"Generous, beloved Mary!" cried Pembroke, pressing her hand; "it is thus you always act. Possessed of all the softness of thy sex, dearest girl," added he, still more affectionately, "nature has not alloyed it with one particle of weakness!"
Miss Beaufort smiled and sighed. If to love tenderly, to be devoted life and soul to one being, whom she considered as the most perfect work of creation, be weakness, Mary was the weakest of the weak; and with a languid despondence at her heart, she was opening her lips to give some directions to her cousin, when the attention of both was arrested by a shrill noise of speakers talking above stairs. Before the cousins had time to make an observation, the disputants descended towards the drawing-room, and bursting open the door with a violent clamor, presented the enraged figure of Lady Dundas followed by Diana, who, with a no less swollen countenance, was scolding vociferously, and dragging forward the weeping Euphemia.
"Ladies! ladies!" exclaimed Somerset, amazed at so extraordinary a scene; "what has happened?"
Lady Dundas lifted up her clenched hand in a passion.
"A jade!—a hussy!" cried her vulgar ladyship, incapable of articulating more.
Miss Dundas, still grasping the hands of her struggling sister, broke out next, and turning furiously towards Mary, exclaimed, "You see, madam, what disgrace your ridiculous conduct to that vagabond foreigner has brought on our family! This bad girl has followed your example, and done worse-she has fallen in love with him!"
Shocked, and trembling at so rude an accusation, Miss Beaufort was unable to speak. Lost in wonder, and incensed at his cousin's goodness having been the dupe of imposition. Pembroke stood silent, whilst Lady Dundas took up the subject.
"Ay," cried she, shaking her daughter by the shoulder, "you little minx! if your sister had not picked up these abominable verses you chose to write on the absence of this beggarly fellow, I suppose you would have finished the business by running off with him! But you shall go down to Scotland, and be locked up for months. I won't have Sir Hector Dundas's family disgraced by a daughter of mine."
"For pity's sake, Lady Dundas," said Pembroke, stepping between her shrewish ladyship and the trembling Euphemia, "do compose yourself. I dare say your daughter is pardonable. In these cases, the fault in general lies with our sex. We are the deluders."
Mary was obliged to reseat herself; and in pale attention she listened for the reply of the affrighted Euphemia, who, half assured that her whim of creating a mutual passion in the breast of Thaddeus was no longer tenable, without either shame or remorse she exclaimed, "Indeed, Mr. Somerset, you are right; I never should have thought of Mr. Constantine if he had not teased me every time he came with his devoted love."
Miss Beaufort rose hastily from her chair. Though Euphemia colored at the suddenness of this motion, and the immediate flash she met from her eye, she went on: "I know Miss Beaufort will deny it, because she thinks he is in love with her; but indeed, indeed, he has sworn a thousand times on his knees that he was a Russian nobleman in disguise, and adored me above every one else in the world."
"Villain!" cried Pembroke, inflamed with indignation at his double conduct. Afraid to read in the expressive countenance of Mary her shame and horror at this discovery, he turned his eyes on her with trepidation; when, to his surprise, he beheld her standing perfectly unmoved by the side of the sofa from which she had arisen. She advanced with a calm step towards Euphemia, and taking hold of the hand which concealed her face whilst uttering this last falsehood, she drew it away, and regarding her with a serene but penetrating look, she said: "Euphemia! you well know that you are slandering an innocent and unfortunate man. You know that never in his life did he give you the slightest reason to suppose that he was attached to you; for myself, I can also clear him of making professions to me. Upon the honor of my word, I declare," added she, addressing herself to the whole group, "that he never breathed a sentence to me beyond mere respect. By this last deviation of Euphemia from truth, you may form an estimate how far the rest she has alleged deserves credit."
The young lady burst into a vehement passion of tears.
"I will not be browbeaten and insulted, Miss Beaufort!" cried she, taking refuge in noise, since right had deserted her. "You know you would fight his battles through thick and thin, else you would not have fallen into fits yesterday when I told you he was sent to jail."
This last assault struck Mary motionless; and Lady Dundas, lifting up her hands, exclaimed, "Good la! keep me from the forward misses of these times! As for you, Miss Euphemia," added she, seizing her daughter by the arm, "you shall leave town tomorrow morning. I will have no more tutoring and falling in love in my house; and for you, Miss Beaufort," turning to Mary, (who, having recovered herself, stood calmly at a little distance,) "I shall take care to warn Miss Dorothy Somerset to keep an eye over your conduct."
"Madam," replied she, indignantly, "I shall never do anything which can dishonor either my family or myself; and of that Miss Dorothy Somerset is too well assured to doubt for an instant, even should calumny be as busy with me as it has been injurious to Mr. Constantine."
With the words of Mrs. Robson suddenly reverberating on her heart, "He has no father, no mother, no kindred in this wide world!" she walked towards the door. When she passed Mr. Somerset, who stood bewildered and frowning near Miss Dundas, she turned her eyes on her cousin, full of the effulgent pity in her soul, and said, in a collected and decisive voice, "Pembroke, I shall leave the room; but, remember, I do not release you from your engagement."
Staggered by the open firmness of her manner, he looked after her as she withdrew, and was almost inclined to believe that she possessed the right side of the argument. Malice did not allow him to think so long. The moment the door closed on her, both the sisters fell on him pell-mell; and the prejudiced illiberality of the one, supported by the ready falsehoods of the other, soon dislodged all favorable impressions from the mind of Somerset, and filled him anew with displeasure.
In the midst of Diana's third harangue, Lady Dundas having ordered Euphemia to be taken to her chamber, Mr. Somerset was left alone, more incensed than ever against the object of their invectives, whom he now considered in the light of an adventurer, concealing his poverty, and perhaps his crimes beneath a garb of lies. That such a character, by means of a fine person and a few meretricious talents, could work himself into the confidence of Mary Beaufort, pierced her cousin to the soul; and as he mounted the stairs with an intent to seek her in her dressing-room, he almost resolved to refuse obeying her commands.
When he opened the room-door, he found Miss Beaufort and his aunt. The instant he appeared, the ever-benevolent face of Miss Dorothy contracted into a frown.
"Nephew," cried she, "I shall not take it well of you if you give stronger credence to the passionate and vulgar assertions of Lady Dundas and her daughters than you choose to bestow on the tried veracity of your cousin Mary."
Pembroke was conscious that if his countenance had been a faithful transcript of his mind, Miss Beaufort did not err in supposing he believed the foreigner to be a villain. Knowing that it would be impossible for him to relinquish his reason into what he now denominated the partial hands of his aunt and cousin, he persisted in his opinion to both the ladies, that their unsuspicious natures had been rendered subservient to knavery and artifice.
"I would not, my dear madam," said he, addressing Miss Dorothy, "think so meanly of your sex as to imagine that such atrocity can exist in the female heart as could give birth to ruinous and unprovoked calumnies against an innocent man. I cannot suspect the Misses Dundas of such needless guilt, particularly poor Euphemia, whom I truly pity. Lady Dundas forced me to read her verses, and they were too full of love and regret for this adventurer to come from the same breast which could wantonly blacken his character. Such wicked inconsistencies in so young a woman are not half so probable as that you, my clear aunt and cousin, have been deceived.
"Nephew," returned the old lady, "you are very peremptory. Methinks a little more lenity of opinion would better become your youth! I knew nothing of this unhappy young man's present distress until Miss Beaufort mentioned it to me; but before she breathed a word in his favor, I had conceived a very high respect for his merits. From the first hour in which I saw him, I gathered by his deportment that he must be a gentleman, besides a previous act of benevolent bravery, in rescuing at the hazard of his own life two poor children from a house in flames—in all this I saw he must have been born far above his fortunes. I thought so; I still think so; and, notwithstanding all that the Dundasses may choose to fabricate, I am determined to believe the assertions of an honest countenance."
Pembroke smiled, whilst he forced his aunt's reluctant hand into his, and said, "I see, my dear madam, you are bigoted to the idol of your own fancy! I do not presume to doubt this Mr. Constantine's lucky exploits, nor his enchantments: but you must pardon me if I keep my senses at liberty. I shall think of him as I could almost swear he deserves, although I am aware that I hazard your affection by my firmness." He then turned to Mary, who, with a swelling and distressed heart, was standing by the chimney. "Forgive me, my dearest cousin," continued he, addressing her in a softened voice, "that I am forced to appear harsh. It is the first time I ever dissented from you; it is the first time I ever thought you prejudiced!"
Miss Beaufort drew the back of her hand over her glistening eyes. All the tender affections of Pembroke's bosom smote him at once, and throwing his arms around his cousin's waist, he strained her to his breast, and added, "Ah! why, dear girl, must I love you better for thus giving me pain? Every way my darling Mary is more estimable. Even now, whilst I oppose you, I am sure, though your goodness is abused, it was cheated into error by the affectation of honorable impulses and disasters!"
