The strength of Lady Sara's understanding might have credited a better education; but her passions bearing an equal power with this mental vigor, and having taken a wrong direction, she neither acknowledged the will nor the capability to give the empire to her reason. When love really entered her heart, its first conquest was over her universal vanity; she surrendered all her admirers, in the hope of securing the admiration of Thaddeus; its second victory mastered her discretion; she revealed her unhappy affection to Lady Tinemouth, and more than hinted it to himself. What had she else to lose? She believed her honor to be safer than her life. Her honor was the term. She had no conception, or, at best, a faint one, that a breach of the marriage vow could be an outrage on the laws of Heaven. The word sin had been gradually ignored by the oligarchy of fashion, from the hour in which Charles the Second and his profligate court trod down piety with hypocrisy; and in this day the new philosophy has accomplished its total outlawry, denouncing it as a rebel to decency and the freedom of man.
Thus, the Christian religion being driven from the haunts of the great, pagan morality is raised from that prostration where, Dagon- like, it fell at the feet of the Scriptures, and is again erected as the idol of adoration. Guilt against Heaven fades before the decrees of man; his law of ethics reprobates crime. But crime is only a temporal transgression, in opposition to the general good; it draws no consequent punishment heavier than the judgment of a broken human law, or the resentment of the offended private parties. Morality neither promises rewards after death nor denounces future chastisement for error. The disciples of this independent doctrine hold forth instances of the perfectibility of human actions, produced by the unassisted decisions of human intellect on the limits of right and wrong. They admire virtue, because it is beautiful. They practice it, because it is heroic. They do not abstain from the gratification of an intemperate wish under the belief that it is sinful, but in obedience to their reason, which rejects the commission of a vicious act because it is uncomely. In the first case, God is their judge; in the latter, themselves. The comparison need only be proposed, to humble the pride that made it necessary. How do these systematizers refine and subtilize? How do they dwell on the principle of virtue, and turn it in every metaphysical light, until their philosophy rarifies it to nothing! Some degrade, and others abandon, the only basis on which an upright character can stand with firmness. The bulwark which Revelation erected between the passions and the soul is levelled first; and then that instinctive rule of right which the modern casuist denominates the citadel of virtue falls of course.
By such gradations the progress of depravity is accomplished; and the general leaven having worked to Lady Sara's mind on such premises, (though she might not arrange them so distinctly,) she deduced that what is called conjugal right is a mere establishment of man, and might be extended or limited by him to any length he pleased. For instance, the Turks were not content with one wife, but appropriated hundreds to one man; and because such indulgence was permitted by Mohammed, no other nation presumed to call them culpable.
Hence she thought that if she could once reconcile herself to believe that her own happiness was dearer to her than the notice of half a thousand people to whom she was indifferent; that only in their opinion and the world's her flying to the protection of Thaddeus would be crime;—could she confidently think this, what should deter her from instantly throwing herself into the arms of the man she loved? [Footnote: Such were the moral tactics for human conduct at the commencement of this century. But, thanks to the patience of God, he has given a better spirit to the present age,—to his philosophy an admirable development of the wisdom and beneficence of his works, instead of the former metaphysical vanities and contradictory bewilderments of opinions concerning the divine nature and the elements of man, which, as far as a demon-spirit could go, had plunged the created world, both physically and morally, into the darkness of chaos again. The Holy Scriptures are now the foundation studies of our country, and her ark is safe.—1845.]
"Ah!" cried the thus self-deluded Lady Sara, one night, as she traversed her chamber in a paroxysm of tears; "what are the vows I have sworn? How can I keep them? I have sworn to love, to honor Captain Ross; but in spite of myself, without any action of my own, I have broken both these oaths. I cannot love him; I hate him; and I cannot honor the man I hate. What have I else to break? Nothing. Ny nuptial vow is as completely annihilated as if I had left him never to return. How?" cried she, after a pause of some minutes, "how shall I know what passes in the mind of Constantine? Did he love me, would he protect me, I would brave the whole universe. Oh, I should be the happiest of the happy!"
Fatal conclusion of reflection! It infected her dreaming and her waking fancy. She regarded everything as an enemy that opposed her passion; and as the first of these enemies, she detested Lady Tinemouth. The countess's last admonishing letter enraged her by its arguments; and, throwing it into the fire with execrations and tears, she determined to pursue her own will, but to affect being influenced by her ladyship's counsels.
The Count Sobieski, who surmised not the hundredth part of the infatuation of Lady Sara, began to hope that her ardent manner had misled him, or that she had seen the danger of such imprudence.
Under these impressions, the party for the theatre was settled; and Thaddeus, after sitting an hour in Grosvenor Place, returned to his humble home, and attendance on his venerated friend.
MARY BEAUFORT AND HER VENERABLE AUNT.
The addition of Miss Dorothy Somerset and Miss Beaufort to the morning group at Lady Dundas's imparted a less reluctant motion to the before tardy feet of the count, whenever he turned them towards Harley Street.
Miss Dorothy readily supposed him to have been better born than he appeared; and displeased with the treatment he had received from Miss Dundas and her guests, behaved to him herself with the most gratifying politeness.
Aunt Dorothy (for that was the title by which every branch of the baronet's family addressed her) was full twenty years the senior of her brother, Sir Robert Somerset. Having in her youth been thought very like the famous and lovely Mrs. Woffington, she had been considered the beauty of her time, and, as such, for ten years continued the reigning belle. Nevertheless, she arrived at the age, of seventy-two without having been either the object or the subject of a fervent passion.
Possessing a fine understanding, a refined taste, and fine feelings, by some chance she had escaped love. It cannot be denied that she was much admired, much respected, and much esteemed, and that she received two or three splendid proposals from men of rank. Some of those men she admired, some she respected, and some she esteemed, but not one did she love, and she successively refused them all. Shortly after their discharge, they generally consoled themselves by marrying other women, who, perhaps, wanted both the charms and the sense of Miss Somerset; yet she congratulated them on their choice, and usually became the warm friend of the happy couple.
Thus year passed over year; Miss Somerset continued the esteemed of every worthy heart, though she could not then kindle the embers of a livelier glow in any one of them; and at the epoch called a certain age, she found herself an old maid, but possessing so much good humor and affection towards the young people about her, she did not need any of her own to mingle in the circle.
This amiable old lady usually took her knitting into the library before the fair students; and whenever Thaddeus entered the room, (so natural is it for generous natures to sympathize,) his eyes first sought her venerable figure; then glancing around to catch an assuring beam from the lovely countenance of her niece, he seated himself with confidence.
The presence of these ladies operated as a more than sufficient antidote to the disagreeableness of his situation. To them he directed all the attention that was not required by his occupation; he heard them only speak when a hundred others were talking; he saw them only when a hundred others were in company.
In addition to this pleasant change, Miss Euphemia's passion assumed a less tormenting form. She had been reading Madame d'Arblay's Camilla; and becoming enamored of the delicacy and pensive silence of the interesting heroine, she determined on adopting the same character; and at the same time taking it into her ever-creative brain that Constantine's coldness bore a striking affinity to the caution of Edgar Mandelbert, she wiped the rouge from her pretty face, and prepared to "let concealment, like a worm in the bud, feed on her damask cheek."
To afford decorous support to this fancy, her gayest clothes were thrown aside, to make way for a negligence of apparel which cost her two hours each morning to compose. Her dimpling smiles were now quite banished. She was ever sighing, and ever silent, and ever lolling and leaning about; reclining along sofas, or in some disconsolate attitude, grouping herself with one of the marble urns, and sitting "like Patience on a monument smiling at grief."
Thaddeus preferred this pathetic whim to her former Sapphic follies; it afforded him quiet, and relieved him from much embarrassment.
Every succeeding visit induced Miss Beaufort to observe him with a more lively interest. The nobleness yet humility with which he behaved towards herself and her aunt, and the manly serenity with which he suffered the insulting sarcasms of Miss Dundas, led her not merely to conceive but to entertain many doubts that his present situation was that of his birth.
The lady visitors who dropped in on the sisters' studies were not backward in espousing the game of ridicule, as it played away a few minutes, to join in a laugh with the "witty Diana." These gracious beings thought their sex gave them privilege to offend; but it was not always that the gentlemen durst venture beyond a shrug of the shoulder, a drop of the lip, a wink of the eye, or a raising of the brows. Mary observed with contempt that they were prudent enough not to exercise even these specimens of a mean hostility except when its noble object had turned his back, and regarding him with increased admiration, she was indignant, and then disdainful, at the envy which actuated these men to treat with affected scorn him whom they secretly feared.
The occasional calls of Lady Tinemouth and Miss Egerton stimulated the cabal against Thaddeus. The sincere sentiment of equality with themselves which these two ladies evinced by their behavior to him, and the same conduct being adopted by Miss Dorothy and her beautiful niece, besides the evident partiality of Euphemia, altogether inflamed the spleen of Miss Dundas, and excited her coterie to acts of the most extravagant rudeness.
