on his own consequent depressed spirits, that when his father announced to him that his absence must be for two or three years at least, he ventured to remonstrate, beseeching that it might be limited to the shorter term of two years. The baronet derided the proposal, with many words of contempt towards the urgent pleader. Robert withheld from disclosing to the too often hard mind of his father that the proposition he so scorned had originated in the tender bosom of Edith Beaufort, and Sir Fulke's sarcasm fell so thick on the bending head of his son, that at last the insulted feelings of the generous lover became so indignant at the little confidence placed in the real manliness of his character, which had hitherto been found ever present when actually called for, that his heart began to swell to an almost uncontrollable exasperation, and while struggling to master himself from uttering the disrespectful retort risen to his lips, his brother again accidentally entered the room, and by giving Robert the moment to pause, happily rescued his tottering duty from that regretful offence.
As soon as Algernon appeared, the baronet resumed his sarcastic tone, in a rapid recapitulation of Robert's retrograde request. Algernon again took up the cause of his brother, and, with his usual tact, gained the victory, by the dexterous gayety with which he pleaded for the young noviciate in all the matters for which he was to be sent so far afield to learn. At last the conference ended by Sir Fulke agreeing to a proposition from his eldest son,—that the time for this foreign tutelage might possibly expire within the second year, should the results evoked by the ambitious passion of his youngest born be in any fair progress to fulfilment.
In little more than a week after this final arrangement, every preparation was finished for the wildly-contemplated tour. Robert had taken a heart-plighting adieu from his beloved Edith. But by his father's positive injunction, there was no engagement for a hereafter actual plighting of hands made between them. Yet their eloquent eyes, transparent through their mutual tears, vowed it to each other, and with silent prayers for his indeed early return, they parted.
When taking leave of his father, and receiving his directions relative to a correspondence with his family, permission was peremptorily denied him to hold any with his cousin Edith. He had learned enough lately to avoid all supplications to the paternal quarter, if he would not invite scorn as well as to receive disappointment. But Algernon whispered to him "that nobody should remain wholly incognita to him in that house while he dipped pen in any one of the three hundred and sixty-five inkhorns under its awful towers!" Robert then bowed his farewell with a flushed cheek and grave respect to his father, but gratefully separated from his brother with a warm pressure of the hand. The old household servants blessed him as he passed through the hall, and in a few minutes he found himself seated in the family post-chaise and four that was to convey him from the home of his youth and happy innocence, and, alas! to return to it "an altered man."
When he reached Dover to embark, he fell in with the present Earl of Tinemouth, then Mr. Stanhope, sent abroad on a similar errand with himself. But Stanhope's was to forget a mistress—Somerset's to merit the one he sought. The two young men were kinsfolk by birth, and they now felt themselves so in severing from their parents. Stanhope was in high wrath against his, and he soon rekindled the already excited mind of Somerset to a responsive demonstration of resentment. They determined to show that "they were not such boys as to submit any further in passive obedience to the stern authority dominating over them." Sir Fulke's particular charge against his son was a "womanish softness, unworthy his loftier sex!" "Show him," cried Stanhope, that "you have the hardihood of a true man by an immediate act of independence. Let us travel together, kinsmen as we are, change our names, and let no one in England know anything about us during our tour except the two dear women on whose accounts we are thus transported!"
With these views they landed in France, gave themselves out to be brothers (which a certain resemblance in their persons corroborated), and called themselves Sackville. Agreeably amused with the novelties presented to them at almost every step of their tour from gay Paris to sentimental Italy, they proceeded pretty amicably until they reached Naples. There Mr. Stanhope involved himself in an intrigue with the only daughter of an old British officer, who had retired to that climate for his health. Somerset remonstrated on the villany of seducing an innocent girl, when he knew his heart and hand were pledged to another. Stanhope, enraged at finding a censor in a companion whom he had considered to be as headstrong as himself, ended the argument by drawing his sword, and if the servants of the hotel had not interfered, the affray would probably have terminated with one of their lives. Since that hour they never met. Mr. Stanhope fled from his shame and his bleeding friend, and, fearful of consequences, took temporary refuge in one of the Aonian Isles, not daring to proceed any further against the innocence of the poor officer's daughter, who had been thus rescued from becoming his victim!
When recovered from his wound, Robert Somerset (by some strange infatuation still retaining the name of Sackville) proceeded to Florence, in which interesting city, for works of art, ancient and modern, and the graces of classic society, determining to stay some time, he rather sought than repelled the civilities of the inhabitants. Here he became acquainted with the palatine, and the lovely Countess Therese, his daughter. Her beauty pleased his taste; her gentle virtues and exquisite accomplishments affected both his heart and mind; and he often gazed on her with tenderness, when his fidelity to Edith Beaufort only meant him to convey a look of grateful admiration. The palatine honored England, and was prepared to esteem her sons wherever he might meet them; and very soon he became so attached to this apparently lonely young traveller, that he invited him to all the excursions he and his daughter made into the adjoining states, whether visiting them by the romantic scenery of the land-roads, or coasting the beautiful bays of the sublime shores on either side of those parts of the Mediterranean.
In the midst of this intimacy, as if she were aware of a friendship so hostile to his cousin's love, he suddenly ceased to receive any remembrance-messages from her to him, in the two last letters from his brother,—for he had never allowed himself to so brave his father's parting commands as to write to her himself. Desperate with jealousy of some unknown object supplanting him, he was on the point of setting off for home, to judge with his own eyes, when a large packet from England was put into his hands. On opening it he found a letter from Edith, on which his surprised and eager gaze had immediately fixed. Without looking on any of the rest, he broke the seal, and read, astounded by the contents, "that having for some time been led to consider the probable consequences to him, both from his father's better judgment and the ultimate opinion of the world, should he and she continue their pertinacious adherence to their childish attachment, she had tried to wean both him and herself from so rebellious a folly towards her revered guardian, his honored father; and trusting that the gradual shortening of her cousin-like messages to him, through his brother's letters, must have had the effect intended, she now had permission to write one herself to him, to convince him at once of the unreasonableness and danger of all such premature entanglements. For," she added, "soon after his departure, a journey to town had taught her to know her own heart. She learned to feel that it was still at her disposal; and time did not long pass after she returned to the country before, having compared the object of her awakened taste with that of her former delusion, she persuaded her own better judgment to set a generous example to her ever-dear cousin Robert, by marrying where that judgment now pointed. And so, with the full consent of Sir Fulke (who she well knew had been totally averse to her marriage with his youngest son), she had yielded to the long love of his brother, which had been struggling in his manly bosom many agonizing months against his persistent fidelity to Robert, but whose sister she hoped to shortly become, as his affectionate Edith—then Somerset."
Having read this extraordinary epistle to the end, so monstrous in the character of its sentiments and its language, when compared with all he had hitherto known of the pure and simple mind from which it came, a terrible revulsion seized on his own, and, almost maddened with horror at every name in that letter, he foreswore his family forever! Hastening, as for one drop of heaven's dew upon his burning brain, to seek Therese Sobieski, he found her alone, and though without such aim when he rushed so frenzied into her presence, he besought her "to heal a miserable and broken heart, which could only be saved to endure any continuance of life by an acknowledgment that she loved him!" Alas! the avowal was too soon wrung from that tender and noble spirit! and yielding to a paroxysm of a rash and blinding revenge, he hurried her to a neighboring convent and secretly married her.
This most unrighteous act perpetrated, he in vain sought tranquillity. He was now stung within by a constant sense of increasing guilt. Before this act he was the injured party—injured by those in whom he had confided his dearest earthly happiness; and he could raise his head in conscious truth, though all his fondest hopes had been wrecked by their falsehood. But now he was the betrayer of a young and innocent heart, which had implicitly trusted in him. And he had insulted with a base and treacherous ingratitude, by that act of deceit, without excuse, the honor of her father, whose generous confidence had also been implicitly placed in him. But the effects of these scorpion reproaches in his bosom were not less destructive of her peace than of his own. He saw that his wedded Therese was unweariedly anxious to soothe the mysterious wanderings of his mind with her softest tenderness. But his thoughts were, indeed, far from her, ever hovering over the changed image of his so lately adored Edith—ever agonizing over the lightness of a conduct so unlike her former virgin delicacy, so unlike the clinging vows she breathed to him in their hour of boding separation!—ever execrating the perfidy of his brother, which had brought on him this distracting load of guilt and woe!