Miss Beaufort thought that if the prudence of reserve and decorum dictated silence in some circumstances, in others a prudence of a higher order would justify her in declaring her sentiments. Accordingly she withdrew from the clasping arms of Mr. Somerset, and whilst her beautiful figure seemed to dilate into more than its usual dignity, she mildly replied:
"Think what you please, Pembroke; I shall not contend with you. Mr. Constantine is of a nature not to be hidden by obscurity; his character will defend itself; and all that I have to add is this, I do not release you from your promise. Could a woman transact the affair with propriety, I would not keep yon to so disagreeable an office; but I have passed my word to myself that I will neither slumber nor sleep till he is out of prison." She put a pocket-book into Pembroke's hand, and added, "Take that, my clear cousin; and without suffering a syllable to transpire by which he may suspect who served him, accomplish what I have desired, acting by the memorandum you will find within."
"I will obey you, Mary," returned he; "but I am sorry that such rare enthusiasm was not awakened by a worthier object. When you see me again, I hope I shall be enabled to say that your ill-placed generosity is satisfied."
"Fie, nephew, fie!" cried Miss Dorothy; "I could not have supposed you capable of conferring a favor so ungraciously."
Pained at what he called the obstinate infatuation of Miss Beaufort, and if possible more chagrined by what he considered the blind and absurd encouragement of his aunt, Mr. Somerset lost the whole of her last reprimand in his hurry to quit the room.
Disturbed, displeased, and anxious, he stepped into a hackney-coach; and ordering it to drive to Newgate, called on the way at Lincoln's Inn, to take up a confidential clerk of his father's law-agent there, determining by his assistance to go through the business without exposing himself to any interview with a man whom he believed to be an artful and unprincipled villain.
"Calumny is the pastime of little minds, and the venomed shaft of base ones."
The first week of the count's confinement was rendered in some degree tolerable by the daily visits of Mrs. Robson, who, having brought his drawing materials, enabled him, through the means of the always punctual printseller, to purchase some civility from the brutal and hardened people who were his keepers. After the good woman had performed her diurnal kindness, Thaddeus did not suffer his eyes to turn one moment on the dismal loneliness of his abject prison, but took up his pencil to accomplish its daily task, and when done, he opened some one of his books, which had also been brought to him, and so sought to beguile his almost hopeless hours,—hopeless with regard to any human hope of ever re-passing those incarcerating walls. For who was there but those who had put him there who could now know even of his existence?
The elasticity and pressing enterprise of soul inherent in worth renders; no calamity so difficult to be borne as that which betters its best years and most active virtues under the lock of any captivity. Thaddeus felt this benumbing effect in every pulse of his ardent and energetic heart. He retraced all that he had been. He looked on what he was. Though he had reaped glory when a boy, his "noon of manhood," his evening sun, was to waste its light and set in an English prison.
At short and distant intervals such melancholy reveries gave place to the pitying image of Mary Beaufort. It sometimes visited him in the day—it always was his companion during the night. He courted her lovely ideal as a spell that for a while stole him from painful reflections. With an entranced soul he recalled every lineament of her angel—like face, every tender sympathy of that gentle voice which had hurried him into the rashness of touching her hand. One moment he pressed her gold chain closer to his heart, almost believing what Lady Tinemouth had insinuated; the next, he would sigh over his credulity, and return with despondent though equally intense love to the contemplation of her virtues, independent of himself.
The more he meditated on the purity of her manners, the elevated principles to which he could trace her actions, and, above all, on the benevolent confidence with which she had ever treated him (a man contemned by one part of her acquaintance, and merely received on trust by the remainder), the more he found reasons to regard that character with his grateful admiration. When he drew a comparison between Miss Beaufort and most women of the same quality whom he had seen in England and in other countries, he contemplated with delighted wonder that spotless mind which, having passed through the various ordeals annexed to wealth and fashion, still bore itself uncontaminated. She was beautiful, and she did not regard it; she was accomplished, but she did not attempt a display; what she acquired from education, the graces had so incorporated with her native intelligence, that the perfection of her character seemed to have been stamped at once by the beneficent hand of Providence.
Never were her numberless attractions so fascinating to Thaddeus as when he witnessed the generous eagerness with which, forgetful of her own almost unparalleled talents, she pointed out merit and dispensed applause to the deserving. Miss Beaufort's nature was gentle and benevolent; but it was likewise distinguishing and animated. Whilst the count saw that the urbanity of her disposition made her politeness universal, he perceived that neither rank, riches nor splendor, when alone, could extract from her bosom one spark of that lambet flame which streamed from her heart, like fire to the sun, towards the united glory of genius and virtue.
He dwelt on her lovely, unsophisticated character with an enthusiasm bordering on idolatry. He recollected that she had been educated by the mother of Pembroke Somerset; and turning from the double remembrance with a sigh fraught with all the bitterness and sweetness of love, he acknowledged how much wisdom (which includes virtue) gives spirit and immortality to beauty. "Yes," cried he, "it is the fragrance of the flower, which lives after the bloom is withered."
From such reflections of various hues Thaddeus was one evening awakened by the entrance of the chief jailer into his cell. His was an unusual visit. He presented a sealed packet to his prisoner, saying he brought it from a stranger, who, having paid the debts and costs for which he was confined, and all the prison dues, had immediately gone away, leaving that packet to be instantly delivered into the hand of Mr. Constantine.
While Thaddeus, scarcely crediting the information, was hastily opening the packet, hoping it might throw some light on his benefactor, the jailer civilly withdrew. But the breaking of the seal discovered a blank cover only, save these words, in a handwriting unknown to him—"You are free!"—and bank of England notes to the amount of fifty pounds.
Overwhelmed with surprise, gratitude to Heaven, and to this generous unknown, he sank down into his solitary chair, and tried to conjecture who could have acted the part of such a friend, and yet be so careful to conceal that act of friendship.
He had seen sufficient proofs of a heedless want of benevolence in Miss Euphemia Dundas to lead him to suppose that she could not be so munificent, and solicitous of secrecy. Besides, how could she have learned his situation? He thought it was impossible; and that impossibility compelled an erratic hope of his present liberty having sprung from the goodness of Miss Beaufort to pass by him with a painful swiftness.
"Alas!" cried he, starting from his chair, "it is the indefatigable spirit of Lady Sara Ross that I recognize in this deed! The generous but unhappy interest which she yet takes in my fate has discovered my last misfortune, and thus she seeks to relieve me!"
The moment he conceived this idea, he believed it; and taking up a pen, with a grateful though disturbed soul he addressed to her the following guarded note:—
"TO THE RIGHT HONORABLE LADY SARA ROSS.
"An unfortunate exile, who is already overpowered by a sense of not having deserved the notice which Lady Sara Ross has deigned to take of his misfortunes, was this day liberated from prison in a manner so generous and delicate, that he can ascribe the act to no other than the noble heart of her ladyship.
"The object of this bounty, bending under a weight of obligations which he cannot repay, begs permission to re-enclose the bills which Lady Sara's agent transmitted to him; but as the deed which procures his freedom cannot be recalled, with the most grateful emotions he accepts that new instance of her ladyship's goodness."
Thaddeus was on the point of asking one of the turnkeys to send him some trusty person to take this letter to St. James Place, when, recollecting the impropriety of making any inmate of Newgate his messenger to Lady Sara, he was determining to remove immediately to St. Martin's Lane, and thence dispatch his packet to his generous friend, when Mrs. Robson herself was announced by his turnkey, who, as customary, disappeared the moment he had let her in. She hastened forward to him with an animated countenance, and exclaimed, before he had time to speak, "Dear sir, I have seen a dear, sweet lady, who has promised me not to sleep till you are out of this horrid place!"
The suspicions of the count, that his benefactress was indeed Lady Sara Ross, were now confirmed. Seating his warmhearted landlady in the only chair his apartment contained, to satisfy her humility, he took his station on the table, and then said: "The lady has already fulfilled her engagement. I am free, and I only wait for a hackney- coach—which I shall send for immediately—to take me back to your kind home."
At this assurance the delighted Mrs. Robson, crying and laughing by turns, did not cease her ejaculations of joy until the turnkey, whom he had recalled to give the order for the coach, returned to say that it was in readiness.
He took up his late prisoner's small portmanteau, with the drawing- materials, &c., which had been brought to him during his incarceration; and Thaddeus, with a feeling as if a band of iron had been taken from his soul, passed through the door of his cell; and when he reached the greater portal of Newgate, where the coach stood, he gave the turnkey a liberal douceur, and handing Mrs. Robson into the vehicle, stepped in after her, full of thankfulness to Heaven for again being permitted to taste the wholesome breeze of a free atmosphere.
