"A little reflection would answer you," returned she, wishing to retreat from an explanation, yet stimulated by her double jealousy to proceed: "she may be a good girl, Mr. Constantine, and I dare say she is; but a woman who has promised her hand to another ought not to flirt with you. What business had Miss Egerton to command you to wear an English dress. But she must now see the danger of her conduct, by your having presumed to obey her."
"Lady Sara!" exclaimed the count, much hurt at this speech, "I hardly understand you; yet I believe I may venture to affirm that in all which you have just now said, you are mistaken. Who can witness the general frankness of Miss Egerton, or listen to the candid manner with which she avows her attachment to Mr. Montresor, and conceive that she possesses any thoughts which would not do her honor to reveal? And for myself," added he, lowering the tone of his voice, "I trust the least of my faults is presumption. It never was my character to presume on any lady's condescension; and if dressing as she approved be deemed an instance of that kind, I can declare, upon my word, had I not found other motives besides her raillery, my appearance should not have suffered a change."
"Are you sincere, Mr. Constantine?" cried Lady Sara, now smiling with pleasure.
"Indeed I am, and happy if my explanation have met with your ladyship's approbation."
"Mr. Constantine," resumed she, "I have no motive but one in my discourse with you,—friendship." And casting her eyes down, she sighed profoundly.
"Your ladyship does me honor."
"I would have you to regard me with the same confidence that you do Lady Tinemouth. My father possesses the first patronage in this country, I therefore have it a thousand times more in my power than she has to render you a service."
Here her ladyship overshot herself; she had not calculated well on the nature of the mind she wished to ensnare.
"I am grateful to your generosity," replied Thaddeus, "but on this head I must decline your kind offices. Whilst I consider myself the subject of one king, though he be in a prison, I cannot accept of any employment under another who is in alliance with his enemies."
Lady Sara discovered her error the moment he had made his answer; and, in a disappointed tone, exclaimed, "Then you despise my friendship!"
"No, Lady Sara; it is an honor far beyond my merits; and any gratitude to Lady Tinemouth must be doubled when I recollect that I possess such honor through her means."
"Well," cried her ladyship, "have that as you will; but I expect, as a specimen of your confidence in me, you will be wary of Euphemia Dundas. I know she is artful and vain; she finds amusement in attracting the affections of men; and then, notwithstanding her affected sensibility, she turns them into a subject for laughter."
"I thank your ladyship," replied the count; "but in this respect I think I am safe, both from the lady and myself."
"How," asked Lady Sara, rather too eagerly, "is your heart?"—She paused and looked down.
"No, madam!" replied he, sighing as deeply as herself: but with his thoughts far from her and the object of their discourse; "I have no place in my heart to give to love. Besides, the quality in which I appear at Lady Dundas's would preclude the vainest man alive from supposing that such notice from any lady there to him could be possible. Therefore, I am safe, though I acknowledge my obligation to your ladyship's caution."
Lady Sara was satisfied with the first part of this answer. It declared that his heart was unoccupied; and, as he had accepted her proffered friendship, she doubted not, when assisted by more frequent displays of her fascinations, she could destroy its lambent nature, and in the end light up in his bosom a similar fire to that which consumed her own.
The unconscious object of all these devices began internally to accuse his vanity of having been too fanciful in the formation of suspicions which on a former occasion he had believed himself forced to admit. Blushing at a quickness of perception his contrition now denominated folly, he found himself at the bottom of Harley Street.
Lady Sara called her servant to walk nearer to her; and telling Thaddeus she should expect him the next evening at Lady Tinemouth's, wished him good-morning.
He was certain that he must have stayed at least half an hour beyond the time when he ought to be with the sisters. Anticipating very haughty looks, and perhaps a reprimand, he knocked at the door, and was again shown into the library. Miss Euphemia was alone.
He offered some indistinct excuse for having made her wait; but Euphemia, with good-humored alacrity, interrupted him.
"O pray, don't mind; you have made nobody wait but me, and I can easily forgive it; for mamma and my sister chose to go out at one, it being May-day, to see the chimney-sweepers dine at Mrs. Montague's.[Footnote: This was a gay spectacle, and a most kind act to these poor children, who thus once a-year found themselves refreshed and happy. They resorted to the green court-yard of Mrs. Montague's house every May-day, about one o'clock, dressed in their gala wreaths, and sporting with their brushes and shovels, where they found a good dinner, kind words from their hostess and her guests, and each little sweep received a shilling at parting. On the death of Mrs. Montague, this humane and pleasurable spectacle ceased.] They did as they liked, and I preferred staying at home to repeat my lesson."
Thaddeus, thanking her for her indulgence, sat down, and taking the book, began to question her. Not one word could she recollect. She smiled.
"I am afraid, madam, you have never thought of it since yesterday morning."
"Indeed, I have thought of nothing else: you must forgive me. I am very stupid, Mr. Constantine, at learning languages; and German is so harsh—at least to my ears! Cannot you teach me any other thing? I should like to learn of you of all things, but do think of something else besides this odious jargon! Cannot you teach me to read poetry elegantly?—Shakspeare, for instance; I doat upon Shakspeare!"
"That would be strange presumption in a foreigner?"
"No presumption in the least," cried she; "if you can do it, pray begin! There is Romeo and Juliet."
Thaddeus pushed away the book with a smile.
"I cannot obey. I understand Shakspeare with as much ease as you, madam, will soon do Schiller, if you apply; but I cannot pretend to read the play aloud."
"Dear me, how vexatious!—but I must hear you read something. Do, take up that Werter. My sister got it from the Prussian ambassador, and he tells me it is sweetest in its own language."
The count opened the book.
"But you will not understand a word of it."
"I don't care for that; I have it by heart in English; and if you will only read his last letter to Charlotte, I know I can follow you in my own mind."
To please this whimsical little creature, Thaddeus turned to the letter, and read it forward with a pathos natural to his voice and character. When he came to an end and closed the volume, the cadence of his tones, and the lady's memory, did ample justice to her sensibility. She looked up, and smiling through her watery eyes, which glittered like violets wet with dew, drew out her perfumed handkerchief, and wiping them, said—
"I thank you, Mr. Constantine. You see by this irrepressible emotion that I feel Goethe, and did not ask you a vain favor."
Thaddeus bowed, for he was at a loss to guess what kind of a reply could be expected by so strange a creature.
"You are a German, Mr. Constantine. Did you ever see Charlotte?"
"I am sorry for that; I should have liked to have heard what sort of a beauty she was. But don't you think she behaved cruelly to Werter? Perhaps you knew him?"
"No, madam; this lamentable story happened before I was born."
"How unhappy for him! I am sure you would have made the most charming friends in the world! Have you a friend, Mr. Constantine."
The count looked at her with surprise. She laughed at the expression of his countenance.
"I don't mean such friends as one's father, mother, sisters and relations: most people have enough of them. I mean a tender, confiding friend, to whom you unbosom all your secrets: who is your other self—a second soul! In short, a creature in whose existence you forget your own!"
Thaddeus followed with his eyes the heightened color of the fair enthusiast, who, accompanying her rhapsody with action expressive as her words, had to repeat her question, "Have you such a friend?" before he found recollection to answer her in the negative.
The count, who had never been used to such extravagant behavior in a woman, would have regarded Miss Euphemia Dundas as little better than insane had he not been prepared by Miss Egerton's description; and he now acquiesced in the young lady's desire to detain him another hour, half amused and half wearied with her aimless and wild fancies. But here he was mistaken. Her fancies were not aimless; his heart was the game she had in view, and she determined a desperate attack should make it her own, in return for the deep wounds she had received from every tone of his voice, whilst reading the Sorrows of Werter.
LADY TINEMOUTH'S BOUDOIR.
Thaddeus spent nearly a fortnight in the constant exercise of his occupations. In the forepart of each day, until two, he prepared those drawings by the sale of which he was empowered every week to pay the good Mrs. Robson for her care of his friend. And he hoped, when the ladies in Harley Street should think it time to defray any part of their now large debt to him, he might be enabled to liquidate the very long bill of his friend's apothecary. But the Misses Dundas possessed too much money to think of its utility; they used it as counters; for they had no conception that to other people it might be the purchaser of almost every comfort. Their comforts came so certainly, they supposed they grew of necessity out of their situation, and their great wealth owned no other commission than to give splendid parties and buy fine things. Their golden shower being exhaled by the same vanity by which it had been shed, they as little regarded its dispersion as they had marked its descent.
Hence, these amiable ladies never once recollected that their master ought to receive some weightier remuneration for his visits than the honor of paying them; and as poets say the highest honors are achieved by suffering, so these two sisters, though in different ways, seemed resolved that Thaddeus should purchase his distinction with adequate pains.
Notwithstanding that Miss Dundas continued very remiss in her lessons, she unrelentingly required the count's attendance, and sometimes, not in the most gentle language, reproached him for a backwardness in learning she owed entirely to her own inattention and stupidity. The fair Diana would have been the most erudite woman in the world could she have found any fine-lady path to the temple of science; but the goddess who presides there being only to be won by arduous climbing, poor Miss Dundas, like the indolent monarch who made the same demand of the philosophers, was obliged to lay the fault of her own slippery feet on the weakness of her conductors.
