"Verses!" demanded Euphemia, feeling in her pocket, and coloring; "let me see them."
"That you sha'n't," roared Lascelles, catching them out of the boy's hand; "if they are your writing, we will have them."
"Help me, Mary!" cried Euphemia, turning to Miss Beaufort; "I know that nobody is a poet in this house but myself. They must be mine, and I will have them."
"Surely, Mr. Lascelles," said Mary, compassionating the poor girl's anxiety, "you will not be so rude as to detain them from their right owner?"
"Oh! but I will," cried he, mounting on a table to get out of Euphemia's reach, who, half crying, tried to snatch at the paper. "Let me alone, Miss Phemy. I will read them; so here goes it."
Miss Dundas laughed at her sister's confused looks, whilst Lascelles prepared to read in a loud voice the following verses. They had been hastily written in pencil by Thaddeus a long time ago; and having put them, by mistake, with some other papers into his pocket, he had dropped them next day, in taking out his handkerchief at Lady Dundas's. Lascelles cleared his throat with three hems, then raising his right hand with a flourishing action, in a very pompous tone began—
"Like one whom Etna's torrent fires have sent Far from the land where his first youth was spent; Who, inly drooping on a foreign shore, Broods over scenes which charm his eyes no more: And while his country's ruin wakes the groan, Yearns for the buried hut he called his own. So driv'n, O Poland! from thy ravaged plains, So mourning o'er thy sad and but loved remains, A houseless wretch, I wander through the world, From friends, from greatness, and from glory hurl'd!
"Oh! not that each long night my weary eyes Sink into sleep, unlull'd by Pity's sighs; Not that in bitter tears my bread is steep'd— Tears drawn by insults on my sorrows heap'd; Not that my thoughts recall a mother's grave— Recall the sire I would have died to save, Who fell before me, bleeding on the field, Whilst I in vain opposed the useless shield. Ah! not for these I grieve! Though mental woe, More deadly still, scarce Fancy's self could know! O'er want and private griefs the soul can climb,— Virtue subdues the one, the other Time: But at his country's fall, the patriot feels A grief no time, no drug, no reason heals.
"Mem'ry! remorseless murderer, whose voice Kills as it sounds; who never says, Rejoice! To my deserted heart, by joy forgot; Thou pale, thou midnight spectre, haunt me not! Thou dost but point to where sublimely stands A glorious temple, reared by Virtue's hands, Circled with palms and laurels, crown'd with light, Darting Truth's piercing sun on mortal sight: Then rushing on, leagued fiends of hellish birth Level the mighty fabric with the earth! Slept the red bolt of Vengeance in that hour When virtuous Freedom fell the slave of Power! Slumber'd the God of Justice! that no brand Blasted with blazing wing the impious band! Dread God of Justice! to thy will I kneel, Though still my filial heart must bleed and feel; Though still the proud convulsive throb will rise, When fools my country's wrongs and woes despise;
When low-soul'd Pomp, vain Wealth, that Pity gives, Which Virtue ne'er bestows and ne'er receives,— That Pity, stabbing where it vaunts to cure, Which barbs the dart of Want, and makes it sure. How far removed from what the feeling breast Yields boastless, breathed in sighs to the distress'd! Which whispers sympathy, with tender fear, And almost dreads to pour its balmy tear. But such I know not now! Unseen, alone, I heave the heavy sigh, I draw the groan; And, madd'ning, turn to days of liveliest joy, When o'er my native hills I cast mine eyes, And said, exulting—"Freemen here shall sow The seed that soon in tossing gold shall glow! While Plenty, led by Liberty, shall rove, Gay and rejoicing, through the land they love; And 'mid the loaded vines, the peasant see His wife, his children, breathing out,—'We're free!' But now, O wretched land! above thy plains, Half viewless through the gloom, vast Horror reigns, No happy peasant, o'er his blazing hearth, Devotes the supper hour to love and mirth; No flowers on Piety's pure altar bloom; Alas! they wither now, and strew her tomb! From the Great Book of Nations fiercely rent, My country's page to Lethe's stream is sent— But sent in vain! The historic Muse shall raise O'er wronged Sarmatia's cause the voice of praise,— Shall sing her dauntless on the field of death, And blast her royal robbers' bloody wrath!"
"It must be Constantine's!" cried Euphemia, in a voice of surprised delight, while springing up to take the paper out of the deriding reader's hand when he finished.
"I dare say it is," answered the ill-natured Lascelles, holding it above his head. "You shall have it; only first let us hear it again, it is so mighty pretty, so very lackadaisical!"
"Give it to me!" cried Euphemia, quite angry.
"Don't, Lascelles," exclaimed Miss Dundas, "the man must be a perfect idiot to write such rhodomontade."
"O! it is delectable!" returned her lover, opening the paper again; "it would make a charming ditty! Come, I will sing it. Shall it be to the tune of 'The Babes in the Wood,' or 'Chevy Chase,' or 'The Beggar of Bethnal Green?"
"Pitiless, senseless man!" exclaimed Mary, rising from her chair, where she had been striving to subdue the emotions with which every line in the poem filled her heart.
"Monster!" cried the enraged Euphemia, taking courage at Miss Beaufort's unusual warmth; "I will have the paper."
"You sha'n't," answered the malicious coxcomb; and raising his arm higher than her reach, he tore it in a hundred pieces. "I'll teach pretty ladies to call names!"
At this sight, no longer able to contain herself, Mary rushed out of the room, and hurrying to her chamber, threw herself upon the bed, where she gave way to a paroxysm of tears which shook her almost to suffocation.
During the first burst of her indignation, her agitated spirit breathed every appellation of abhorrence and reproach on Lascelles and his malignant mistress. Then wiping her flowing eyes, she exclaimed, "Yet can I wonder, when I compare Constantine with what they are? The man who dares to be virtuous beyond others, and to appear so, arms the self-love of all common characters against him."
Such being her meditations, she excused herself from joining the family at dinner, and it was not until evening that she felt herself at all able to treat the ill-natured group with decent civility.
To avoid spending more hours than were absolutely necessary in the company of a woman she now loathed, next morning Miss Beaufort borrowed Lady Dundas's sedan-chair, and ordering it to Lady Tinemouth's, found her at home alone, but evidently much discomposed.
"I intrude on you, Lady Tinemouth!" said Mary, observing her looks, and withdrawing from the offered seat.
"No, my dear Miss Beaufort," replied she, "I am glad you are come. I assure you I have few pleasures in solitude. Read that letter," added she, putting one into her hand: "it has just conveyed one of the cruelest stabs ever offered by a son to the heart of his mother. Read it, and you will not be surprised at finding me in the state you see."
The countess looked on her almost paralyzed hands as she spoke; and Miss Beaufort taking the paper, sat down and read to herself the following letter:
TO THE RIGHT HONORABLE THE COUNTESS OF TINEMOUTH.
"I am commissioned by the earl, my father, to inform you that if you have lost all regard for your own character, he considers that some respect is due to the mother of his children; therefore he watches your conduct.
"He has been apprized of your frequent meetings, during these many months past, in Grosvenor Place, and at other people's houses, with an obscure foreigner, your declared lover. The earl wished to suppose this false, until your shameless behavior became so flagrant, that he esteems it worthy neither of doubt nor indulgence.
"With his own eyes he saw you four nights ago alone with this man in Hyde Park. Such demonstration is dreadful. Your proceedings are abominable; and if you do not, without further parley, set off either to Craighall, in Cornwall, or to the Wolds, you shall receive a letter from my sister as well as myself, to tell the dishonored Lady Tinemouth how much she merits her daughter's contempt, added to that of her brother.
Mary was indeed heart-struck at the contents of this letter, but most especially at the accusation which so distinctly pointed out the innocent object of her already doubly-excited pity. "Oh! why these persecutions," cried her inward soul to heaven, "against an apparently obscure but noble, friendless stranger?" Unable to collect her thoughts to make any proper remarks whatever on the letter to Lady Tinemouth, she hastily exclaimed, "It is indeed horrible; and what do you mean to do, my honored friend?"
"I will obey my lord!" returned the countess, with a meek but firm emphasis. "My last action will be in obedience to his will. I cannot live long; and when I am dead, perhaps the earl's vigilance may be satisfied; perhaps some kind friend may then plead my cause to my daughter's heart. One cruel line from her would kill me. I will at least avoid the completion of that threat, by leaving town to-morrow night."
"What! so soon? But I hope not so far as Cornwall?"
"No," replied her ladyship; "Craighall is too near Plymouth; I determine on the Wolds. Yet why should I have a choice? It is almost a matter of indifference to what spot I am banished—in what place I am to die; anywhere to which my earthly lord would send me, I shall be equally remote from the sympathy of a friend."
Miss Beaufort's heart was oppressed when she entered the room! Lady Tinemouth's sorrows seemed to give her a license to weep. She took her ladyship's hand, and with difficulty sobbed out this inarticulate proposal:—"Take me with you, dear Lady Tinemouth! I am sure my guardian will be happy to permit me to be with you, where and how long you please."
"My dear young friend," replied the countess, kissing her tearful cheek, "I thank you from my heart; but I cannot take so ungenerous an advantage of your goodness as to consign your tender nature to the harassing task of attending on sorrow and sickness. How strangely different may even amiable dispositions be tempered! Sophia Egerton is better framed for such an office. Kind as she is, the hilarity of her disposition does nor allow the sympathy she bestows on others to injure either her mind or her body."
Mary interrupted her. "Ah! I should be grieved to believe that my very aptitude to serve my friends will prove the first reason why I should be denied the duty. It is only in scenes of affliction that friendship can be tried, and declare its truth. If Miss Egerton were not going with you, I should certainly insist on putting my affection to the ordeal.'
"You mistake, my sweet friend." returned her ladyship; "Sophia is forbidden to remain any longer with me. You have overlooked the postscript to Lord Harwold's letter, else you must have seen the whole of my cruel situation. Turn over the leaf."
Miss Beaufort re-opened the sheet, and read the following few lines, which, being written on the interior part of the paper, had before escaped her sight:—
"Go where you will, it is our special injunction that you leave Miss Egerton behind you. She, we hear, has been the ambassadress in this intrigue. If we learn that you disobey, it shall be worse for you in every respect, as it will convince us, beyond a possibility of doubt, how uniform is the turpitude of your conduct."