The little phalanx, at the head of which was the superb Diana, could offer no real reason for disliking a man who was not only their inferior, but who had never offended them even by implication. It was a sufficient apology to their easy consciences that "he gave himself such courtly airs as were quite ridiculous—that his presumption was astonishing. In short, they were all idle, and it was exceedingly amusing to lounge a morning with the rich Dundases and hoax Monsieur."
Had Thaddeus known one fourth of the insolent derision with which his misfortunes were treated behind his back, perhaps even his friend's necessity could not have detained him in his employment. The brightness of a brave man's name makes shadows perceptible which might pass unmarked over a duller surface. Sobieski's delicate honor would have supposed itself sullied by enduring such contumely with toleration. But, as was said before, the male adjuncts of Miss Dundas had received so opportune a warning from an accidental knitting of the count's brow, they never after could muster temerity to sport their wit to his face.
These circumstances were not lost upon Mary; she collected them as part of a treasure, and turned them over on her pillow with the jealous examination of a miser. Like Euphemia, she supposed Thaddeus to be other than he seemed. Yet her fancy did not suppose him gifted with the blood of the Bourbons; she merely believed him to be a gentleman; and from the maternal manner of Lady Tinemouth towards him, she suspected that her ladyship knew more of his history than she chose to reveal.
Things were in this state, when the countess requested that Miss Dorothy would allow her niece to make one in her party to the Haymarket Theatre. The good lady having consented, Miss Beaufort received the permission with pleasure; and as she was to sup in Grosvenor Place, she ventured to hope that something might fall from her hostess or Miss Egerton which would throw a light on the true situation of Mr. Constantine.
From infancy Miss Beaufort had loved with enthusiasm all kinds of excellence. Indeed, she esteemed no person warmly whom she did no think exalted by their virtues above the common race of mankind. She sought for something to respect in every character; and when she found anything to greatly admire, her ardent soul blazed, and by its own pure flame lit her to a closer inspection of the object about whom she had become more than usually interested.
In former years Lady Somerset collected all the virtue and talent in the country around her table, and it was now found that they were not brought there on a vain errand. From them Miss Beaufort gathered her best lessons in conduct and taste, and from them her earliest perceptions of friendship. Mary was the beloved pupil and respected friend of the brightest characters in England; and though some of them were men who had not passed the age of forty, she never had been in love, nor had she mistaken the nature of her esteem so far as to call it by that name. Hence she was neither afraid nor ashamed to acknowledge a correspondence she knew to be her highest distinction. But had the frank and innocent Mary exhibited half the like attentions which she paid to these men in one hour to the common class of young men through the course of a month, they would have declared that the poor girl was over head and ears in love with them, and have pitied what they would have justly denominated her folly. Foolish must that woman be who would sacrifice the most precious gift in her possession—her heart—to the superficial graces or empty blandishments of a self-idolized coxcomb!
Such a being was not Mary Beaufort; and on these principles she contemplated the extraordinary fine qualities she saw in the exiled Thaddeus with an interest honorable to her penetration and her heart.
When Miss Egerton called with Lady Sara Ross to take Miss Beaufort to the Haymarket, Mary was not displeased at seeing Mr. Constantine step out of the carnage to hand her in. During their drive, Miss Egerton informed her that Lady Tinemouth had been suddenly seized with a headache, but that Lady Sara had kindly undertaken to be their chaperon, and had promised to return with them to sup in Grosvenor Place.
Lady Sara had never seen Mary, though she had frequently heard of her beauty and vast fortune. This last qualification her ladyship hoped might have given an unmerited clat to the first; therefore when she saw in Miss Beaufort the most beautiful creature she had ever beheld, nothing could equal her surprise and vexation.
The happy lustre that beamed in the fine eyes of Mary shone like a vivifying influence around her; a bright glow animated her cheek, whilst a pleasure for which she did not seek to account bounded at her heart, and modulated every tone of her voice to sweetness and enchantment.
"Syren!" thought Lady Sara, withdrawing her large dark eyes from her face, and turning them full of dissolving languor upon Thaddeus; "here are all thy charms directed!" then drawing a sigh, so deep that it made her neighbor start, she fixed her eyes on her fan, and never looked up again until they had reached the playhouse.
The curtain was raised as the little party seated themselves in the box.
"Can anybody tell me what the play is?" asked Lady Sara.
"I never thought of inquiring," replied Sophia.
"I looked in the newspaper this morning," said Miss Beaufort, "and I think it is called Sighs,—a translation from a drama of Kotzebue's."
"A strange title!" was the general observation. When Mr. Suett, who personated one of the characters, began to speak, their attention was summoned to the stage.
On the entrance of Mr. Charles Kemble in the character of Adelbert, the count unconsciously turned pale. He perceived by the dress of the actor that he was to personate a Pole; and alarmed at the probability of seeing something to recall recollections which he had striven to banish, his agitation did not allow him to hear anything that was said for some minutes.
Miss Egerton was not so tardy in the use of her eyes and ears; and stretching out her hand to the back of the box, where Thaddeus was standing by Lady Sara's chair, she caught hold of his sleeve.
"There, Mr. Constantine!" cried she; "look at Adelbert! that is exactly the figure you cut in your outlandish gear two months ago."
Thaddeus bowed with a forced smile, and glancing at the stage, replied—
"Then, for the first time in my life, I regret having followed a lady's advice; I think I must have lost by the change."
"Yes," rejoined she, "you have lost much fur and much embroidery, but you now look much more like a Christian.'"
The substance of these speeches was not lost on Mary, who continued with redoubling interest to mark the changes his countenance underwent along with the scene. As she sat forward, by a slight turn of the head she could discern the smallest fluctuation in his features, and they were not a few. Placing himself at the back of Lady Sara's chair, he leaned over, with his soul set in his eye, watching every motion of Mr. Charles Kemble.
Mary knew, by some accidental words from Lady Tinemouth, that Constantine was a Polander, and the surmise she had entertained of his being unfortunate received full corroboration at the scene in which Adelbert is grossly insulted by the rich merchant. During the whole of it, she scarcely dared trust her eyes towards Constantine's flushed and agitated face.
The interview between Adelbert and Leopold commenced. When the former was describing his country's miseries with his own, Thaddeus unable to bear it longer, unobserved by any but Mary, drew back into the box. In a moment or two afterwards Mr. Charles Kemble made the following reply to an observation of Leopold's, that "poverty is no dishonor."
"Certainly none to me! To Poland, to my struggling country, I sacrificed my wealth, as I would have sacrificed my life if she had required it. My country is no more; and we are wanderers on a burdened earth, finding no refuge but in the hearts of the humane and virtuous."
The passion and force of these words could not fail of reaching the ears of Thaddeus. Mary's attention followed them to their object, by the heaving of whose breast she plainly discovered the anguish of their effect. Her heart beat with increased violence. How willingly would she have approached him, and said something of sympathy, of consolation! but she durst not; and she turned away her tearful eye, and looked again towards the stage.
Lady Sara now stood up, and hanging over Mary's chair, listened with congenial emotions to the scene between Adelbert and the innocent Rose. Lady Sara felt it all in her own bosom; and looking round to catch what was passing in the count's mind, she beheld him leaning against the box, with his head inclined to the curtain of the door. "Mr. Constantine!" almost unconsciously escaped her lips. He started, and discovered by the humidity on his eyelashes why he had withdrawn. Her ladyship's tears were gliding down her cheeks. Miss Egerton, greatly amazed at the oddness of this closet scene, turned to Miss Beaufort, who a moment before having caught a glimpse of the distressed countenance of the count, could only bow her head to Sophia's sportive observation.
Who is there that can enter into the secret folds of the heart and know all its miseries? Who participate in that joy which dissolves and rarifies man to the essence of heaven? Soul must mingle with soul, and the ethereal voice of spirits must speak before these things can be comprehended.
Ready to suffocate with the emotions she repelled from her eyes, Mary gladly affected to be absorbed in the business of the stage, (not one object of which she now saw), and with breathless attention lost not one soft whisper which Lady Sara poured into the ear of Thaddeus.
"Why," asked her ladyship, in a tremulous and low tone, "why should we seek ideal sorrows, when those of our own hearts are beyond alleviation? Happy Rose!" sighed her ladyship. "Mr. Constantine," continued she, "do not you think that Adelbert is consoled, at least, by the affection of that lovely woman?"
Like Miss Beaufort, Constantine had hitherto replied with bows only.
"Come," added Lady Sara, laying her soft hand on his arm, and regarding him with a look of tenderness, so unequivocal that he cast his eyes to the ground, while its sympathy really touched his heart. "Come," repeated she, animated by the faint color which tinged his cheek; "you know that I have the care of this party, and I must not allow our only cavalier to be melancholy."