As Thaddeus despised her most heartily, he bore ill-humor from that quarter with unshaken equanimity. But the pretty Euphemia was not so easily managed. She had now completely given up her fanciful soul to this prince in disguise, and already began to act a thousand extravagances. Without suspecting the object, Diana soon discovered that her sister was in one of her love fits. Indeed she cared nothing about it; and leaving her to pursue the passion as she liked, poor Euphemia, according to her custom when laboring under this whimsical malady, addicted herself to solitude. This romantic taste she generally indulged by taking her footman to the gate of the green in Cavendish Square, where he stood until she had performed a pensive saunter up and down the walk. After this she returned home, adjusted her hair in the Madonna fashion, (because Thaddeus had one day admired the female head in a Holy Family, by Guido, over the chimney- piece,) and then seating herself in some becoming attitude, usually waited, with her eyes constantly turning to the door, until the object of these devices presented himself. She impatiently watched all his motions and looks whilst he attended to her sister; and the moment that was done, she ran over her own lessons with great volubility, but little attention. Her task finished, she shut the books, and employed the remainder of the time in translating a number of little mottoes into German, which she had composed for boxes, baskets, and other frippery.
One day, when her young teacher was, as usual, tired almost beyond endurance with making common sense out of so much nonsense, Euphemia observed that Diana had removed to the other end of the room with the Honorable Mr. Lascelles. To give an clat to her new studies, Miss Dundas had lately opened her library door to morning visitors; and seeing her sister thus engaged, Euphemia thought she might do what she wished without detection. Hastily drawing a folded paper from her pocket, she desired Thaddeus to take it home, and translate it into the language he liked best.
Surprised at her manner, he held it in his hand.
"Put it in your pocket," added she, in a hurrying voice, "else my sister may see it, and ask what it is!"
Full of wonder, he obeyed her; and the little beauty, having executed her scheme, seemed quite intoxicated with delight. When he was preparing to withdraw, she called to him, and asked when he should visit Lady Tinemouth.
"This evening, madam."
"Then," returned she, "tell her ladyship I shall come and sit half- an-hour with her to-night; and here," added she, running up to him, "present her that rose, with my love." Whilst she put it into his hand, she whispered in a low voice, "and you will tell me what you think of the verses I have given you."
Thaddeus colored and bowed. He hurried out of the house into the street, as if by that haste he could have gotten out of a dilemma to which he feared all this foolish mystery might be only the introduction.
Though of all men in the world he was perhaps the least inclined to vanity, yet he must have been one of the most stupid had he not been convinced by this time of the dangerous attachment of Lady Sara. Added to that painful certainty he now more than dreaded a similar though a slighter folly in Miss Euphemia.
Can a man see himself the daily object of a pair of melting eyes, hear everlasting sighs at his entrance and departure, day after day receive tender though covert addresses about disinterested love, can he witness all this, and be sincere when he affirms it is the language of indifference? If that be possible, the Count Sobieski has no pretensions of modesty. He comprehended the "discoursing" of Miss Euphemia's "eye;" also the tendency of the love-sick mottoes which, under various excuses, she put into his hand; and with many a pitying smile of contempt he contemplated her childish absurdity.
A few days prior to that in which she made this appointment with Thaddeus, she had presented to him another of her posies, which ran thus: "Frighted love, like a wild beast, shakes the wood in which it hides."
Thaddeus almost laughed at the oddity of the conceit.
"Do, dear Mr. Constantine," cried she, "translate it into the sweetest French you can; for I mean to have it put into a medallion, and to give it to the person whom I most value on earth!"
There was something so truly ridiculous in the sentence, that, reluctant to allow even Miss Euphemia to expose herself so far, he considered a moment how he should make anything so bad better, and then said, "I am afraid I cannot translate it literally; but surely, madam, you can do it yourself!"
"Yes; but I like your French better than mine; so pray oblige me."
He had done the same kind of thing a hundred times for her, and, without further discussion, wrote as follows:—
"L'amour tel qu'une biche blesse, se trahit lui-mme par sa crainte, qui fait remuer le feuillage qui le couvre."
"Bless me, how pretty!" cried she, and immediately put it into her bosom.
To this unlucky addition of the words se trahit lui-meme Thaddeus was indebted for the present of the folded paper. The ever- working imagination of Euphemia had seized the inverted thought as a delicate avowal that he was the wounded deer he had substituted in place of the wild beast; and as soon is he arrived at home, he found the fruits of her mistake in the packet she had given with so much secrecy.
When he broke the seal, something dropped out and fell on the carpet. He took it up, and blushed for her on finding a gold medallion, with the words he had altered for Miss Euphemia engraved on blue enamel. With a vexed haste he next looked at the envelope; it contained a copy of verses, with this line written at the top:
"To him who will apply them."
On perusing them, he found them to be Mrs. Phillips's beautiful translation of that ode of Sappho which runs—
"Blest as the immortal gods is he, The friend who fondly sits by thee, And hears and sees thee all the while Softly speak and sweetly smile!
"'Twas this deprived my soul of rest, And rais'd such tumults in my breast: For while I gazed, in transport tost, My breath was gone, my voice was lost.
"My bosom glow'd; the subtle flame Ran quick through all my vital frame; O'er my dim eyes a darkness hung; My ears with hollow murmurs rung.
"In dewy damps my limbs were chill'd; My blood with gentle horrors thrill'd: My feeble pulse forgot to play; I fainted, sunk and died away!
Thaddeus threw the verses and the medallion together on the table, and sat for a few minutes considering how he could extricate himself from an affair so truly farcical in itself, but which might be productive of a very distressing consequence to him.
He was thinking of at once giving up the task of attending either of the sisters, when his eyes falling on the uncomplaining but melancholy features of his poor friend, he exclaimed, "No; for thy sake, gallant Butzou, I will brave every scene, however abhorrent to my heart."
Well aware, from observation on Miss Euphemia, that this seeming tenderness which prompted an act so wild and unbecoming originated in mere caprice, ha did not hesitate in determining to return the things in as handsome a manner as possible and by so doing, at once crush the whole affair. He felt no pain in forming those resolves, because he saw that not one impulse of her conduct sprung from her heart. It was a whim raised by him to-day, which might be superseded by another to-morrow.
But how different was the case with regard to Lady Sara! Her uncontrolled nature could not long brook the restraints of friendship. Every attention he gave to Lady Tinemouth, every civility he paid to Miss Egerton, or to any other lady whom he met at the countess's, went like a dagger to her soul; and whenever she could gain his ear in private, she generally made him sensible of her misery, and his own unhappiness in being its cause, by reproaches which too unequivocally proclaimed their source.
He now saw that she had given way to a reprehensible and headstrong passion; and, allowing for the politeness which is due to the sex, he tried, by an appearance of the most stubborn coldness, and an obstinate perversity in shutting his apprehension against all her speeches and actions, to stem a tide that threatened her with ruin.
Lady Tinemouth at least began to open her eyes to the perilous situation of both her friends. Highly as she esteemed Thaddeus, she knew not the extent of his integrity. She had lived too long near the circle of the heir apparent, and had seen too many men from the courts of the continent, to place much reliance on the firmness of a single and unattached young man when assailed by rank, beauty and love.
Alarmed at what might be the result of her observations, and fearing to lose any time, she had that very evening in winch she expected Thaddeus to supper drawn out of Lady Sara the unhappy state of her heart.
The dreadful confession was made by her ladyship, with repeated showers of tears, and in paroxysms of agony which pierced the countess to the soul.
"My dear Lady Sara," cried she, "for heaven's sake, remember your duty to Captain Ross!"
"I shall never forget it," exclaimed her ladyship, shaking her head mournfully, and striking her breast with her clenched hand, "I never look on the face of Constantine that I do not execrate from my heart the vows which I have sworn to Ross, but I have bound myself his property, and though I hate him, whatever it may cost me, I will never forget that my faith and honor are my husband's."
With a countenance bathed in tears, Lady Tinemouth put her arms round the waist of Lady Sara, who now sat motionless, with her eyes fixed on the fire.
"Dear Lady Sara! that was spoken like yourself. Do more; abstain from seeing Mr. Constantine."
"Don't require of me that?" cried she; "I could easier rid myself of existence. He is the very essence of my happiness. It is only in his company that I forget that I am a wretch."
"This is obstinacy, my dear Lady Sara! This is courting danger."
"Lady Tinemouth, urge me no more. Is it not enough?" continued she, sullenly, "that I am miserable? Would you drive me to desperation? If there be danger; you brought me into it."
"I! Lady Sara?"
"Yes, you, Lady Tinemouth; you introduced him to me."