Lady Tinemouth grasped Miss Beaufort's hand when she laid the matricidal letter back upon the table. "And that is from the son for whom I felt all a mother's throes—all a mother's love!—Had he died the first hour in which he saw the light, what a mass of guilt might he not have escaped! It is he," added she, in a lower voice, and looking wildly round, "that breaks my heart. I could have borne his father's perfidy; but insult, oppression, from my child! Oh, Mary, may you never know its bitterness!"
Miss Beaufort could only answer with her tears.
After a pause of many minutes, in which the countess strove to tranquillize her spirits, she resumed in a more composed voice.
"Excuse me for an instant, my dear Miss Beaufort; I must write to Mr. Constantine. I have yet to inform him that my absence is to be added to his other misfortunes."
With her eyes now raining down upon the paper, she took up a pen and hastily writing a few lines, was sealing them when Mary, looking up, hardly conscious of the words which escaped her, said, with inarticulate anxiety, "Lady Tinemouth, you know much of that noble and unhappy young man?" Her eyes irresolute and her cheek glowing, she awaited the answer of the countess, who continued to gaze on the letter she held in her hand, as if in profound thought; then all at once raising her head, and regarding the now downcast face of her lovely friend with tenderness, she replied, in a tone which conveyed the deep interest of her thoughts:—
"I do, Miss Beaufort; but he has reposed his griefs in my friendship and honor, therefore I must hold them sacred."
"I will not ask you to betray them," returned Mary, in a faltering voice; "yet I cannot help lamenting his sufferings, and I esteeming the fortitude with which he supports his fall."
The countess looked steadfastly on her fluctuating countenance. "Has Constantine, my dear girl, hinted to you that he ever was otherwise than as he now appears?"
Miss Beaufort could not reply. She would not trust her lips with words, but shook her head in sign that he had not. Lady Tinemouth was too well read in the human heart to doubt for an instant the cause of her question, and consequent emotion. Feeling that something was due to an anxiety so disinterested, she took her passive hand, and said, "Mary, you have guessed rightly. Though I am not authorized to tell you the real name of Mr. Constantine, nor the particulars of his history, yet let this satisfy your generous heart, that it can never be more honorably employed than in compassionating calamities which ought to wreath his young brows with glory."
Miss Beaufort's eyes streamed afresh, whilst her exulting soul seemed ready to rush from her bosom.
"Mary!" continued the countess, wanned by the recollection of his excellence, "you have no need to blush at the interest which you take in this amiable stranger! Every trial of spirit which could have tortured youth or manhood has been endured by him with the firmness of a hero. Ah, my sweet friend," added the countess, pressing the hand of the confused Miss Beaufort, who, ashamed, and conscious that her behavior betrayed how dearly she considered him, had covered her face with her handkerchief, "when you are disposed to believe that a man is as great as his titles and personal demands seem to assert, examine with a nice observance whether his pretensions be real or artificial. Imagine him disrobed of splendor and struggling with the world's inclemencies. If his character cannot stand this ordeal, he is only a vain pageant, inflated and garnished; and it is reasonable to punish such arrogance with contempt. But on the contrary, when, like Constantine, he rises from the ashes of his fortunes in a brighter blaze of virtue, then, dearest girl," cried the countess, encircling her with her arms, "it is the sweetest privilege of loveliness to console and bless so rare a being."
Mary raised her weeping face from the bosom of her friend, and clasping her hands together with trepidation and anguish, implored her to be as faithful to her secret as she had proved herself to Constantine's. "I would sooner die," added she, "than have him know my rashness, perhaps my indelicacy! Let me possess his esteem, Lady Tinemouth! Let him suppose that I only esteem him! More I should shrink from. I have seen him beset by some of my sex; and to be classed with them—to have him imagine that my affection is like theirs!—I could not bear it. I entreat you, let him respect me!"
The impetuosity, and almost despair, with which Miss Beaufort uttered these incoherent sentences penetrated the soul of Lady Tinemouth with admiration. How different was the spirit of this pure and dignified love to the wild passion she had seen shake the frame of Lady Sara Ross.
They remained silent for some time.
"May I see your ladyship to-morrow?" asked Mary, drawing her cloak about her.
"I fear not," replied the countess; "I leave this house tomorrow morning."
Miss Beaufort rose; her lips, hands, and feet trembled so that she could hardly stand. Lady Tinemouth put her arm round her waist, and kissing her forehead, added, "Heaven bless you, my sweet friend! May all the wishes of your innocent heart be gratified!"
The countess supported her to the door. Mary hesitated an instant; then flinging her snowy arms over her ladyship's neck, in a voice scarcely audible, articulated, "Only tell me, does he love Euphemia?"
Lady Tinemouth strained her to her breast. "No, my dearest girl; I am certain, both from what I have heard him say and observed in his eyes, that did he dare to love any one, you would be the object of his choice."
How Miss Beaufort got into Lady Dundas's sedan-chair she had no recollection, so completely was she absorbed in the recent scene. Her mind was perplexed, her heart ached; and she arrived in Harley Street so much disordered and unwell as to oblige her to retire immediately to her room, with the excuse of a violent pain in her head.
PASSION AND PRINCIPLE.
This interview induced Lady Tinemouth to destroy the note she had written to Thaddeus, and to frame another, better calculated to produce comfort to all parties. What she had declared to Mary respecting the state of the count's affections was sincere.
She had early pierced the veil of bashfulness with which Miss Beaufort overshadowed, when in his presence, that countenance so usually the tablet of her soul. The countess easily translated the quick receding of her eye whenever Thaddeus turned his attention towards her, the confused reply that followed any unexpected question from his lips, and, above all, the unheeded sighs heaved by her when he left the room, or when his name was mentioned during his absence. These symptoms too truly revealed to Lady Tinemouth the state of her young friend's bosom.
But the circumstances being different, her observations on Thaddeus were not nearly so conclusive. Mary had absolutely given the empire of her happiness, with her heart, into his hands. Thaddeus felt that his ruined hopes ought to prevent him laying his at her feet, could he even be made to believe that he had found any favor in her sight! and regarding her as a being beyond his reach, he conceived no suspicions that she entertained one dearer thought of him than what mere philanthropy could authorize.
He contemplated her unequalled beauty, graces, talents and virtues with an admiration bordering on idolatry! yet his heart flew from the confession that he loved her; and it was not until reason demanded of his sincerity why he felt a pang on seeing Mary's purse in the hands of Mr. Lascelles, that with a glowing cheek he owned to himself that he was jealous: that although he had not presumed to elevate one wish towards the possession of Miss Beaufort, yet when Lascelles flaunted her name on his tongue, he found how deep would be the wound in his peace should she ever give her hand to another than himself!
Confounded at this discovery of a passion the seeds of which he supposed had been crushed by the weight of his misfortunes and the depths of his griefs, he proceeded homewards in a trance of thought, not far differing from that of the dreamer who sinks into a harassing slumber, and, filled with terror, doubts whether he be sleeping or awake.
The sudden illness of General Butzou having put these ideas to flight, Thaddeus was sitting on the bedside, with his anxious thoughts fixed on the pale spectacle of mortality before him, when Nanny brought in a letter from the countess. He took it, and going to the window, read with mingled feelings the folding epistle:—
"TO MR. CONSTANTINE."
I know not, my dear count, when I shall be permitted to see you again: perhaps never on this side of the grave!
"Since Heaven has denied me the tenderness of my own children, it would have been a comfort to me might I have continued to act a parent's part by you. But my cruel lord, and my more cruel son, jealous of the consolation I meet in the society of my few intimate friends, command me to quit London; and as I have ever made it a rule to conform to their injunctions to the furthest extent of my power, I shall go.
"It pierces me to the soul, my dear son! (allow my maternal heart to call you by that name) it distresses me deeply that I am compelled to leave the place where you are, and the more that I cannot see you before my departure, for I quit town early to-morrow.
"Write to me often, my loved Sobieski; your letters will be some alleviation to my lot during the fulfilment of my hard duty.
"Wear the enclosed gold chain for my sake; it is one of two given me a long time ago by Miss Beaufort. If I have not greatly mistaken you, the present will now possess a double value in your estimation: indeed it ought. Sensibility and thankfulness being properties of your nature, they will not deny a lively gratitude to the generous interest with which that amiable and noble young woman regards your fate. It is impossible that the avowed Count Sobieski (whom, a year ago, I remember her animated fancy painted in colors worthy of his actions) could excite more of her esteem than I know she has bestowed on the untitled Constantine.
"She is all nobleness and affection. For, although I am sensible that she would leave much behind her in London to regret, she insists on accompanying me to the Wolds. Averse to transgress so far on her goodness, I firmly refused her offer until this evening, when I received so warm and urgent a letter from her disinterested, generous heart, that I could no longer withhold my grateful assent.
"Indeed, this lovely creature's active friendship proves of high consequence to me now, situated as I am with regard to a new whim of the earl's. Had she not thus urged me, in obedience to my lord's commands I should have been obliged to go alone, he having taken some wild antipathy to Miss Egerton whose company he has interdicted. At any rate, her parents would not have allowed me her society much longer, for Mr. Montresor is to return this month.
"I shall not be easy, my dear count, until I hear from you. Pray write soon, and inform me of every particular respecting the poor general. Is he likely to recover?
"In all things, my loved son, in which I can serve you, remember that I expect you will refer yourself to me as to a mother. Your own could hardly have regarded you with deeper tenderness than does your affectionate and faithful
"GROSVENOR PLACE," Thursday, midnight.
"Direct to me at Harwold Place, Wolds, Lincolnshire."
Several opposite emotions agitated the mind of Thaddeus whilst reading this epistle,—increased abhorrence of the man whom he believed to be his father, and distress at the increase of his cruelty to his unhappy wife! Yet these could neither subdue the balmy effect of her maternal affection towards himself nor wholly check the emotion which the unusual mentioning of Miss Beaufort's name had caused his heart to throb. He read the sentence which contained the assurance of her esteem a third time.