In this temper of alienation from all the world, a second packet from England was put into his hand. Again he saw Edith's writing; but he dropped it unopened, in horror of the signature he anticipated would be appended to it. Roused by resentment towards him whose name he believed she then bore, he tore asunder the wax of a letter from his father, which was sealed with black. His eyes were speedily riveted to it. Sir Fulke, in the language of deep contrition, confessed a train of deception that petrified his son. He declared, with bitter invectives against himself, that all which had been communicated to that unhappy son relating to Edith and her intended marriage with Algernon had been devised by that unkind brother, and his no less unnatural father, for the treacherous purpose of that marriage. Devoted to ambition for his own sake, as well as for that of his favorite son, Sir Fulke owned that he had from the first of Edith Beaufort's becoming his ward resolved on her union in due time with Algernon, in order to endow him, in addition to his own rich inheritance, with all the political influence attendant on the vast estate to which she was heiress, and so build up the family, in the consideration of government, to any pitch of coroneted rank their high-reaching parent might choose to reclaim.
With many prayers for pardon from Heaven and the cruelly-injured Robert, the wretched father acknowledged that this confession was wrung from him by the sudden death of his eldest son, who having been thrown off his horse on a heap of stones in the high-road, after three days of severe bodily and mental suffering, now lay a sadly- disfigured corpse, under the vainly mourning blazonry of his house, in the darkened hall of his ancestors. The disconsolate narrator then added, "that in contrite repentance his son had conjured him, with his dying breath, to confess the falsehood of all that had passed to the grossly-abused Robert;" amongst which, was Algernon turning to the account of his own designs every confidence imparted to him by his brother, in his incognito movements, and awakened intimacy with the noble Sarmatian family at Florence. And from these unsuspected sources, this false friend and kinsman had contrived to throw out hints of his brother's reported sliding heart to the shrinking object of his own base and perfidious passion. At last, believing Robert to be unfaithful, she sunk into a depression of spirits which Sir Fulke thought would be easy to work to an assent, in mere reckless melancholy, to the union he sought. With that object, and to break the knot at once by a trenchant blow on Robert's side, Algernon forged that letter in Edith Beaufort's handwriting which had announced so unblushingly her preparations for an immediate marriage with the eldest son.
"But," continued Sir Fulke, "death has put an end to this unnatural rivalry. And my poor girl, undeceived in her opinion of you, longs to see you, and to give you that hand which your ill-fated brother and infatuated father so unjustly detained from you. You are now my only son, the only prop of my house, the only comfort of my old age! My son, do not abandon to his remorse and sorrow your only parent."
On receipt of this packet, in a consternation of amazement, and a soul divided between rekindled love in all its fires and pity and honor towards her he had betrayed before the altar of heaven, Robert Somerset sacrificed both to his imperious passion. He adored the woman on whose account he had left the country, and though every tie, sacred and just, bound him to the tender and faithful wife he must forsake to regain that idol, he at once consigned her to the full horrors of desertion and hastened to England.
"Disgraceful to relate!" ejaculated Sir Robert, putting his hand over his face, "I married Edith Beaufort, while in our deepest mourning, but at Somerset, as the place farthest from general notice. My father, eager to efface as fast as possible from my mind and hers all recollection of his past conduct towards us, had prepared everything splendid, though private, for our union; and in her blissful, restored possession, I forgot for a while Therese and her agonies. But when my dear Pembroke first saw the light, when I pressed him to my heart, it seemed as if in the same instant a dagger pierced it. When I would have breathed a blessing over him, the conviction struck me that I durst not—that I had deluded the mother who gave him birth, and that at some future period he might have cause to curse the author of his existence.
"Well," continued the baronet, wiping his forehead, "though the birth of this boy conjured up the image of your mother, to haunt me day and night, I never could summon moral courage to inquire of her destiny after I had left her. When the troubles of Poland commenced, what a dreadful terror seized me! The successes of their allied enemies, and the consequent distress and persecution of the chief nobility, overwhelmed me with apprehension. I knew not but that many, like the noblesse of France, might be forced to abandon their country; and the bare idea of meeting your grandfather, or the injured Therese, in England, precipitated me into a nervous state that menaced my life. I became abstracted and seriously ill, was forbidden all excitements; hence easily avoided the sight of newspapers; and, on the plea you have heard, my family were withheld from speaking on any public subjects that manifestly gave me pain. But I could not prevent the tongues of our visitors from discoursing on a theme which at that period interested every thinking mind. I heard of the valiant Kosciusko, the good Stanislaus, and the palatine Sobieski, with his brave grandson, spoken of in the same breath. I durst not surmise who this grandson was; I dared not ask—I dreaded to know.
"At length," added the agitated father, quickening his voice, "the idol of my heart—she for whom I had sacrificed my all of human probity, perhaps my soul's eternal peace—died in my arms. Where could a wretch like me turn for consolation? I had forfeited all right to it from Heaven or earth. But at last a benignant spirit seemed to breathe on me, and I bent beneath the stroke with humility; for I embraced it as the just chastisement of a crime which till then, even in the midst of my married felicity, had often pressed on my dearest feelings like the hand of death. I repeat, I bore this chastening trial with the resignation I have described. But when, two years afterwards, my eye fell by accident upon the name of Sobieski in one of the public papers, I could not withdraw it; my sight was fascinated as if by a rattle-snake. In one column I read how bravely the palatine fell, and in the next the dreadful fate of his daughter. She was revenged!" cried Sir Robert, eagerly grasping the hand of Thaddeus, who could not restrain the groan that burst from his breast. "For nearly three months I was deprived of that reason which had abused her noble nature.
"When I recovered my senes," continued he, in a calmer tone, "and found I had so fatally suffered the time of any restitution to her to go by, I began to torture my remorseful heart because that I had not, immediately on the death of my too much loved Edith, hastened to Poland, and besought Therese's pardon from her ever-generous heart. But this vivid approach to a sincere repentance was soon obliterated by the consideration that, the Countess Sobieski having had a prior claim to my name, such restitution on my part must have illegitimatized my darling Pembroke, his dying mother's fondest bequeathment to a father's arms.
"It was this fearful conviction," exclaimed Sir Robert, a sudden horror, indeed, distracting his before affectionate eye, "that caused all my barbarian cruelty. When my dear and long-believed only son described the danger from which you had rescued him, when he told me that Therese had fostered him with a parent's tenderness, I was probed to the heart. But when he added that the young Count Sobieski was now an alien from his country, and relying on my friendship for a home, my terror was too truly manifested. Horror drove all natural remorse from my soul. I thought an avenging power had sent my deserted child to discover his father, to claim his rights, and to publish me as a disgrace to the name I had stolen from him. And when I saw my innocent Pembroke, even to his knees, petitioning for the man who I believed had come to undo him, I became almost deranged. May the Lord of mercy pardon the fury of that derangement! For under that temper," added he, putting the trembling hand of Thaddeus to his streaming eyes, "I drove my first-born to be a wanderer on the face of the earth, not for his own crimes, but for those of his father; and Heaven justly punished in the crime the sin of my injustice. When I thought that evidence of my shame was divided from me by an insuperable barrier, when I believed that the ocean would soon separate me from my fears, a righteous Providence brought thee before me, forlorn and expiring. It was the son of Therese Sobieski I had exposed to such wretchedness. It was the cherished of her heart I had delivered to the raging elements! Oh, Thaddeus, my son," cried he, "can I be forgiven for all this, in this world or in the next?"