"But you are married! Singularly attractive and amiable as indeed he is, could I suppose—"
"Nonsense!" cried her ladyship, interrupting her; "you know that I am married to a mere sailor, more in love with his ugly ship than with me! But it is not because Constantine is so handsome that I like him. No; though no human form can come nearer to perfection, yet it was not that: it was you. You and Sophia Egerton were always telling me of his bravery; what wealth and honors he had sacrificed in the service of his country; how nobly he succored the distresses of others; how heedless he was of his own. This fired my imagination and won my heart. No; it was not his personal attractions: I am not so despicable!"
"Dear Lady Sara, be calm!" entreated the countess, completely at a loss how to manage a spirit of such violence. "Think, my dear friend, what horrors you would experience if Mr. Constantine were to discover this predilection, and presume upon it! You know where even the best men are vulnerable."
The eyes of Lady Sara sparkled with pleasure.
"Why, surely, Lady Sara!" exclaimed Lady Tinemouth, doubtingly.
"Don't fear me, Lady Tinemouth; I know my own dignity too well to do anything disgraceful; yet I would acquire the knowledge that he loves me at almost any price. But he is cold," added she: "he is a piece of obstinate petrefaction, which Heaven itself could not melt!"
Lady Tinemouth was glad to hear this account of Thaddeus; but ere she could reply, the drawing-room door opened, and Miss Euphemia Dundas was announced.
When the little beauty expressed her amazement at not seeing Mr. Constantine, Lady Sara gave her such a withering look, that had her ladyship's eyes been Medusan, poor Euphemia would have stood there forever after, a stone statue of disappointment.
THE COUNTESS OF TINEMOUTH'S STORY.
Meanwhile the count, having seen Dr. Cavendish, and received a favorable opinion of his friend, wrote the following note to Miss Euphemia:—
"TO MISS EUPHEMIA DUNDAS.
"Mr. Constantine very much admires the taste of Miss Euphemia Dundas in her choice of the verses which she did him the honor of requesting he would translate into the most expressive language, and to the utmost of his abilities he has obeyed her commands in Italian, thinking that language the best adapted to the versification of the original.
"Mr. Constantine equally admires the style of the medallion which Miss E. Dundas has condescended to enclose for his inspection, and assures her the letters are correct."
Having sealed his note, and seen the general in bed, with little Nanny seated by him to watch his slumbers, Thaddeus pursued his way to Grosvenor Place.
When he entered Lady Tinemouth's drawing-room, he saw that his young inamorata had already arrived, and was in close conversation with the countess. Lady Sara, seated alone on a sofa, inwardly upbraided Constantine for what she thought an absolute assignation with Euphemia.
Her half-resentful eyes, yet dewed with the tears which her discourse with Lady Tinemouth had occasioned, sought his averted face, while he looked at Miss Dundas with evident surprise and disgust. This pleased her; and the more so as he only bowed to her rival, shook the countess by the hand, and then turning, took his station beside herself on the sofa.
She would not trust her triumphant eyes towards Lady Tinemouth, but immediately asked him some trifling question. At the same moment Euphemia tapped him on the arm with her fan, and inquired how it happened that she had arrived first.
He was answering Lady Sara. Euphemia impatiently repeated her demand, "How did it happen that I arrived first?"
"I suppose, madam," replied he, smiling, "because you were so fortunate as to set out first. But had I been so happy as to have preceded you, the message and present with which I was honored would have been faithfully delivered, and I hope your ladyship will permit me to do it now," said he, rising, and taking Euphemia's rose from his button, as he approached the countess; "Miss Euphemia Dundas had done me the honor to make me the bearer of sweets to the sweet; and thus I surrender my trust." He bowed, and put the flower into Lady Tinemouth's hand, who smiled and thanked Euphemia. But the little beauty blushed like her own rose; and murmuring within herself at the literal apprehension of her favorite, whom she thought as handsome as Cimon, and as stupid too, she flirted her fan, and asked Miss Egerton whether she had read Charlotte Smith's last delightful novel.
The evening passed off more agreeably to Thaddeus than he had augured on his entrance. Lady Sara always embarrassed and pained him; Miss Euphemia teased him to death; but to-night the storm which had agitated the breast of her ladyship having subsided into thoughtfulness, it imparted so abstracted an air to her ever-lovely countenance, that, merely to elude communication with Euphemia, he remained near her, and by paying those attentions which, so situated, he could not avoid, he so deluded the wretched Lady Sara, as to subdue her melancholy into an enchanting softness which to any other man might have rendered her the most captivating woman on earth.
The only person present who did not approve this change was Lady Tinemouth. At every dissolving smile of her Circean ladyship, she thought she beheld the intoxicating cup at the lips of Thaddeus, and dreaded its effect. Euphemia was too busily employed repeating some new poems, and too intensely dreaming of what her tutor might say on the verses and medallion in his possession, to observe the dangerous ascendency which the superior charms of Lady Sara might acquire over his heart. Indeed, she had no suspicion of finding a rival in her ladyship; and when a servant announced the arrival of her mother's coach, and she saw by her watch that it was twelve o'clock, she arose reluctantly, exclaiming, "I dare say some plaguing people have arrived who are to stay with us, else mamma would not have sent for me so soon."
"I call it late," said Lady Sara, who would not lose an opportunity of contradicting her; "so I will thank you, Mr. Constantine." addressing herself to him, "to hand me to my coach at the same time."
Euphemia bit her lip at this movement of her ladyship, and followed her down stairs, reddening with anger. Her carriage being first, she was obliged to get into it, but would not suffer the servant to close the door until she had seen Lady Sara seated in hers; and then she called to Mr. Constantine to speak with her.
Lady Sara leaned her head out of the window. While she saw the man she loved approach Lady Dundas's carriage, she, in her turn, bit her lips with vexation.
"Home, my lady?" asked the servant, touching his hat.
"No; not till Miss Dundas's coach drives on."
Miss Euphemia desired Thaddeus to step in for a moment, and he reluctantly obeyed.
"Mr. Constantine!" cried the pretty simpleton, trembling with expectation, as she made room for him beside her, "have you opened the paper I gave you?"
"Yes, madam," returned he, holding the door open, and widening it with one hand, whilst with the other he presented his note, "and I have the honor, in that paper, to have executed your commands."
Euphemia caught it eagerly; and Thaddeus immediately leaping out, wished her a good-night, and hurried back into the house. Whilst the carriages drove away, he ascended to the drawing-room, to take leave of the countess.
Lady Tinemouth, seated on the sofa, was leaning thoughtfully against one of its arms when he re-entered. He approached her.
"I wish you a good-night, Lady Tinemouth."
She turned her head.
"Mr. Constantine, I wish you would stay a little longer with me! My spirits are disturbed, and I am afraid it will be near morning before Sophia returns from Richmond. These rural balls are sad, dissipated amusements!"
Thaddeus laid down his hat and took a seat by her side.
"I am happy, dear Lady Tinemouth, at all times to be with you; but I am sorry to hear that you have met with any thing to discompose you. I was afraid when I came in that something disagreeable had happened; your eyes——"
"Alas! if my eyes were always to show when I have been weeping, they might ever be telling tales!" Her ladyship passed her hand across them, while she added, "We may think on our sorrows with an outward air of tranquillity, but we cannot always speak of them without some agitation."
"Ah, Lady Tinemouth!" exclaimed the count, drawing closer to her; "could not even your generous sympathizing heart escape calamity?"
"To cherish a sympathizing heart, my young friend," replied she, "is not a very effectual way to avoid the pressure of affliction. On the reverse, such a temper extracts unhappiness from causes which would fail to extort even a sigh from dispositions of less susceptibility. Ideas of sensibility and sympathy are pretty toys for a novice to play with; but change those wooden swords into weapons of real metal, and you will find the points through your heart before you are aware of the danger—at least, I find it so. Mr. Constantine, I have frequently promised to explain to you the reason of the sadness which so often tinges my conversation; and I know not when I shall be in a fitter humor to indulge myself at your expense, for I never was more wretched, never stood more in need of the consolations of a friend."
She covered her face with her handkerchief, and remained so for some time. Thaddeus pressed her hand several times, and waited in respectful silence until she recommenced.
"Forgive me, my dear sir; I am very low to-night—very nervous. Having encountered two or three distressing circumstances to-day, these tears relieve me. You have heard me speak of my son, and of my lord; yet I never collected resolution to recount how we were separated. This morning I saw my son pass my window; he looked up; but the moment I appeared, he turned away and hastened down the street. Though I have received many stronger proofs of dislike, both from his father and himself, yet slight as this offence may seem, it pierced me to the soul. O, Mr. Constantine, to know that the child to whom I gave life regards me with abhorrence, is dreadful—is beyond even the anxious partiality of a mother either to excuse or to palliate!"
"Perhaps, dear Lady Tinemouth, you misjudge Lord Harwold; he may be under the commands of his father, and yet yearn to show you his affection and duty."