"Delicious poison!" cried he, kissing the paper; "if adoring thee, lovely Mary, be added to my other trials, I shall be resigned! There is sweetness even in the thought. Could I credit all which my dear lady Tinemouth affirms, the conviction that I possess one kind solicitude in the mind of Miss Beaufort would be ample compensation for—-"
He did not finish the sentence, but sighing profoundly, rose from his chair.
"For anything, except beholding her the bride of another!" was the sentiment with which his heart swelled. Thaddeus had never known a selfish wish in his life; and this first instance of his desiring that good to be unappropriated which he might not himself enjoy, made him start.
"There is an evil in my breast I wotted not of!" Dissatisfied with himself at this, he was preparing to answer her ladyship's letter, when turning to the date, he discovered that it had been written on Thursday night, and in consequence of Nanny's neglect in not calling at the coffee-house, had been delayed a day and a half before it reached him.
His disappointment at this accident was severe. She was gone, and Miss Beaufort along with her.
"Then, indeed, I am unfortunate. Yet this treasure!" cried he, fondly clasping the separated bracelet in his hand; "it will, indeed, be a representative of both—honored, beloved—to this deserted heart!"
He put the chain round his neck, and, with a true lover-like feeling, thought that it warmed the heart which mortification had chilled; but the fancy was evanescent, and he again turned to watch the fading life of his friend.
During the lapse of a few days, in which the general appeared merely to breathe, Thaddeus, instead of his attendance, despatched regular notes of excuse to Harley Street. In answer to these, he commonly received little tender billets from Euphemia, the strain of which he seemed totally to overlook, by the cold respect he evinced in his continued diurnal apologies for absence.
This young lady was so full of her own lamentations over the trouble which her elegant tutor must endure in watching his sick friend, that she never thought it worth while to mention in her notes any creature in the house excepting herself, and her commiseration. Thaddeus longed to inquire about Miss Beaufort; but the more he wished it, the greater was his reluctance to write her name.
Things were in this situation, when one evening, as he was reading by the light of a solitary candle in his little sitting-room, the door opened, and Nanny stepped in, followed by a female wrapped in a large black cloak. Thaddeus rose.
"A lady, sir," said Nanny, curtseying.
The moment the girl withdrew, the visitor cast herself into a chair, and sobbing aloud, seemed in violent agitation. Thaddeus, astonished and alarmed, approached her, and, though she was unknown, offered her every assistance in his power.
Catching hold of the hand which, with the greatest respect, he extended towards her, she instantly displayed to his dismayed sight the features of Lady Sara Ross.
"Merciful Heaven!" exclaimed he, involuntarily starting back.
"Do not cast me off, Constantine!" cried she, clasping his arm, and looking up to him with a face of anguish; "on you alone I now depend for happiness—for existence!"
A cold damp stood on the forehead of her auditor.
"Dear Lady Sara, what am I to understand by this emotion; has anything dreadful happened? Is Captain Ross—"
Lady Sara shuddered, and still grasping his hand, answered with words every one of which palsied the heart of Thaddeus. "He is coming home. He is now at Portsmouth. O, Constantine! I am not yet so debased as to live with him when my heart is yours."
At this shameful declaration, Thaddeus clenched his teeth in agony of spirit; and placing his hand upon his eyes, to shut her from his sight, he turned suddenly round and walked towards another part of the room.
Lady Sara followed him. Her cloak having fallen off, now displayed her fine form in all the fervor of grief and distraction. She rung her fair and jewelled arms in despair, and with accents rendered more piercing by the anguish of her mind, exclaimed, "What! You hate me? You throw me from you? Cruel, barbarous Constantine! Can you drive from your feet the woman who adores you? Can you cast her who is without a home into the streets?"
Thaddeus felt his hand wet with her tears. He fixed his eyes upon her with almost delirious horror. Her hat being off, gave freedom to her long black hair, which, falling in masses over her figure and face, gave such additional wildness to the imploring and frantic expression of her eyes, that his distracted soul felt reeling within him.
"Rise, madam! For Heaven's sake, Lady Sara!" and he stooped to raise her.
"Never!" cried she, clinging to him—"never! till you promise to protect me. My husband comes home to-night, and I have left his house forever. You—you!" exclaimed she, extending her hand to his averted face; "Oh, Constantine! you have robbed me of my peace! On your account I have flown from my home. For mercy's sake, do not abandon me!"
"Lady Sara," cried he, looking in desperation around him, "I cannot speak to you in this position! Rise, I implore you!"
"Only," returned she, "only say that you will protect me!—that I shall find shelter here! Say this, and I will rise and bless you forever."
Thaddeus stood aghast, not knowing how to reply. Terror-struck at the violent lengths to which she seemed determined to carry her unhappy and guilty passion, he in vain sought to evade this direct demand. Lady Sara, perceiving the reluctance and horror of his looks, sprang from her knees, while in a more resolute voice she exclaimed, "Then, sir, you will not protect me? You scorn and desert a woman whom you well know has long loved you?—whom, by your artful behavior, you have seduced to this disgrace!"
The count, surprised and shocked at this accusation, with gentleness, but resolution, denied the charge.
Lady Sara again melted into tears, and supporting her tottering frame against his shoulder, replied, in a stifled voice, "I know it well: I have nothing to blame for my wretched state but my own weakness. Pardon, dear Constantine, the dictates of my madness! Oh! I would gladly owe such misery to any other source than myself!"
"Then, respected lady," rejoined Thaddeus, gaining courage from the mildness of her manner, "let me implore you to return to your own house!"
"Don't ask me," cried she, grasping his hand. "O, Constantine! if you knew what it was to receive with smiles of affection a creature whom you loathe, you would shrink with disgust from what you require. I detest Captain Ross. Can I open my arms to meet him, when my heart excludes him forever? Can I welcome him home when I wish him in his grave?"
Sobieski extricated his hand from her grasp. Her ladyship perceived the repugnance which dictated this action, and with renewed violence ejaculated, "Unhappy woman that I am! to hate where I am loved! to love where I am hated! Kill me, Constantine!" cried she, turning suddenly towards him, and sinking clown on a chair, "but do not give me such another look as that!"
"Dear Lady Sara," replied he, seating himself by her side, "what would you have me do? You see that I have no proper means of protecting you. I have no relations, no friends to receive you. You see that I am a poor man. Besides, your character—"
"Talk not of my character!" cried she: "I will have none that does not depend on you! Cruel Constantine! you will not understand me. I want no riches, no friends, but yourself. Give me your home and your arms," added she, throwing herself in an agony on his bosom, "and beggary would be paradise! But I shall not bring you poverty; I have inherited a fortune since I married Ross, on which he has no claim."
Thaddeus now shrunk doubly from her. Why had she not felt a sacred spell in that husband's name? He shuddered, and tore himself from her clinging arms. Holding her off with his hand, he exclaimed, in a voice of mental agony, "Infatuated woman! leave me, for his honor and your own peace."
"No, no!" cried she, hoping she had gained some advantage over his agitated feelings, and again casting herself at his feet, exclaimed, "Never will I leave this spot till you consent that your home shall be my home; that I shall serve you forever!"
Thaddeus pressed his hands upon his eyes, as if he would shut her from his sight. But with streaming tears she added, while clasping his other hand to her throbbing bosom, "Exclude me not from those dear eyes! reject me not from being your true wife, your willing slave!"
Thaddeus heard this, but he did not look on her, neither did he answer. He broke from her, and fled, in a stupor of horror at his situation, into the apartment where the general lay in a heavy sleep.
Little expecting to see anyone but the man she loved, Lady Sara rushed in after him, and was again wildly pressing towards her determined victim, when her eyes were suddenly arrested by a livid, and, she thought, dead face of a person lying on the bed. Fixed to the spot, she stood for a moment; then putting her spread hand on her forehead, uttered a faint cry, and fell soul-struck to the floor.
Having instant conviction of her mistake, Thaddeus eagerly seized the moment of her insensibility to convey her home. He hastily went to the top of the stairs, called to Nanny to run for a coach, and then returning to the extended figure of Lady Sara, lifted her in his arms and carried her back to the room they had left.
By the help of a little water, he restored her to a sense of existence. She slowly opened her eyes; then raising her head, looked round with a terrified air, when her eye falling on the still open door of the general's room, she caught Thaddeus by the arm, and said, in a shuddering voice, "Oh! take me hence."
Whilst she yet spoke, the coach stopped at the door. The count rose, and attempted to support her agitated frame on his arm; but she trembled so, he was obliged to almost carry her down stairs.
When he placed her in the carriage, she said, in a faint tone, "You surely will not leave me?"
Thaddeus made no reply; then desiring Nanny to sit by the general until his return, which should be in a few minutes, and having stepped into the coach, Lady Sara snatched his hand, while in dismayed accents she quickly said,
"Who was that fearful person?"
"Alas! the revered friend whose long illness Lady Tinemouth has sometimes mentioned in your presence."
Lady Sara shuddered again, but with a rush of tears, while she added imploringly, "Then, whither are you going to take me?"
"You shall again, dear Lady Sara," replied he, "return to guiltless and peaceful home."
"I cannot meet my husband," cried she, wringing her hands; "he will see all my premeditated guilt in my countenance. O! Constantine, have pity on me! Miserable creature that I am! It is horrible to live without you! It is dreadful to live with him! Take me not home, I entreat you!"
The count took her clasped hands in his, saying,
"Reflect for a moment. Lady Tinemouth's eulogiums on our first acquaintance taught me to honor you. I believe that when you distinguished me with any portion of your regard, it was in consequence of virtues which you thought I possessed."
"Indeed, you do me justice!" cried she, with renewed energy.
He continued, feeling that he must be stern in words as well as in purpose if he would really rescue her from herself. "Think, then, should I yield to the influence of your beauty, and sink your respected name to a level with those"—and he pointed to a group of wretched women assembled at the corner of Pall-Mall. "Think, where would be the price of your innocence? I being no longer worthy of your esteem, you would hate yourself; and we should continue together, two guilty creatures, abhorring each other, and justly despised by a virtuous world."
Lady Sara sat as one dumb, and did not inarticulate any sound—except the groan of horror which had shot through her when she had glanced at those women—until the coach stopped in James's Place.