"I beg your pardon, Lady Sara," returned he, gratefully pressing the hand that yet rested on his arm; "I am not very well. I wish that I had not seen this play."
Lady Sara sunk into the seat from which she had risen. He had never before taken her hand, except when assisting her to her carriage; this pressure shook her very soul, and awakened hopes which rendered her for a moment incapable of sustaining herself or venturing a reply.
There was something in the tones of Lady Sara's voice and in her manner far more expressive than her words: mutual sighs which breathed from her ladyship's bosom and that of Thaddeus, as they sat down, made a cold shiver run from the head to the foot of Miss Beaufort. Mary's surprise at the meaning of this emotion caused a second tremor, and with a palpitating heart she asked herself a few questions.
Could this interesting young man, whom every person of sense appeared to esteem and respect, sully his virtues by participating in a passion with a married woman? No; it was impossible.
Notwithstanding this decision, so absolute in his exculpation, her pure heart felt a trembling, secret resolve, "even for the sake of the honor of human nature," (she whispered to herself), to observe him so hereafter as to be convinced of the real worth of his principles before she would allow any increase of the interest his apparently reversed fate had created in her compassionate bosom.
What might be altogether the extent of that "reversed fate," she could form no idea. For though she had heard, in common with the rest of the general society, of the recent "melancholy fate of Poland!" she knew little of its particulars, politics of every kind, and especially about foreign places, being an interdicted subject in the drawing-rooms of Sir Robert Somerset. Therefore the simply noble mind of Mary thought more of the real nobility that might dwell in the soul of this expatriated son of that country than of the possible appendages of rank he might have left there.
With her mind full of these reflections, she awaited the farce without observing it when it appeared. Indeed, none of the party knew anything about the piece (to see which they had professedly come to the theatre) excepting Miss Egerton, whose ever merry spirits had enjoyed alone the humor of Totum in the play, and who now laughed heartily, though unaccompanied, through the ridiculous whims of the farce.
Nothing that passed could totally disengage the mind of Thaddeus from those remembrances which the recent drama had aroused. When the melting voice of Lady Sara, in whispers, tried to recall his attention, by a start only did he evince his recollection of not being alone. Sensible, however, to the kindness of her motive, he exerted himself; and by the time the curtain dropped, he had so far rallied his presence of mind as to be able to attend to the civility of seeing the ladies safe out of the theatre.
Miss Egerton, laughing, as he assisted her into the carriage, said, "I verily believe, Mr. Constantine, had I glanced round during the play, I should have seen as pretty a lachrymal scene between you and Lady Sara as any on the stage. I won't have this flirting! I declare I will tell Captain Ross—"
She continued talking; but turning about to offer his service to Miss Beaufort, he heard no more.
Miss Beaufort, however self-composed in thought, felt strangely: she felt cold and reserved; and undesignedly she appeared what she felt. There was a grave dignity in her air, accompanied with a collectedness and stillness in her before animated countenance, which astonished and chilled Thaddeus, though she had bowed her head and given him her hand to put her into the coach.
On their way home Miss Egerton ran over the merits of the play and farce; rallied Thaddeus on the "tall Pole," which she threatened should be his epithet whenever he offended her; and then, flying from subject to subject, talked herself and her hearers so weary, that they internally rejoiced when the carriage stopped in Grosvenor Place.
After they had severally paid their respects to Lady Tinemouth, who, being indisposed, was lying on the sofa, she desired Thaddeus to draw a chair near her.
"I want to learn," said she, "what you think of our English theatre?"
"Prithee, don't ask him!" cried Miss Egerton, pouring out a glass of water; "we have seen a tremendous brother Pole of his, who I believe has 'hopped off' with all his spirits! Why, he has been looking as rueful as a half-drowned man all the night; and as for Lady Sara, and I could vow Miss Beaufort, too, they have been two Niobes—'all tears.' So, good folks, I must drink better health to you, to save myself from the vapors."
"What is all this, Mr. Constantine?" asked the countess, addressing Thaddeus, whose eyes had glanced with a ray of delighted surprise on the blushing though displeased face of Miss Beaufort.
"My weakness," replied he, commanding down a rising tremor in his voice, and turning to her ladyship; "the play relates to a native of Poland, one who, like myself, an exile in a strange land, is subjected to sufferings and contumelies the bravest spirits may find hard to bear. Any man may combat misery; but even the most intrepid will shrink from insult. This, I believe, is the sum of the story. Its resemblance in some points to my own affected me; and," added he, looking gratefully at Lady Sara, and timidly towards Miss Beaufort, "if these ladies have sympathized with emotions against which I strove, but could not entirely conceal, I owe to it the sweetest consolation now in the power of fate to bestow."
"Poor Constantine!" cried Sophia Egerton, patting his head with one hand, whilst with the other she wiped a tear from her always smiling eye, "forgive me if I have hurt you. I like you vastly, though I must now and then laugh at you; you know I hate dismals, so let this tune enliven us all!" and flying to her piano, she played and sang two or three merry airs, till the countess commanded her to the supper- table.
At this most sociable repast of the whole day, cheerfulness seemed again to disperse the gloom which had threatened the circle. Thaddeus set the example. His unrestrained and elegant conversation acquired new pathos from the anguish that was driven back to his heart; like the beds of rivers, which infuse their own nature with the current, his hidden grief imparted an indescribable interest and charm to all his sentiments and actions. [Footnote: When this was written, (in the year 1804,) domestic hours were earlier; and the "supper hour" had not then dissipation and broken rest for a consequence.]
Mary now beheld him in his real character. Unmolested by the haughty presence of Miss Dundas, he became unreserved, intelligent, and enchanting. He seemed master of every subject talked on, and discoursed on all with a grace which corroborated her waking visions that he was as some bright star fallen from his sphere.
With the increase of Miss Beaufort's admiration of the count's fine talents, she gradually lost the recollection of what had occupied her mind relative to Lady Sara; and her own beautiful countenance dilating into confidence and delight, the evening passed away with chastened pleasure, until the little party separated for their several homes.
Lady Tinemouth was more than ever fascinated by the lovely Miss Beaufort. Miss Beaufort was equally pleased with the animation of the countess; but when she thought on Thaddeus, she was surprised, interested, absorbed.
Lady Sara Ross's reflections were not less delightful. She dwelt with redoubled passion on that look from the count's eyes, that touch of his hand, which she thought were signs of a reciprocal awakened flame. Both actions were forgotten by him the moment after they were committed; yet he was not ungrateful; but whilst he acknowledged her generous sympathy at that time, he could not but see that she was straying to the verge of a precipice which no thoroughly virtuous woman should ever venture to approach.
He found a refuge from so painful a meditation in the idea of the ingenuous Mary, on whose modest countenance virtue seemed to have "set her seal." Whilst recollecting the pitying kindness of her voice and looks, his heart owned the empire of purity, and in the contemplation of her unaffected excellence, he the more deplored the witcheries of Lady Sara, and the dangerous uses to which her impetuous feelings addressed them.
* * * * * * *
Next morning, when Thaddeus approached the general's bed to give him his coffee, he found him feverish, and his mind more than usually unsettled.
The count awaited with anxiety the arrival of the benevolent Cavendish, whom he expected. When he appeared, he declared his increased alarm. Dr. Cavendish having felt the patient's pulse, expressed a wish that he could be induced to take a little exercise. Thaddeus had often urged this necessity to his friend, but met with constant refusals. He hopelessly repeated the entreaty now, when, to his surprise and satisfaction, the old man instantly consented.
Having seen him comfortably dressed, (for the count attended to these minutiae with the care of a son,) the doctor said they must ride with him to Hyde Park, where he would put them out to walk until he had made a visit to Piccadilly, whence he would return and take them home.
The general not only expressed pleasure at the drive, but as the air was warm and balmy, (it being about the beginning of June,) he made no objection to the proposed subsequent walk.
He admired the Park, the Serpentine River, the cottages on its bank, and seemed highly diverted by the horsemen and carriages in the ring. The pertinence of his remarks afforded Thaddeus a ray of hope that his senses had not entirely lost their union with reason; and with awakened confidence he was contemplating what might be the happy effects of constant exercise, when the general's complaints of weariness obliged him to stop near Piccadilly Gate, and wait the arrival of the doctor's coach.
He was standing against the railing, supporting Butzou. and with his hat in his hand shading his aged friend's face from the sun, when two or three carriages driving in, he met the eye of Miss Euphemia Dundas, who pulling the check-string, exclaimed, "Bless me, Mr. Constantine! Who expected to see you here? Why, your note told us you were confined with a sick friend."
Thaddeus bowed to her, and still sustaining the debilitated frame of the general on his arm, advanced to the side of the coach. Miss Beaufort, who now looked out, expressed her hope that his invalid was better.
"This is the friend I mentioned," said the count, turning his eyes on the mild features of Butzou; "his physician having ordered him to walk, I accompanied him hither."