They drove quickly on, and from the fullness of his thoughts, little passed between the count and his happy companion till they alighted at her door and he had re-entered his humble apartment. But so true is it that advantages are only appreciated by comparison, when he looked around, he considered it a palace of luxury, compared to the stifling dungeon he had left. "Ah!" cried Mrs. Robson, pointing to a chair, "there is the seat in which that dear lady sat—sweet creature! I If I had known I durst believe all she promised, I would have fallen on my knees and kissed her feet for bringing back your dear self!"
"I thank you, my revered friend!" replied Thaddeus, with a grateful smile and a tear at so ardent a demonstration of her maternal affection. "But where is little Nanny, that I may shake hands with her?" It being yet early in the evening, he was also anxious, before the probable retiring time of Lady Sara into her dressing-room to prepare for dinner should elapse, to dispatch his letter to her; and he inquired of his still rejoicing landlady "whether she could find him a safe porter to take a small packet of importance to St. James's Place, and wait for an answer?"
The good woman instantly replied that "Mrs. Watts, her neighbor, had a nephew at present lodging with her, a steady man, recently made one of the grooms in the King's Mews, and as this was the customary hour of his return from the stables, she was sure he would be glad to do the service." While the count was sealing his letter, Mrs Robson had executed her commission, and reentered with young Watts. He respectfully received his instructions from Thaddeus, and withdrew to perform the duty.
Nanny had also appeared, and welcomed her grandmother's beloved lodger with all those artless and animated expressions of joy which are inseparable from a good and unsophisticated heart.
The distance between the royal precincts of St. James's and the unostentatious environs of St. Martin's church being very short, in less than half an hour the count's messenger returned with the wished-for reply. It was with pain that he opened it, for he saw, by the state of the paper, that it had been blotted with tears. He hurriedly took out the re-enclosed bills, with a flushed cheek, and read as follows:—
"I cannot be mistaken in recognizing the proud and high-minded Constantine in the lines I hold in my hand. Could anything have imparted to me more comfort than your generous belief that there is indeed some virtue left in my wretched and repentant heart, it would have arisen from the consciousness of having been the happy person who succored you in your distress. But no: that enjoyment was beyond my deserving. The bliss of being the lightener of your sorrows was reserved by Heaven for a less criminal creature. I did not even know that you were in prison. Since our dreadful parting, I have never dared to inquire after you; and much as it might console me to serve one so truly valued, I will not insult your nice honor by offering any further instance of my friendship than what will evince my soul's gratitude to your prayers and my acquiescence with the commands of duty.
"My husband is here, without perceiving the ravages which misery and remorse have made in my unhappy heart. Time, perhaps, may render me less unworthy of his tenderness; at present, I detest myself.
"I return the bills; you may safely use them, for they never were mine.
The noble heart of Thaddeus bled over every line of this letter. He saw that it bore the stamp of truth which did not leave him a moment in doubt that he owed his release to some other hand. Whilst he folded it up, his grateful suspicions next lighted on Lady Tinemouth. He had received one short letter from her since her departure, mentioning Sophia's stay in town to meet Mr. Montresor, and Miss Beaufort's detention there, on account of Miss Dorothy's accident, and closing with the intelligence of her own arrival at the Wolds. He was struck with the idea that, as he had delayed answering this letter in consequence of his late embarrassment, she must have made inquiries after him; that probably Miss Egerton was the lady who had visited Mrs. Robson, and finding the information true had executed the countess's commission to obtain his release.
According to these suppositions, he questioned his landlady about the appearance of the lady who had called. Mrs. Rob-son replied, "She was of an elegant height, but so wrapped up I could neither see her face nor her figure, though I am certain from the softness of her voice, she must be both young and handsome. Sweet creature! I am sure she wept two or three times. Besides, she is the most charitable soul alive, next to you, sir; for she gave me a purse with twenty guineas, and she told me she knew your honor's English friends."
This narration substantiating his hope of Lady Tinemouth's being his benefactress, that the kind Sophia was her agent, and the gentleman who defrayed the debt Mr. Montresor, he felt easier under an obligation which a mysterious liberation would have doubled. He knew the countess's maternal love for him. To reject her present benefaction, in any part, would be to sacrifice gratitude to an excessive and haughty delicacy. Convinced that nothing can be great that it is great to despise, he no longer hesitated to accept Lady Tinemouth's bounty, but smothered in his breast the embers of a proud and repulsive fire, which, having burst forth in the first hour of his misfortunes, was ever ready to consume any attempt that might oppress him with the weight of obligation.
Being exhausted by the events of the day, he retired at an early hour to his grateful devotions and to his pillow, where he found that repose which he had sought in vain within the gloomy and (he supposed) ever-sealed walls of his prison.
In the morning he was awakened by the light footsteps of his pretty waiting-maid entering the front room. His chamber-door being open, he asked her what the hour was? She replied nine o'clock; adding that she had brought a letter, which one of the waiters from Slaughter's Coffee-house had just left, with information that he did so by the orders of a footman in a rich livery.
Thaddeus desired that it might be given to him. The child obeyed, and quitted the room. He saw that the superscription was in Miss Dundas's hand; and opening it with pleasure,—because everything interested him which came from the house which contained Mary Beaufort,—to his amazement and consternation he read the following accusations:—
"To MR. CONSTANTINE.
"By a miraculous circumstance yesterday morning, your deep and daring plan of villany has been discovered to Lady D—-and myself. The deluded victim, whom your arts and falsehoods would have seduced to dishonor her family by connecting herself with a vagabond, has at length seen through her error, and now detests you as much as ever your insufferable presumption could have hoped she would distinguish you with her regard. Thanks be to Heaven! you are completely exposed. This young woman of fashion (whose name I will not trust in the same page with yours) has made a full confession of your vile seductions, of her own reprehensible weakness, in ever having deigned to listen to so low a creature. She desires me to assure you that she hates you, and commands you never again to attempt the insolence of appearing in her sight. Indeed this is the language of every soul in this house, Lady D——, Miss D——, S——, Miss B—-, besides that of
Thaddeus read this ridiculous letter twice before he could perfectly comprehend its meaning. In a paroxysm of indignation at the base subterfuge under which he did not doubt Euphemia had screened some accidental discovery of her absurd passion, he hastily threw on his clothes, and determined, though in defiance of Miss Dundas's mandates, to fly to Harley Street, and clear himself in the eyes of Miss Beaufort and her venerable aunt.
Having flown rather than walked, he arrived in sight of Lady Dundas's house just as a coachful of her ladyship's maids and packages drove from the door. Hurrying up the step, he asked the porter if Miss Dorothy Somerset were at home.
"No," replied the man; "she and Miss Beaufort, with Miss Dundas and Mr. Somerset, went out of town this morning by eight o'clock; and my lady and Miss Euphemia, about an hour ago, set off for Scotland, where they mean to stay all the summer."
At this information, which seemed to be the sealing of his condemnation with Mary, the heart of Thaddeus was pierced to the core. Unacquainted until this moment with the torments attending the knowledge of being calumniated, he could scarcely subdue the tempest in his breast, when forced to receive the conviction that the woman he loved above all the world now regarded him as not merely a villain, but the meanest of villains.
He returned home indignant and agitated. The probability that Pembroke Somerset had listened to the falsehood of Euphemia, without suggesting one word in defence of him who once was his friend, inflicted a pang more deadly than the rest. Shutting himself within his apartment, tossed and tortured in soul, he traversed the room. First one idea occurred and then another, until he resolved to seek redress from the advice of Lady Tinemouth. With this determination he descended the stairs, and telling Mrs. Robson he should leave London the ensuing day for Lincolnshire, begged her not to be uneasy on his account, as he went on business, and would return in a few days. The good woman almost wept at this intelligence, and prayed Heaven to guard him wherever he went.
Next morning, having risen at an early hour, he was collecting his few articles of wardrobe to put into his cloak-bag for his meditated short visit, when going to open one of the top drawers in his chamber, he found it sealed, and observed on the black wax the impress of an eagle. It was a large seal. Hardly crediting his eyes, it appeared to be the armorial eagle of Poland, surmounted by its regal crown. Nay, it seemed an impression of the very seal which had belonged to his royal ancestor, John Sobieski, and which was appended to the watch of his grandfather when he was robbed of it on his first arrival in England.
Thaddeus, in a wondering surprise, immediately rang the bell, and Mrs. Robson herself came up stairs. He hurriedly but gently inquired "how the drawer became not only locked as he had left it, but fastened with such a seal?"