"Go in with me," were all the words she could utter, while, pulling her veil over her face, she gave him her hand to assist her down the steps.
"Is Captain Ross arrived?" asked Thaddeus of a servant, who, to his great joy, replied in the negative. During the drive, he had alarmed himself by anticipating the disagreeable suspicions which might rise in the mind of the husband should he see his wife in her present strange and distracted state.
When Thaddeus seated Lady Sara in her drawing room, he offered to take a respectful leave; but she laid one hand on his arm, whilst with the other she covered her convulsed features, and said, "Constantine, before you go, before we part perhaps eternally, O! tell me that you do not, even now, hate me!—that you do not hate me!" repeated she, in a firmer tone; "I know too well how deeply I am despised."
"Cease, ah, cease these vehement self-reproaches!" returned he, tenderly replacing her on the sofa. "Shame does not depend on possessing passions, but in yielding to them. You have conquered yours, dear Lady Sara; and in future I must respect and love you like a sister of my heart."
"Noble Constantine! there is no guile in thee," exclaimed she, straining his hand to her lips. "May Heaven bless you wherever you go!"
He dropped on his knees, imprinted on both her hands a true brother's sacred kiss, and, hastily rising, was quitting the room without a word, when he heard, in a short, low sound from her voice, "O, why had I not a mother, a sister, to love and pity me! Should I have been such a wretch as now?"
Thaddeus turned from the door at the tone and substance of this apparently unconsciously uttered apostrophe. She was standing with her hands clasped, and her eyes fixed on the ground. By an irresistible impulse he approached her. "Lady Sara," said he, with a tender reverence in his voice, "there is penitence and prayer to a better Parent in those words! Look up to Him, and He will save you from yourself, and bless you in your husband."
She did raise her eyes at this adjuration, and without one earthward glance at her young monitor in their movement to the heaven she sought. Neither did she speak, but pressed, with an unutterable emotion, the hand which now held hers, while his own heart did indeed silently re-echo the prayer he saw in her upward eyes. Turning gently away, he glided, in a suffusion of grateful tears, out of the apartment.
REQUIESCAT IN PACE.
The dream-like amazement which enveloped the count's faculties after the preceding scene was dissipated next morning by the appearance of Dr. Cavendish. When he saw the general, he declared it to be his opinion that, in consequence of his long and tranquil slumbers, some favorable crisis seemed near. "Probably," added he, "the recovery of his intellects. Such phenomena in these cases often happen immediately before death."
"Heaven grant it may in this!" ejaculated Thaddeus; "to hear his venerable voice again acknowledge that I have acted by him as became the grandson of his friend, would be a comfort to me."
"But, sir," replied the kind physician, touching his burning hand, "you must not forget the cares which are due to your own life. If you wish well to the general during the few days he may have to live, you are indispensably obliged to preserve your own strength. You are already ill, and require air. I have an hour of leisure," continued he, pulling out his watch; "I will remain here till you have taken two or three walks round St. James's Park. It is absolutely necessary; in this instance I must take the privilege of friendship, and insist on obedience."
Seeing the benevolent Cavendish would not be denied, Thaddeus took his hat, and with harassed spirits walked down the lane towards Charing Cross.
On entering Spring Garden gate, to his extreme surprise the first objects that met his sight were Miss Euphemia Dundas and Miss Beaufort.
Euphemia accosted him with ten thousand inquiries respecting his friend, besides congratulations on his own good looks.
Thaddeus bowed; then smiling faintly, turned to the blushing Mary, who, conscious of what had passed in the late conversation between herself and Lady Tinemouth, trembled so much that, fearing to excite the suspicion of Euphemia by such tremor, she withdrew her arm, and walked forward alone, tottering at every step.
"I thought, Miss Beaufort," said he, addressing himself to her, "that Lady Tinemouth was to have had the happiness of your company at Harwold Park?"
"Yes," returned she, fearfully raising her eyes to his face, the hectic glow of which conveyed impressions to her different from those which Euphemia expressed; "but to my indescribable alarm and disappointment, the morning after I had written to fix my departure with her ladyship, my aunt's foot caught in the iron of the stair- carpet as she was coming down stairs, and throwing her from the top to the bottom, broke her leg. I could not quit her a moment during her agonies; and the surgeons having expressed their fears that a fever might ensue, I was obliged altogether to decline my attendance on the countess."
"And how is Miss Dorothy?" inquired Thaddeus, truly concerned at the accident.
"She is better, though confined to her bed," replied Euphemia, speaking before her companion could open her lips; "and, indeed, poor Mary and myself have been such close nurses, my mother insisted on our walking out to-day."
"And Lady Tinemouth," returned Thaddeus, again addressing Miss Beaufort, "of course she went alone?"
"Alas, yes!" replied she; "Miss Egerton was forced to join her family in Leicestershire."
"I believe," cried Euphemia, sighing, "Miss Egerton is going to be married. Hers has been a long attachment. Happy girl! I have heard Captain Ross say (whose lieutenant her intended husband was) that he is the finest young man in the navy. Did you ever see Mr. Montresor?" added she, turning her pretty eyes on the count.
"I never had that pleasure."
"Bless me! that is odd, considering your intimacy with Miss Egerton. I assure you he is very charming."
Thaddeus neither heard this nor a great deal more of the same trifling chit-chat which was slipping from the tongue of Miss Euphemia, so intently were his eyes (sent by his heart) searching the downcast but expressive countenance of Miss Beaufort. His soul was full; and the fluctuations of her color, with the embarrassment of her step, more than affected him.
"Then you do not leave town for some time, Miss Beaufort?" inquired he; "I may yet anticipate the honor of seeing—" he hesitated a moment, then added in a depressed tone—"your aunt, when I next wait on the Misses Dundas."
"Our stay depends entirely on her health" returned she, striving to rally herself; "and I am sure she will be happy to find you better; for I am sorry to say I cannot agree with Euphemia in thinking you look well."
"Merely a slight indisposition," replied he, "the effect of an anxiety which I fear will too soon cease in the death of its cause. I came out now for a little air, whilst the physician remains with my revered friend."
"Poor old gentleman!" sighed Mary; "how venerable was his appearance the morning in which we saw him in the Park! What a benign countenance!"
"His countenance," replied Thaddeus, his eyes turning mournfully towards the lovely speaker, "is the emblem of his character. He was the most amiable of men."
"And you are likely to lose so interesting a friend; dear Mr. Constantine, how I pity you!" While Euphemia uttered these words, she put the corner of her glove to her eye.
The count looked at her, and perceiving that her commiseration was affectation, he turned to Miss Beaufort, who was walking pensively by his side, and made further inquiries respecting Miss Dorothy. Anxious to be again with his invalid, he was preparing to quit them, when Mary, as with a full heart she curtseyed her adieu, in a hurried and confused manner, said—"Pray, Mr. Constantine, take care of yourself. You have other friends besides the one you are going to lose. I know Lady Tinemouth, I know my aunt—" She stopped short, and, covered with blushes, stood panting for another word to close the sentence; when Thaddeus, forgetting all presence but her own, with delighted precipitancy caught hold of the hand which, in her confusion, was a little extended towards him, and pressing it with fervor, relinquished it immediately; then, overcome by confusion at the presumption of the action, he bowed with agitation to both ladies, and hastened through the Friary passage into St. James's Street.
"Miss Beaufort!" cried Euphemia, reddening with vexation, and returning a perfumed handkerchief to her pocket, "I did not understand that you and Mr. Constantine were on such intimate terms!"
"What do you mean, Euphemia?"
"That you have betrayed the confidence I reposed in you," cried the angry beauty, wiping away the really starting tears with her white lace cloak. "I told you the elegant Constantine was the lord of my heart; and you have seduced him from me! Till you came, he was so respectful, so tender, so devoted! Bat I am rightly used! I ought to have carried my secret to the grave."
In vain Miss Beaufort protested; in vain she declared herself ignorant of possessing any power over even one wish of Constantine's. Euphemia thought it monstrous pretty to be the injured friend and forsaken mistress; and all along the Park, and up Constitution-hill, until they arrived at Lady Dundas's carriage, which was waiting opposite Devonshire wall, she affected to weep. When seated, she continued her invectives. She called Miss Beaufort ungenerous, perfidious, traitor to friendship, and every romantic and disloyal name which her inflamed fancy could devise; till the sight of Harley Street checked her transports, and relieved her patient hearer from a load of impertinence and reproach.
During this short interview, Thaddeus had received an impulse to his affections which hurried them forward with a force that neither time nor succeeding sorrows could stop nor stem.
Mary's heavenly-beaming eyes seemed to have encircled his head with love's purest halo. The command, "Preserve yourself for others besides your dying friend," yet throbbed at his heart; and with ten thousand rapturous visions flitting before his sight, he trod in air, until the humble door of his melancholy home presenting itself, at once wrecked the illusion, and offered sad reality in the person of his emaciated friend.
On the count's entrance to the sick chamber, Doctor Cavendish gave him a few directions to pursue when the general should awake from the sleep into which he had been sunk for so many hours. With a heart the more depressed from its late unusual exaltation, Thaddeus sat down at the side of the invalid's bed for the remainder of the day.
At five in the afternoon, General Butzou awoke. Seeing the count, he stretched out his withered hand, and as the doctor predicted, accosted him rationally.
"Come, dear Sobieski! Come nearer, my dear master."
Thaddeus rose, and throwing himself on his knees, took the offered hand with apparent composure. It was a hard struggle to restrain the emotions which were roused by this awful contemplation the return of reason to the soul on the instant she was summoned into the presence of her Maker!
"My kind, my beloved lord!" added Butzou, "to me you have indeed performed a Christian's part; you have clothed, sheltered and preserved me in your bosom. Blessed son of my most honored master!"
The good old man put the hand of Thaddeus to his lips. Thaddeus could not speak.
"I am going, dear Sobieski," continued the general, in a lower voice, "where I shall meet your noble grandfather, your mother, and my brave countrymen; and if Heaven grants me power, I will tell them by whose labor I have lived, on whose breast I have expired."
Thaddeus could no longer restrain his tears.