"Dear me! how ill you look, sir," cried Euphemia, addressing the poor invalid; "but you are attended by a kind friend."
"My dear lord!" exclaimed the old man, not regarding what she said, "I must go home. I am tired; pray call up the carriage."
Euphemia was again opening her mouth to speak, but Miss Beaufort, perceiving a look of distress in the expressive features of Thaddeus, interrupted her by saying, "Good-morning! Mr. Constantine. I know we detain you and oppress that gentleman, whose pardon we ought to beg." She bowed her head to the general, whose white hairs were blowing about his face, as he attempted to pull the count towards the pathway.
"My friend cannot thank you, kind Miss Beaufort," cried Thaddeus, with a look of gratitude that called the brightest roses to her cheeks; "but I do from my heart!"
"Here it is! Pray, my dear lord, come along!" cried Butzou. Thaddeus, seeing that his information was right, bowed to the ladies, and their carriage drove off.
Though the wheels of Lady Dundas's coach rolled away from the retreating figures of Thaddeus and his friend, the images of both occupied the meditations of Euphemia and Miss Beaufort whilst, tete—tete and in silence, they made the circuit of the Park.
When the carriage again passed the spot on which the subject of their thoughts had stood, Mary almost mechanically looked out towards the gate.
"Is he gone yet?" asked Euphemia, sighing deeply.
Mary drew in her head with the quickness of conscious guilt; and whilst a color stained her face, which of itself might have betrayed her prevarication, she asked, "Who?"
"Mr. Constantine," replied Euphemia, with a second sigh. "Did you remark, Mary, how gracefully he supported that sick old gentleman? Was it not the very personification of Youth upholding the fainting steps of Age? He put me in mind of the charming young prince, whose name I forget, leading the old Belisarius."
"Yes," returned Mary ashamed of the momentary insincerity couched in her former uncertain replying word, "Who?" yet still adding, while trying to smile, "but some people might call our ideas enthusiasm."
"So all tell me," replied Euphemia; "so all say who neither possess the sensibility nor the candor to allow that great merit may exist without being associated with great rank. Yet," cried she, in a more animated tone, "I have my doubts, Mary, of his being what he seems. Did you observe the sick gentleman call him My lord?"
"I did," returned Mary, "and I was not surprised. Such manners as Mr. Constantine's are not to be acquired in a cottage."
"Dear, dear Mary!" cried Euphemia, flinging her ivory arms round her neck; "how I love you for these words! You are generous, you think nobly, and I will no longer hesitate to—to—" and breaking off, she hid her head in Miss Beaufort's bosom.
Mary's heart throbbed, her cheeks grew pale, and almost unconsciously she wished to stop the tide of Miss Dundas's confidence.
"Dear Euphemia!" answered she, "your regard for this interesting exile is very praiseworthy. But beware of——." She hesitated; a remorseful twitch in her own breast stayed the warning that was rising to her tongue; and blushing at a motive she could not at the instant assign to friendship, selfishness, or to any interest she would not avow to herself, she touched the cheek of Euphemia with her quivering lips.
Euphemia had finished the sentence for her, and raising her head, exclaimed, "What should I fear in esteeming Mr. Constantine? Is he not the most captivating creature in the world! And for his person! Oh, Mary, he is so beautiful, that when the library is filled with the handsomest men in town, the moment Constantine enters, their reign is over. I compare them with his godlike figure, and I feel as one looking at the sun; all other objects appear dim and shapeless."
"I hope," returned Mary,—pressing her own forehead with her hand, her head beginning to ache strangely,—"that Mr. Constantine does not owe your friendship to his fine person. I think his mental qualities are more deserving of such a gift."
"Don't look so severe, dear Mary!" cried Miss Dundas, observing her contracting brow; "are you displeased with me?"
Mary's displeasure was at the austerity of her own words, and not at her auditor. Raising her eyes with a smile, she gently replied, "I do not mean, my dear girl, to be severe; but I would wish, for the honor of our sex, that the objects which attract either our love or our compassion should have something more precious than mere exterior beauty to engage our interest."
"Well, I will soon be satisfied," cried Euphemia, in a gayer tone, as they drove through Grosvenor Gate; "we all know that Constantine is sensible and accomplished: he writes poetry like an angel, both in French and Italian. I have hundreds of mottoes composed by him; one of them, Mary, is on the work-box I gave you yesterday; and, what is more, I will ask him to-morrow why that old gentleman called him My lord? It he be a lord!" exclaimed she.
"What then?" inquired the eloquent eyes of Mary.
"Don't look so impertinent, my dear," cried the now animated beauty: "I positively won't say another word to you today."
Miss Beaufort's headache became so painful, she rejoiced when Euphemia ceased and the carriage drew up to Lady Dundas's door.
A night of almost unremitted sleep performed such good effects on the general condition of General Butzou, that Dr. Cavendish thought his patient so much better as to sanction his hoping the best consequences from a frequent repetition of air and exercise. When the drive and walk had accordingly been repeated the following day, Thaddeus left his friend to his maps, and little Nanny's attendance, and once more took the way to Harley Street.
He found only Miss Dundas with her sister in the study. Mary (against her will, which she opposed because it was her will) had gone out shopping with Miss Dorothy and Lady Dundas.
Miss Dundas left the room the moment she had finished her lessons.
Delighted at being tete—tete with the object of her romantic fancies, Euphemia forgot that she was to act the retreating character of Madame d'Arblay's heroine; and shutting her book the instant Diana disappeared, all at once opened her attack on his confidence.
To her eager questions, which the few words of the general had excited, the count afforded no other reply than that his poor friend knew not what he said, having been a long time in a state of mental derangement.
This explanation caused a momentary mortification in the imaginative Euphemia; but her busy mind was nimble in its erection of airy castles, and she rallied in a moment with the idea that "he might be more than a lord." At any rate, let him be what he may, he charmed her; and he had much ado to parry the increasing boldness of her speeches, without letting her see they were understood.
"You are very diffident, Mr. Constantine," cried she, looking down. "If I consider you worthy of my friendship, why should you make disqualifying assertions?"
"Every man, madam," returned Thaddeus, bowing as he rose from his chair, "must be diffident of deserving the honor of your notice."
"There is no man living," replied she, "to whom I would offer my friendship but yourself."
Thaddeus bit his lip; he knew not what to answer. Bowing a second time, he stretched out his hand and drew his hat towards him. Euphemia's eyes followed the movement.
"You are in a prodigious haste, Mr. Constantine!"
"I know I intrude, madam; and I have promised to be with my sick friend at an early hour."
"Well, you may go, since you are obliged," returned the pretty Euphemia, rising, and smiling sweetly as she laid one hand on his arm and put the other into her tucker. She drew out a little white leather souvenir, marked on the back in gold letters with the words, "Toujours cher;" and slipping it into his hand, "There, receive that, monsignor, or whatever else you may be called, and retain it as the first pledge of Euphemia Dundas's friendship."
Thaddeus colored as he took it; and again having recourse to the convenient reply of a bow, left the room in embarrassed vexation.
There was an indelicacy in this absolutely wooing conduct of Miss Euphemia which, notwithstanding her beauty and the softness that was its vehicle, filled him with the deepest disgust. He could not trace real affection in her words or manner; and that any woman, instigated by a mere whim, should lay aside the maidenly reserves of her sex, and actually court his regard, surprised whilst it impelled him to loathe her.
They who adopt Euphemia's sentiments,—and, alas! there are some,— can be little aware of the conclusion which society infer from such intemperate behavior. The mistaken creature who, either at the impulsion of her own disposition or by the influence of example, is induced to despise the guard of modesty, literally "forsakes the guide of her youth" and leaves herself open to every attack which man can devise against her. By levelling the barrier raised by nature, she herself exposes the stronghold of virtue, and may find, too late for recovery, that what modesty has abandoned is not long spared by honor.
Euphemia's affected attachment suggested to Thaddeus a few unpleasant recollections respecting the fervent and unequivocal passion of Lady Sara. Though guilty, it sprung from a headlong ardor of disposition which formed at once the error and its palliation. He saw that love was not welcomed by her (at least he thought so) as a plaything, but struggled against as with a foe. He had witnessed her tortures; he pitied them, and to render her happy, would gladly have made any sacrifice short of his conscience. Too well assured of being all the world to Lady Sara, the belief that Miss Euphemia liked him only from idleness, caprice, and contradiction, caused him to repay her overtures with decided contempt.
When he arrived at home, he threw on his table the pocket-book whose unambiguous motto made him scorn her, and almost himself for being the object of such folly. Looking round his humble room, whose wicker-chairs, oil-cloth floor, and uncurtained windows announced anything but elegance: "Poor Euphemia!" said he; "how would you be dismayed were the indigent Constantine to really take you at your word, and bring you home to a habitation like this!"
* * * * * * *
INFLUENCES OF CHARACTER.