"No, Mr, Constantine; your heart is too good even to guess what may be the guilt of another. Gracious Heaven! am I obliged to speak so of my son!—he who was my darling!—he who once loved me so dearly! But hear me, my dear sir; you shall judge for yourself, and you will wonder that I am now alive to endure more. I have suffered by him, by his father, and by a dreadful woman, who not only tore my husband and children from me, but stood by till I was beaten to the ground. Yes, Mr. Constantine, any humane man would shudder as you do at such an assertion; but it is too true. Soon after Lady Olivia Lovel became the mistress of my lord, and persuaded him to take my son from me, I heard that the poor boy had fallen ill through grief, and lay sick at his lordship's house in Hampshire. I heard he was dying. Imagine my agonies. Wild with distress, I flew to the park lodge, and, forgetful of anything but my child, was hastening across the park, when I saw this woman, this Lady Olivia, approaching me, followed by two female servants. One of them carried my daughter, then an infant, in her arms; and the other, a child of which this unnatural wretch had recently become the mother. I was flying towards my little Albina, to clasp her to my heart, when Lady Olivia caught hold of my arm. Her voice now rings in my ears. 'Woman!' cried she, 'leave this place; there are none here to whom you are not an object of abhorrence.'
"Struggling to break from her, I implored to be permitted to embrace my child; but she held me fast, and, regardless of my cries, ordered both the women to return into the house. Driven to despair, I dropped on my knees, conjuring her, by her feelings as a mother, to allow me for one moment to see my dying son, and that I would promise, by my hopes of everlasting happiness, to cherish her child as my own should it ever stand in need of a friend. The horrid woman only laughed at my prayers, and left me in a swoon. When I recovered, the first objects I beheld were my lord and Lady Olivia standing near me, and myself in the arms of a man-servant, whom they had commanded to carry me outside the gate. At the sight of my husband, I sprang to his feet, when with one dreadful blow of his hand he struck me to the ground. Merciful Providence! how did I retain my senses! I besought this cruel husband to give me a second blow, that I might suffer no more.
"'Take her out of my sight,' cried he; 'she is mad.'
"I was taken out of his sight, more dead than alive, and led by his pitying servants to an inn, where I was afterwards confined for three weeks with a brain fever. From that hour I have never had a day of health."
Thaddeus was shocked beyond utterance at this relation. The paleness of his countenance being the only reply he made, the anguished narrator resumed.
"I have gone out of order. I proposed to inform you clearly of my situation, but the principal outrage of my heart rose immediately to my lips. I will commence regularly, if I can methodize my recollection.
"The Earl of Tinemouth married me from passion: I will not sanctify his emotions by the name of affection; though," added she, forcing a smile, "these faded features too plainly show that of all mankind, I loved but him alone. I was just fifteen when he came to visit my father, who lived in Berkshire. My father, Mr. Cumnor, and his father, Lord Harwold, had been friends at college. My lord, then Mr. Stanhope, was young, handsome, and captivating. He remained the autumn with us, and at the end of that period declared an affection for me which my heart too readily answered. About this time he received a summons from his father, and we parted. Like most girls of my age, I cherished an unconquerable bashfulness against admitting any confidant to my attachment; hence my parents knew nothing of the affair until it burst upon them in the cruelest shape.
"About two months after Mr. Stanhope's departure, a letter arrived from him, urging me to fly with him to Scotland. He alleged as a reason for such a step that his grandfather, the Earl of Tinemouth, insisted on his forming a union with Lady Olivia Lovel, who was then a young widow, and the favorite niece of the most powerful nobleman in the kingdom. Upon this demand, he confessed to the earl that his affections were engaged. His lordship, whose passions were those of a madman, broke into such horrible execrations of myself and my family, that Mr. Stanhope, himself, alas! enraged, intemperately swore that no power on earth should compel him to marry so notorious a woman as Lady Olivia Lovel, nor to give me up. After communicating these particulars, he concluded with repeating his entreaties that I would consent to marry him in Scotland. The whole of this letter so alarmed me, that I showed it to my parents. My father answered it in a manner befitting his own character; but that only irritated the impetuous passions of my lover. In the paroxysm of his rage, he flew to the earl his grandfather, upbraided him with the ruin of his happiness, and so exasperated the old man, that he drew his sword upon him; and had it not been for the interference of his father, Lord Harwold, who happened to enter at the moment, a most fatal catastrophe might have ensued. To end the affair at once, the latter, whose gentle nature embraced the mildest measures, obtained the earl's permission to send Mr. Stanhope abroad.
"Meanwhile I was upheld by my revered parent, who is now no more, in firmly rejecting my lover's entreaties for a private marriage. And as his grandfather continued resolutely deaf to his prayers or threats, he was at length persuaded by his excellent father to accompany some friends to France.
"At the end of a few weeks Mr. Stanhope began to regard them as spies on him; and after a violent quarrel, they parted, no one knowing to what quarter my lover directed his steps. I believe I was the first who heard any tidings of him. I remember well; it was in 1773, about four-and-twenty years ago, that I received a letter from him. Oh! how legibly are these circumstances written on my memory! It was dated from Italy, where, he told me, he resided in complete retirement, under the assumed name of Sackville."
At this name, with every feature fixed in dismay, Thaddeus fell back on the sofa.
The countess caught his hand.
"What is the matter? You are ill? What is the matter?"
The bolt of indelible disgrace had struck to his heart. It was some minutes before he could recover; but when he did speak, he said, "Pray go on, madam; I am subject to this. Pray forgive me, and go on; I shall become better as you proceed."
"No, my dear friend; I will quit my dismal story at present, and resume it some other time."
"Pray continue it now," rejoined Thaddeus; "I shall never be more fit to listen. Do, I entreat you."
"Are you sincere in your request? I fear I have already affected you too much."
"No; I am sincere: let me hear it all. Do not hold back anything which relates to that stain to the name of Englishman, who completed his crimes by rendering you wretched!"
"Alas! he did," resumed her ladyship; "for when he returned, which was in consequence of the Earl of Tinemouth's death, my father was also dead, who might have stood between me and my inclinations, and so preserved me from many succeeding sorrows. I sealed my fate, and became Stanhope's wife.
"The father of my husband was then Earl of Tinemouth; and as he had never been averse to our union, he presented me with a cottage on the banks of the Wye, where I passed three delightful years, the happiest of womankind. My husband, my mother, and my infant son formed my felicity; and greatly I prize it—too greatly to be allowed a long continuance!
"At the end of this period, some gay friends paid us a visit. When they returned to town, they persuaded my lord to be of the party. He went; and from that fatal day all my sufferings arose.
"Lord Harwold, instead of being with me in a fortnight, as he had promised, procrastinated his absence under various excuses from week to week, during which interval my Albina was born. Day after day I anticipated the delight of putting her into the arms of her father; but, what a chasm! she was three months old before he appeared; and ah! how changed. He was gloomy to me, uncivil to my mother, and hardly looked at the child."
Lady Tinemouth stopped at this part of her narrative to wipe away her tears. Thaddeus was sitting forward to the table, leaning on his arm, with his hand covering his face. The countess was grateful for an excess of sympathy she did not expect; and taking his other hand, as it lay motionless on his knee, "What a consolation would it be to me," exclaimed she, "durst I entertain a hope that I may one day behold but half such pity from my own son!"
Thaddeus pressed her hand. He did not venture to reply; he could not tell her that she deceived herself even here; that it was not her sorrows only which so affected him, but the remembered agonies of his own mother, whom he did not doubt the capricious villany of this very earl, under the name of Sackville (a name that had struck like a death-bolt to the heart of Thaddeus when he first heard his mother utter it), had devoted to a life of uncomplaining but ceaseless self- reproach. And had he derived his existence from such a man—the reprobate husband of Lady Tinemouth! The conviction humbled him, crushed him, and trod him to the earth. He did not look up, and the countess resumed:
"It would be impossible, my dear sir, to describe to you the gradual changes which assured me that I had lost the heart of my husband. Before the end of the winter he left me again, and I saw him no more until that frightful hour in which he struck me to the ground.
"The good earl came into Monmouthshire about six weeks after I parted with my lord. I was surprised and rejoiced to see my kind father-in- law; but how soon were my emotions driven into a different course! He revealed to me that during Lord Harwold's first visit to town he had been in the habit of spending entire evenings with Lady Olivia Lovel."
'This woman,' added he, 'is the most artful of her sex. In spite of her acknowledged dishonor, you well know my deceased father would gladly have married her to my son; and now it seems, actuated by revenge, she resents Lord Harwold's refusal of her hand by seducing him from his wife. Alas! I am too well convinced that the errors of my son bear too strict a resemblance to those of his grandfather. Vain of his superior abilities, and impatient of contradiction, flattery can mould him to what it pleases. Lady Olivia had discovered these weak points in his character; and, I am informed, she soon persuaded him that you impose on his affection by detaining him from the world; and, seconded by other fascinations, my deluded son has accompanied her into Spain.'
"You may imagine, Mr. Constantine, my distraction at this intelligence. I was like one lost; and the venerable earl, fearing to trust me in such despair out of his sight, brought me and my children with him to London. In less than four months afterwards, I was deprived of this inestimable friend by a paralytic stroke. His death summoned the new earl to England. Whilst I lay on a sick bed, into which I had been thrown by the shock of my protector's death, my lord and his mistress arrived in London.