"Dear, dear general!" exclaimed he, grasping his hand; "my grandfather, my mother, my country! I lose them all again in thee! O! would that the same summons took me hence!"
"Hush!" returned the dying man; "Heaven reserves you, my honored lord, for wise purposes. Youth and health are the marks of commission: [Footnote: I cannot but pause here, in revising the volume, to publicly express the emotion (grateful to Heaven) I experienced on receiving a letter quoting these words, many, many years ago. It was from the excellent Joseph Fox, the well-known Christian philanthropist of our country, who spent both his fortune and his life in establishing and sustaining several of our best charitable and otherwise patriotic institutions. And once, when some of his anxious friends would gladly have persuaded him to grant himself more personal indulgences, and to labor less in the then recently-begun plans for national education, he wrote "to the author of Thaddeus of Warsaw," and, quoting to her those words from the work, declared "they were on his heart! and he would, with the blessing of God, perform what he believed to be his commission to the last powers of his youth and health."
This admirable man has now been long removed to his heavenly country— to the everlasting dwelling-place of the just made perfect. And such recollections cannot but make an historical novel-writer at least feel answerable for more, in his or her pages, than the purposes of mere amusement. They guide by examples. Plutarch, in his lives of Grecian and Roman Worthies taught more effectually the heroic and virtuous science of life than did all his philosophical works put together.] you possess them, with virtues which will bear you through the contest. I have done; and my merciful Judge has evinced his pardon of my errors by sparing me in my old age, and leading me to die with you."
Thaddeus pressed his friend's hand to his streaming eyes, and promised to be resigned. Butzou smiled his satisfaction; then closing his eyelids, he composed himself to a rest that was neither sleep nor stupor, but a balmy serenity, which seemed to be tempering his lately recovered soul for its immediate entrance on a world of eternal peace.
At nine o'clock his breath became broken with quick sighs. The count's heart trembled, and he drew closer to the pillow. Butzou felt him; and opening his eyes languidly, articulated, "Raise my head."
Thaddeus put his arm under his neck, and lifting him up, reclined him against his bosom. Butzou grasped his hands, and looking gratefully in his face, said, "The arms of a soldier should be a soldier's death-bed. I am content."
He lay for a moment on the breast of the almost fainting Thaddeus; then suddenly quitting his hold, he cried, "I lose you, Sobieski! But there is——" and he gazed fixedly forward.
"I am here," exclaimed the count, catching his motionless hand. The dying general murmured a few words more, and turning his face inward, breathed his last sigh on the bosom of his last friend.
For a minute Sobieski continued incapable of thought or action. When he recovered recollection, he withdrew from his melancholy station. Laying the venerable remains back on the bed, he did not trust his rallied faculties with a second trial, but hastening down stairs, was met by Mrs. Robson.
"My dear madam," said he, "all is over with my poor friend. Will you do me the kindness to perform those duties to his sacred relics which I cannot?"
Thaddeus would not allow any person to watch by his friend's coffin besides himself. The meditations of this solitary night presented to his sound and sensible mind every argument rather to induce rejoicing than regret that the eventful life of the brave Butzou was terminated.
"Yes, illustrious old man!" cried he, gazing on his marble features; "if valor and virtue be the true sources of nobility, thou surely wast noble! Inestimable defender of Stanislaus and thy country! thou hast run a long and bright career; and though thou art fated to rest in the humble grave of poverty, it will be embalmed by the tears of Heaven—it will be engraven on my heart."
Thaddeus did not weep whilst he spoke. Nor did he weep when he beheld the mold of St. Paul's, Covent Garden, close from his view the last remains of his friend. It began to rain. The uncovered head of the officiating minister was wet; and so was that of a little delicate boy, in a black cloak, who stood near, holding the aged rector's hat during the service. As the shower descended faster, Dr. Cavendish put his arm through the count's to draw him away, but he lingered an instant, looking on the mold while the sexton piled it up. "Wretched Poland!" sighed he; "how far from thee lies one of thy bravest sons!" The words were breathed in so low a murmur, that none heard them except the ear of Heaven! and that little boy, whose gaze had been some time fixed on Thaddeus, and whose gentle heart never forgot them.
Dr. Cavendish, regarding with redoubled pity the now doubly desolated exile in this last resignation of his parental friend to a foreign grave, attempted to persuade him to return with him to dinner. He refused the kind invitation, alleging, with a faint smile, that under every misfortune he found his best comforter in solitude.
Respecting the resignation and manliness of this answer, Doctor Cavendish urged him no further; but expressing his regret that he could not see him again until the end of the week, as he was obliged to go to Stanford next day on a medical consultation, he shook hands with him at the door of Mrs. Robson and bade him farewell.
Thaddeus entered his lonely room, and fell on his knees before the "ark of his strength,"—the Holy Book, that had been the gift of his mother. The first page he opened presented to him the very words which had poured consolation onto his sad heart, from the lips of the venerable clergyman when he met him on his entrance into the church- porch before the coffin of his friend!
"I am the resurrection and the life, saith the Lord. He that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live; and whosoever liveth, and believeth in me, shall never die."
After reading this, how truly did the young mourner feel that "Death had lost its sting—the grave its victory."
* * * * * * *
DEEP ARE THE PURPOSES OF ADVERSITY.
Next morning, when the Count Sobieski unfolded the several packets of papers which were put into his hands by little Nanny, he laid them one after the other on the table, and sighing heavily, said to himself, "Now comes the bitterness of poverty! Heaven only knows by what means I shall pay these heavy charges."
Mere personal privations, induced by his fallen fortunes, excited little uneasiness in the mind of Thaddeus. As he never had derived peculiar gratification from the enjoyment of a magnificent house, splendid table, and numerous attendants, he was contented in the field, where he slept on the bare ground, and snatched his hasty meals at uncertain intervals. Watching, rough fare, and other hardships were dust in the path of honor; he had dashed through them with light and buoyant spirits; and he repined as little at the actual wants of his forlorn state in exile, until, compelled by friendship to contract demands which he could not defray, he was plunged at once into the full horrors of poverty and debt.
He looked at the amount of the bills. The apothecary was twelve pounds; the funeral fifteen. Thaddeus turned pale. The value of all that he possessed would not produce one half of the sum; besides, he owed five guineas to his good landlady for numerous little comforts procured for his deceased friend.
"Whatever be the consequence," cried he, "that excellent woman shall not suffer by her humanity! If I have to pay with the last memorial of those who were so dear, she shall be repaid."
He scarcely had ceased speaking, when Nanny re-entered the room, and told him the apothecary's young man and the undertaker were both below, waiting for answers to their letters. Reddening with disgust at the unfeeling haste of these men, he desired Nanny to say that he could not see either of them to-day, but would send to their houses to-morrow.
In consequence of this promise, the men made their bows to Mrs. Robson (who too well guessed the reason of this message), and took their leave.
When Thaddeus put the pictures of his mother and the palatine, with other precious articles, into his pocket, he could not forbear an internal invective against the thoughtless meanness of the Misses Dundas, who had never offered any further liquidation of the large sum they now stood indebted to him than the trifling note which had been transmitted to him, prior to his attendance, through the hands of Lady Tinemouth.
Whilst his necessities reproached them for this illiberal conduct, his proud heart recoiled at making a request to their chanty; for he had gathered from the haughty demeanor of Miss Diana that what he was entitled to demand would be given, not as a just remuneration for labor received, but as alms of humanity to an indigent emigrant.
"I would rather perish," cried he, putting on his hat, "than ask that woman for a shilling."
When the count laid his treasure on the table of the worthy pawnbroker, he desired to have the value of the settings of the pictures, and the portraits themselves put into leather cases. With the other little things, there were a pair of gold spurs, the peculiar insignia of his princely rank, which the palatine himself had buckled on his grandson's heels on mounting his noble charger for his first field. There was a peculiar pang in parting with these—a sort of last relic of what he had been! But there was no alternative: all that had any intrinsic value must pass from him.
Having examined the setting of the miniatures, and the gold of the other trinkets, with that of the spurs (which their hard service had something marred), Mr. Burket declared, on the word of an honest man, that he could not give more than fifteen pounds.
With difficulty Thaddeus stifled as torturing a sigh as ever distended his breast, whilst he said,
"I will take it, I only implore you to be careful of the things, trifling as they are; circumstances with which they were connected render them valuable to me to redeem."
"You may depend on me, sir," replied the pawnbroker, presenting him the notes and acknowledgment.
When Thaddeus took them, Mr. Burket's eye was caught by the ring on his finger.
"That ring seems curious? If you won't think me impertinent, may I ask to look at it?"
The count pulled it off, and forcing a smile, replied, "I suppose it is of little jewel value. The setting is slight, though the painting is fine."
Burket breathed on the diamonds. "If you were to sell it," returned he, "I don't think it would fetch more than three guineas. The diamonds are flawed, and the emeralds would be of little use, being out of fashion here; as for the miniature, it goes for nothing."
"Of course," said Thaddeus, putting it on again; "but I shall not part with it." While he drew on his glove, Mr. Burket asked him "whether the head were not intended for the King of Poland?"
The count, surprised, answered in the affirmative.
"I thought so," answered the man; "it is very like two or three prints which I had in my shop of that king. [Footnote: The author has a very correct likeness of this memorable king, copied from an original miniature; and it is not one of the least valued portraits in a little room which contains those of several other heroes of different countries,—friends and gallant foes.] Indeed, I believe I have them somewhere now: these matters are but a nine-day's wonder, and the sale is over."
His auditor did not clearly comprehend him, and he told him so.
"I meant nothing," continued he, "to the disparagement of the King of Poland, or of any other great personage who is much the subject of conversation. I only intended to say that everything has its fashion. The ruin of Poland was the fashionable topic for a month after it happened; and now nobody minds it—it is forgotten."
Thaddeus, in whose bosom all its miseries were written, with a clouded brow bowed to the remarks of Mr. Burket, and in silence quitted the shop.
Having arrived at home, he discharged his debt to the worthy Mrs. Robson; then entering his room, he laid the remainder of his money on the bills of the two claimants. It was unequal to the demands of either; yet, in some measure to be just to both, he determined on dividing it between them and to promise the liquidation of the rest by degrees.