The recital of the preceding scene, which was communicated to Miss Beaufort by Euphemia, filled her with still more doubting thoughts.
Mary could discover no reason why the old gentleman's mental derangement should dignify his friend with titles he had never borne. She remarked to herself that his answer to Euphemia was evasive; she remembered his emotion and apology on seeing Mr. C. Kemble in Adelbert; and uniting with these facts his manners and acquirements, so far beyond the charges of any subordinate rank, she could finally retain no doubt of his being at least well born.
Thus this mysterious Constantine continued to occupy her hourly thoughts during the space of two months, in which time she had full opportunity to learn much of a character with whom she associated almost every day. At Lady Tinemouth's (one of whose evening guests she frequently became) she beheld him disencumbered of that armor of reserve which he usually wore in Harley Street.
In the circle of the countess, Mary saw him welcomed like an idolized being before whose cheering influence all frowns and clouds must disappear. When he entered, the smile resumed its seat on the languid features of Lady Tinemouth; Miss Egerton's eye lighted up to keener archness; Lady Sara's Circassian orbs floated in pleasure; and for Mary herself, her breast heaved, her cheeks glowed, her hands trembled, a quick sigh fluttered in her bosom; and whilst she remained in his presence, she believed that happiness had lost its usual evanescent property, and become tangible, to hold and press upon her heart.
Mary, who investigated the cause of these tremors on her pillow, bedewed it with delicious though bitter tears, when her alarmed soul whispered that she nourished for this amiable foreigner "a something than friendship dearer."
"Ah! is it come to this?" cried she, pressing down her saturated eyelids with her hand. "Am I at last to love a man who, perhaps, never casts a thought on me? How despicable shall I become in my own eyes!"
The pride of woman puts this charge to her taken heart—that heart which seems tempered of the purest clay, and warmed with the fire of heaven; that tender and disinterested heart asks as its appeal—What is love? Is it not an admiration of all that is beautiful in nature and in the soul? Is it not a union of loveliness with truth? Is it not a passion whose sole object is the rapture of contemplating the supreme beauty of this combined character?
"Where, then," cried the enthusiastic Mary, "where is the shame that can be annexed to my loving Constantine? If it be honorable to love delineated excellence, it must be equally so to love it when embodied in a human shape. Such it is in Constantine; and if love be the reflected light of virtue, I may cease to arraign myself of that which otherwise I would have scorned. Therefore, Constantine," cried she, raising her clasped hands, whilst renewed tears streamed over her face, "I will love thee! I will pray for thy happiness, though its partner should be Euphemia Dundas."
Mary's eager imagination would not allow her to perceive those obstacles in the shapes of pride and prudence, which would stand in the way of his obtaining Euphemia's hand; its light showed to her only a rival in the person of the little beauty; but from her direct confidence she continued to retreat with abhorrence.
Had Euphemia been more deserving of Constantine, Miss Beaufort believed she would have been less reluctant to hear that she loved him. But Mary could not avoid seeing that Miss E. Dundas possessed little to ensure connubial comfort, if mere beauty and accidental flights of good humor were not to be admitted into the scale. She was weak in understanding, timid in principle, absurd in almost every opinion she adopted; and as for love, true, dignified, respectable love, she knew nothing of the sentiment.
Whilst Miss Beaufort meditated on this meagre schedule of her rival's merits, the probability that even such a man as Constantine might sacrifice himself to flattery and to splendor stung her to the soul.
The more she reflected on it, the more she conceived it possible. Euphemia was considered a beauty of the day; her affectation of refined prettiness pleased many, and might charm Constantine: she was mistress of fifty thousand pounds, and did not esteem it necessary to conceal from her favorite the empire he had acquired. Perhaps there was generosity in this openness? If so, what might it not effect on a grateful disposition? or, rather, (her mortified heart murmured in the words of her aunt Dorothy,) "how might it not operate on the mind of one of that sex, which, at the best, is as often moved by caprice as by feeling."
Mary blushed at her adoption of this opinion; and, angry with herself for the injustice which a lurking jealousy had excited in her to apply to Constantine's noble nature, she resolved, whatever might be her struggles, to promote his happiness, though even with Euphemia, to the utmost of her power.
The next morning, when Miss Beaufort saw the study door opened for her entrance, she found Mr. Constantine at his station, literally baited between Miss Dundas and her honorable lover. At such moments Mary appeared the kindest of the kind. She loved to see Constantine smile; and whenever she could produce that effect, by turning the spleen of these polite sneerers against themselves, his smiles, which ever entered her heart, afforded her a banquet for hours after his departure.
Mary drew out her netting, (which was a purse for Lady Tinemouth,) and taking a seat beside Euphemia, united with her to occupy his attention entirely, that he might not catch even one of those insolent glances which were passing between Lascelles and a new visitant the pretty lady Hilliars.
This lady seemed to take extreme pleasure in accosting Thaddeus by the appellation of "Friend," "My good man," "Mr. What's-your-name," and similar squibs of insult, with which the prosperous assail the unfortunate. Such random shots they know often inflict the most galling wounds.
However, "Friend," "My good man," and "Mr. What's-your-name," disappointed this lady's small artillery of effect. He seemed invulnerable both to her insolence and to her affectation; for to be thought a wit, by even Miss Dundas's emigrant tutor, was not to be despised; though at the very moment in which she desired his admiration, she supposed her haughtiness had impressed him with a proper sense of his own meanness and a high conception of her dignity.
She jumped about the room, assumed infantine airs, played with Euphemia's lap-dag, fondled it, seated herself on the floor and swept the carpet with her fine flaxen tresses; but she performed the routine of captivation in vain. Thaddeus recollected having seen this pretty full-grown baby, in her peculiar character of a profligate wife, pawning her own and her husband's property; he remembered this, and the united shafts of her charms and folly fell unnoticed to the ground.
When Thaddeus took his leave, Miss Beaufort, as was her custom, retired for an hour to read in her dressing-room, before she directed her attention to the toilet. She opened a book, and ran over a few pages of Madame de Stael's Treatise on the Passions; but such reasoning was too abstract for her present frame of mind, and she laid the volume down.
She dipped her pen in the inkstand. Being a letter in debt to her guardian, she thought she would defray it now. She accomplished "My dear uncle," and stopped. Whilst she rested on her elbow, and, heedless of what she was doing, picked the feather of her quill to pieces, no other idea offered itself than the figure of Thaddeus sitting 'severe in youthful beauty!' and surrounded by the contumelies with which the unworthy hope to disparage the merit they can neither emulate nor overlook.
Uneasy with herself, she pushed the table away, and, leaning her cheek on her arm, gazed into the rainbow varieties of a beaupot of flowers which occupied the fireplace. Even their gay colors appeared to fade before her sight, and present to her vacant eye the form of Thaddeus, with the melancholy air which shaded his movements. She turned round, but could not disengage herself from the spirit that was within her; his half-suppressed sighs seemed yet to thrill in her ear and weigh upon her heart.
"Incomparable young man!" cried she, starting up, "why art thou so wretched? Oh! Lady Tinemouth, why have you told me of his many virtues? Why have I convinced myself that what you said is true? Oh! why was I formed to love an excellence which I never can approach?"
The natural reply to these self-demanded questions suggesting itself, she assented with a tear to the whisperings of her heart—that when cool, calculating reason would banish the affections, it is incapable of filling their place.
She rang the bell for her maid.
"Marshall, who dines with Lady Dundas to-day?"
"I believe, ma'am," replied the girl, "Mr. Lascelles, Lady Hilliars, and the Marquis of Elesmere."
"I dislike them all three!" cried Mary, with an impatience to which she was little liable; "dress me how you like: I am indifferent to my appearance."
Marshall obeyed the commands of her lady, who, hoping to divert her thoughts, took up the poems of Egerton Brydges. But the attempt only deepened her emotion, for every line in that exquisite little volume "gives a very echo to the seat where love is throned!"
She closed the book and sighed. Marshall having fixed the last pearl comb in her mistress's beautiful hair, and observing that something was wrong that disquieted her, exclaimed, "Dear ma'am, you are so pale to-day! I wish I might put on some gayer ornaments!"
"No," returned Mary, glancing a look at her languid features; "no, Marshall: I appear as well as I desire. Any chance of passing unnoticed in company I dislike is worth retaining. No one will be here this evening whom I care to please."
She was mistaken; other company had been invited besides those whom the maid mentioned. But Miss Beaufort continued from seven o'clock until ten, the period at which the ladies left the table, the annoyed victim of the insipid and pert compliments of Lord Elesmere.
Sick of his subjectless and dragging conversation, she gladly followed Lady Dundas to the drawing-room, where, opening her knitting case, she took her station in a remote corner.
After half an hour had elapsed, the gentlemen from below, recruited by fresh company, thronged in fast; and, notwithstanding it was styled a family party, Miss Beaufort saw many new faces, amongst whom she observed an elderly clergyman, who was looking about for a chair. The yawning Lascelles threw himself along the only vacant sofa, just as the reverend gentleman approached it.