"Oh, my father!" returned Thaddeus, with a modest, but a pathetic energy, "I am thy son! thy happy son, in such acknowledgment! Therefore no longer upbraid yourself. Did you not act, as by a sacred impulse, a father's part to me when you knew me not? You raised my dying head from the earth and laid it on your bosom. O, my father! He who brought us so together in his own appointed time, chasteneth every son whom he receiveth, and has thus proved his love and pardon to your contrite heart, both on earth and in heaven, by the nature of your chastisement and the healing balm at its close!"
At the end of this interview, so interesting and vital to the happiness of both these newly-united parties, father and son, Sir Robert motioned his blessing to that son by laying his hand gently on his head, while the parental tears flowed on that now dear forehead— for he could not then speak. He immediately withdrew, to leave Thaddeus to repose, and himself to retire to pour out his grateful spirit in private.
* * * * * * *
THE SPIRIT OF PEACE.
At dawn on the morning following the preceding eventful but happy conference, Sir Robert, painfully remembering the frantic grief of Pembroke on finding that Sobieski had not only withdrawn himself from Harrowby, but had adjured England forever, and still feeling the merited bitterness of the reproaches which his inexplicable commands, dishonoring to his son, had provoked from that only too-long- preferred offspring of his idolized Edith.—which reproaches, unknowingly so inflicted by the desperation of their utterer, had driven the guilty father to seek a temporary refuge from them, if not from his own accusing conscience, under the then solitary roof of one of his country seats in the adjacent county,—yet somewhat relieved, as by the immediate mercy of Heaven, from the load of his misery, he eagerly wrote by the auspicious beams of the rising sun a few short lines to Pembroke, telling him that "a providential circumstance had occurred since they parted, which he trusted would finally reconcile into a perfect peace all that had recently passed so distressingly between them; therefore he, his ever tenderly-affectioned father, requested him to join him alone, and without delay, at Deerhurst."
This duty done to one beloved child, he then turned to anticipate a second converse to his comfort with the other.
That sickness which is the consequence of mental suffering usually vanishes with its cause. Long before the dinner-hour of this happy day, Thaddeus, refreshed by the peaceful and lengthened sleep from which he awoke late in the morning, rose as if with a renewed principle of life. Quitting his room, he met his glad father in the passage-gallery, who instantly conducted him into a private room, where that now tranquillized parent soon brought him to relate, with every sentence a deepening interest, the rapid incidents of his brief but eventful career. The voice of fame had already blazoned him abroad as "the plume of war, with early laurels crowned;" but it was left to his own ingenuous tongue to prove, in all the modest simplicity of a perfect filial confidence, that the most difficult conflicts are not those which are sustained on the battle-field.
Sir Robert listened to him with affection, admiration, and delight,— ah, with what pride in such a son! He was answering the heartfelt detail with respondent gratefulness to that Almighty Power which had shed on his transgressing head such signal "signs of heavenly amnesty!" when the door opened, and a servant announced that Mr. Somerset was in the library.
Thaddeus started up with joy in his countenance; but Sir Robert gently put him down again. "Remain here, my son," said he, "until I apprize your brother how nearly you are related to him. Yonder door leads into my study; I will call you when he is prepared."
The moment Sir Robert joined Pembroke, he read in his pale and haggard features how much he needed the intelligence he was summoned to hear. Mr. Somerset bowed coldly but respectfully on his father's entrance, and begged to be honored with his commands.
"They are what I expect will restore to you your usual looks and manner, my dear son," returned the baronet; "so attend to me."
Pembroke listened to his father's narrative with mute and, as it proceeded, amazed attention. But when the name of Therese Sobieski was mentioned as that of the foreign lady whom he had married and deserted, the ready apprehension of his breathless auditor conceiving the remainder yet unuttered by the agitated narrator, Sir Robert had only to confirm, though in a hardly audible voice, the eager demand of his son, "Was Thaddeus Sobieski indeed his brother?" and while hearing the reply, unable to ask another question, he looked wildly from earth to heaven, as if seeking where he might yet be found.
"O, my father!" cried he, "what have you done? Where is he? For what have you sacrificed him?"
"Hear me to an end," rejoined the baronet. He then, in as few words as possible, repeated the subsequent events of the recent meeting.
Pembroke's raptures were now as high as his despair had been profound. He threw himself on his father's breast; he asked for his friend, his brother, and begged to be conducted to him. Sir Robert did no more than open the intervening door, and in one instant the brothers were locked in each other's arms.
The transports of the young men for a long while denied them words; but their eyes, their tears, and their united hands imparted to each breast a consciousness of mutual love unutterable, not even to be expressed by those looks which are indeed the heralds of the soul.
Sir Robert wept like an infant whilst contemplating these two affectionate brothers; in a faltering voice he exclaimed, "How soon may these plighted hands be separated by inexorable law! Alas, Pembroke, you cannot be ignorant that I buy this son at a terrible price from you!"
At this speech the blood rushed over the cheek of the ingenuous Pembroke; but Thaddeus, turning instantly to Sir Robert, said, with an eloquent smile.
"On this head I trust that neither my father nor my brother will entertain one thought to trouble them. Had I even the inclination to act otherwise than right, my revered grandfather has put it out of my power to claim or to bear any other name than that of Sobieski. He made me swear never to change it; and, as I hope to meet him hereafter," added he, with solemnity, "I will obey him. Therefore, my beloved father, in secret only can I enjoy the conviction that I am your son, and Pembroke's brother. Yet the happiness I receive with the knowledge of being so will ever live here, will ever animate my heart with gratitude to Heaven and to you."
"Noble son of the sainted Therese!" cried Sir Robert; "I do not deserve thee!"
"How shall I merit your care of my honor, of my dearest feelings?" exclaimed Pembroke, grasping the hand of his brother. "I can do nothing, dearest Thaddeus; I am a bankrupt in the means of evincing what is passing in my soul. My mother's chaste spirit thanks you from my lips. Yet I will not abuse your generosity. Though I retain the name of Somerset, it shall only be the name; the inheritance entailed on my father's eldest son belongs to you."
Whilst Thaddeus embraced his brother again, he calmly and affectionately replied that he would rather encounter all the probable evils from which his father's benevolence had saved him, than rob his brother of any part of that inheritance, "which," he earnestly added, "I sincerely believe, according to the Providence of Heaven, is your just due."
Sir Robert, with abhorrence of himself and admiration of his sons, attempted to stop this noble contention by proposing that it should be determined by an equal division of the family property.
"Not so, my father," returned Thaddeus, steadfastly, but with reverence; "I can never admit that the title of Somerset should sacrifice one jot of its inherited accustomed munificence by making any such alienation of its means."
And then the ingenuous son of Therese Sobieski proceeded, in the same modest but firm tone, to remind his father that "though the laws of the national church wherein he had married her would have given their son every right over any inheritance from either parent which belonged to Poland, yet as no opportunity had subsequently occurred for repeating the sacred ceremony by the laws of his father's church, her son could make no legal claim whatever on a rood of the Somerset lands in England."
Sir Robert, with unspeakable emotion, clasped the hand of his first- born when he had made, and with such tender delicacy, this conclusive remark, and which, indeed, had never presented itself to his often distractedly apprehensive mind, either before or after the death of Pembroke's mother; even had it done so, it would not have afforded any quiet to his soul from the internal worm gnawing there. His act had been guilt towards Therese Sobieski and her confiding innocence. And it was not the discovery of any omitted legislative ordinance that could have satisfied the accusing conscience in his own bosom, hourly calling out against him. But the heaven-consecrated son of that profaned marriage had found the reconciling point—had poured in the healing balm; and the spirit of his father was now at peace.
In cordial harmony, therefore, with this generous opinion, so opportunely expressed by the sincere judgment of the last of the house of Sobieski, when so united to that of Somerset, and with a corresponding simplicity of purpose, interwoven by the sweet reciprocity of mutual confidence, the remainder of the evening passed pleasantly between the happy father and his no less happy sons.