"They immediately assumed the command of my lamented father-in-law's house, and ordered my mother to clear it directly of me. My heart- broken parent obeyed, and I was carried in a senseless state to a lodging in the nearest street. But when this dear mother returned for my children, neither of them were permitted to see her. The malignant Lady Olivia, actuated by an insatiable hatred of me, easily wrought on my frantic husband (for I must believe him mad) to detain them entirely. A short time after this, that dreadful scene happened which I have before described.
"Year succeeded year, during which time I received many cruel insults from my husband, many horrible ones from my son; for I had been advised to institute a suit against my lord, in which I only pleaded for the return of my children. I lost my cause, owing, I hope, to bad counsel, not the laws of my country. I was adjudged to be separated from the earl, with a maintenance of six hundred a-year, which he hardly pays. I was tied down never to speak to him, nor to his son nor his daughter. Though this sentence was passed, I never acknowledged its justice, but wrote several times to my children. Lord Harwold, who is too deeply infected with his father's cruelty, has either returned my letters unopened or with insulting replies. For my daughter, she keeps an undeviating silence; and I have not even seen her since the moment in which she was hurried from my eyes in Tinemouth Park.
"In vain her brother tries to convince me that she detests me. I will not believe it; and the hope that, should I survive her father, I may yet embrace my child, has been, and will be, my source of maternal comfort until it be fulfilled, or I bury my disappointment in the grave."
Lady Tinemouth put her handkerchief to her eyes, which were again flowing with tears. Thaddeus thought he must speak, if he would not betray an interest in her narrative, which he determined no circumstance should ever humble him to reveal. Raising his head from his hand, he unconsciously discovered to the countess his agonized countenance.
"Kind, affectionate Constantine! surely such a heart as thine never would bring sorrow to the breast of a virtuous husband! You could never betray the self-deluded Lady Sara to any fatal error!"
Lady Tinemouth did not utter these thoughts. Thaddeus rose from his seat. "Farewell, my honored friend!" said he; "may Heaven bless you and pardon your husband!"
Then grasping her hand, with what he intended should be a pressure of friendship, but which his internal tortures rendered almost intolerable, he hastened down stairs, opened the outward door, and got into the street.
Unknowing and heedless whither he went, with the steps of a man driven by the furies, he traversed one street and then another. As he went along, in vain the watchmen reminded him by their cries that it was past three o'clock: he still wandered on, forgetting that it was night, that he had any home, any destination.
His father was discovered!—that father of whom he had entertained a latent hope, should they ever meet, that he might produce some excuse for having been betrayed into an act disgraceful to a man of honor. But when all these filial dreams were blasted by the conviction that he owed his being to the husband of Lady Tinemouth, that his mother was the victim of a profligate, that he had sprung from a man who was not merely a villain, but the most wanton, the most despicable of villains, he saw himself bereft of hope and overwhelmed with shame and horror.
Full of reflections which none other than a son in such circumstances can conceive, he was lost amidst the obscure alleys of Tottenham Court Yard, when loud and frequent cries recalled his attention. A quantity of smoke, with flashes of light, led him to suppose that they were occasioned by a fire; and a few steps further the awful spectacle burst upon his sight.
It was a house from the windows of which the flames were breaking out in every direction, whilst a gathering concourse of people were either standing in stupefied astonishment or uselessly shouting for engines and assistance.
At the moment in which he arrived, two or three naked wretches just escaped from their beds, were flying from side to side, making the air echo with their shrieks.
"Will nobody save my children?" cried one of them, approaching Thaddeus, and wringing her hands in agony; "will nobody take them from the fire?"
"Where shall I seek them?" replied he.
"Oh! in that room," exclaimed she, pointing; "the flames are already there; they will be burnt! they will be burnt!"
The poor woman was hurrying madly forward, when the count stopped her, and giving her in charge of a bystander, cried: "Take care of this woman, if possible, I will save her children." Darting through the open door, in defiance of the smoke and danger, he made his way to the children's room, where, almost suffocated by the sulphurous cloud that surrounded him, he at last found the bed; but it contained one child only. This he instantly caught up in his arms, and was hastening down the stairs, when the cries of the other from a distant part of the building made him hesitate; but thinking it better to secure one than to hazard both by lingering, he rushed into the street just as a post-chaise had stopped to inquire the particulars of the accident. The carriage-door being open, Thaddeus, seeing ladies in it, without saying a word, threw the sleeping infant into their laps, and hastened back into the house, where he hoped to rescue the other child before the fire could increase to warrant despair. The flames having now made dreadful progress, his face, hands, and clothes were scorched by their fury as he flew from the room, following the shrieks of the child, who seemed to change its situation with every exertion that he made to reach it. At length, when every moment he expected the house would sink under his feet, as a last attempt he directed his steps along a passage he had not before observed, and to his great joy beheld the object of his search flying down a back staircase. The boy sprung into his arms; and Thaddeus, turning round, leaped from one landing-place to another, until he found himself again in the street, surrounded by a crowd of people.
He saw the poor mother clasp this second rescued child to her breast; and whilst the spectators were loading her with congratulations, he slipped away unseen, and proceeded homewards, with a warmth at his heart which made him forget, in the joy of a benevolent action, that petrifying shock which had been occasioned by the vices of one too nearly allied to his being to be hated without horror.
THE KINDREDSHIP OF MINDS.
When Thaddeus awoke next morning, he found himself more refreshed, and freer from the effects of the last night's discovery, than he could have reasonably hoped. The presence of mind and activity which the fire called on him to exert, having forced his thoughts into a different channel, had afforded his nerves an opportunity to regain some portion of their usual strength. He could now reflect on what he had heard without suffering the crimes of another to lay him on the rack. The reins were again restored to his hand, and neither agitation nor anxiety showed themselves in his face or manner.
Though the count's sensibility was very irritable, and when suddenly excited he could not always conceal his emotion, yet he possessed a power of look which immediately repressed the impertinence of curiosity or insolence. Indeed, this mantle of repulsion proved to be his best shield; for never had man more demands on the dignity of his soul to shine out about his person.
Not unfrequently has his sudden appearance in the study-room at Lady Dundas's at once called a natural glow through the ladies' rouge, and silenced the gentlemen, when he has happened to enter while Miss Dundas and half-a-dozen other beaux and belles have been ridiculing Euphemia on the absurd civilities she paid to her language-master.
The morning after the fire, a little bevy of these fashionable butterflies were collected in this way at one corner of Miss Dundas's Hercules table, when, during a moment's pause, "I hope, Miss Beaufort," cried the Honorable Mr. Lascelles, "I hope you don't intend to consume the brightness of your eyes over this stupid language?"
"What language, Mr. Lascelles?" inquired she; "I have this moment entered the room, and I don't know what you are talking about."
"Good Lud! that is very true," cried he; "I mean a shocking jargon, which a shocking penseroso man teaches to these ladies. We want to persuade Miss Euphemia that it spoils her mouth."
"You are always misconceiving me, Mr. Lascelles," interrupted Miss Dundus, impatiently; "I did not advance one word against the language; I merely remonstrated with Phemy against her preposterous attentions to the man we hire to teach it."
"That was what I meant, madam," resumed he, with a low bow.
"You meant what, sir?" demanded the little beauty, contemptuously; "but I need not ask. You are like a bad mirror, which from radical defect always gives false reflections."
"Very good, faith, Miss Euphemia! I declare, sterling wit! It would honor Sheridan, or your sister."
"Mr. Lascelles," cried Euphemia, more vexed than before, "let me tell you such impertinence is very unbecoming a gentleman."
"Upon my soul, Miss Euphemia!"
"Pray allow the petulant young lady to get out of her airs, as she has, I believe, got out of her senses, without our help!" exclaimed Miss Dundas; "for I declare I know not where she picked up these vile democratic ideas."
"I am not a democrat, Diana," answered Euphemia, rising from her seat; "and I won't stay to be abused, when I know it is all envy, because Mr. Constantine happened to say that I have a quicker memory than you have."
She left the room as she ended. Miss Dundas, ready to storm with passion, but striving to conceal it, burst into a violent laugh, and turning to Miss Beaufort, said: "You now see, my dear Mary, a sad specimen of Euphemia's temper; yet I hope you won't think too severely of her, for, poor thing, she has been spoilt by us all."
"Pray, do not apologize to me in particular!" replied Miss Beaufort; "but, to be frank, I think it probable she would have shown her temper less had that little admonition been given in private. I doubt not she has committed something wrong, yet——"
"Yes, something very wrong," interrupted Miss Dundas, reddening at this rebuke; "both Mr. Lascelles and Lord Berington there——"
"Don't bring in my name, I pray, Miss Dundas," cried the viscount, who was looking over an old edition of Massinger's plays; "you know I hate being squeezed into squabbles."
Miss Dundas dropped the corners of her mouth in contempt, and went on.