Miss Beaufort immediately rose, and was moving on to another room, when the coxcomb, springing up, begged permission to admire her work; and, without permission, taking it from her, pursued her, twisting the purse around his fingers and talking all the while.
Mary walked forward, smiling with contempt, until they reached the saloon, where the Misses Dundas were closely engaged in conversation with the Marquis of Elesmere.
Lascelles, who trembled for his Golconda at this sight, stepped briskly up. Miss Beaufort, who did not wish to lose sight of her purse whilst in the power of such a Lothario, followed him, and placed herself against the arm of the sofa on which Euphemia sat.
Lascelles now bowed his scented locks to Diana in vain; Lord Elesmere was describing the last heat at Newmarket, and the attention of neither lady could be withdrawn.
The beau became so irritated by the neglect of Euphemia, and so nettled at her sister's overlooking him, that assuming a gay air, he struck Miss Dundas's arm a smart stroke with Miss Beaufort's purse; and laughing, to show the strong opposition between his broad white teeth and the miserable mouth of his lordly rival, hoped to alarm him by his familiarity, and to obtain a triumph over the ladies by degrading them in the eyes of the peer.
"Miss Dundas," demanded he, "who was that quiz of a man in black your sister walked with the other day in Portland Place?"
"Me!" cried Euphemia, surprised.
"Ay!" returned he; "I was crossing from Weymouth Street, when I perceived you accost a strange-looking person—a courier from the moon, perhaps! You may remember you sauntered with him as far as Sir William Miller's. I would have joined you, but seeing the family standing in the balcony, I did not wish them to suppose that I knew anything of such queer company."
"Who was it, Euphemia?" inquired Miss Dundas, in a severe tone.
"I wonder he affects to be ignorant," answered her sister, angrily; "he knows very well it was only Mr. Constantine."
"And who is Mr. Constantine?" demanded the marquis. Mr. Lascelles shrugged his shoulders.
"E'faith, my lord! a fellow whom nobody knows—a teacher of languages, giving himself the airs of a prince—a writer of poetry, and a man who will draw you, your house or dogs, if you will pay him for it."
Mary's heart swelled.
"What, a French emigrant?" drawled his lordship, dropping his lip; "and the lovely Euphemia wishes to soothe his sorrows."
"No, my lord," stammered Euphemia, "he is—he is——"
"What!" interrupted Lascelles, with a malicious grin. "A wandering beggar, who thrusts himself into society which may some day repay his insolence with chastisement! And for the people who encourage him, they had better beware of being themselves driven from all good company. Such confounders of degrees ought to be degraded from the rank they disgrace. I understand his chief protectress is Lady Tinemouth; his second, Lady Sara Ross, who, by way of passant le temps, shows she is not quite inconsolable at the absence of her husband."
Mary, pale and trembling at the scandal his last words insinuated, opened her lips to speak, when Miss Dundas (whose angry eyes darted from her sister to her lover) exclaimed, "Mr. Lascelles, I know not what you mean. The subject you have taken up is below my discussion; yet I must confess, if Euphemia has ever disgraced herself so far as to be seen walking with a schoolmaster, she deserves all you have said."
"And why might I not walk with him, sister?" asked the poor culprit, suddenly recovering from her confusion, and looking pertly up; "who knew that he was not a gentleman?"
"Everybody, ma'am," interrupted Lascelles; "and when a young woman of fashion condescends to be seen equalizing herself with a creature depending on his wits for support, she is very likely to incur the contempt of her acquaintance and the censure of her friends."
"She is, sir," said Mary, holding down her indignant heart and forcing her countenance to appear serene; "for she ought to know that if those men of fashion, who have no wit to be either their support or ornament, did not proscribe talents from their circle, they must soon find 'the greater glory dim the less.'"
"True, madam," cried Lord Berrington, who, having entered during the contest, had stood unobserved until this moment; "and their gold and tinsel would prove but dross and bubble, if struck by the Ithuriel touch of Merit when so advocated."
Mary turned at the sound of his philanthropic voice, and gave him one of those glances which go immediately to the soul.
"Come, Miss Beaufort," cried he, taking her hand; "I see the young musician yonder who has so recently astonished the public. I believe he is going to sing. Let us leave this discordant corner, and seek harmony by his side."
Mary gladly acceded to his request, and seating herself a few paces from the musical party, Berrington took his station behind her chair.
When the last melting notes of "From shades of night" died upon her ear, Mary's eyes, full of admiration and transport, which the power of association rendered more intense, remained fixed on the singer. Lord Berrington smiled at the vivid expression of her countenance, and as the young Orpheus moved from the instrument, exclaimed, "Come, Miss Beaufort, I won't allow you quite to fancy Braham the god on whom
Enamored Clitie turned and gazed!
[Footnote: This accomplished singer and composer still lives—one of the most admired ornaments of the British orchestra.—1845.]
Listen a little to my merits. Do you know that if it were not for my timely lectures, Lascelles would grow the most insufferable gossip about town? There is not a match nor a divorce near St. James's of which he cannot repeat all the whys and wherefores. I call him Sir Benjamin Backbite; and I believe he hates me worse than Asmodeus himself."
"Such a man's dislike," rejoined Mary, "is the highest encomium he can bestow. I never yet heard him speak well of any person who did not resemble himself."
"And he is not consistent even there," resumed the viscount: "I am not sure I have always heard him speak in the gentlest terms of Miss Dundas. Yet, on that I cannot quite blame him; for, on my honor, she provokes me beyond any woman breathing."
"Many women," replied Mary, smiling, "would esteem that a flattering instance of power."
"And, like everything that flatters," returned he, "it would tell a falsehood. A shrew can provoke a man who detests her. As to Miss Dundas, notwithstanding her parade of learning, she generally espouses the wrong side of the argument; and I may say with somebody, whose name I have forgotten, that any one who knows Diana Dundas never need be at a loss for a woman to call impertinent."
"You are not usually so severe, my lord!"
"I am not usually so sincere, Miss Beaufort," answered he; "but I see you think for yourself, therefore I make no hesitation in speaking what I think—to you."
His auditor bowed her head sportively but modestly. Lady Dundas at that moment beckoned him across the room. She compelled him to sit down to whist. He cast a rueful glance at Mary, and took a seat opposite to his costly partner.
"Lord Berrington is a very worthy young man," observed the clergyman to whom at the beginning of the evening Miss Beaufort had resigned her chair; "I presume, madam, you have been honoring him with your conversation?"
"Yes," returned Mary, noticing the benign countenance of the speaker; "I have not had the pleasure of long knowing his lordship, but what I have seen of his character is highly to his advantage."
"I was intimate in his father's house for years," rejoined the gentleman: "I knew this young nobleman from a boy. If he has faults, he owes them to his mother, who doated on him, and rather directed his care to the adornment of his really handsome person than to the cultivation of talents he has since learned to appreciate."
"I believe Lord Berrington to be very sensible, and, above all, very humane," returned Miss Beaufort.
"He is so," replied the old gentleman; "yet it was not till he had attained the age of twenty-two that he appeared to know he had anything to do in the world besides dressing and attending on the fair sex. His taste produced the first, whilst the urbanity of his disposition gave birth to the latter. When Berrington arrived at his title, he was about five-and-twenty. Sorrow for the death of his amiable parents, who died in the same month, afforded him leisure to find his reason. He discovered that he had been acting a part beneath him, and he soon implanted on the good old stock those excellent acquirements which you see he possesses. In spite of his regeneration," continued the clergyman, casting a good-humored glance on the dove-colored suit of the viscount, "you perceive that first impressions will remain. He loves dress, but he loves justice and philanthropy better."
"This eulogy, sir," said Mary, "affords me real pleasure, may I know the name of the gentleman with whom I have the honor to converse?"
"My name is Blackmore," returned he.
He was the same Dr. Blackmore who had been struck by the appearance of the Count Sobieski at the Hummums, but had never learned his name, and who, being a rare visitor at Lady Dundas's, had never by chance met a second time with the object of his compassion.
"I am happy," resumed Miss Beaufort, "in having the good fortune to meet a clergyman of whom I have so frequently heard my guardian, Sir Robert Somerset, speak with the highest esteem."
"Ah!" replied he, "I have not seen him since the death of his lady; I hope that he and his son are well!"
"Both are perfectly so now," returned she, "and are together in the country!"
"You, madam, I suppose are my lady's niece, the daughter of the brave Admiral Beaufort?"
"I am, sir."
"Well, I rejoice at this incident," rejoined he, pressing her hand; "I knew your mother when she was a lovely girl. She used to spend her summers with the late Lady Somerset, at the castle. It was there I had the honor of cultivating her friendship."