Mrs. Robson did not perceive his agitation, and simply replied, "While his honor was in that horrid place, and after the attempt of Mr. Jackson to get possession of his property, she had considered it right to so secure the drawer, which she believed contained his most valuable pictures, and the like. So, having no impression of her own big enough, she went and bought a bunch of tarnished copper-seals she had seen hanging in the window of a huckster's shop at the corner of an ally hard by, one of them appearing about the size she wanted. The woman of the shop told her she had found them at the bottom of a tub of old iron, sold to her a while ago by a dustman; and as, to be sure, they were damaged and very dirty, she would not ask more than a couple of shillings for the lot, and would be glad to get rid of them!"
"So, sir," continued Mrs. Robson, with a pleased look, "I gave the money, and hastened home as fast as I could, and with Mrs. Watts by my side to witness it, you see I made all safe which I thought you most cared for."
"You are very thoughtful for me, kindest of women!" returned Thaddeus, with grateful energy; "but let me see the seals—for it is possible I may recognize in the one of this impression, indeed, a relic precious to my memory!"
Mrs. Robson put her hand into her pocket, and instantly gave them to him. There were three, one large, two small, and strung together by a leather thong. The former massive gold chain was no longer their link, and the rust from the iron had clouded the setting; but a glance told Sobieski they were his! He pressed them to his heart, whilst with glistening eyes he turned away to conceal his emotion. His sensible landlady comprehended there was something more than she knew of in the recognition (he never having told her of the loss of his watch, when he had saved her little grandchild from the plunging horses in the King's Mews;) and from her native delicacy not to intrude on his feelings, she gently withdrew unobserved, and left him alone.
About half an hour afterwards, when she saw her beloved lodger depart in the stage-coach that called to take him up, her eyes followed the wheels down the lane with renewed blessings.
His long journey passed not more in melancholy reveries against the disappointing characters he had met in revered England than in affectionate anticipations of the moment in which he should pour out his gratitude to the maternal tenderness of Lady Tinemouth, and learn from her ingenuous lips how to efface from the minds of Miss Dorothy Somerset and her angel-like niece the representations, so dishonoring, torturing, and false, which had been heaped upon him by the calumnies of the family in Harley Street.
ZEAL IS POWER.
The porter at Lady Dundas's had been strictly correct in his account respecting the destination of the dispersed members of her ladyship's household.
Whilst Pembroke Somerset was sullenly executing his forced act of benevolence at Newgate, Miss Dundas suddenly took into her scheming head to compare the merits of Somerset's rich expectancy with the penniless certainty of Lascelles. She considered the substantial advantages which the wife of a wealthy baronet would hold over the thriftless cara sposa of a man owning no other estate than a reflected lustre from the coronet of an elder brother. Besides, Pembroke was very handsome—Lascelles only tolerably so; indeed, some women had presumed to call him "very plain." But they were "stupid persons," who, not believing the metempsychosis doctrine of the tailor and his decorating adjuncts, could not comprehend that although a mere human creature can have no such property, a man of fashion may possess an elixir vitae which makes age youth, deformity beauty, and even transforms vice into virtue.
In spite of recollection, which reminded Diana how often she had contended that all Mr. Lascelles' teeth were his own; that his nose was not a bit too long, being a facsimile of the feature which reared its sublime curve over the capricious mouth of his noble brother, the Earl of Castle Conway—notwithstanding all this, the Pythagorean pretensions of fashion began to lose their ascendency; and in the recesses of her mind, when Miss Dundas compared the light elegance of Pembroke's figure with the heavy limbs of her present lover, Pembroke's dark and ever-animated eyes with the gooseberry orbs of Lascelles, she dropped the parallel, and resolving to captivate the heir of Somerset Castle, admitted no remorse at jilting the brother of Castle Conway.
To this end, before Pembroke's return from Newgate, Diana had told her mother of her intention to accompany Miss Dorothy to the baronet's, where she would remain until her ladyship should think Euphemia might be trusted to rejoin her in town. Neither Miss Dorothy nor Miss Beaufort liked this arrangement; and next morning, with an aching heart, the latter prepared to take her seat in the travelling equipage which was to convey them all into Leicestershire.
After supper, Pembroke coldly informed his cousin of the success of her commands—that Mr. Constantine was at liberty. This assurance, though imparted with so ungracious an air, laid her head with less distraction on her pillow, and as she stepped into Sir Robert's carriage next day, enabled her with more ease to deck her lips with smiles. She felt that the penetrating eyes of Mr. Somerset were never withdrawn from her face. Offended with his perverseness, and their scrutiny, she tried to baffle their inspection. She attempted gayety, when she gladly would have wept. But when the coach mounted the top of Highgate Hill, and she had a last view of that city which contained the being whose happiness was the sole object of her thoughts and prayers, she leaned out of the window to hide a tear she could not repress; feeling that another and another would start, she complained of the dust, and pulling her veil over her eyes, drew back into the corner of the carriage. The trembling of her voice and hands during the performance of this little artifice too well explained to Pembroke what was passing in her mind. At once dispelling the gloom which shrouded his own countenance, he turned towards her with compassionate tenderness in his words and looks; he called her attention by degrees to the happy domestic scene she was to meet at the Castle; and thus gradually softening her displeasure into the easy conversation of reciprocal affection, he rendered the remainder of their long journey less irksome.
When, at the end of the second day, Miss Beaufort found herself in the old avenue leading to the base of the hill which sustains the revered walls of Somerset's castellated towers, a mingled emotion took possession of her breast; and when the carriage arrived at the foot of the highest terrace, she sprang impatiently out of it, and hastening up the stone stairs into the front hall, met her uncle at the door of the breakfast-parlor, where he held out his arms to receive her.
"My Mary! My darling!" cried he, embracing her now wet cheek, and straining her throbbing bosom to his own, "Why, my dear love," added he, almost carrying her into the room, "I am afraid this visit to town has injured your nerves! Whence arises this agitation?"
She knew it had injured her peace; and now that the floodgates of her long-repelled tears were opened, it was beyond her power, or the soothings of her affectionate uncle, to stay them. A moment afterwards her cousin entered the room, followed by Miss Dorothy and Miss Dundas. Miss Beaufort hastily rose, to conceal what she could not check. Kissing Sir Robert's hand, she asked permission to retire, under the pretence of regaining those spirits which had been dissipated by the fatigues of her journey.
In her own chamber she did indeed struggle to recover herself. She shuddered at the impetuosity of her emotions when once abandoned of their reins, and resolved from this hour to hold a stricter control over such betrayals of her ill-fated, devoted heart.
She sat in the window of her apartment, and looking down the extensive vale of Somerset, watched the romantic meanderings of its shadowed river, winding its course through the domains of the castle, and nourishing the roots of those immense oaks which for many a century had waved their branches over its stream. She reflected on the revolution which had take place in herself since she walked on its banks the evening that preceded her visit to London. Then she was free as the air, gay as the lark; each object was bright and lovely in her eyes hope seemed to woo her from every green slope, every remote dingle. All nature breathed of joy, because her own breast was the abode of gladness. Now, all continued the same, but she was changed. Surrounded by beauty, she acknowledged its presence; the sweetness of the flowers bathed her senses in fragrance; the setting sun, gilding the height, shed a yellow glory over the distant hills; the birds were hailing the falling dew which spangled every leaf. She gazed around, and sighed heavily, when she said to herself, "Even in this paradise I shall be wretched. Alas! my heart is far away! My soul lingers about one I may never more behold!—about one who may soon cease to remember that such a being as Mary Beaufort is in existence. He will leave England!" cried she, raising her hands and eyes to the glowing heavens. "He will live, he will die, far, far from me! In a distant land he will wed another, whilst I shall know no wish that strays from him."
Whilst she indulged in these soliloquies, she forgot both Sir Robert and her resolution, until he sent her maid to beg, if she were better, that she would come down and make tea for him. At this summons she dried her eyes, and with assumed serenity descended to the saloon, where the family were assembled. The baronet having greeted Miss Dundas with an hospitable welcome, seated himself between his sister and his son; and whilst he received his favorite beverage from the hands of his beloved niece, he found that comfort once more re-entered his bosom.
Sir Robert Somerset was a man whose appearance alone attracted respect. His person bore the stamp of dignity, and his manners, which possessed the exquisite polish of travel, and of society in its most refined courts, secured him universal esteem. Though little beyond fifty, various perplexing situations having distressed his youth, had not only rendered his hair prematurely gray, but by clouding his once brilliant eyes with thoughtfulness, marked his aspect with premature old age and melancholy. The baronet's entrance into town life had been celebrated for his graceful vivacity; he was the animating spirit of every party, till an inexplicable metamorphosis suddenly took place. Soon after his return from abroad, he had married Miss Beaufort (a woman whom he loved to adoration), When, strange to say, excess of happiness seemed to change his nature and give his character a deep tinge of sadness. After his wife's death, the alteration in his mind produced still more extraordinary effects, and showed itself more than once in all the terrors of threatened mental derangement.