Sir Robert dispatched a letter next day to his sister, to invite her and his beloved Mary to join the home party at Deerhurst without delay. Pembroke rejoiced in this prospective relief to the minds of his aunt and cousin, being well aware that he had left them in a state of intense anxiety, not only on account of the baronet's strange conduct,—which had not been explicable in any way to their alarmed observations,—but on account of himself, whose mind had appeared from the time of his father's incensed departure in a state verging on derangement. On the instant of his return from the deserted hotel, while passing Mary, whom he accidently met in his bewildered way to Sir Robert's room, he had exclaimed to her, "I have not seen Sobieski! he is gone! and your message is not delivered." From the time of that harrowing intimation, he had constantly avoided even the sight of his cousin or his aunt. Yet before he quitted the Castle to obey his father's new commands, he had summoned courage to enter Mary's boudoir, where she sat alone. Not trusting himself to speak, he put the letter which Thaddeus had written to her into her hand, and disappeared, not daring to await her opening what he knew to be a last farewell.
He had guessed aright; for from the moment in which her trembling hand had broken the seal and she had read it to the end, bathed in her tears, it lay on her mourning heart, whether she waked or slept, till her silent grief was roused to share her thoughts with a personal exertion, welcome to that despondent heart. It was Sir Robert's invitation for her own and her aunt's immediate removal to their always favorite Deerhurst! because far from the gay world, and ever devoted to quite domestic enjoyments.
But before this summons had arrived, and early in the morning of the same day, Lady Albina Stanhope, more dead than alive in appearance, had reached Somerset Castle in a post-chaise, accompanied by her maid alone, to implore the protection of its revered owner against the most terrible evils that could be inflicted by an unnatural parent on a daughter's heart—that of being compelled to be a party in a double outrage on the memory of her mother, by witnessing the marriage of her father, by special license, to Lady Olivia Lovel, that very evening, in the Harwold great hall, and herself to commit the monstrous act of being married to a nephew of that profligate woman. To avoid such horrors, she had flown for refuge to the only persons she knew on earth likely to shield her from so great an infamy.
Soon after this disclosure, to which the sister and niece of the beneficent Sir Robert Somerset—whom she had hoped to find at the Castle—had listened with the tenderest sympathy, his letter to Miss Dorothy was delivered to the venerable lady. Mary and their fatigued guest were seated together on the sofa; and the seal, without apology, from the receiver's anxious haste to learn what it might contain of her brother's health, was instantly broken. A glance removed every care. Reading it aloud to both her young auditors, at every welcome word the bosom of the amazed Miss Beaufort heaved with increasing astonishment, hope, and gratitude, while beneath the veil of her clustered ringlets her eyes shed the tribute of happy tears to heaven—to that heaven alone her virgin spirit breathed the emotions of her reviving heart. The good old lady was not backward in demonstrating her wonderings. Surprised at her brother's rencontre with Thaddeus, but more at his avowal of obligations to any of that nation about which he had always proclaimed an aversion, she was so wrapped in bewilderment yet delight at the discovery, that her ever cheerful tongue felt nothing loathe to impart to the attentively- listening Albina—who had recognized in the names of Constantine and Thaddeus those of her lamented mother's most faithful friend—all that she knew of his public as well as his private character since she had known him by that of Sobieski also.
Sir Robert's letter informed his sister "that a providential circumstance had introduced Pembroke's friend, the Count Sobieski, to his presence, when, to his astonishment and unutterable satisfaction, he discovered that this celebrated young hero (though one of a nation against which he had so often declared his dislike, but which ungenerous prejudice he now abjured!) was the only remaining branch of a family from whom, about twenty-live years ago, while in a country far distant equally from England or Poland, he had received many kindnesses, he had contracted an immense debt, under peculiarly embarrassing circumstances to himself, when then an alien from his father's confidence. And his benefactor in this otherwise inextricable dilemma was the Palatine of Masovia, the world-revered grandfather of the young Count Sobieski. And," he added, "in some small compensation for the long-unredeemed pecuniary part of this latter obligation, (the fulfilment of which certain adverse events on the continent had continued to prevent), he had besought and obtained permission from the young count, now in England, to at once set at rest his past anxieties to settle an affair of so much importance, by signing over to him, as the palatine's heir and representative, the sole property of his (Sir Robert's) recently-purchased new domain— the house and estates of Manor Court, nearly adjoining to those of Dcerhurst, on the Warwick side. The rent-roll might be about live thousand pounds per annum. And there, in immediate right of possession, the noble descendant of his munificent friend would resume his illustrious name, and embrace, with a generous esteem of this country's national, character, a lasting home and filiation in England!"
Sir Robert closed this auspicious letter (which he had striven, however, to write in such a manner as not to betray the true nature of the parental feelings which dictated it) with a playful expression of his impatience to present to his sister and niece "their interesting emigr in a character which reflected so much honor on their discernment."
The impatience was indeed shared, though in different degrees and forms, by the whole little party—the soul of one in it totally absorbed. But owing to some insurmountable obstacles, occasioning delays, by the exhausted state of the overwrought Lady Albina; and notwithstanding the necessity of getting on as fast as possible, to be out of the reach of the enraged earl, should he have missed and traced his daughter to Somerset Castle, the fugitives could not start till late in the afternoon of that day, and it was an hour or more past midnight before they arrived at Deerhurst.
The family, in no small disappointment, had given them up for the night, and had retired to their rooms. Miss Dorothy, who would not suffer her brother to be disturbed, sent the two young ladies to their chambers, and was crossing, on tiptoe, the long picture-gallery to her own apartment, when a door opening, Pembroke, in his dressing- gown and slippers, looked out on hearing the stealthy step. She put forth her hand to him with delight, and in a low voice congratulated him on the change in Sir Robert's mind, kissed his cheek, and told him to prepare for another pleasant surprise in the morning. Smiling with these words, she bade him good-night, and softly proceeded to her chamber.
Pembroke had thought so little of his ever-merry aunt's lively promise, that she saw him one of the latest in entering the breakfast-parlor, he not having hastened from his usual breezy early walk over the neighboring downs, where Thaddeus had been his companion. Miss Dorothy gayly reproached her nephew for his undutiful lack of curiosity, while Mary, with a glowing cheek, received the glad embrace of her cousin, who gently whispered to her, "Now I shall see together the two beings I most dearly love! Oh! the happiness contained in that sight!" Mary's vivid blush had not subsided when the entrance of Thaddeus, and his agitated bow, overspread her neck and brow with crimson. A sudden dimness obscured her faculties, and she scarcely heard the animated words of Sir Robert, whilst presenting him to her as the Count Sobieski, the beloved grandson of one who had deserved the warmest place in his heart! Whatever he was, the lowly Constantine or the distinguished Sobieski, she was conscious that he was lord of hers; and withdrawing her hand confusedly from the timid and thrilling touch of him she would have willingly lingered near forever, she glided towards an open casement, where the fresh air helped to dispel the faintness which had seized her.
After Miss Dorothy, with all the urbanity of her nature, had declared her welcome to the count, she put away the coffee that was handed to her by Pembroke, and said, with a smile, "Before I taste my breakfast, I must inform you, Sir Robert, that you have a guest in this house you little expect. I forbade Miss Beaufort's saying a word, because, as we are told, 'the first tellers of unwelcome news have but a losing office;' vice vers, I hoped for a gaining one, therefore preserved such a profitable piece of intelligence for my own promulgation. Indeed, I doubt whether it will not win me a pair of gloves from some folks here," added she, glancing archly on Pembroke, who looked round at this whimsical declaration. "Suffice it to say, that yesterday morning Lady Albina Stanhope, looking like a ghost, and her poor maid, scared almost out of her wits, arrived in a hack-chaise at Somerset Castle, and besought our protection. Our dear Mary embraced the weeping young creature, who, amidst many tears, recapitulated the injuries she had suffered since she had been torn from her mother's remains at the Abbey. The latest outrage of her cruel father was his intended immediate marriage with the vile Lady Olivia Lovel, and his commands that Lady Albina should the same evening give her hand to that bad woman's nephew. Ill as she was when she received these disgraceful orders, she determined to prevent the horror of such double degradation by instantly quitting the house; 'and,' added she, 'whither could I go? Ah! I could think of none so likely to pity the unhappy victim of the wickedness I fled from as the father of the kind Mr. Somerset. He had told me we were relations; I beseech you, kind ladies, to be my friends!' Certain of your benevolence, my dear brother," continued Miss Dorothy, "I stopped this sweet girl's petition with my caresses, and promised her a gentler father in Sir Robert Somerset."