"I do not remember ever having seen my mother," replied the now thoughtful Mary. Dr. Blackmore observing the expression of her countenance, smiled kindly, and said, "I fear I am to blame here. This is a somewhat sad way of introducing myself. But your goodness must pardon me," continued he; "for I have so long accustomed myself to speak what I think to those in whom I see cause to esteem, that sometimes, as now, I undesignedly inflict pain."
"Not in this case," returned Miss Beaufort. "I am always pleased when listening to a friend of my mother, and particularly so when he speaks in her praise."
The breaking up of the card-tables prevented further conversation. Lord Berrington again approached the sofa where Mary sat, exclaiming, as he perceived her companion, "Ah my good doctor; have you presented yourself at this fair shrine I declare you eccentric folk may dare anything. Whilst you are free, Miss Beaufort," added he turning to her, "adopt the advice which a good lady once gave me, and which I have implicitly followed: 'When you are young, get the character of an oddity, and it seats you in an easy chair for life.'"
Mary was interrupted in her reply by a general stir amongst the company, who, now the cards were over, like bees and wasps were swarming about the room, gathering honey or stinging as they went.
At once the house was cleared; and Miss Beaufort threw herself on the pillow, to think, and then to dream of Thaddeus.
THE GREAT AND THE SMALL OF SOCIETY.
If it be true what the vivid imaginations of poets have frequently asserted, that when the soul dreams, it is in the actual presence of those beings whose images present themselves to their slumbers, then have the spirit, of Thaddeus and Mary been often commingled at the hour of midnight; then has the young Sobieski again visited his distant country, again seen it victorious, again knelt before his sainted parents.
From such visions as these did Thaddeus awake in the morning, after having spent the preceding evening with Lady Tinemouth.
He had walked with her ladyship in Hyde Park till a late hour. By the mild light of the moon, which shone brightly through the still, balmy air of a midsummer night, they took their way along the shadowy bank of the Serpentine.
There is a solemn appeal to the soul in the repose of nature that "makes itself be felt." No syllable from either Thaddeus or the countess for some time broke the universal silence. Thaddeus looked around on the clear expanse of water, over-shaded by the long reflection of the darkening trees; then raising his eyes to that beautiful planet which has excited tender thoughts in every feeling breast since the creation of the world, he drew a deep sigh. The countess echoed it.
"In such a night as this," said Thaddeus, in a low voice, as if afraid to disturb the sleeping deity of the place, "I used to walk the ramparts of Villanow with my dear departed mother, and gaze on that lovely orb; and when I was far from her, I have looked at it from the door of my tent, and fancying that her eyes were then fixed on the same object as mine, I found happiness in the idea."
A tear stole down the cheek of Thaddeus. That moon yet shone brightly; but his mother's eyes were closed in the grave.
"Villanow!" repeated the countess, in a tone of tender surprise; "surely that was the seat of the celebrated Palatine of Masovia! You have discovered yourself, Constantine! I am much mistaken if you be not his grandson, the young, yet far-famed, Thaddeus Sobieski?"
Thaddeus had allowed the remembrances pressing on his mind to draw him into a speech which had disclosed to the quick apprehension of the countess what his still too sensitive pride would forever have concealed.
"I have indeed betrayed my secret," cried he, incapable of denying it; "but, dear lady Tinemouth, as you value my feelings, never let it escape your lips. Having long considered you as my best friend, and loved you as a parent, I forgot, in the recollection of my beloved mother, that I had withheld any of my history from you."
"Mysterious Providence!" exclaimed her ladyship, after a pause, in which ten thousand admiring and pitying reflections thronged on her mind: "is it possible? Can it be the Count Sobieski, that brave and illustrious youth of whom every foreigner spoke with wonder? Can it be him that I behold in the unknown, unfriended Constantine?"
"Even so," returned Thaddeus, pressing her hand. "My country is no more. I am now forgotten by the world, as I have been by fortune. I have nothing to do on the earth but to fulfil the few duties which a filial friendship has enjoined, and then it will be a matter of indifference to me how soon I am laid in its bosom."
"You are too young, dear Constantine, (for I am still to call you by that name,) to despair of happiness being yet reserved for you."
"No, my dear Lady Tinemouth, I do not cheat myself with such hope; I am not so importunate with the gracious Being who gave me life and reason. He bestowed upon me for awhile the tenderest connections— friends, rank, honors, glory. All these were crushed in the fall of Poland; yet I survive, I sought resignation only, and I have found it. It cost me many a struggle; but the contest was due to the decrees of that all-wise Creator who gave my first years to happiness."
"Inestimable young man!" cried the countess, wiping the flowing tears from her eyes; "you teach misfortune dignity! Not when all Warsaw rose in a body to thank you, not when the king received you in the senate with open arms, could you have appeared to me so worthy of admiration as at this moment, when, conscious of having been all this, you submit to the direct reverse, because you believe it to be the will of your Maker! Ah! little does Miss Beaufort think, when seated by your side, that she is conversing with the youthful hero whom she has so often wished to see!"
"Miss Beaufort!" echoed Thaddeus, his heart glowing with delight. "Do you think she ever heard of me by the name of Sobieski?"
"Who has not?" returned the countess; "every heart that could be interested by heroic virtue has heard and well remembers its glorious struggles against the calamities of your country. Whilst the newspapers of the day informed us of these things, they noticed amongst the first of her champions the Palatine of Masovia, Kosciusko, and the young Sobieski. Many an evening have I passed with Miss Dorothy and Mary Beaufort, lamenting the fate of that devoted kingdom."
During this declaration, a variety of indeed happy emotions agitated the mind of Thaddeus, until, recollecting with a bitter pang the shameless ingratitude of Pembroke, when all those glories were departed from him, and the cruel possibility of being recognized by the Earl of Tinemouth as his son, he exclaimed, "My dearest madam, I entreat that what I have revealed to you may never be divulged. Miss Beaufort's friendship would indeed be happiness; but I cannot purchase even so great a bliss at the expense of memories which are knit with my life."
"How?" cried the countess; "is not your name, and all its attendant ideas, an honor which the proudest man might boast?"
Thaddeus pressed her hand to his heart.
"You are kind—very kind! yet I cannot retract. Confide, dear Lady Tinemouth, in the justice of my resolution. I could not bear cold pity; I could not bear the heartless comments of people who, pretending to compassion, would load me with a heavy sense of my calamities. Besides, there are persons in England who are so much the objects of my aversion, I would rather die than let them know I exist. Therefore, once again, dear Lady Tinemouth, let me implore you to preserve my secret."
She saw by the earnestness of his manner that she ought to comply, and without further hesitation promised all the silence he desired.
This long moonlight conversation, by awakening all those dormant remembrances which were cherished, though hidden in the depths of his bosom, gave birth to that mirage of imagination which painted that night, in the rapid series of his tumultuous dreams, the images of every being whom he had ever loved, or now continued to regard with interest.
Proceeding next morning towards Harley Street, he mused on what had happened; and pleased that he had, though unpremeditatedly, paid the just compliment of his entire confidence to the uncommon friendship of the countess, he arrived at Lady Dundas's door before he was sensible of the ground he had passed over, and in a few minutes afterwards was ushered into his accustomed purgatory.
When the servant opened the study-door, Miss Euphemia was again alone. Thaddeus recoiled, but he could not retreat.
"Come in, Mr. Constantine," cried the little beauty, in a languid tone; "my sister is going to the riding-school with Mr. Lascelles. Miss Beaufort wanted me to drive out with her and my mother, but I preferred waiting for you."
The count bowed; and almost retreating with fear of what might next be said, he gladly heard a thundering knock at the door, and a moment after the voice of Miss Dundas ascending the stairs.
He had just opened his books when she entered, followed by her lover. Panting under a heavy riding-habit, she flung herself on a sofa, and began to vilify "the odious heat of Pozard's odious place;" then telling Euphemia she would play truant to-day, ordered her to attend to her lessons.
Owing to the warmth of the weather, Thaddeus came out this morning without boots; and it being the first time the exquisite proportion of his figure had been so fully seen by any of the present company excepting Euphemia, Lascelles, bursting with an emotion which he would not call envy, measured the count's graceful limb with his scornful eyes; then declaring he was quite in a furnace, took the corner of his glove and waving it to and fro, half-muttered, "Come gentle air."
"The fairer Lascelles cries!" exclaimed Euphemia, looking off her exercise.
"What! does your master teach you wit?" drawled the coxcomb, with a particular emphasis.
Thaddeus, affecting not to hear, continued to direct his pupil.
The indefatigable Lascelles having observed the complacence with which the count always regarded Miss Beaufort determined the goad should fret; and drawing the knitting out of his pocket which he had snatched the night before from Mary, he exclaimed, "'Fore heaven, here is my little Beaufort's purse!"
Thaddeus started, and unconsciously looking up, beheld the well-known work of Mary dangling in the hand of Lascelles. He suffered pangs unknown to him; his eyes became dim; and hardly knowing what he saw or said, he pursued the lesson with increased rapidity.