His latest attack of the kind assailed him during the last winter, under the appearance of a swoon, while he sat at breakfast reading the newspaper. He was carried to bed, and awoke in a delirium which menaced either immediate death or the total extinction of his intellects. However, neither of these dreads being confirmed, in the course of several weeks, to the wonder of everybody, he recovered much of his health and his sound mind. Notwithstanding this happy event, the circumstances of his danger so deeply affected his family, that he ceased not to be an object of the most anxious attention. Indeed, solicitude did not terminate with them: the munificence of his disposition having spread itself through every county in which he owned a rood of land, as many prayers ascended for the repose of his spirit as ever petitioned Heaven from the mouths of "monkish beadsmen" in favor of power and virtue.
Since the demise of Lady Somerset, this still-admired man drew all his earthly comfort from the amiable qualities of his son Pembroke. Sometimes in his livelier hours, which came "like angel visits, few and far between," he amused himself with the playfulness of the little Earl of Avon, the pompous erudition of Mr. Loftus, (who was become his young ward's tutor), and with giving occasional entertainments to the gentry in his neighborhood.
Of all the personages contained within this circle (which the hospitality of Sir Robert extended to a circumference of fifty miles,) the noble family of Castle Granby, brave, patriotic, and accomplished, with female beauty at its head,
"Fitted to move in courts or walk the shade, With innocence and contemplation joined,"
were held in the highest and most intimate appreciation; while many of the numerous titled visitants who attended the celebrated and magnificent Granby hunt were of too convivial notoriety to be often admitted within the social home-society of either Castle Granby or Somerset Castle, the two cynosure mansions which, now palace-like, crest with their peaceful groves the summits of those two promontory heights whereon in former times they stood in fortress strength, the guardians of each opening pass into that spacious and once important belligerent vale!
Amongst the less-esteemed frequenters of the chase was devoted Nimrod, Sir Richard Shafto, who every season fixed himself and family at a convenient hunting-lodge near the little town of Grantham, with his right worthy son and heir who by calling at Somerset Castle soon after the arrival of his guests, caused a trifling change in its arrangements. When Dick Shafto (as all the grooms in the stables familiarly designated him) was ushered into the room, he nodded to Sir Robert, and, turning his back on the ladies, told Pembroke he had ridden to Somerset "on purpose to bag him for Woodhill Lodge."
"Upon my life," cried he, "if you don't come, I will cut and run. There is not a creature but yourself within twenty miles to whom I can speak—not a man worth a sixpence. I wish my father had broken his neck before he accepted that confounded embassy, which encumbers me with the charge of my old mother!"
After this dutiful wish, which brought down a weighty admonition from Miss Dorothy, the young gentleman promised to behave better, provided she would persuade Pembroke to accompany him to the Lodge. Mr. Somerset did not show much alacrity in his consent; but to rid his family of so noisy a guest, he rose from his chair, and acquiescing in the sacrifice of a few clays to good nature, bade his father farewell, and gave orders for a ride to Grantham.
As soon as the gentlemen left the saloon, Miss Dundas ran up stairs, and from her dressing-room window in the west tower pursued the steps of their horses as they cantered down the winding steep into the high road. An abrupt angle of the hill hiding them from her view, she turned round with a toss of the head, and flinging herself into a chair, exclaimed, "Now I shall be bored to death by this prosing family! I wish his boasted hunter had run away with Shafto before he thought of coming here!"
In consequence of the temper which engendered the above no very flattering compliment to the society at the Castle, Miss Dundas descended to the dining-room with sulky looks and a chilling air. She ate what the baronet laid on her plate with an indolent appetite, cut her meat carelessly, and dragged the vegetables over the table-cloth. Miss Dorothy colored at this indifference to the usual neatness of her damask covers; but Miss Dundas was so completely in the sullens, that, heedless of any other feelings than her own, she continued to pull and knock about the things just as her ill-humor dictated.
The petulance of this lady's behavior did not in the least assimilate with the customary decorum of Sir Robert's table; and when the cloth was drawn, he could not refrain from expressing his concern that Somerset Castle appeared so little calculated to afford satisfaction to a daughter of Lady Dundas. Miss Dundas attempted some awkward declaration that she never was more amused—never happier.
But the small credit Sir Robert gave to her assertion was fully warranted the next morning by the ready manner in which she accepting a casual invitation to spend the ensuing day and night at Lady Shafto's. Her ladyship called on Miss Dorothy, and intended to have a party in the evening, invited the two young ladies to return with her to Woodhill Lodge, and be her guests for a week. Miss Beaufort, whose spirits were far from tranquillized, declined her civility; but with a gleam of pleasure she heard it accepted by Miss Dundas, who departed with her ladyship for the Lodge.
Whilst the enraptured Diana, all life and glee, bowled along with Lady Shafto, anticipating the delight of once more seating herself at the elbow of Pembroke Somerset, Mary Beaufort, relieved from a load of ill-requited attentions, walked out into the park, to enjoy in solitude the "sweet sorrow" of thinking on the unhappy and far- distant Constantine. Regardless of the way, her footsteps, though robbed of elasticity by nightly watching and daily regret, led her beyond the park, to the ruined church of Woolthorpe, its southern boundary. Her eyes were fixed on the opposite horizon. It was the extremity of Leicestershire; and far, far behind those hills was that London which contained the object dearest to her soul. The wind seemed scarcely to breathe as it floated towards her; but it came from that quarter, and believing it laden with every sweet which love can fancy, she threw back her veil to inhale its balm, then, blaming herself for such weakness, she turned, blushing, homewards and wept at what she thought her unreasonably tenacious passion.
The arrival of Miss Dundas at the Lodge was communicated to the two young men on their return from traversing half the country in quest of game. The news drew an oath from Shafto, but rather pleased Somerset, who augured some amusement from her attempts at wit and judgment. Tired to death, and dinner being over when they entered, with ravenous appetites they devoured their uncomfortable meal in a remote room; then throwing themselves along the sofas, yawned and slept for nearly two hours.
Pembroke waking first, suddenly jumped on the floor, and shaking his disordered clothes, exclaimed, "Shafto! get up This is abominable! I cannot help thinking that if we spend one half of our days in pleasure and the other in lolling off its fatigues, we shall have passed through life more to our shame than our profit!"
"Then you take the shame and leave me the profit," cried his companion, turning himself round: "so good-night to you!"
Pembroke rang the bell. A servant entered.
"What o'clock is it?"
"Who are above?"
"My lady, sir, and a large party of ladies."
"There, now!" cried Shafto, yawning and kicking out his legs. "You surely won't go to be bored with such maudlin company?"
"I choose to join your mother," replied Pembroke. "Are there any gentlemen, Stephen?"
"One sir: Doctor Denton."
"Off with you!" roared Shafto; "what do you stand jabbering there for? You won't let me sleep. Can't you send away the fellow, and go look yourself?"
"I will, if you can persuade yourself to rise off that sofa and come with me."
"May Lady Hecate catch me if I do! Get about your business, and leave me to mine."
"You are incorrigible, Shafto," returned Pembroke, as he closed the door.
He went up stairs to change his dress, and before he gained the second flight, he resolved not to spend another whole day in the company of such an ignorant, unmannerly cub.
On Mr. Somerset's entrance into Lady Shafto's drawing-room, he saw many ladies, but only one gentleman, who was, the before-mentioned Dr. Denton—a poor, shallow-headed, parasitical animal. Pembroke having seen enough of him to despise his pretensions both to science and sincerity, returned his wide smirk and eager inquiries with a ceremonious bow, and took his seat by the side of the now delighted Miss Dundas. The vivid spirits of Diana, which she now strove to render peculiarly sparkling, entertained him. When compared with the insipid sameness of her ladyship, or the coarse ribaldry of her son, the mirth of Miss Dundas was wit and her remarks wisdom.
"Dear Mr. Somerset!" cried she, "how good you are to break this sad solemnity. I vow, until you showed your face, I thought the days of paganism were revived, and that lacking men, we were assembled here to celebrate the mysteries of the Bona Dea."
"Lacking men!" replied he, smiling; "you have over-looked the assiduous Doctor Denton?"
"O, no; that is a chameleon in man's clothing. He breathes air, he eats air, he speaks air; and a most pestilential breath it is. Only observe how he is pouring its fumes into the ear of yonder sable statue."