"You did right, Dorothy," returned the baronet; "though the earl and I must ever be strangers, I have no enmity to his children. Where is this just-principled young lady?"
Miss Dorothy informed him that, in consequence of her recent grief and ill treatment, she had found herself too unwell to rise with the family; but she hoped to join them at noon.
Pembroke was indeed deeply interested in this intelligence. The simple graces of the lovely Albina had on the first interview touched his heart. Her sufferings at Harrowby, and the sensibility which her ingenuous nature exhibited without affectation or disguise, had left her image on his mind long after they parted. He now gave the reins to his eager imagination, and was the first in the saloon to greet her as his lovely kins-woman.
Sir Robert Somerset welcomed her with the warmth of a parent, and the amiable girl wept in happy gratitude.
During this scene, Miss Beaufort, no longer able to bear the restraint of company nor even the accidental encountering of his eyes whose presence, dear as it was, oppressed and disconcerted her, walked out into the park. Though it was the latter end of October, the weather continued fine. A bright sun tempered the air, and gilded the yellow leaves, which the fresh wind drove before her into a thousand glittering eddies. This was Mary's favorite season. She ever found its solemnity infuse a sacred tenderness into her soul. The rugged form of Care seemed to dissolve under the magic touch of sweet Nature. Forgetful of the world's anxieties, she felt the tranquillizing spirit of soothing melancholy that shades the heart of sorrow with a veil which might well be called the twilight of the mind; and the entranced soul, happy in its dream, half closes its bright eye, reluctant to perceive that such bland repose is pillowed on the shifting clouds.
Such were the reflections of Miss Beaufort, after her disturbed thoughts had tossed themselves, in a sea of doubts, regarding any possible interest she might possess in the breast of Sobieski. She recalled the hours they had passed together; they agitated but did not satisfy her heart. She remembered Pembroke's vehement declaration that Thaddeus loved her; but then it was Pembroke's declaration, not his! and the circumstances in which it had been made were too likely to mislead the wishes of her cousin. And then Sobieski's farewell letter! It was noble—grateful; but where appeared the glowing, soul- pervading sentiment that consumed her life for him? Exhausted by the anguish of this suspense, she resolved to resign her future fate to Providence. Turning her gaze on the lovely objects around, she soon found the genius of the season absorb her wholly. Her cheeks glowed, her eyes became humid, and casting their mild radiance on the fading flowers beneath, she pursued her way through a cloud of fragrance. It was the last breath of the expiring year. Love is full of imagination. Mary easily glided from the earth's departing charms to her own she thought waning beauty; the chord once touched, every note vibrated, and hope and fear, joy and regret, again dispossessed her lately-acquired serenity.
After some little time, Lady Albina, having missed Miss Beaufort, expressed a wish to walk out in search of her, and the two brothers offered their attendance. But before her ladyship had passed through the first park, she complained of fatigue. Pembroke urged her to enter a shepherd's hut close by, whilst the Count Sobieski would proceed alone in quest of his cousin.
With a beating heart Thaddeus undertook this commission. Hastening along the nearest dell with the lightness of a young hunter, he mounted the heights, descended to the glades, traversed one woody nook and then another, but could see no trace of Miss Beaufort. Supposing she had returned to the house, he was slackening his pace to abandon the search, when he caught a glimpse of her figure as she turned the corner of a thicket leading to a terrace above. In an instant he was at her side, and with his hat in his hand, and a glowing cheek, he repeated his errand.
Mary blushed, faltered, and became strangely alarmed at finding herself alone with him. Though he now stood before her in a quality which she ever believed was his right, the remembrance of what had passed between them in other circumstances confounded and overwhelmed her. When Constantine was poor and unfriended, it seemed a sacred privilege to pity and to love him. When the same Constantine appeared as a man of rank, invested with a splendid fortune and extensive fame, she felt lost—annihilated. The cloud which had obscured, not extinguished, his glory was dispersed. He was that Sobieski whom she had admired unseen; he was that Constantine whom she had loved unknown; he was that Sobieski, that Constantine, whom, seen and known, she now, alas! loved almost to adoration!
Oppressed by the weight of these emotions, she only bowed to what he said, and gathering her cloak from the winds which blew it around her, was hurrying with downward eyes to the stairs of the terrace, when her foot slipped, and she must have fallen, had not Thaddeus caught her in his ready arm. She rose with a blushing face, and the color did not recede when she found that he had not relinquished her hand. Her heart beat violently, her head became giddy, her feet lost their power. Finding that, after a slight attempt to withdraw her hand, he still held it fast, though in a trembling grasp, and nearly overcome by inexplicable distress, she turned away her face to conceal its confusion.
Thaddeus saw all this, and with a fluttering hope, instead of surrendering the hand he had retained, he made it a yet closer prisoner by clasping it in both his. Pressing it earnestly to his breast, he said in a hurried voice, whilst his earnest eyes poured all their beams upon her averted cheek, "Surely Miss Beaufort will not deny me the dearest happiness I possess—the privilege of being grateful to her?"
He paused: his soul was too full for utterance; and raising Mary's hand from his heart to his lips, he kissed it fervently. Almost fainting, Miss Beaufort leaned her head against a tree of the thicket where they were standing. The thought of the confession which Pembroke had extorted from her, and dreading that its fullness might have been imparted to him, and that all this was rather the tribute of gratitude than of love, she waved her other hand in sign for him to leave her.
Such extraordinary confusion in her manner palsied the warm and blissful emotions of the count. He, too, began to blame the sanguine representation of his friend; and fearing that he had offended her, that she might suppose he presumed on her kindness, he stood for a moment in silent astonishment; then dropping on his knee, (hardly conscious of the action,) declared in an agitated voice his sense of having given this offence; at the same time he ventured to repeat, with equally modest energy, the soul-devoted passion he had so long endeavored to seal up in his lonely breast.
"But forgive me!" added he, with increased earnestness; "forgive me, in justice to your own virtues. In what has just passed, I feel I ought to have only expressed thanks for your goodness to an unfortunate exile; but if my words or manner have obeyed the more fervid impulse of my soul, and declared aloud what is its glory in secret, blame my nature, most respected Miss Beaufort, not my presumption. I have not dared to look steadily on any aim higher than your esteem."
Mary knew not how to receive this address. The position in which he uttered it, his countenance when she turned to answer him, were both demonstrative of something less equivocal than his speech. He was still grasping the drapery of her cloak, and his eyes, from which the wind blew back his fine hair, were beaming upon her full of that piercing tenderness which at once dissolves and assures the soul.
She passed her hand over her eyes. Her soul was in a tumult. She too fondly wished to believe that he loved her to trust the evidence of what she saw. His words were ambiguous, and that was sufficient to fill her with uncertainty. Jealous of that delicacy which is the parent of love, and its best preserver, she checked the over-flowings of her heart, and whilst her concealed face streamed with tears, conjured him to rise. Instinctively she held out her hand to assist him. He obeyed; and hardly conscious of what she said, she continued—
"You have done nothing, Count Sobieski, to offend me. I was fearful of my own conduct—that you might have supposed—I mean, unfortunate appearances might lead you to imagine that I was influenced—was so forgetful of myself—"
"Cease, madam! Cease, for pity's sake!" cried Thaddeus starting back, and dropping her hand. Every motion which faltered on her tongue had met an answering pang in his breast.
Fearing that he had set his heart on the possession of a treasure totally out of his reach, he knew not how high had been his hope until he felt the depth of his despair. Taking up his hat, which lay on the grass, with a countenance from which every gleam of joy was banished, he bowed respectfully, and in a lower tone continued: "The dependent situation in which I appeared at Lady Dundas's being ever before my eyes, I was not so absurd as to suppose that any lady could then notice me from any other sentiment than humanity. That I excited this humanity, where alone I was proud to awaken it, was, in these hours of dejection, my sole comfort. It consoled me for the friends I had lost; it repaid me for the honors which were no more. But that is past! Seeing no further cause for compassion, you deem the delusion no longer necessary. Since you will not allow me an individual distinction in having attracted your benevolence, though I am to ascribe it all to a charity as diffused as effective, yet I must ever acknowledge with the deepest gratitude that I owe my present home and happiness to Miss Beaufort. Further than this, I shall not—I dare not—presume."