Surely he might hope that, even should the Misses Dundas entirely forget his claims on them, he could, in the course of time make drawings sufficient to discharge the residue of this debt; but he was not permitted to put this calculation to the trial.
When he called on the apothecary, and offered him only half his demand, the man refused it with insolence, insisting upon having the whole then, "or he would make him pay for it!" Unused to the language of compulsion and vulgarity, the count quitted the shop saying "he was at liberty to act as he thought fit." With no very serene countenance, he entered the undertaker's warehouse. This man was civil; to him Thaddeus gave the entire sum, half of which the apothecary had rejected with so much derision. The undertaker's politeness a little calmed the irritated feelings of the count, who returned home musing on the vile nature of that class of mankind who can with indifference heap insult upon distress.
Judging men by his own disposition, he seldom gave credence to the possibility of such conduct. He had been told of dastardly spirits, but never having seen them, and possessing no archetype within his own breast of what he heard, the repeated relation passed over his mind without leaving an impression. He had entered the world filled with animating hopes of virtue and renown. He was virtuous; he became powerful, great, and renowned. Creation seemed paradise to his eyes; it was the task of adversity to teach him a different lesson of mankind. Not less virtuous, not less great, his fortunes fell: he became poor. The perfidy, the hard-heartedness of man, made and kept him friendless. When he wanted succor and consolation, he found the world peopled by a race too mean even to bear the stamp of the devil.
Whilst Sobieski was employed next morning at his drawing, Mrs. Robson sent Nanny to say that there were two strange-looking men below who wanted to speak with him. Not doubting they were messengers from the apothecary, he desired the girl to show them up stairs. When they entered his room, the count rose. One of the men stepped forward, and laying a slip of paper on the table, said, "I arrest you, sir, at the suit of Messrs. Vincent and Jackson, apothecaries!"
Thaddeus colored; but suppressing his indignant emotion, he calmly asked the men whither they were going to take him?
"If you like," replied one of them, "you may be well enough lodged. I never heard a word against Clement's in Wych Street."
"Is that a prison?" inquired Thaddeus.
"No, not exactly that, sir," answered the other man, laughing. "You seem to know little of the matter, which, for a Frenchman, is odd enough; but mayhap you have never a lock-upd-house in France, since ye pulled down the bastile! Howsoever, if you pay well, Mr. Clements will give you lodgings as long as you like. It is only poor rogues who are obligated to go to Newgate; such gemmen as you can live as ginteely in Wych Street as at their own houses."
There was such an air of derision about this fellow while he spoke, and glanced around the room, that Thaddeus, sternly contracting his brows, took no further notice of him, but, turning towards his more civil companion, said:
"Has this person informed me rightly? Am I going to a prison, or am I not? If I do not possess money to pay Mr. Jackson, I can have none to spend elsewhere."
"Then you must go to Newgate!" answered the man, in as surly a tone as his comrade's had been insolent.
"I'll run for a coach, Wilson," cried the other, opening the room door.
"I will not pay for one," said Thaddeus, at once comprehending the sort of wretches into whose custody he had fallen; "follow me down stairs. I shall walk."
Mrs. Robson was in her shop as he passed to the street. She called out, "You will come home to dinner, sir?"
"No," replied he; "but you shall hear from me before night." "The men, winking at each other, sullenly pursued his steps down the lane. In the Strand, Thaddeus asked them which way he was to proceed?"
"Straight on," cried one of them; "most folks find the road to a jail easy enough."
Involved in thought, the count walked forward, unmindful of the stare which the well-known occupation of his attendants attracted towards him. When he arrived at Somerset House, one of the men stepped up to him, and said, "We are now nearly opposite Wych Street. You had better take your mind again, and go there instead of Newgate. I don't think your honor will like the debtor's hole."
Thaddeus, coldly thanking him, repeated his determination to be led to Newgate. But when he beheld the immense walls within which he believed he should be immured for life, his feet seemed rooted to the ground; and when the massive doors were opened and closed upon him, he felt as if suddenly deprived of the vital spring of existence. A mist spread over his eyes, his soul shuddered, and with difficulty he followed the men into the place where his commitment was to be ratified. Here all the proud energies of his nature again rallied round his heart.
The brutal questions of the people in office, re-echoed by taunts from the wretches who had brought him to the prison, were of a nature so much beneath his answering, that he stood perfectly silent during the business; and when dismissed, without evincing any signs of discomposure, he followed the turnkey to his cell.
One deal chair, a table, and a miserable bed, were all the furniture it contained. The floor was paved with flags, and the sides of the apartment daubled with discolored plaster, part of which, having been peeled off by the damp, exposed to view large spaces of the naked stones.
Before the turnkey withdrew he asked Thaddeus whether he wanted anything?
"Only a pen, ink, and paper."
The man held out his hand.
"I have no money," replied Sobieski.
"Then you get nothing here," answered the fellow, pulling the door after him.
Thaddeus threw himself on the chair, and in the bitterness of his heart exclaimed, "Can these scoundrels be Christians?—can they be men?" He cast his eyes round him with the wildness of despair. "Mysterious Heaven, can it be possible that for a few guineas I am to be confined in this place for life? In these narrow bounds am I to waste my youth, my existence? Even so; I cannot, I will not, degrade the spirit of Poland by imploring assistance from any native of a land in which avarice has extinguished the feelings of humanity."
By the next morning, the first paroxysm of indignation having subsided, Thaddeus entertained a cooler and more reasonable opinion of his situation. He considered that though he was a prisoner, it was in consequence of debts incurred in behalf of a friend whose latter hours were rendered less wretched by such means. Notwithstanding "all that man could do unto him," he had brought an approving conscience to lighten the gloom of his dungeon; and resuming his wonted serenity, he continued to distance the impertinent freedom of his jailers by a calm dignity, which extorted civility and commanded respect.
* * * * * * *
AN ENGLISH PRISON.
Several days elapsed without the inhabitants of Harley Street hearing any tidings of Thaddeus.
Miss Dundas never bestowed a thought on his absence, except when, descanting on her favorite subject, "the insolence of dependent people," she alleged his daring to withdraw himself as an instance. Miss Euphemia uttered all her complaints to Miss Beaufort, whom she accused of not being satisfied with seducing the affections of Mr. Constantine, but she must also spirit him away, lest by remorse he should be induced to renew his former devotion at the shrine of her tried constancy.
Mary found these secret conferences very frequent and very teasing. She believed neither the count's past devoirs to Euphemia nor his present allegiance to herself. With anxiety she watched the slow decline of every succeeding day, hoping that each knock at the door would present either himself or an apology for his absence.
In vain her reason urged the weakness and folly of giving way to the influence of a sentiment as absorbing as it was unforeseen. "It is not his personal graces," murmured she, whilst her dewy eyes remained riveted on the floor; "they have not accomplished this effect on me! No; matchless as he is, though his countenance, when illumined by the splendors of his mind, expresses consummate beauty, yet my heart tells me I would rather see all that perfection demolished than lose one beam of those bright charities which first attracted my esteem. Yes, Constantine!" cried she, rising in agitation, "I could adore thy virtues were they even in the bosom of deformity. It is these that I love; it is these that are thyself! it is thy noble, godlike soul that so entirely fills my heart, and must forever!"
She recalled the hours which, in his society, had glided so swiftly by to pass in review before her. They came, and her tears redoubled. Neither his words nor his looks had been kinder to her than to Miss Egerton or to Lady Sara Ross. She remembered his wild action in the park: it had transported her at the moment; it even now made her heart throb; but she ceased to believe it intended more than an animated expression of gratitude.
An adverse apprehension seemed to have taken possession of her breast. In proportion to the vehemence of Miss Euphemia's reproaches (who insisted on the passion of Thaddeus for Mary), she the more doubted the evidence of those delightful emotions which had rushed over her soul when she found her hand so fervently pressed in his. Euphemia never made a secret of the tenderness she professed; and Miss Beaufort having been taught by her own heart to read distinctly the eyes of Lady Sara, the result of her observations had long acted as a caustic on her peace; it had often robbed her cheeks of their bloom, and compelled her to number the lingering minutes of the night with sighs. But her deep and modest flame assumed no violence; removed far from sight, it burnt the more intensely.
Instead of over-valuing the fine person of Thaddeus, the encomiums which it extorted, even from the lips of prejudice, occasioned one source of her pain. She could not bear to think it probable that the man whom she believed, and knew, to be gifted with every attribute of goodness and of heroism, might one day be induced to sacrifice the rich treasure of his mind to a creature who would select him from the rest merely on account of his external superiority.
Such was the train of Mary's meditations. Covering her face with her handkerchief, she exclaimed in a tender and broken voice, "Ah, why did I leave my quiet home to expose myself to the vicissitudes of society? Sequestered from the world, neither its pageants nor its mortifications could have reached me there. I have seen thee, matchless Constantine! Like a bright planet, thou has passed before me!—like a being of a superior order! And I never, never can debase my nature to change that love. Thy image shall follow me into solitude—shall consecrate my soul to the practice of every virtue! I will emulate thy excellence, when, perhaps, thou hast forgotten that I exist."
The fit of despondence which threatened to succeed this last melancholy reflection was interrupted by the sudden entrance of Euphemia. Miss Beaufort hastily rose, and drew her ringlets over her eyes.
"O, Mary!" cried the little beauty, holding up her pretty hands, "what do you think has happened?"
"What?" demanded she in alarm, and hastening towards the door; "anything to my aunt?"
"No, no," answered Euphemia, catching her by the arm; "but could my injured heart derive satisfaction from revenge, I should now be happy. Punishment has overtaken the faithless Constantine."
Miss Beaufort looked aghast, and grasping the back of the chair to prevent her from falling, breathlessly inquired what she meant?
"Oh! he is sent to prison," cried Euphemia, not regarding the real agitation of her auditor (so much was she occupied in appearing overwhelmed herself), and wringing her hands, she continued, "That frightful wretch Mr. Lascelles is just come in to dinner. You cannot think with what fiendish glee he told me that several days ago, as he was driving out of town, he saw Mr. Constantine, with two bailiffs behind him, walking down Fleet Street! And, besides, I verily believe he said he had irons on."