"Well, then, Mr. Lascelles, and Miss Poyntz, here, have both at different times been present when Phemy has conducted herself in a very ridiculous way towards a young man Lady Tinemouth sent here to teach us German. Can you believe it possible that a girl of her fashion could behave in this style without having first imbibed some very dangerous notions? I am sure I am right, for she could not be more civil to him if he were a gentleman." Miss Dundas supposed she had now set the affair beyond controversy, and stopped with an air of triumph. Miss Beaufort perceived that her answer was expected.
"I really cannot discover anything in the matter so very reprehensible," replied she. "Perhaps the person you speak of may have the qualifications of a gentleman; he may be above his situation." "Ah! above it, sure enough!" cried Lascelles, laughing boisterously at his own folly. He is tall enough to be above everything, even good manners; for notwithstanding his plebeian calling, I find he doesn't know how to keep his distance."
"I am sorry for that, Lascelles," cried Berrington, measuring the puppy with his good-natured eye; "for these Magog men are terrible objects to us of meaner dimensions! 'A substitute shines brightly as a king until a king be by,'"
"Why, my lord, you do not mean to compare me with such a low fellow as this? I don't understand Lord Berrington——"
"Bless me, gentlemen!" cried Miss Dundas, frightened at the angry looks of the little honorable; "why, my lord, I thought you hated squabbles?"
"So I do, Miss Dundas," replied he, laying down his book and coming forward; "and upon my honor, Mr. Lascelles," added he, smiling, and turning towards the coxcomb, who stood nidging his head with anger by Miss Beaufort's chair,—"upon my honor, Mr. Lascelles, I did not mean to draw any parallel between your person and talents and those of this Mr,——, I forget his name, for truly I never saw him in my life; but I dare swear no comparison can exist between you."
Lascelles took the surface of this speech, and bowed, whilst his lordship, turning to Miss Beaufort, began to compliment himself on possessing so fair an ally in defence of an absent person.
"I never have seen him," replied she; "and what is more, I never heard of him, till on entering the room Mr. Lascelles arrested me for my opinion about him. I only arrived from the country last night, and can have no guess at the real grounds of this ill-judged bustle of Miss Dundas's regarding a man she styles despicable. If he be so, why retain him in her service? and, what is more absurd, why make a person in that subordinate situation the subject of debate amongst her friends?"
"You are right, Miss Beaufort, returned Lord Berrington; but the eloquent Miss Dundas is so condescending to her friends, she lets no opportunity slip of displaying her sceptre, both over the republic of words and the empire of her mother's family."
"Are not you severe now, Lord Berrington? I thought you generous to the poor tutor!"
"No; I hope I am just on both subjects. I know the lady, and it is true that I have seen nothing of the tutor; but it is natural to wield the sword in favor of the defenceless, and I always consider the absent in that light."
Whilst these two conversed at one end of the room, the other group were arraigning the presumption of the vulgar, and the folly of those who gave it encouragement.
At a fresh burst of laughter from Miss Dundas, Miss Beaufort mechanically turned her head; her eye was arrested by the appearance of a gentleman in black, who was standing a few paces within the door. He was regarding the party before him with that lofty tranquillity which is inseparable from high rank, when accompanied by a consciousness of as high inward qualities. His figure, his face, and his air contained that pure simplicity of contour which portrays all the graces of youth with the dignity of manhood.
Miss Beaufort in a moment perceived that he was unobserved; rising from her seat, she said, "Miss Dundas, here is a gentleman." Miss Dundas looked round carelessly.
"You may sit down, Mr. Constantine."
"Is it possible!" thought Miss Beaufort, as he approached, and the ingenuous expression of his fine countenance was directed towards her; "can this noble creature have been the subject of such impertinence!"
"I commend little Phemy's taste!" whispered Lord Berrington, leaving his seat. "Ha! Miss Beaufort, a young Apollo?"
"And not in disguise!" replied she in the same manner, just as Thaddeus had bowed to her; and, with "veiled lids," was taking up a book from the table: not to read, but literally to have an object to look on which could not insult him.
"What did Miss Dundas say was his name?" whispered the viscount.
"Constantine, I think."
"Mr. Constantine," said the benevolent Berrington, "will you accept this chair?"
Thaddeus declined it. But the viscount read in the "proud humility" of his bow that he had not always waited, a dependent, on the nods of insolent men and ladies of fashion; and, with a good-humored compulsion, he added, "pray oblige me for by that means I shall have an excuse to squeeze into the Sultane, which is so 'happy as to bear the weight of Beaufort!'"
Though Miss Beaufort was almost a stranger to his lordship, having seen him only once before, with her cousin in Leicestershire, she smiled at this unexpected gallantry, and in consideration of the motive, made room for him on the sofa.
Offence was not swifter than kindness in its passage to the heart of Thaddeus, who, whilst he received the viscount's chair, raised his face towards him with a look beaming such graciousness and obligation, that Miss Beaufort turned with a renewed glance of contempt on the party. The next instant they left the study.
The instant Miss Dundas closed the door after her, Lord Berrington exclaimed, "Upon my honor, Mr. Constantine, I have a good mind to put that terrible pupil of yours into my next comedy! Don't you think she would beat Katharine and Petruchio all to nothing? I declare I will have her."
"In propria persona, I hope?" asked Miss Beaufort, with a playful smile. Lord Berrington answered with a gay sally from Shakspeare.
The count remained silent during these remarks, though he fully appreciated the first civil treatment which had greeted him since his admission within the doors of Lady Dundas Miss Euphemia's attentions owned any other source than benevolence.
Miss Beaufort wished to relieve his embarrassment by addressing him; but the more she thought, the less she knew what to say; and she had just abandoned it as a vain attempt, when Euphemia entered the room alone. She curtseyed to Thaddeus and took her place at the table. Lord Berrington rose.
"I must say good-by, Miss Euphemia; I will not disturb your studies. Farewell, Miss Beaufort!" added he, addressing her, and bending his lips to her hand. "Adieu! I shall look in upon you to-morrow. Good- morning, Mr. Constantine!"
Thaddeus bowed to him, and the viscount disappeared.
"I am surprised. Miss Beaufort," observed Euphemia, pettishly (her temper not having subsided since her sister's lecture), "how you can endure that coxcomb!"
"Pardon me, Euphemia," replied she; "though I did not exactly expect the ceremony his lordship adopts in taking leave, yet I think there is a generosity in his sentiments which deserves a better title."
"I know nothing about his sentiments, for I always run away from his conversation. A better title! I declare you make me laugh. Did you ever see such fantastical dressing? I vow I never meet him without thinking of Jemmy Jessamy, and the rest of the gossamer beaux who squired our grandmothers!"
"My acquaintance with Lord Berrington is trifling," returned Miss Beaufort, withdrawing her eyes from the pensive features of the count, who was sorting the lessons; "yet I am so far prepossessed in his favor, that I see little in his appearance to reprehend. However, I will not contest that point, as perhaps the philanthropy I this morning discovered in his heart, the honest warmth with which he defended an absent character, after you left the room, might render his person as charming in my eyes as I certainly found his mind."
Thaddeus had not for a long time heard such sentiments out of Lady Tinemouth's circle; and he now looked up to take a distinct view of the speaker.
In consequence of the established mode, that the presiding lady of the house is to give the tone to her guests, many were the visitors of Miss Dundas whose faces Thaddeus was as ignorant of when they went out of the library as when they came in. They took little notice of him; and he, regarding them much less, pursued his occupation without evincing a greater consciousness of their presence than what mere ceremony demanded.
Accordingly, when in compliance with Lord Berrington's politeness he received his chair, and saw him remove to a sofa beside a very beautiful woman, in the bloom of youth, Thaddeus supposed her manner might resemble the rest of Miss Dundas's friends, and never directed his glance a second time to her figure. But when he heard her (in a voice that was melody itself) defend his lordship's character, on principles which bore the most honorable testimony to her own, his eyes were riveted on her face.
Though a large Turkish shawl involved her fine person, a modest grace was observable in its every turn. Her exquisitely moulded arm, rather veiled than concealed by the muslin sleeve that covered it, was extended in the gentle energy of her vindication. Her lucid eyes shone with a sincere benevolence, and her lips seemed to breathe balm while she spoke. His soul startled within itself as if by some strange recognition that agitated him, and drew him inexplicably towards its object. It was not the beauty he beheld, nor the words she uttered, but he did not withdraw his fixed gaze until it encountered an accidental turn of her eyes, which instantly retreated with a deep blush mantling her face and neck. She had never met such a look before, except in an occasional penetrating glance from an only cousin, who had long watched the movements of her heart with a brother's care.
But little did Thaddeus think at that time who she was, and how nearly connected with that friend whose neglect has been a venomed shaft unto his soul!