These words shifted all the count's anguish to Mary's breast. She perceived the offended delicacy which actuated each syllable as it fell; and fearful of having lost everything by her cold and what might appear haughty reply, she opened her lips to say what might better explain her meaning; but her heart failing her, she closed them again, and continued to walk in silence by his side. Having allowed the opportunity to escape, she believed that all hopes of exculpation were at an end. Not daring to look up, she cast a despairing glance at Sobieski's graceful figure, as he walked, equally silent, near her. His arms were folded, his hat pulled over his forehead, and his long dark eyelashes, shading his downward eyes, imparted a dejection to his whole air which wrapped her weeping heart round and round with regretful pangs. "Ah!" thought she, "though the offspring of but one moment, they will prey on my peace forever."
At the turning of a little wooded knoll, the mute and pensive pair heard the sound of some one on the other side, approaching them through the dry leaves. In a minute after Sir Robert Somerset appeared.
Whilst his father advanced smiling towards him, Thaddeus attempted to dispel the gloom of his countenance, but not succeeding, he bowed abruptly to the agitated Mary, and hastily said, "I will leave Miss Beaufort in your protection, sir, and go myself to see whether Lady Albina be recovered from her fatigue."
"I thought to find you all together," returned Sir Robert; "where is her ladyship?"
"I left her with Pembroke, in a hut by the river," said Thaddeus, and bowing again, he hurried away, whilst his father called after him to return in a few minutes, and accompany him in a walk.
The departure of Sobieski, when he had come expressly to attend her to Lady Albina, nearly overwhelmed Miss Beaufort's before exhausted spirits. Hardly knowing whether to remain or retreat, she was attempting the latter, when her guardian caught her hand.
"Stay, Mary!" cried he; "you surely would not leave me alone?"
Miss Beaufort's tears had gushed over her eyes the moment her back was turned, and as Sir Robert drew her towards him, to his extreme amazement he saw that she was weeping. At a sight so unexpected, the smile of hilarity left his lips. Putting his arm tenderly round her waist, (for now that her distress had discovered itself, her emotion became so great that she could hardly stand,) he inquired in a kindly manner what had affected her.
She answered by sobs only, until finding it impossible to break away from her uncle's arms, she hid her face in his bosom and gave vent to the full tide of her tears.
Recollecting the strange haste in which Thaddeus had hurried from them, and remembering Miss Beaufort's generosity to him in town, followed by her succeeding melancholy, Sir Robert at once united these circumstances with her present confusion, and conceiving an instantaneous suspicion of the reality, pressed her with redoubled affection to his bosom.
"I fear, my dearest girl," said he, "that something disagreeable has happened between you and the Count Sobieski. Perhaps he has offended you? perhaps he has found my sweet Mary too amiable?"
Alarmed at this supposition, after a short struggle she answered, "O no, sir! It is I who have offended him. He thinks I pride myself on the insignificant services I rendered to him in London."
This reply convinced the baronet that he had not been pre-mature in his judgment, and, with a new-born delight springing in his soul, he inquired why she thought so? Had she given him any reason to believe so?
Mary trembled at saying more.—Dreading that every word she might utter would betray how highly she prized the count's esteem, she faltered, hesitated, stopped. Sir Robert put the question a second time, in different terms.
"My loved Mary," said he, seating her by him on the trunk of a fallen tree, "I am sincerely anxious that you and this young nobleman should regard each other as friends. He is very dear to me; and you cannot doubt, my sweet girl, my affection for yourself. Tell me, therefore, the cause of this little misunderstanding."
Miss Beaufort took courage at this speech. Drying her glowing eyes, though still concealing them with a handkerchief, she replied in a firmer voice, "I believe, sir, the fault lies totally on my side. The Count Sobieski met me on the terrace, and thanked me for what I had done for him. I acted very weakly; I was confused. Indeed I knew not what he said; but he fell upon his knees, and I became so disconcerted, so frightened at the idea of his having attributed my conduct to indelicacy, or forwardness, that I answered something which offended him, and I am sure he now thinks me unfeeling and proud."
Sir Robert kissed her throbbing forehead, as she ended this rapid and hardly-articulated explanation.
"Tell me candidly, my dearest Mary!" rejoined the baronet, "can you believe that a man of Sobieski's disposition would bend his knee to a woman whom he did not both respect and love? Simple gratitude, my dear girl, is not so earnest. You have said enough to convince me, whatever may be your sentiments, that you are the mistress of his fate; and if he should mention it to me, may I describe to him the scene which has now passed between us? May I tell him that its just inference would requite his tenderness with more than your thanks and best wishes?"
Miss Beaufort, who believed that the count must now despise her, looked down to conceal the wretchedness which spoke through her eyes, and with a half-suppressed sigh, answered, "I will not deny that I deeply esteem the Count Sobieski. I admired his character before I saw him, and when I did see him, although ignorant that it was he, the impression seemed the same. Yet I never aspired to any place in his heart, or even his remembrance; I could not have the presumption. Therefore, my dear uncle," added she, laying her trembling hand on his arm, "I beseech you, as you value my feelings, my peace of mind, never to breathe a syllable of my weakness to him. I think," added she, clasping her hands with energy, and forgetting the force of her expression, "I would sooner suffer death than lose his respect."
"And yet," inquired Sir Robert, "you will at some future period give your hand to another man?"
Mary, who did not consider the extent of this insidious question, answered with fervor, "Never! I never can be happier than I am," added she, with breathless haste. Seeing, by the smile on Sir Robert's lips, that far more had been declared by her manner than her words intended, and fearful of betraying herself further, she begged permission to retire to the house.
The baronet took her hand, and reseating her by him, continued, "No, my Mary; you shall not leave me unless you honestly avow what your sentiments are towards the Count Sobieski. You know, my sweet girl, that I have tried to make you regard me as a father—to induce you to receive from my love the treble affection of your deceased parents and my lamented wife. If her dear niece do not deny this, she cannot treat me with reserve."
Miss Beaufort was unable to speak. Sir Robert proceeded:
"I will not overwhelm your shrinking delicacy by repeating the inquiry whether I have mistaken the source of your recent and present emotion; only allow me to bestow some encouragement on the count's attachment, should he claim my services in its behalf."
Mary drew her uncle's hand to her lips, and whilst her dropping tears fell upon it, she threw herself, like a confiding child, on her knees, and replied in a timid voice: "I should be a monster of ingratitude could I hide anything from you, my dearest sir, after this goodness! I confess that I do regard the Count Sobieski more than any being on earth. Who could see and know him and think it possible to become another's?"
"And you shall be his, my darling Mary!" cried the baronet, mingling his own blissful tears with hers. "I once hoped to have contrived an attachment between you and Pembroke, but Heaven has decreed it better. When you and Thaddeus are united, I shall be happy; I may then die in peace."
Miss Beaufort sighed heavily. She could not yet quite participate in her uncle's rapture. She thought that she had insulted and disgusted the count by her late behavior, beyond his excuse, and was opening her lips to urge it again, when the object of their conversation appeared at a short distance, coming towards them.
Full of renewed trepidation, she burst from the baronet's hand, and taking to flight, left her uncle to meet Sobieski alone.
Sir Robert's anxious question on the same subject received a more rapid reply from Thaddeus than had proceeded from the reluctant Miss Beaufort. The animated gratitude of Sobieski, the ardent yet respectful manner with which he avowed her eminence in his heart above all other women, convinced the baronet that Mary's retreating delicacy had misinformed her. A complete explanation was the consequence; and Thaddeus, who had not been more sanguine in his hopes than was his lovely mistress in hers, now allowed the clouds over his so lately darkened eyes to disappear.