"No, no!" ejaculated Mary, with a cry of terror, at this ad libitum of Euphemia's; "what can he have done?"
"Bless me!" returned Euphemia, staring at her pale face; "why, what frightens you so? Does not everybody run in debt, without minding it?"
Miss Beaufort shook her head, and looking distractedly about, put her hand to her forehead. Euphemia, determining not to be outdone in "tender woe," drew forth her handkerchief, and putting it to her eyes, resumed in a piteous tone—
"I am sure I shall hate Lascelles all my life, because he did not stop the men and inquire what jail they were taking him to? You know, my clear, you and I might have visited him. It would have been delightful to have consoled his sad hours! We might have planned his escape."
"In irons!" ejaculated Mary, raising her tearless eyes to heaven.
Euphemia colored at the agonized manner in which these words were reiterated, and rather confusedly replied, "Not absolutely in irons. You know that is a metaphorical term for captivity."
"Then he was not in irons?" cried Miss Beaufort, seizing her hand eagerly: "for Heaven's sake, tell me he was not in irons? '"'
"Why, then," returned Euphemia, half angry at being obliged to contradict herself, "if you are so dull of taste, and cannot understand poetical language, I must tell you he was not."
Mary heard no further, but even at the moment, overcome by a revulsion of joy, sunk, unable to speak, into the chair.
Euphemia, supposing she had fainted, flew to the top of the stairs, and shrieking violently, stood wringing her hands, until Diana and Lady Dundas, followed by several gentlemen, hastened out of the saloon and demanded what was the matter? As Euphemia pointed to Miss Beaufort's dressing-room, she staggered, and sinking into the arms of Lord Elesmere, fell into the most outrageous hysterics. The marquis, who had just dropped in on his return from St. James's, was so afraid of the agitated lady's tearing his point-lace ruffles, that, in almost as trembling a state as herself, he gladly shuffled her into the hands of her maid; and scampering down stairs, as if all Bedlam were at his heels, sprung into his vis—vis, and drove off like lightning.
When Miss Beaufort recovered her scattered senses, and beheld this influx of persons entering her room, she tried to dispel her confusion, and rising gently from her seat, while supporting herself on the arm of Miss Dorothy's maid, thanked the company for their attention and withdrew into her chamber.
Meanwhile, Euphemia, who had been carried down into the saloon, thought it time to raise her lily head and utter a few incoherent words. The instant they were breathed, Miss Dundas and Mr. Lascelles, in one voice, demanded what was the matter?
"Has not Mary told you?" returned her sister, languidly opening her eyes.
"No," answered Lascelles, rubbing his hands with delighted curiosity; "come, let us have it."
Euphemia, pleased at this, and loving mystery with all her heart, waved her hand solemnly, and in an awful tone replied, "Then it passes not my lips."
"What, Phemy!" cried he, "you want us to believe you have seen a ghost? But you forget, they don't walk at midday."
"Believe what you like," returned she, with an air of consequential contempt; "I am satisfied to keep the secret."
Miss Dundas burst into a provoking laugh; and calling her the most incorrigible little idiot in the world, encouraged Lascelles to fool her to the top of his bent. Determining to gratify his spleen, if he could not satisfy his curiosity, this witless coxcomb continued the whole day in Harley Street, for the mere pleasure of tormenting Euphemia. From the dinner hour until twelve at night, neither his drowsy fancy nor wakeful malice could find one other weapon of assault than the stale jokes of mysterious chambers, lovers incognito, or the silly addition of two Cupid-struck sweeps popping down the chimney to pay their addresses to the fair friends. Diana talked of Jupiter with his thunder; and patting her sister under the chin, added, "I cannot doubt that Miss Beaufort is the favored Semel; but, my dear, you over-acted your character? As confidant, a few tears were enough when your lady fainted." During these attacks, Euphemia reclined pompously on a sofa, and not deigning a reply, repelled them with much conceit and haughtiness.
Miss Beaufort remained above an hour alone in her chamber before she ventured to go near her aunt. Hurt to the soul that the idle folly of Euphemia should have aroused a terror which had completely unveiled to the eyes of that inconsiderate girl the empire which Thaddeus held over her fate, Mary, overwhelmed with shame, and arraigning her easy credulity, threw herself on her bed.
Horror-struck at hearing he was led along the streets in chains, she could have no other idea but that, betrayed into the commission of some dreadful deed, he had become amenable to the laws, and might suffer an ignominious death. Those thoughts having rushed at once on her heart, deprived her of self-command. In the conviction of some fatal rencontre, she felt as if her life, her honor, her soul, were annihilated. And when, in consequence of her agonies, Euphemia confessed that she had in this last matter told a falsehood, the sudden peace to her soul had for an instant assumed the appearance of insensibility.
Before Miss Beaufort quitted her room, various plans were suggested by her anxiety and inexperience, how to release the object of her thoughts. She found no hesitation in believing him poor, and perhaps rendered wretchedly so by the burden of that sick friend, who, she suspected, might be a near relation. At any rate, she resolved that another sun should not pass over her head and shine on him in a prison. Having determined to pay his debts herself, she next thought of how she might manage the affair without discovering the hand whence the assistance came. Had her aunt been well enough to leave the house, she would not have scrupled unfolding to her the recent calamity of Mr. Constantine. But well aware that Miss Dorothy's maidenly nicety would be outraged at a young woman appearing the sole mover in such an affair, she conceived herself obliged to withhold her confidence at present, and to decide on prosecuting the whole transaction alone.
In consequence of these meditations, her spirits became less discomposed. Turning towards Miss Dorothy Somerset's apartments, she found the good lady sipping her coffee.
"What is this I have just heard, my dear Mary? Williams tells me you have been ill!"
Miss Beaufort returned her aunt's gracious inquiry with an affectionate kiss; and informing her that she had only been alarmed by an invention of Miss Euphemia's, begged that the subject might drop, it being merely one out of the many schemes which she believed that young lady had devised to render her visit to London as little pleasant as possible.
"Ah!" replied Miss Dorothy, "I hope I shall be well enough to travel in the course of a few days. I can now walk with a stick; and upon my word, I am heartily tired both of Lady Dundas and her daughters."
Mary expressed similar sentiments; but as the declaration passed her lips, a sigh almost buried the last word. Go when she would, she must leave Constantine behind, leave him without an expectation of beholding him more—without a hope of penetrating the thick cloud which involved him, and with which he had ever baffled any attempt she had heard to discover his birth or misfortunes. She wept over this refinement on delicacy, and "loved him dearer for his mystery."
When the dawn broke next morning, it shone on Miss Beaufort's yet unclosed eyes. Sleep could find no languid faculty in her head whilst her heart was agitated with plans for the relief of Thaddeus. The idea of visiting the coffee-house to which she knew the Misses Dundas directed their letters, and of asking questions about a young and handsome man, made her timidity shrink.
"But," exclaimed she, "I am going on an errand which ought not to spread a blush on the cheek of prudery itself. I am going to impart alleviation to the sufferings of the noblest creature that ever walked the earth!" Perhaps there are few persons who, being auditors of this speech, would have decided quite so candidly on the superlative by which it was concluded. Mary herself was not wholly divested of doubt about the issue of her conduct; but conscious that her motive was pure, she descended to the breakfast-room with a quieter mind than countenance.
Never before having had occasion to throw a gloss on her actions, she scarcely looked up during breakfast. When the cloth was removed, she rose suddenly from her chair, and turning to Miss Dorothy, who sat at the other end of the parlor, with her foot on a stool, said in a low voice, "Good-by, aunt! I am going to make some particular calls; but I shall be back in a few hours." Luckily, no one observed her blushing face whilst she spoke, nor the manner in which she shook hands with the old lady and hurried out of the room.
Breathless with confusion, she could scarcely stand when she arrived in her own chamber; but aware that no time ought to be lost, she tied on a long, light silk cloak, of sober gray, over her white morning- dress, and covering her head with a straw summer bonnet, shaded by a black lace veil, hesitated a moment within her chamber-door—her eyes filling with tears, drawn from her heart by that pure spirit of truth which had ever been the guardian of her conduct! Looking up to heaven, she sunk on her knees, and exclaimed with impetuosity, "Father of mercy! thou only knowest my heart! Direct me, I beseech thee! Let me not commit anything unworthy of myself nor of the unhappy Constantine—for whom I would sacrifice my life, but not my duty to thee!"
Reassured by the confidence which this simple act of devotion inspired, she took her parasol and descended the stairs. The porter was alone in the hall. She inquired for her servant.
"He is not returned, madam,"
Having foreseen the necessity of getting rid of all attendants, she had purposely sent her footman on an errand as far as Kensington.
"It is of no consequence," returned she to the porter, who was just going to propose one of Lady Dundas's men. "I cannot meet with anything disagreeable at this time of day, so I shall walk alone."
The man opened the door; and with a bounding heart Mary hastened down the street, crossed the square, and at the bottom of Orchard Street stepped into a hackney-coach, which she ordered to drive to Slaughter's Coffee-house, St. Martin's Lane.
She drew up the glasses and closed her eyes. Various thoughts agitated her anxious mind whilst the carriage rolled along; and when it drew up at the coffee-house, she involuntarily retreated into the corner. The coach-door was opened.
"Will you alight, ma'am?"
"No; call a waiter."
A waiter appeared; and Miss Beaufort, in a tolerably collected voice, inquired whether Mr. Constantine lived there?
A cold dew stood on her forehead; but taking courage from a latent and last hope, she added, "I know he has had letters directed to this place."
"Oh! I beg your pardon, ma'am!" returned the man recollecting himself; "I remember a person of that name has received letters from hence, but they were always fetched away by a little girl."
"And do you not know where he lives?"
"No, ma'am," answered he; "yet some one else in the house may: I will inquire."
Miss Beaufort bowed her head in token of acknowledgment, and sat shivering with suspense until he returned, followed by another man.
"This person, ma'am," resumed he, "says he can tell you."
"Thank you, thank you!" cried Mary; then, blushing at her eagerness, she stopped and drew back into the carriage.