Pembroke directed his eyes as Miss Dundas desired him, and saw Dr. Denton whispering and bowing before a lady in black. The lady put up her lip: the doctor proceeded; she frowned: he would not be daunted; the lady rose from her seat, and slightly bending her head, crossed the room. Whilst Mr. Somerset was contemplating her graceful figure, and fine though pale features, Miss Dundas touched his arm, and smiling satirically, repeated in an affected voice—
"Hail, pensive nun! devout and holy! Hail, divinest Melancholy!"
"If she be Melancholy," returned Pembroke, "I would forever say
"Hence, unholy Mirth, of Folly born!"
Miss Dundas reddened. She never liked this interesting woman, who was not only too handsome for competition, but possessed an understanding that would not tolerate ignorance or presumption. Diana's ill-natured impertinence having several times received deserved chastisement from that quarter, she was vexed to the soul when Pembroke closed his animated response with the question, "Who is she?"
Rather too bitterly for the design on his heart, Miss Dundas iterated his words, and then answered, "Why, she is crazed. She lives in a place called Harrowby Abbey, at the top of that hill," continued she, pointing through the opposite window to a distant rising ground, on which the moon was shining brightly; "and I am told she frightens the cottagers out of their wits by her midnight strolls."
Hardly knowing how to credit this wild account, Pembroke asked his informer if she were serious.
"Never more so. Her eyes are uncommonly wild."
"You must be jesting," returned he; "they seem perfectly reasonable."
Miss Dundas laughed, "like Hamlet's, they 'know not seems, but have that within which passeth show!' Believe me, she is mad enough for Bedlam; and of that I could soon convince you. I wonder how Lady Shafto thought of inviting her, she quite stupefied our dinner."
"Well," cried Pembroke, "if those features announce madness, I shall never admire a look of sense again."
"Bless us," exclaimed Miss Dundas, "you are wonderfully struck! Don't you see she is old enough to be your mother?"
"That maybe," answered he, smiling; "nevertheless she is one of the most lovely women I ever beheld." Come, tell me her name."
"I will satisfy you in a moment," rejoined Diana; "and then away with your rhapsodies! She is the very Countess of Tinemouth, who brought that vagabond foreigner to our house who would have run off with Phemy!"
"Lady Tinemouth!" exclaimed Pembroke; "I never saw her before. My ever-lamented mother knew her whilst I was abroad, and she esteemed her highly. Pray introduce me to her!"
"Impossible," replied Diana, vexed at the turn his curiosity had taken; "I wrote to her about the insidious wretch, and now we don't speak."
"Then I will introduce myself," answered he. He was moving away, when Miss Dundas caught his arm, and by various attempts at badinage and raillery, held him in his place until the countess had made her farewell curtsey to Lady Shafto, and the door was closed.
Disappointed by this manoeuvre, Pembroke re-seated himself; and wondering why his aunt and cousin had not heard of Lady Tinemouth's arrival at Harrowby, he determined to wait on her next day. Regardless of every word which the provoked Diana addressed to him, he remained silent and meditating, until the loud voice of Shafto, bellowing in his ear, made him turn suddenly round. Miss Dundas tried to laugh at his reverie, though she knew that such a flagrant instance of inattention was death to her hopes; but Pembroke, not inclined to partake in the jest, coolly asked his bearish companion what he wanted?
"Nothing," cried he, "but to hear you speak! Miss Dundas tells me you have lost your heart to yonder grim countess? My mother wanted me to gallant her up the hill; but I would see her in the river first!"
"Shafto!" answered Pembroke, rising from his chair, "you cannot be speaking of Lady Tinemouth?"
"Efaith I am," roared he; "and if she be such a scamp as to live without a carriage, I won't be her lackey for nothing. The matter of a mile is not to be tramped over by me with no pleasanter companion than an old painted woman of quality."
"Surely you cannot mean," returned Pembroke, "that her ladyship was to walk from this place?"
"Without a doubt," cried Shafto, bursting into a hoarse laugh; "you would be clever to see my Lady Stingy in any other carriage than her clogs."
Irritated at the malice of Miss Dundas, and despising the vulgar illiberality of Shafto, without deigning a reply, Pembroke abruptly left the room, and hastening out of the house, ran, rather than walked, in hopes of overtaking the countess before she reached Harrowby.
* * * * * * *
THE VALE OF GRANTHAM.—BELVOIR.
Pembroke crossed the little wooden bridge which lies over the Witham; he scoured the field; he leaped every stile and gate in his way, and at last gained the enclosure that leads to the top of the hill, where he descried a light moving, and very rightly conjectured it must be the lantern carried by the countess's attendant. Another spring over the shattered fence cleared all obstacles, and he found himself close to Lady Tinemouth, who was leaning on the arm of a gentleman. Pembroke stopped at this sight. Supposing she had been met by some person belonging to the neighborhood, whose readier gallantry now occupied the place which Miss Dundas had prevented him from filling, he was preparing to retreat, when Lady Tinemouth happening to turn her head, imagined, from the hesitating embarrassment of his manner, that he was a stranger, who had lost his way, and accosted him with that inquiry.
Pembroke bowed in some confusion, and related the simple fact of his having heard that she had quitted Lady Shafto's house without any guard but the servant, and that the moment he learned the circumstance he had hurried out to proffer his services. The countess not only thanked him for such attention, but, constrained by a civility which at that instant she could have wished not to have been necessary, asked him to walk forward with her to the abbey, and partake of some refreshment.
"But," added she, "though I perfectly recollect having seen another gentleman in Lady Shafto's room besides Doctor Denton, I have not the honor of knowing your name."
"It is Somerset," returned Pembroke; "I am the son of that Lady Somerset, who, during the last year of her life, had the happiness of being intimate with your ladyship."
Lady Tinemouth expressed her pleasure at this meeting; and turning to the gentleman who was walking in silence by her side, said, "Mr. Constantine, allow me to introduce to you the cousin of the amiable Miss Beaufort."
Thaddeus, who had too well recognized the voice of his false friend in the first accents he addressed to the countess, with a swelling heart bent his head to the cold salutation of Somerset. Hearing that her ladyship's companion was the same Constantine whom he had liberated from prison, Pembroke was stimulated with a desire to take the perhaps favorable occasion to unmask his double villany to Lady Tinemouth; and conceiving a curiosity to see the man whose person and meretricious qualities had blinded the judgment of his aunt and cousin, he readily obeyed the second invitation of the countess, and consented to go home and sup with her.
Meanwhile, Thaddeus was agitated with a variety of emotions. Every tone of Pembroke's voice, reminding him of happier days, pierced his heart, whilst a sense of his ingratitude awakened all the pride and indignation of his soul. Full of resentment, he determined that, whatever might be the result, he would not shrink from an interview, the anticipation of which Pembroke (who had received from himself an intimation of the name he had assumed) seemed to regard with so much contemptuous indifference.
Not imagining that Somerset and the count had any personal knowledge of each other, Lady Tinemouth begged the gentlemen to accompany her into the supper-parlor, Pembroke, with inconsiderate, real indifference, passed by Thaddeus to give his hand to the countess. Thaddeus was so shocked at this instance of something very like a personal affront, that, insulted in every nerve, he was obliged to pause a moment in the hall, to summon coolness to follow him with a composed step and dispassionate countenance. He accomplished this conquest over himself, and taking off his hat, entered the room. Lady Tinemouth began to congratulate herself with many kind expressions on his arrival. The eyes of Pembroke fixed themselves on the calm but severe aspect of the man before him; he stood by the table with such an air of noble greatness, that the candid heart of Pembroke Somerset soon whispered to himself, "Sure nothing ill can dwell in such a breast!"
Still his eyes followed him, when he turned round, and when he bent his head to answer the countess, but in a voice so low that it escaped his ear. Pembroke was bewildered. There was something in the features, in the mien of this foreigner, so like his friend Sobieski! But then Sobieski was all frankness and animation; his cheek bloomed with the rich coloring of youth and happiness; his eyes flashed pleasure, and his lips were decked with smiles. On the contrary, the person before him was not only considerably taller, and of more manly proportions, but his face was pale, reserved, and haughty; besides, he did not appear even to recollect the name of Somerset; and what at once might destroy the supposition, his own was simply Constantine.
These reasonings having quickly passed through the mind of Pembroke, they left his heart unsatisfied. The conflict of his doubts flushed his cheeks; his bosom beat; and keeping his searching and ardent gaze riveted on the man who was either his friend or his counterpart, on Lady Tinemouth turning away to lay her cloak down, the eyes of the young men met. Thaddeus turned paler than before. There is an intelligence in the interchange of looks which cannot be mistaken; it is the communication of souls, and there is no deception in their language. Pembroke flew forward, and catching hold of his friend's hand, exclaimed in an impetuous voice, "Am I right? Are you Sobieski?"
"I am," returned Thaddeus, almost inarticulate with emotion, and hardly knowing what to understand by Somerset's behavior.