Finding that his malice had taken effect, with a careless air the malicious puppy threw his clumsy limbs on the sofa, which Miss Dundas had just quitted to seat herself nearer the window, and cried out, as in a voice of sudden recollection:
"By the bye, that Miss Mary Beaufort, when she chooses to be sincere, is a staunch little Queen Bess."
"You may as well tell me," replied Miss Dundas, with a deriding curl of her lip, "that she is the Empress of Russia."
"I beg your pardon!" cried he, and raising his voice to be better heard, "I do not mean in the way of learning. But I will prove in a moment her creditable high-mightiness in these presumptuous times, though a silly love of popularity induces her to affect now and then a humble guise to some people beneath her. When she gave me this gewgaw," added he, flourishing the purse in his hand, "she told me a pretty tissue about a fair friend of hers, whose music-master, mistaking some condescension on her part, had dared to press her snowy fingers while directing them towards a tender chord on her harp. You have no notion how the gentle Beaufort's blue eyes blazed up while relating poor Tweedledum's presumption!"
"I can have a notion of anything these boasted meek young ladies do when thrown off their guard," haughtily returned his contemptuous auditress, "after Miss Beaufort's violent sally of impertinence to you last night."
"Impertinence to me!" echoed the fop, at the same time dipping the end of the knitting into Diana's lavender-bottle, and dabbing his temples; "she was always too civil by half. I hate forward girls."
Thaddeus shut the large dictionary which lay before him with a force that made the puppy start, and rising hastily from his chair, with a face all crimson, was taking his hat, when the door opened, and Mary appeared.
A white-chip bonnet was resting lightly on the glittering tresses which waved over her forehead, whilst her lace-shade, gently discomposed by the air, half veiled and half revealed her graceful figure. She entered with a smile, and walking up to the side of the table where Thaddeus was standing, inquired after his friend's health. He answered her in a voice unusually agitated. All that he had been told by the countess of her favorable opinion of him, and the slander he had just heard from Diana's lover, were at once present in his mind.
He was yet speaking, when Miss Beaufort, casually looking towards the other side of the room, saw her purse still acting the part of a handkerchief in the hand of Mr. Lascelles.
"Look, Mr. Constantine," said she, gayly tapping his arm with her parasol, "how the most precious things may be degraded! There is the knitting you have so often admired, and which I intended for Lady Tinemouth's pocket, debased to do the office of Mr. Lascelles's napkin."
"You gave it to him, Miss Beaufort," cried Miss Dundas; "and after that, surely he may use it as he values it!"
"If I could have given it to Mr. Lascelles, madam, I should hardly have taken notice of its fate."
Believing what her lover had advanced, Miss Dundas was displeased at Mary for having, by presents, interfered with any of her danglers, and rather angrily replied, "Mr. Lascelles said you gave it to him; and certainly you would not insinuate a word against his veracity?"
"No, not insinuate," returned Miss Beaufort, "but affirm, that he has forgotten his veracity in this statement."
Lascelles yawned. "Lord bless me, ladies, how you quarrel! You will disturb Monsieur?"
"Mr. Constantine," returned Mary, blushing with indignation, "cannot be disturbed by nonsense."
Thaddeus again drew his hat towards him, and bowing to his lovely champion, with an expression of countenance which he little suspected had passed from his heart to his eyes, he was preparing to take his leave, when Euphemia requested him to inform her whether she had folded down the right pages for the next exercise. He approached her, and was leaning over her chair to look at the book, when she whispered, "Don't be hurt at what Lascelles says; he is always jealous of anybody who is handsomer than himself."
Thaddeus dropped his eyelids with a face of scarlet; for on meeting the eyes of Mary, he saw that she had heard this intended comforter as well as himself. Uttering a few incoherent sentences to both ladies he hurried out of the room.
* * * * * * *
THE OBDURACY OF VICE—THE INHUMANITY OF FOLLY.
The Count Sobieski was prevented paying his customary visit next morning in Harley Street by a sudden dangerous increase of illness in the general, who had been struck at seven o'clock by a fit of palsy.
When Dr. Cavendish beheld the poor old man stretched on the bed, and hardly exhibiting signs of life, he pronounced it to be a death- stroke. At this remark, Thaddeus, turning fearfully pale, staggered to a seat, with his eyes fixed on the altered features of his friend. Dr. Cavendish took his hand.
"Recollect yourself, my dear sir! Happen when it may, his death must be a release to him. But he may yet linger a few days."
"Not in pain, I hope!" said Thaddeus.
"No," returned the doctor; "probably he will remain as you now see him, till he expires like the last glimmer of a dying taper."
The benevolent Cavendish gave proper directions to Thaddeus, also to Mrs. Robson, who promised to act carefully as nurse; and then with regret left the stunned count to the melancholy task of watching by the bedside of his last early friend.
Thaddeus now retained no thought that was not riveted to the emaciated form before him. Whilst the unconscious invalid struggled for respiration, he listened to his short and convulsed breathing with sensations which seemed to tear the strings of his own breast. Unable to bear it longer, he moved to the fireside, and seating himself, with his pallid face and aching head supported on his arm, which rested on a plain deal table, he remained; meeting no other suspension from deep and awestruck meditation than the occasional appearance of Mrs. Robson on tiptoes, peeping in and inquiring whether he wanted anything.
From this reverie, like unto the shadow of death, he was aroused next morning at nine o'clock by the entrance of Dr. Cavendish. Thaddeus seized his hand with the eagerness of his awakened suspense. "My dear sir, may I hope—"
Not suffering him to finish with what he hoped, the doctor shook his head in gentle sign of the vanity of that hope, and advanced to the bed of the general. He felt his pulse. No change of opinion was the consequence, only that he now saw no threatenings of immediate dissolution.
"Poor Butzou!" murmured Thaddeus, when the doctor withdrew, putting the general's motionless hand to his quivering lips; "I never will leave thee! I will watch by thee, thou last relic of my country! It may not be long ere we lie side by side."
With anguish at his heart, he wrote a few hasty lines to the countess; then addressing Miss Dundas, he mentioned as the reason for his late and continued absence the danger of his friend.
His note found Miss Dundas attended by her constant shadow, Mr. Lascelles, Lady Hilliars, and two or three more fine ladies and gentlemen, besides Euphemia and Miss Beaufort, who, with pensive countenances, were waiting the arrival of its writer.
When Miss Dundas took the billet off the silver salver on which her man presented it, and looked at the superscription, she threw it into the lap of Lacelles.
"There," cried she, "is an excuse, I suppose, from Mr. Constantine, for his impertinence in not coming hither yesterday. Read it, Lascelles."
"'Fore Gad, I wouldn't touch it for an earldom!" exclaimed the affected puppy, jerking it on the table. "It might affect me with the hypochondriacs. Pray, Phemy, do you peruse it."
Euphemia, in her earnestness to learn what detained Mr. Constantine, neglected the insolence of the request, and hastily breaking the seal, read as follows:—
"Mr. Constantine hopes that a sudden and dangerous disorder which has attacked the life of a very dear friend with whom he resides will be a sufficient appeal to the humanity of the Misses Dundas, and obtain their pardon for his relinquishing the honor of attending them yesterday and to-day."
"Dear me!" cried Euphemia, piteously; "how sorry I am. I dare say it is that white-haired old man we saw in the park, You remember, Mary, he was sick?"
"Probably," returned Miss Beaufort, with her eyes fixed on the agitated handwriting of Thaddeus.
"Throw the letter into the street, Phemy!" cried Miss Dundas, affecting sudden terror; "who knows but what it is a fever the man has got, and we may all catch our deaths."
"Heaven forbid!" exclaimed Mary, in a voice of real alarm; but it was for Thaddeus—not fear of any infection which the paper might bring to herself.
"Lascelles, take away that filthy scrawl from Phemy. How can you be so headstrong, child?" cried Diana, snatching the letter from her sister and throwing it from the window. "I declare you are sufficient to provoke a saint."
"Then you may keep your temper, Di," returned Euphemia, with a sneer; "you are far enough from that title."
Miss Dundas made a very angry reply, which was retaliated by another; and a still more noisy and disagreeable altercation might have taken place had not a good-humored lad, a brother-in-law of Lady Hilliars, in hopes of calling off the attention of the sisters, exclaimed, "Bless me, Miss Dundas, your little dog has pulled a folded sheet of paper from under that stand of flowers! Perhaps it may be of consequence."
"Fly! Take it up, George!" cried Lady Hilliars; "Esop will tear it to atoms whilst you are asking questions."
After a chase round the room, over chairs and under tables, George Hilliars at length plucked the devoted piece of paper out of the dog's mouth; and as Miss Beaufort was gathering up her working materials to leave the room, he opened it and cried, in a voice of triumph, "By Jove, it is a copy of verses!"