Impatient to see these two beings, so dear to his soul, repose confidently in each other's affection, the moment Sir Robert returned to the house, he asked his sister for Miss Beaufort. Miss Dorothy replied that she had seen her about half an hour ago retire to her own apartments; the baronet, therefore, sent a servant to beg that she would meet him in the library.
This message found her in a paroxysm of distress. She reproached herself for her imprudence, her temerity, her unwomanly conduct, in having given away her heart to a man who she again began to torment herself by believing had never desired it. She remembered that her weakness, not her sincerity, had betrayed this humiliating secret to Sir Robert; and nearly distracted, she lay on the bed, almost hoping that she was in a miserable dream, when her maid entered with the baronet's commands.
Disdaining herself, and determining to regain some portion of her own respect by steadily opposing all her uncle's deluding hopes, with an assumed serenity she arrived at the study-door. She laid her hand on the lock, but the moment it yielded to her touch, all her firmness vanished. Trembling, and pale as death, she appeared before him.
Sir Robert, having supported her to a chair, with the most affectionate and tender expressions of paternal exultation repeated to her the sum of his conversation with the count. Mary was almost wild at this discourse. So inconsistent and erratic is the passion of love, when it reigns in woman's breast, she forgot in an instant the looks and voice of Thaddeus; she forgot her terror of having forfeited his affection by her affected coldness alone; and dreading that the first proposal of their union had proceeded from her uncle, she buried her agitated face in her hands, and exclaimed, "O sir! I fear that you have made me forever hateful in my own eyes and despicable in those of the Count Sobieski!"
Sir Robert looked on her emotion with a smiling but a pitying gaze, reading in all the unaffected apprehensive modesty of that noble maiden's heart.
"Well," cried he, in a gentle raillery of tone, "my own beloved one! if thy guardian uncle cannot prevail over this wayward fancifulness, so unlike his ingenuous Mary's usual fair dealing with the truth of others. I must call in even a better-accredited pleader, and shall then leave my object, the balance of justice and mercy, in equally beloved hands."
While he spoke, he rose and opened a door that led to an adjoining room. Miss Beaufort would have flown through another had not Sir Robert suddenly stood in her way. He threw his arm about her, and turning round, she saw the count, who had entered, regarding her with an anxiety which covered her before pale features with blushes.
His father bade him come near. Sobieski obeyed, though with a step that expressed how reluctant he was to oppress the woman he so truly loved. Mary's face was now hidden in her uncle's bosom. Sir Robert put her trembling hand into that of his son, who, dropping on his knee, said, in an agitated voice, "Honored, dearest Miss Beaufort! may I indulge myself in the idea that I am blessed with your regard?"
She could not reply, but whispered to her uncle, "Pray, sir, desire him to rise! I am overwhelmed."
"My sweet Mary!" returned the baronet, pressing her to his breast, "this is no time for deception on either side. I know both your hearts. Rise, Thaddeus," said he to the count, whilst he locked both their hands within his. "Take him, Mary! Receive from your guardian his most precious gift—my matchless and injured son."
The abruptness of the first part of this speech might have shocked her exhausted spirits to insensibility, had not the extraordinary assertion at its end, and Sir Robert's audible sobs, aroused and surprised her.
"Your son!" exclaimed she; "what do you mean, my uncle?"
"Thaddeus will explain all to you," returned he. "May Heaven bless you both!"
Mary was too much astonished to think of following her agitated uncle out of the room. She sunk on a seat, and turning her gaze full of amazement towards the count, seemed to ask an explanation. Thaddeus, who still retained her passive hand, pressed it warmly to his heart; and whilst his effulgent eyes were beaming on her with joyous love, he imparted to her a concise but impressive narrative of his relationship with Sir Robert. He touched with short yet deep enthusiasm, with more than one tearful pause, on the virtues of his mother; he acknowledged the unbounded gratitude which was due to that God who had so wonderfully conducted him to find a parent and a home in England, and with renewed pathos of look and manner ratified the proffer which Sir Robert had made of his heart and hand to her who alone on this earth had reminded him of that angelic parent. "I nave seen her beloved face, luminous in purity and tender pity, reflected in yours, ever-honored Miss Beaufort, when your noble heart, more than once, looked in compassion on her son. And I then felt, with a wondering bewilderment, a sacred response in my soul, though I could not explain it to myself. But since then that sister spirit of my mother has often whispered it as if direct from heaven."
Mary had listened with uncontrollable emotion to this interesting detail. Her eyes overflowed: their ingenuous language, enforced by the warm blood which glowed on her cheek, did not require the medium of words to declare what was passing in her mind. Thaddeus gazed on her with a certainty of bliss which penetrated his soul until its raptures almost amounted to pain. The heart may ache with joy; neither sighs nor language could express what passed in his mind. He held her hand to his lips; his other arm fell unconsciously round her waist, and in a moment he found that he had pressed her to his breast. His heart beat violently. Miss Beaufort rose instantaneously from her chair; but her pure nature needed no disguise. She looked up to him, whilst her blushing eyes were shedding tears of delight, and said in a trembling voice: "Tell my dear uncle that Mary Beaufort glories in the means by which she becomes his daughter."
She moved to the door. Thaddeus, whose full tide of transport denied him utterance, only clasped her hands again to his lips and bosom; then, relinquishing them, he suffered her to quit the room.
A FAMILY PARTY.
The magnificent establishment which this projected union offered to Sobieski seemed to heal the yet bleeding conscience of Sir Robert Somerset. Although he had acquiesced in the count's generous surrender of the family-inherited honors, his heart remained still ill at ease. Every dutiful expression from his long-neglected son at times had stung him with remorse. But Miss Beaufort's avowed and returned affection at once removed the lingering accuser from his bosom. Mistress of immense wealth, her hand would not only put the injured Thaddeus in possession of the pure delights which only a mutual sympathy can bestow, but would enable his munificent spirit to again exert itself in the worthy disposal of an almost princely fortune.
Such meditations having followed the now tranquillized baronet to his pillow, they brought him into the breakfast-parlor next day full of that calm pleasure which promises a steady continuance. The happy family were assembled. Miss Dorothy saluted her brother, whose brightened eye declared that he had something pleasant to communicate; and he did not keep her in suspense. With the first cup of coffee the good lady poured out, his grateful heart unburdened itself of the delightful tidings that ere many months, perhaps weeks, he had reason to hope Miss Beaufort would give her hand to the Count Sobieski. Pembroke was the only hearer who did not evince surprise at this announcement. Every one else had been kept uninformed, on the especial injunction of Sir Robert, who desired its knowledge to be withheld till he had completed some necessary preliminaries in his mind. But Thaddeus, by the permission of the happy parent, during a long and interesting conversation in his library, which passed between the father and his new-found son, immediately after the latter's blissful parting with his then heart-affianced Mary, had hastened to his brother, and retiring with him to his little study, there communicated, in full and enraptured confidence, the whole events of the recent mutual explanations.
During Sir Robert's animated disclosure, Mary's blushing yet grateful eyes sought a veil in a branch of geranium which she held in her trembling hand.
Miss Dorothy rose from her chair; her smiling tears spoke more than her lips when she pressed first her niece and then the Count Sobieski in her venerable arms.
"Heaven bless you both!" cried she. "This marriage will be the glory of my age."
Miss Beaufort turned from the embrace of her aunt to meet the warm congratulations of Pembroke. Whilst he kissed her burning cheek, he whispered, loud enough for every one to hear, "And why may I not brighten in my good aunt's triumph? Attempt it, dear Mary! If you can persuade my father to allow me to make myself as happy with Lady Albina Stanhope as you will render Sobieski, I shall forever bless you!"
Lady Albina colored and looked down. Sir Robert took her hand with pleased surprise, "Do you, my lovely guest—do yon sanction what this bold boy has just said?"
Lady Albina made no answer; but, blushing deeper than before, cast a sidelong glance at Pembroke, as if to petition his support. He was at her side in an instant; then seriously and earnestly entreating his father's consent to an union with their gentle kinswoman (whose approbation he had obtained the preceding day in the shepherd's hut), he awaited with anxiety the sounds which seemed faltering on Sir Robert's lips.