"Gracious heaven!" cried he, still grasping his hand; "can you have forgotten your friend Pembroke Somerset?"
The ingenuous heart of Thaddeus acknowledged the words and manner of Pembroke to be the language of truth. Trusting that some mistake had involved his former conduct, he at once cast off suspicion, and throwing his arms around him, strained him to his breast and burst into tears.
Lady Tinemouth, who during this scene stood mute with surprise, now advanced to the friends, who were weeping on each other's necks, and taking a hand of each, "My dear Sobieski," cried she, "why did you withhold the knowledge of this friendship from me? Had you told me that you and Mr. Somerset were acquainted, this happy meeting might have been accomplished sooner."
"Yes," replied Pembroke, turning to the countess, and wiping away the tears which were trembling on his cheek; "nothing could have given me pain at this moment but the conviction that he who was the preserver of my life, and my most generous protector, should in this country have endured the most abject distress rather than let me know it was in my power to be grateful."
Thaddeus took out his handkerchief, and for a few moments concealed his face. The countess looked on him with tenderness; and believing he would sooner regain composure were he alone with his friend, she stole unobserved out of the room.
Pembroke affectionately resumed: "But I hope, dear Sobieski, you will never leave me more. I have an excellent father, who, when he is made acquainted with my obligations to you and your noble family, will glory in loving you as a son."
Having subdued "the woman in his heart," Thaddeus raised his head with an expression in his eyes far different from that which had chilled the blood of Pembroke on their first encounter.
"Circumstances," said he, "dear Somerset, have made me greatly injure you. A strange neglect on your side, since we separated at Villanow, gave the first blow to my confidence in your friendship. Though I lost your direct address, I wrote to you often, and yet you persevered in silence. After having witnessed the destruction of all that was dear to me in Poland, and then of Poland itself, when I came to England I wished to give your faithfulness another chance. I addressed two letters to you. I even delivered the last at your door myself, and I saw you in the window when I sent it in."
"By all that is sacred," cried Pembroke, vehemently, and amazed, "I never saw any letter from you! I wrote you many. I never heard of those you mention. Indeed, I should even now have been ignorant of the palatine's and your mother's cruel fate had it not been too circumstantially related in the newspapers."
"I believe you," returned Thaddeus, drawing an agonizing sigh at the dreadful picture which the last sentence recalled. "I believe you; though at the time of which I speak, I thought otherwise, for both my last letters were re-enclosed to me in a blank cover, directed as if by your hand, and brought by a servant, with a message that there was no answer."
"Amazing!" exclaimed Somerset; "there must be some horrible treachery! Can it be that some lurking foreign spy got amongst my servants at Dantzic, and has been this traitor ever since? Oh, Thaddeus!" cried he, abruptly interrupting himself, and grasping his hand, "I would have flown to you, had it been to meet death, instead of the greatest joy Heaven could bestow upon me. But why did you not come in yourself? then no mistake could have happened! Oh, why did you not come in?"
"Because I was uncertain of your sentiments. My first letter remained unnoticed: and my heart, dear Somerset," added he, pressing his hand, "would not stoop to solicitation."
"Solicitation!" exclaimed Pembroke, with warmth; "you have a right to demand my life! But there is some deep villany in this affair; nothing else could have carried it through. Oh, if anybody belonging to me have dared to open these letters—Oh, Sobieski!" cried he, interrupting himself, "how you must have despised me!"
"I was afflicted," returned Thaddeus, "that the man whom my family so warmly loved could prove so unworthy; and afterwards, whenever I met you in the streets, which I think was more than once or twice, I confess that to pass you cut me to the heart."
"And you have met me?" exclaimed Pembroke, "and I not see you; I cannot comprehend it."
"Yes," answered Thaddeus; "and the first time was going into the playhouse. I believe I called after you."
"Is it not now ten months since?" returned Pembroke. "I remember very well that some one called out my name in a voice that seemed known to me, while I was handing Lady Calthorpe and her sister into the porch. I looked about, but not seeing any one I knew, I thought I must have been mistaken. But why, dear Sobieski, why did you not follow me into the theatre?"
Thaddeus shook his head and smiled languidly. "My poverty would not permit," replied he; "but I waited in the hall until everybody left the house, in hopes of intercepting you as you passed again."
Pembroke sprung from his chair at these words, and with vehemence exclaimed, "I see it! That hypocrite Loftus is at the bottom of it! He followed me into the theatre; he must have seen you, and his cursed selfishness was alarmed. Yes; it is no foreign traitor! it must be he! He would not allow me to return that way. When I said I would, he told me a thousand lies about the carriages coming round; and I, believing him, went out by another door. I will tax him of it to his face!"
"Who is Mr. Loftus?" inquired Thaddeus, surprised at his friend's suspicion; "I do not know the man."
"What!" returned Pembroke, "don't you remember that Loftus is the name of my scoundrel tutor who persuaded me to volunteer against Poland? To screen his baseness I have brought all this upon myself."
"Now I recollect it," replied Thaddeus; "but I never saw him."
"Yet I am not less certain that I am right," replied Somerset. "I will tell you my reasons. After I quitted Villanow, you may remember I was to meet him at Dantzic. Before we left the port, he implored, almost on his knees, that in pity to his mother and sisters, whom he said he supported out of his salary, I would refrain from incensing my parents against him by relating any circumstance of our visit to Poland. The man shed tears as he spoke; and, like a fool, I consented to keep the secret till the Vicar of Somerset (a poor soul, still ill of dropsy) dies, and he be in possession of the living. When we landed in England, I found the cause of my sudden recall had been the illness of my dear mother. But Heaven denied me the happiness of beholding her again; she had been buried two days before I reached the shore." Pembroke paused a moment, and then resumed: "For near a month after my return, I could not quit my room; on my recovery, I wrote both to you and to the palatine. But I still locked up your names within my heart, the old rector being yet in existence. I repeated my letters at least every six weeks during the first year of our separation, though you persisted in being silent. Hurt as I was at this neglect, I believed that gratitude demanded some sacrifices from pride, and I continued to write even till the spring following. Meanwhile the papers of the day teemed with Sobieski's actions— Sobieski's fame; and supposing that increasing glory had blotted me out of your memory, I resolved thenceforth to regard our friendship as a dream, and never to speak of it more."
Confounded at this double misapprehension, Thaddeus with a glowing countenance expressed his regret for having doubted his friend, and repeating the assurance of having been punctual to his promise of correspondence, even when he dreamed him inconstant, acknowledged that nothing but a premeditated scheme could have effected so many disappointments.
"Ay," returned Pembroke, reddening with awakened anger; "I could swear that Mr. Loftus has all my letters in his bureau at this moment! No house ever gave a man a better opportunity to play the rogue in than ours. It is a custom with us to lay our letters every morning on the hall-table, whence they are sent to the office; and when the post arrives they are spread out in the same way, that their several owners may take them as they pass to breakfast. From this arrangement I cannot doubt the means by which Mr. Loftus, under the hope of separating us forever, has intercepted every letter to you and every letter from you. I suppose the wretch feared I might become impatient, and break my engagement if our correspondence were allowed. He trembled lest the business should be blown before the rector died, and he, in consequence, lose both the expected living and his present situation about Lord Avon. A villain! for once he has judged rightly. I will unmask him to my father, and show him what it is to purchase advancement at the expense of honor and justice."
Thaddeus, who could not withhold immediate credit to these evidences of chicanery, tried to calm the violence of his friend, who only answered by insisting on having his company back with him to Somerset Castle.
"I long to present you to my father," cried he. "When I tell him who you are, of your kindness to me, how rejoiced will he be! How happy, how proud to have you his guest; to show the grandson of the Palatine of Masovia the warm gratitude of a Briton's heart! Indeed, Sobieski, you will love him, for he is generous and noble, like your inestimable grandfather. Besides," added he, smiling with a sudden recollection, "there is my lovely cousin, Mary Beaufort, who I verily believe will fly into your arms!"
The blood rushed over the cheeks of Thaddeus at this speech of his friend, and suppressing a bitter sigh, he shook his head.
"Don't look so like an infidel," resumed Somerset. "If you have any doubts of possessing her most precious feelings, I can put you out of your suspense by a single sentence! When Lady Dundas's household, with myself amongst them (for little did I suspect I was joining the cry against my friend), were asserting the most flagrant instances of your deceit to Euphemia, Mary alone withstood the tide of malice, and compelled me to release you."
"Gracious Providence!" cried Thaddeus, catching Pembroke's hand, and looking eagerly and with agitation in his face "was it you who came to my prison? Was it Miss Beaufort who visited my lodgings?"