Mary Beaufort was the orphan heiress of Admiral Beaufort, one of the most distinguished officers in the British navy. He was the only brother of the now lamented Lady Somerset, the beloved mother of Pembroke Somerset, so often the eloquent subject of his discourse in the sympathizing ear of Thaddeus Sobieski! The admiral and his wife, a person also of high quality, died within a few months after the birth of their only child, a daughter, having bequeathed her to the care of her paternal aunt; and to the sole guardianship of that exemplary lady's universally-honored husband, Sir Robert Somerset, baronet, and M. P. for the county. When Lady Somerset's death spread mourning throughout his, till then, happy home, (which unforeseen event occurred hardly a week before her devoted son returned from the shores of the Baltic,) a double portion of Sir Robert's tenderness fell upon her cherished niece. In her society alone he found any consolation for his loss. And soon after Pembroke's arrival, his widowed father, relinquishing the splendid scenes of his former life in London, retired into the country, sometimes residing at one family seat, sometimes at another, hoping by change of place to obtain some alleviating diversion from his ever sorrow-centred thoughts.
Sir Robert Somerset, from the time of his marriage with the accomplished sister of Admiral Beaufort to the hour in which he followed her to the grave, was regarded as the most admired man in every circle, and yet more publicly respected as being the magnificent host and most munificent patron of talent, particularly of British growth, in the whole land. Besides, by his own genius as a statesman, he often stood a tower of strength in the senate of his country; and his general probity was of such a stamp, that his private friends were all solicitous to acquire the protection of his name over any important trusted interests for their families. For instance, the excellent Lord Avon consigned his only child to his guardianship, and his wealthy neighbor, Sir Hector Dundas, made him sole trusted over the immense fortunes of his daughters.
This latter circumstance explains the intimacy between two families, the female parts of which might otherwise have probably seldom met.
On Sir Robert Somerset's last transient visit to London, (which had been only on a call of business, on account of his minor charge, Lord Avon,) Lady Dundas became so urgent in requesting him to permit Miss Beaufort to pass the ensuing season with her in town, that he could not, without rudeness, refuse. In compliance with this arrangement, the gentle Mary, accompanied by Miss Dorothy Somerset, a maiden sister of the baronet's, quitted Deerhurst to settle themselves with her importunate ladyship in Harley Street for the remainder of the winter—at least the winter of fashion! which, by a strange effect of her magic wand, in defiance of grassy meadows, leafy trees, and sweetly-scented flowers, extends its nominal sceptre over the vernal months of April, May, and even the rich treasures of "resplendent June."
The summer part of this winter Miss Beaufort reluctantly consented should be sacrificed to ceremony, in the dust and heat of a great city; and if the melancholy which daily increased upon Sir Robert since the death of his wife had not rendered her averse to oppose his wishes, she certainly would have made objections to the visit.
During the journey, she could not refrain from drawing a comparison to Miss Dorothy between the dissipated insipidity of Lady Dundas's way of life and the rationality as well as splendor of her late lamented aunt's.
Lady Somerset's monthly assemblies were not the most elegant and brilliant parties in town, but her weekly conversaziones surpassed everything of the kind in the kingdom. On these nights her ladyship's rooms used to be filled with the most eminent characters which England could produce. There the young Mary Beaufort listened to pious divines of every Christian persuasion. There she gathered wisdom from real philosophers; and in the society of our best living poets, amongst whom were those leaders of our classic song, Rogers and William Southey, and the amiable Jerningham, cherished an enthusiasm for all that is great and good. On these evenings Sir Robert Somerset's house reminded the visitor of what he had read or imagined of the school of Athens. He beheld not only sages, soldiers, statesmen, and poets, but intelligent and amiable women. And in this rare assembly did the beautiful Mary imbibe that steady reverence for virtue and talent which no intermixture with the ephemera of the clay could ever after either displace or impair.
Notwithstanding this rare freedom from the chains with which her merely fashionable friends would have shackled her mind, Miss Beaufort possessed too much judgment and delicacy to flash her liberty in their eyes. Enjoying her independence with meekness, she held it more secure. Mary was no declaimer, not even in the cause of oppressed goodness or injured genius. Aware that direct opposition often incenses malice, she directed the shaft from its aim, if it were in her power, and when the attempt failed, strove by respect or sympathy to heal the wound she could not avert. Thus, whatever she said or did bore the stamp of her soul, whose leading attribute was modesty. By having learned much, and thought more, she proved in her conduct that reflection is the alchemy which turns knowledge into wisdom.
Never did she feel so much regret at the shrinking of her powers from coming forth by some word or deed in aid of offended worth, as when she beheld the foreign stranger, so noble in aspect, standing under the overbearing insolence of Miss Dundas's parasites. But she perceived that his dignified composure rebounded their darts upon his insulters, and respect took the place of pity. The situation was new to her; and when she dropped her confused eyes beneath his unexpected gaze, she marvelled within herself at the ease with which she had just taken up the cause of Lord Berrington, and the difficulty she had found to summon one word as a repellant to the unmerited attack on the man before her.
Euphemia cared nothing about Lord Berrington; to her his faults or his virtues were alike indifferent; and forgetting that civility demanded some reply to Miss Beaufort's last observation, or rather taking advantage of the tolerated privilege usurped by many high-bred people of being ill-bred, when and how they pleased, she returned to Thaddeus, and said with a forced smile—
"Mr. Constantine, I don't like your opinion upon the ode I showed to you; I think it a very absurd opinion; or perhaps you did not understand me rightly?"
Miss Beaufort took up a book, that her unoccupied attention might not disturb their studies.
Euphemia resumed, with a more natural dimple, and touching his glove with the rosy points of her fingers, said,
"You are stupid at translation."
Thaddeus colored, and sat uneasily; he knew not how to evade this direct though covert attack.
"I am a bad poet, madam. Indeed, it would be dangerous even for a good one to attempt the same path with Sappho and Phillips."
Euphemia now blushed as deeply as the count, but from another motive. Opening her grammar, she whispered, "You are either a very dull or a very modest man!" and, sighing, began to repeat her lesson.
While he bent his head over the sheet he was correcting; she suddenly exclaimed, "Bless me, Mr. Constantine, what have you been doing? I hope you don't read in bed! The top of your hair is burnt to a cinder! Why, you look much more like one who has been in a fire than Miss Beaufort does."
Thaddeus put his hand to his head.
"I thought I had brushed away all marks of a fire, in which I really was last night."
"A fire!" interrupted Miss Beaufort, closing her book; "was it near Tottenham Court Road?"
"It was, madam," answered he, in a tone almost as surprised as her own.
"Good gracious!" cried Euphemia, exerting her little voice, that she might be heard before Miss Beaufort could have time to reply; "then I vow you are the gentleman who Miss Beaufort said ran into the burning house, and, covered with flames, saved two children from perishing!"
"And I am so happy as to meet one of the ladies," replied he, turning with an animated air to Miss Beaufort, "in you, madam, who so humanely assisted the poor sufferers, and received the child from my arms?"
"It was indeed myself, Mr. Constantine," returned she, a tear swimming over her eye, which in a moment gave the cue to the tender Euphemia. She drew out her handkerchief; and whilst her pretty cheeks overflowed, and her sweet voice was rendered sweeter by an emotion raised by ten thousand delightful fancies, she took hold of Miss Beaufort's hand.
"Oh! my lovely friend, wonder not that I esteem this brave Constantine far beyond his present station!"
Thaddeus drew back. Miss Beaufort looked amazed; but Euphemia had mounted her romantic Pegasus, and the scene was too sentimental to close.
"Come here, Mr. Constantine," cried she, extending her other hand to his. Wondering where this folly would terminate, he gave it to her, when, instantly joining it with that of Miss Beaufort, she pressed them together, and said, "Sweet Mary! heroic Constantine! I thus elect you the two dearest friends of my heart. So charmingly associated in the delightful task of compassion, you shall ever be commingled in my faithful bosom."
Then putting her handkerchief to her eyes, she walked out of the room, leaving Miss Beaufort and the count, confused and confounded, by the side of each other. Miss Beaufort, suspecting that some extravagant fancy had taken possession of the susceptible Euphemia towards her young tutor, declined speaking first. Thaddeus, fixing his gaze on her downcast and revolving countenance, perceived nothing like offended pride at his undesigned presumption. He saw that she was only embarrassed, and after a minute's hesitation, broke the silence.
"I hope that Miss Beaufort is sufficiently acquainted with the romance of Miss Euphemia's character to pardon the action, unintentional on my part, of having touched her hand? I declare I had no expectation of Miss Euphemia's design."
"Do not make any apology to me, Mr. Constantine," returned she, resuming her seat; "to be sure I was a little electrified by the strange situation in which her vivid feelings have just made us actors. But I shall not forego my claim on what she promised—your acquaintance."
Thaddeus expressed his high sense of her condescension.
"I am not fond of fine terms," continued she, smiling; "but I know that time and merit must purchase esteem. I can engage for the first, as I am to remain in town at least three months; but for the last, I fear I shall never have the opportunity of giving such an earnest of my desert as you did last night of yours."
Footsteps sounded on the stairs. Thaddeus took up his hat, and bowing, replied to her compliment with such a modest yet noble grace, that she gazed after him with wonder and concern. Before he closed the door he again bowed. Pleased with the transient look of a soft pleasure which beamed from his eyes, through whose ingenuous mirrors every thought of his soul might be read, she smiled a second adieu, and as he disappeared, left the room by another passage.