The baronet, quite overcome by his ever-beloved Pembroke having, like his brother, disposed of his heart so much to his own honor, found himself unable to say what he wished. Joining the hands of the two young people in silence, he hurried out of the room. He ascended to the library, where kneeling down, he returned devout thanks to that "all-gracious Being who had crowned one so unworthy with blessings so conspicuous."
Thaddeus, no less than his father, remembered the hand which, having guided him through a sharply-beset wilderness of sorrow, had in so short a term conducted him to an Eden of bliss. Long afterwards, when years had passed over his happy head, and his days became dedicated to various important duties, public and private, attendant on his station in life and the landed power he held in his adopted country, never did he forget that he was "only a steward of the world's Benefactor!" The sense of whose deputy he was gave to his heart a grateful conviction that in whatever spot he might be so placed, he was to consider it as his country!—the Canaan of his commission.
Before the lapse of a week, it became expedient that Sir Robert should hasten the marriage of Pembroke with Lady Albina, or be forced by law to yield her to the demands of her father. After much search, Lord Tinemouth had discovered that his daughter was under the protection of Sir Robert Somerset. Inflamed with rage and revenge, he sent to order her immediate return, under pain of an instantaneous appeal to the courts of judicature.
Too well aware that her nonage laid her open to the realization of this threat, Lady Albina fell into the most alarming swoonings on the first communication of the message. Sir Robert urged that in her circumstances no authority could be opposed to the earl's excepting that of a husband's; and on this consideration she complied with his arguments and the prayers of her lover, to directly give that power into the hands of Pembroke.
Accordingly, with as little delay as possible, accompanied by Miss Dorothy and the enraptured Mr. Somerset, the terrified Lady Albina commenced her journey to Scotland, that being the only place where, in her situation, the marriage could be legally solemnized. A clerical friend of the baronet's, who dwelt just over the borders, could perform the rite with every proper respect.
Whilst these young runaways, chaperoned by an old maiden aunt, were pursuing their rapid flight across the Tweed, Sir Robert sent his steward to London to prepare a house near his own in Grosvenor Square for the reception of the bridal pair. During these necessary arrangements, a happy fortnight elapsed at Deerhurst—thrice happy to Mary, because its tranquil hours imparted to her long-doubting heart "a sober certainty of that awaking bliss" which had so often animated with hope the visions of her imagination, when contemplating the mystery of such a mind as that of Thaddeus having been destined to the humble lot in which she had found him. Morning, noon, and evening the loving companion of the Count Sobieski, she saw with deepened devotedness that the brave and princely virtues did not reign alone in his bosom. Their full lustre was rendered less intense by the softening shades of those gentler amenities which are the soothers and sweeteners of life. His breast seemed the residence of love—of a love that not only infused a warmer existence through her soul, but diffused such a light of benevolence over every being within its influence, that all appeared happy who caught a beam of his eye—all enchanted who shared the magic of his smile. Under what different aspects had she seen this man! Yet how consistent! At the first period of their acquaintance, she beheld him, like that glorious orb which her ardent fancy told her he resembled, struggling with the storm, or looking dimmed, yet unmoved, through the clouds which obscured his path; but now, like the radiant sun of summer amidst a splendid sky, he seemed to stand the source of light, and love, and joy.
Thus did the warm fancy and warmer heart of Mary Beaufort paint the image of her lover; and when Sir Robert received intelligence that the Scottish party had arrived in town and were impatient for the company of the beloved inhabitants of Deerhurst, while preparing to revisit the proud and gay world, she confessed that some embers of human pride did sparkle in her own bosom at the anticipation of witnessing the homage which they who had despised the unfriended Constantine tine would pay to the declared and illustrious Sobieski.
The news of Lady Albina's marriage infuriated the Earl of Tinemouth almost to frenzy. Well assured that his withholding her fortune would occasion no vexation to a family of Sir Robert Somerset's vast possessions, he gave way to still more vehement bursts of passion, and in a fit of impotent threatening embarked with all his household to spend the remainder of the season on his much-disregarded estates in Ireland.
This abrupt departure of the earl caused Lady Albina little uneasiness. His unremitted cruelty, her brother's indifference and the barbed insults of Lady Olivia Lovel, now the earl's wife, rankled too deeply in the daughter's bosom to leave any filial regret behind. Considering their absence a suspension of pain rather than a punishment, she did not stain the kiss which she imprinted on the revered cheek of her new parent with one tear to the memory of her unnatural father.
Whilst all was splendor and happiness in Grosvenor Square, Thaddeus did not forget the excellent Mrs. Robson. He hastened to St. Martin's Lane, where the good woman received him with open arms. Nanny hung, crying for joy, upon his hand, and sprung rapturously about his neck when he told her he was now a rich man, and that she and her grandmother should live with him forever. "I am going to be married, my dear Mrs. Robson," said he; "that ministering angel who visited you when I was in prison was sent to wipe away the tears from my eyes." Drying the cheek of his weeping landlady, while he spoke, with his own handkerchief, he continued:—"She commanded me not to leave you until you had assured me that you will brighten our happiness by taking possession of a pretty cottage close to her house in Kent. It is within Beaufort Park, and there my Mary and myself will visit you continually."
"Blessed Mr. Constantine!" cried the worthy woman, pressing his hand; "myself, my Nanny, we are yours;—take us where you please, for wherever you go, there will the Almighty's hand lead us, and there will his right hand hold us."
The count rose and turned to the window; his heart was full, and he was obliged to take time to recover himself before he could resume the conversation. He saw her twice after this; and on the day of her departure for Kent, to await in her own new home his and his Mary's arrival there, he put into her hand the first quarterly payment of an annuity which would henceforward afford her every comfort, and raise her to that easy rank in society which her gentle manners and rare virtues were so admirably fitted to adorn. Neither did he neglect Mr. Burket. It was not in his nature to allow any one who served him to pass unrewarded. He called on him on the last day he visited St. Martin's Lane, (when Mrs. Watts, too, shared his bounty,) and having repaid him with a generosity which astonished the good money-lender, he took back his sword, and the venerated old seals he had left with Mrs. Robson to get repaired by the same honest hand; also the other precious relics he had had refitted to their original settings, and pressing them mournfully yet gratefully to his breast, re-entered Sir Robert's carriage to drive home. What bliss to his heart was in that sword?
Next day Thaddeus directed his steps to Dr. Cavendish's. He found his worthy friend at home, who received him with kindness. But how was that kindness increased to transport when Thaddeus told him, with a smiling countenance, that he was the very Sobieski about whose wayward fate he had asked so many ill-answered questions. The delighted doctor embraced him with an ardor which spoke better than language his admiration and esteem. His amazement, having subsided, he was discoursing with animated interest on events at once so fatal and so glorious to Sobieski, when a gentleman was announced by the name of Mr. Hopetown. He entered; and Dr. Cavendish at the same time introducing Thaddeus as the Count Sobieski, Mr. Hopetown fixed his eyes upon him with an expression which neither of the friends could comprehend. A little disconcerted at the merchant's seeming rudeness, the good doctor attempted to draw off the steadiness of his gaze by asking how long he had been in England.
"I left Dantzic," replied he, "about three weeks ago; and I should have been in London five days since, but a favorite horse of mine, which I brought with me, fell sick at Harwick, and I waited until he was well enough to travel."
Whilst he spoke he never withdrew his eyes from the face of Thaddeus, who at the words Dantzic and horse recollected his faithful Saladin; almost hoping that this Mr. Hopetown might prove to be the Briton to whom he had consigned the noble animal, he took a part in the conversation by inquiring of the merchant whether he were a resident of Dantzic.
"No, your excellency," replied he; "I live within a mile of it. Several years ago I quitted the smoke and bustle of the town to enjoy fresh air and quiet."
"Last year," rejoined Sobieski, "I passed through Dantzic on my way to England. I believe I saw your house, and remarked its situation. The park is beautiful."