"I cannot for certain," said the man, "but I know the girl very well by sight who comes for the letters; and I have often seen her standing at the door of a chandler's shop a good way down the lane. I think it is No. 5, or 6. I sent a person there who came after the same gentleman about a fortnight ago. I dare say he lives there."
Miss Beaufort's expectations sunk again, when she found that she had nothing but a dare say to depend on; and giving half-a-crown to each of her informers, she desired the coachman to drive as they would direct him.
While the carriage drove down the lane, with a heart full of fears she looked from side to side, almost believing she should know by intuition the house which had contained Constantine. When the man checked his horses, and her eyes fell on the little mean dwelling of Mrs. Robson, she smothered a deep sigh.
"Can this be the house in which Constantine has lived? How comfortless! And should it not," thought she, as the man got off the box to inquire, "whither shall I go for information?"
The appearance of Mrs. Robson, and her immediate affirmative to the question, "Are these Mr. Constantine's lodgings?" at once dispelled this last anxiety. Encouraged by the motherly expression of the good woman's manner, Mary begged leave to alight. Mrs. Robson readily offered her arm, and with many apologies for the disordered state of the house, led her up stairs to the room which had been the count's house.
Mary trembled; but seeing that everything depended on self-command, with apparent tranquillity she received the chair that was presented to her, and turning her eyes from the books and drawings which told her so truly in whose apartment she was, she desired Mrs. Robson, who continued standing, to be seated. The good woman obeyed. After some trepidation, Mary asked where Mr. Constantine was? Mrs. Robson colored, and looking at her questioner for some time, as if doubting what to say, burst into tears.
Miss Beaufort's ready eyes were much inclined to flow in concert; but subduing the strong emotions which shook her, she added, "I do not come hither out of impertinent curiosity. I have heard of the misfortunes of Mr. Constantine. I am well known to his friends."
"Dear lady!" cried the good woman, grasping at any prospect of succor to her benefactor: "if he has friends, whoever they are, tell them he is the noblest, most humane gentleman in the world. Tell them he has saved me and mine from the deepest want; and now he is sent to prison because he cannot pay the cruel doctor who attended the poor dead general."
"What! is his friend dead?" ejaculated Mary, unable to restrain the tears which now streamed over her face.
"Yes," replied Mrs. Robson; "poor old gentleman! he is dead, sure enough; and, Heaven knows, many have been the dreary hours the dear young man has watched by his pillow! He died in that room."
Miss Beaufort's swimming eyes would not allow her to discern objects through the open door of that apartment within which the heart of Thaddeus had undergone such variety of misery. Forming an irresistible wish to know whether the deceased were any relation of Constantine, she paused a moment to compose the agitation which might betray her, and then asked the question.
"I thought, ma'am," replied Mrs. Robson, "you said you knew his friends?"
"Only his English ones," returned Mary, a little confused at the suspicion this answer implied; "I imagined that this old gentleman might have been his father or an uncle, or——"
"O no," interrupted Mrs. Robson, sorrowfully; "he has neither father, mother nor uncle in the wide world. He once told me they were all dead, and that he saw them die. Alas! sweet soul! What a power of griefs he must have seen in his young life! But Heaven will favor his at last; for though he is in misfortune himself, he has been a blessing to the widow and the orphan!"
"Do you know the amount of his debts?" asked Miss Beaufort.
"Not more than twenty pounds," returned Mrs. Robson, "when they took him out of this room, a week ago, and hurried him away without letting me know a word of the matter. I believe to this hour I should not have known where he was, if that cruel Mr. Jackson had not come to demand all that Mr. Constantine left in my care. But I would not let him have it. I told him if my lodger had filled my house with bags of gold, he should not touch a shilling; and then he abused me, and told me Mr. Constantine was in Newgate."
"Yes, madam. I immediately ran there, and found him more able to comfort me than I was able to speak to him."
"Then be at rest, my good woman," returned Miss Beaufort, rising from her chair; "when you next hear of Mr. Constantine, he shall be at liberty. He has friends who will not sleep till he is out of prison."
"May Heaven bless you and them, dear lady!" cried Mrs. Robson, weeping with joy; "for they will relieve the most generous heart alive. But I must tell you," added she, with recollecting energy, "that the costs of the business will raise it to some pounds more. For that wicked Jackson, getting frightened to stand alone in what he had done, went and persuaded poor weak-minded Mr. Watson, the undertaker, to put in a detainer against Mr. Constantine for the remainder of his bill. So I fear it will be full thirty pounds before his kind friends can release him."
Mary replied, "Be not alarmed: all shall be done." While she spoke, she cast a wistful look on the drawings on the bureau; then withdrawing her eyes with a deep sigh, she descended the stairs. At the street-door she took Mrs. Robson's hand, and not relinquishing it until she was seated in the coach, pressed it warmly, and leaving within it a purse of twenty guineas, ordered the man to return whence he came.
Now that the temerity of going herself to learn the particulars of Mr. Constantine's fate had been achieved, determined as she was not to close her eyes whilst the man whom she valued above her life remained a prisoner and in sorrow, she thought it best to consult with Miss Dorothy respecting the speediest means of compassing his emancipation.
In Oxford Road she desired the coachman to proceed to Harley Street. She alighted at Lady Dundas's door, paid him his fare, and stepped into the hall before she perceived that a travelling-carriage belonging to her guardian had driven away to afford room for her humble equipage.
"Is Sir Robert Somerset come to town?" she hastily inquired of the porter.
"No, madam; but Mr. Somerset is just arrived."
The next minute Miss Beaufort was in the drawing-room, and clasped within the arms of her cousin.
"Dear Mary!"—"Dear Pembroke!" were the first words which passed between these two affectionate relatives.
Miss Dorothy, who doted on her nephew, taking his hand as he seated himself between her and his cousin, said, in a congratulatory voice, "Mary, our dear boy has come to town purposely to take us down."
"Yes, indeed," rejoined he; "my father is moped to death for want of you both. You know I am a sad renegade! Lord Avon and Mr. Loftus have been gone these ten days to his lordship's aunt's in Bedfordshire; and Sir Robert is so completely weary of solitude, that he has commanded me"—bowing to the other ladies—"to run off with all the fair inhabitants of this house sooner than leave you behind."
"I shall be happy at another opportunity to visit Somerset Hall," returned Lady Dundas; "but I am constrained to spend this summer in Dumbartonshire. I have not yet seen the estate my poor dear Sir Hector bought of the Duke of Dunbar."
Pembroke offered no attempt to shake this resolution. In the two or three morning calls he had formerly made with Sir Robert Somerset on the rich widow, he saw sufficient to make him regard her arrogant vulgarity with disgust; and for her daughters, they were of too artificial a stamp to occupy his mind any longer than with a magic- lantern impression of a tall woman with bold eyes, and the prettiest yet most affected little fairy he had ever beheld.
After half an hour's conversation with this family group, Miss Beaufort sunk into abstraction. During the first month of Mary's acquaintance with Thaddeus, she did not neglect to mention in her correspondence with Pembroke having met with a very interesting and accomplished emigrant, in the capacity of a tutor at Lady Dundas's. But her cousin, in his replies, beginning to banter her on pity being allied to love, she had gradually dropped all mention of Constantine's name, as she too truly found by what insensible degrees the union had taken place within her own breast. She remembered these particulars, whilst a new method of accomplishing her present project suggested itself; and determining (however extraordinary her conduct might seem) to rest on the rectitude of her motives, a man being the most proper person to transact such a business with propriety, she resolved to engage Pembroke for her agent, without troubling Miss Dorothy about the affair.
So deeply was she absorbed in these reflections, that Somerset, observing her vacant eye fixed on the opposite window, took her hand with an arch smile, and exclaimed.
"Mary! What is the matter? I hope, Lady Dundas, you have not suffered any one to run away with her heart? You know I am her cousin, and it is my inalienable right."
Lady Dundas replied that young ladies best know their own secrets.
"That may be, madam," rejoined he; "but I won't allow Miss Beaufort to know anything that she does not transfer to me. Is not that true, Mary?"
"Yes," whispered she, coloring; "and the sooner you afford me an opportunity to interest you in one, the more I shall be obliged to you."
Pembroke pressed her hand in token of assent; and a desultory conversation continuing for another half-hour, Miss Beaufort, who dreaded the wasting one minute in a day so momentous to her peace, sat uneasily until her aunt proposed retiring to her dressing-room a while, and requested Pembroke to assist her up stairs.
When he returned to the drawing-room, to his extreme satisfaction he found all the party were gone to prepare for their usual drives, excepting Miss Beaufort, who was standing by one of the windows, lost in thought. He approached her, and taking her hand—
"Come, my dear cousin," said he, "how can I oblige you?"
Mary struggled with her confusion. Had she loved Thaddeus less, she found she could with greater ease have related the interest which she took in his fate. She tried to speak distinctly, and she accomplished it, although her burning cheek and downcast look told to the fixed eye of Pembroke what she vainly attempted to conceal.
"You can, indeed, oblige me! You must remember a Mr. Constantine! I once mentioned him to you in my letters."
"I do, Mary. You thought him amiable!"
"He was the intimate friend of Lady Tinemouth," returned she, striving to look up; but the piercing expression she met from the eyes of Somerset, beating hers down again, covered her face and neck with deeper blushes. She panted for breath.
"Rely on me," said Pembroke, pitying her embarrassment, whilst he dreaded that her gentle heart had indeed become the victim of some accomplished and insidious foreigner—"rely on me, my beloved cousin: consider me as a brother. If you have entangled yourself—"
Miss Beaufort guessed what he would say, and interrupting him, added, with a more assured air, "No, Pembroke, I have no entanglements. I am going to ask your friendly assistance on behalf of a brave and unfortunate Polander." Pembroke reddened and she went on. "Mr. Constantine is a gentleman. Lady Tinemouth tells me he has been a soldier, and that he lost all his possessions in the ruin of his country. Her ladyship introduced him here. I have seen him often, and I know him to be worthy the esteem of every honorable heart. He is now in prison, in Newgate, for a debt of about thirty pounds, and I ask you to go and release him. That is my request—my secret; and I confide in your discretion that you will keep it even from him."