* * * * * * *
SUCH THINGS WERE.
When the count appeared the succeeding day in Harley Street, Miss Beaufort introduced him to Miss Dorothy Somerset as the gentleman who had so gallantly preserved the lives of the children at the hazard of his own.
Notwithstanding the lofty tossings of Miss Dundas's head, the good old maid paid him several encomiums on his intrepidity; and telling him that the sufferers were the wife and family of a poor tradesman, who was then absent in the country, she added, "But we saw them comfortably lodged before we left them; and all the time we stayed, I could not help congratulating myself on the easy compliance of Mary with my whims. I dislike sleeping at an inn; and to prevent it then, I had prevailed on Miss Beaufort to pursue our road to town even through the night. It was lucky it happened so, for I am certain Mary will not allow these poor creatures a long lament over the wreck of their little property."
"How charmingly charitable, my lovely friend!" cried Euphemia; "let us make a collection for this unfortunate woman and her babes. Pray, as a small tribute, take that from me!" She put five guineas into the hand of the glowing Mary.
The ineffable grace with which the confused Miss Beaufort laid the money on her aunt's knee did not escape the observance of Thaddeus; neither did the unintended approbation of his eye pass unnoticed by its amiable object.
When Lady Tinemouth was informed that evening by the count of the addition to the Harley Street party, she was delighted at the news, saying she had been well acquainted with Miss Dorothy and her niece during the lifetime of Lady Somerset, and would take an early day to call upon them. During this part of her ladyship's discourse, an additional word or two had unfolded to her auditor the family connection that had subsisted between the lady she regretted and his estranged friend. And when the countess paused, Thaddeus, struck with a forgiving pity at this intelligence, was on the point of expressing his concern that Pembroke Somerset had lost so highly-prized a mother; but recollecting that Lady Tinemouth was ignorant of their ever having known each other, he allowed her to proceed without a remark.
"I never have been in company with Sir Robert's son," continued the countess; "it was during his absence on the Continent that I was introduced to Lady Somerset. She was a woman who possessed the rare talent of conforming herself to all descriptions of people; and whilst the complacency of her attentions surpassed the most refined flattery, she commanded the highest veneration for herself. Hence you may imagine my satisfaction in an acquaintance which it is probable would never have been mine had I been the happy Countess of Tinemouth, instead of a deserted wife. Though the Somersets are related to my lord, they had long treated him as a stranger; and doubly disgusted at his late behavior, they commenced a friendship with me, I believe, to demonstrate more fully their detestation of him. Indeed, my husband is a creature of inconsistency. No man possessed more power to attract friends than Lord Tinemouth, and no man had less power to retain them; as fast as he made one he offended the other, and has at last deprived himself of every individual out of his own house who would not regard his death as a fortunate circumstance."
"But, Lady Somerset," cried Thaddeus, impatient to change a subject every word of which was a dagger to his heart, "I mean Miss Dorothy Somerset, Miss Beaufort—"
"Yes," returned her ladyship; "I see, kind Mr. Constantine, your friendly solicitude to disengage me from retrospections so painful! Well, then, I knew and very much esteemed the two ladies you mention; but after the death of Lady Somerset, their almost constant residence in the country has greatly prevented a renewal of this pleasure. However, as they are now in town, I will thank you to acquaint them with my intention to call upon them in Harley Street. I remember always thinking Miss Beaufort a very charming girl."
Thaddeus thought her more. He saw that she was beautiful; he had witnessed instances of her goodness, and the recollection filled his mind with a complacency the more tender since it had so long been a stranger to his bosom; and again he felt the strange emotion which had passed over his heart at their first meeting. But further observations were prevented by the entrance of Miss Egerton and Lady Sara Ross.
"I am glad to see you, Mr. Constantine," cried the lively Sophia, shaking hands with him; "you are the very person I have been plotting against."
Lady Tinemouth was uneasy at the care with which Lady Sara averted her face, well knowing that it was to conceal the powerful agitation of her features, which always took place at the sight of Thaddeus.
"What is your plot, Miss Egerton?" inquired he; "I shall consider myself honored by your commands, and do not require a conspiracy to entrap my obedience."
"That's a good soul! Then I have only to apply to you, Lady Tinemouth. Your ladyship must know," cried she, "that as Lady Sara and I were a moment ago driving up the Haymarket, I nodded to Mr. Coleman, who was coming out of the playhouse. He stopped, I pulled the check-string, and we had a great deal of confab out of the window. He tells me a new farce is to come out this day week, and he hoped I would be there! 'No,' said I, 'I cannot, for I am on a visit with that precise body, the Countess of Tinemouth, who would not, to save you and all your generation, come into such a mob,' 'Her ladyship shall have my box,' cried he; 'for I would not for the world lose the honor of your opinion on the merits of my farce.' 'To be sure not!' cries I; so I accepted his box, and drove off, devising with Lady Sara how to get your ladyship as our chaperon and Mr. Constantine to be our beau. He has just promised; so dear Lady Tinemouth, don't be inflexible!"
Thaddeus was confounded at the dilemma into which his ready acquiescence had involved his prudence. The countess shook her head.
"Now I declare, Lady Tinemouth," exclaimed Miss Egerton, "this is an absolute stingy fit! You are afraid of your purse! You know this private box precludes all awkward meetings, and you can have no excuse."
"But it cannot preclude all awkward sights," answered her ladyship. "You know, Sophia, I never go into public, for fear of being met by the angry looks of my lord or my son."
"Disagreeable people!" cried Miss Egerton, pettishly; "I wish some friendly whirlwind would take your lord and son out of the world together."
"Sophia!" retorted her ladyship, with a grave air.
"Rebuke me, Lady Tinemouth, if you like; I confess I am no Serena, and these trials of temper don't agree with my constitution. There," cried she, throwing a silver medal on the table, and laughing in spite of herself: "there is our passport; but I will send it back, and so break poor Coleman's heart."
"Fie! Sophia," answered her ladyship, patting her half-angry cheeks; "would you owe to your petulance what was denied to your good humor?"
"Then your ladyship will go!" exclaimed she, exultingly. "You have yielded; these sullens were a part of my stratagem, and I won't let you secede."
Lady Tinemouth thought this would be a fair opportunity to show one of the theatres to her young friend, without involving him in expense or obligation, and accordingly she gave her consent.
"Do you intend to favor us with your company, Lady Sara?" asked the countess, with a hope that she might refuse.
Lady Sara, who had been standing silently at the window, rather proudly answered—
"Yes, madam, if you will honor me with your protection."
Lady Tinemouth was the only one present who understood the resentment which these words conveyed; and, almost believing that she had gone too far, by implying suspicion, she approached her with a pleading anxiety of countenance. "Then, Lady Sara, perhaps you will dine with me? I mean to call on Miss Dorothy Somerset, and would invite her to be of the party."
Lady Sara curtseyed her acceptance of the invitation, and, smiling, appeared to think no more of the matter. But she neither forgot it nor found herself able to forgive Lady Tinemouth for having betrayed her into a confidence which her own turbulent passions had made but too easy. She had listened unwillingly to the reasonable declaration of the countess, that her only way to retreat from an error which threatened criminality was to avoid the object.
"When a married woman," observed her ladyship, in that confidential conference, "is so unhappy as to love any man besides her husband, her only safety rests in the resolution to quit his society, and to banish his image whenever it obtrudes."
Lady Sara believed herself incapable of this exertion, and hated the woman who thought it necessary. By letter and conversation Lady Tinemouth tried to display in every possible light the enormity of giving encouragement to such an attachment, and ended with the unanswerable climax—the consideration of her duty to Heaven.
Of this argument Lady Sara knew little. She never reflected on the true nature of religion, though she sometimes went to church, repeated the prayers, without being conscious of their spirit; and when the coughing, sneezing, and blowing of noses which commonly accompany the text subsided, she generally called up the remembrance of the last ball, or an anticipation of the next assembly, to amuse herself until the prosing business was over. From church she drove to the Park, where, bowling round the ring, or sauntering in the gardens, she soon forgot that there existed in the universe a Power of higher consequence to please than her own vanity—and the admiration of the spectators.
Lady Sara would have shuddered at hearing any one declare himself a deist, much more an atheist; but for any influence which her nominal belief held over her desires, she might as well have been either. She never committed an action deserving the name of premeditated injury, nor went far out of her way to do her best friend a service,—not because she wanted inclination, but she ceased to remember both the petitioner and his petition before he had been five minutes from her sight. She had read as much as most fine ladies have read: a few histories, a few volumes of essays, a few novels, and now and then a little poetry comprised the whole range of her studies; these, with morning calls and evening assemblies, occupied her whole day. Such had been the routine of her life until she met the once "young star" of Poland, Thaddeus Sobieski, in an unknown exile, an almost nameless guest, at Lady Tinemouth's, which event caused a total revolution in her mind and conduct.