"Indeed it was," returned his friend, "and I blush for my self that I quitted Newgate without an interview. Had I followed the dictates of common courtesy, in the fulfilment of my commission, I should have seen you; and then, what pain would have been spared my dear cousin! What a joyful surprise would have awaited myself!"
Thaddeus could only reply by pressing his friend's hand. His brain whirled. He could not decide on the nature of his feelings; one moment he would have given worlds to throw himself at Miss Beaufort's feet, and the next he trembled at the prospect of meeting her so soon.
"Dear Sobieski!" cried Pembroke, "how strangely you receive this intelligence! Is it possible such sentiments from Mary Beaufort can be regarded by a soul like yours with coldness?"
"O no!" cried the count, his fine face flushed with emotion. "I adore Miss Beaufort. Her virtues possess my whole heart. But can I forget that I have only that heart to offer? Can I forget that I am a beggar?—that even now I exist on her bounty?" The eyes of Thaddeus, and the sudden tremor which shook his frame, finished this appeal to his fate.
Pembroke found it enter his soul. To hide its effect, he threw himself on his friend's breast, and exclaimed, "Do not injure me and my father by such thoughts. You are come, dearest Sobieski, to a second home. Sir Robert Somerset will consider himself ennobled in supplying the place of your lamented grandfather—in endowing you like a son! Oh, Thaddeus, you must be my cousin, dear as a brother, as well as my friend!"
Thaddeus replied with an agitated affection as true as that of the generous speaker. "But," added he, "I must not allow the noble heart of my now regained Somerset to believe that I can live a dependant on any power but the Author of my being. Therefore, if Sir Robert Somerset will assist me to procure some unobtrusive way of acquiring my own support in the simplicity I wish, I shall thank him from my soul. In no other way my kindest friend, can I ever be brought to tax the munificence of your father."
Pembroke colored at this, and exclaimed, in a voice of distress and displeasure, "Sobieski! what can you mean? Do you imagine that ever my father or myself can forget that you were little less than a prince in your own country?—that when in so high a station you treated me like a brother; that you preserved me even when I lifted my arm against your life. Can we be such monsters as to forget all this, or to think that we act justly by you in permitting you to labor for your bread? No, Thaddeus; my very soul spurns the idea. Your mother sheltered me as a son; and I insist that you allow my father to perform the same part by you! Besides, you shall not be idle; you may have a commission in the army, and I will follow you."
The count pressed the hand of his friend, and looking gratefully but mournfully in his face, replied, "Had I a hundred tongues, my generous Pembroke, I could not express my sense of your friendship; it is indeed a cordial to my heart; it imparts to me an earnest of happiness which I thought had fled forever. But it shall not allure me from my principles. I am resolved not to live a life of indolent uselessness; and I cannot, at this period, enter the British army. No," added he, emotion elevating his tone and manner; "rather would I toil for subsistence by the sweat of my brow than be subjected to the necessity of acting in concert with those ravagers who destroyed my country! I cannot fight by the side of the allied powers who dismembered it! I cannot enlist under the allies! I will not be led out to devastation! Mine was, and ever shall be, a defensive sword; and should danger threaten England, I would be as ready to withstand her enemies as I ardently, though ineffectually, opposed those of unhappy Poland."
Pembroke recognized the devoted soul of Thaddeus of Warsaw in this lofty burst of enthusiasm; and aware that his father's munificence and manner of conferring it would go further towards removing these scruples than all his own arguments, he did not attempt to combat a resolution which he knew he could not subdue, but tried to prevail with him to become his guest until something could be arranged to suit his wishes.
With an unuttered emotion at the thought of meeting Miss Beaufort, Thaddeus had just consented to accompany Somerset to the Castle, after Sir Robert had been apprized of his coming, when the countess's old and faithfully attached manservant entered, and respectfully informed her guests that his lady, not willing to disturb their conversation, had retired to her room for the night, but that beds were prepared for them in the Abbey, and she hoped to meet both friends at her breakfast table in the morning. The honest man then added, "It was now past eleven o'clock; and after their honors had partaken of their yet untasted refreshment, he would be ready to attend them to their chambers."
Pembroke started up at this, and shaking his friend warm by the hand, bade him, he said, "a short farewell;" and hastening down the hill, arrived at the gate of the Wold Lodge just at the turn of midnight.
At an early hour the next morning he gave orders to his groom, wrote a slight apology to Shafto for his abrupt departure, and, mounting his fleet horse, galloped away full of delight towards Somerset Castle.
But Sobieski did not follow the attentive domestic of his maternal friend to the prepared apartment in the Abbey. He asked to be conducted back through the night shadowed grounds to the little hotel he had seen early in the evening on his approach to the mansion. It stood at the entrance of the adjoining village, and under its rustic porch he had immediately entered, to engage a lodging beneath its humble sign, "The Plough," for the few clays of his intended visit to Lady Tinemouth. A boy had been his guide, and bearer of his small travelling bag, from the famous old Commandery inn, the "Angel," at Grantham, where the Wold diligence had set him down in the afternoon at the top of the market-place of that memorable town of ancient chivalry, to find his way up to the occasional rural palace cells on Harrowby Hill, of the same doughty and luxurious knights who were now lying, individually forgotten, in their not only silent but unknown graves, there not being a trace of them amongst the chapel ruins of the Abbey, nor below the hill, on the sight of the old Commandery church at Grantham.
"Ah, transit mundi!" exclaimed Thaddeus to himself, with a calmed sigh, as he thought on those things, while resting under the modest little portal of the hotel, whose former magnificence, when a hermit cell, might still be discernible in a few remaining remnants of the rich Gothic lintel yet mingling with the matted straw and the clinging ivy of the thatch.
"What art thou, world, and thine ambitions?" again echoed in silence from the heart of Thaddeus. "Though yet so young, I have seen thee in all thy phases which might wean me from this earth. But there are still some beings dear to me in the dimmed aspect, that seem to hold my hopes to this transitory and yet too lovely world." He was then thinking of his restored friend Pembroke Somerset, and of her whose name had been so fondly uttered by him, as a possible bond of their still more intimate relationship. He tried to quell the wild hope this recollection waked in his bosom, and hurried from the little parlor of the inn, where Lady Tinemouth's old servant had left him, to seek repose in his humbly-prepared chamber.
At sight of its white-robed bed and simple furniture, and instantly conscious to the balmy effects of the sweet freshness that breathed around him, where no perfume but that of flowers ever entered, his agitated feelings soon became soothed into serenity, and within a quarter of an hour after he had laid his grateful head on that quiet pillow, he had sunk to a sleep of gentle peace with man and Heaven.
Next morning, when the countess met her gladly re-welcomed guest at the breakfast-table, she expressed surprise and pleasure at the scene of the preceding night, but intimated some mortification that he had withheld any part of his confidence from her. Sobieski soon obtained her pardon, by relating the manner of his first meeting with Mr. Somerset in Poland, and the consequent events of that momentous period.
Lady Tinemouth wept over the distressful fate that marked the residue of his narrative with a tenderness which yet more endeared her to his soul. But when, in compliance with his inquiries, she informed him how it happened that he had to seek her at Harrowby Abbey, when he supposed her to be on the Wolds, it was his turn to pity, and to shudder at his own consanguinity with Lord Harwold.
"Indeed," added the countess, wishing to turn from the painful subject, "you must have had a most tedious journey from Harwold Park to Harrowby, and nothing but my pleasure could exceed my astonishment when I met you last night on the hill."
Thaddeus sincerely declared that travelling a few miles further than he intended was no fatigue to him; yet, were it otherwise, the happiness which he then enjoyed would have acted as a panacea for worse ills, could he have seen her looking as well as when she left London.
Lady Tinemouth smiled. "You are right, Sobieski. I am worse than when I was in town. My solitary journey to Harwold oppressed me; and when my son sent me orders to leave it, because his father wanted the place for the autumnal months, his capricious cruelty seemed to augment the hectic of my distress. Nevertheless, I immediately obeyed, and in augmented disorder, arrived here last week. But how kind you were to follow me! Who informed you of the place of my destination?—hardly any of Lady Olivia's household?"
"No," returned Thaddeus; "I luckily had the precaution to inquire at the inn on the Wolds where the coach stopped, what part of Lord Tinemouth's family were at the Park; and when I heard that the earl himself was there, my next question was, "Where, then, was the countess?" The landlord very civilly told me of your having engaged a carriage from his house a day or two before, to carry you to one of his lordship's seats within a few miles of Somerset Castle. Hence, from what I heard you say of the situation of Harrowby, I concluded it must be the Abbey, and so I sought you at a venture."
"And I hope a happy issue," replied she, "will arise from your wanderings! This rencontre with so old a friend as Mr. Somerset is a pleasing omen. For my part, I was ignorant of the arrival of the family at the Castle until yesterday morning, and then I sent off a messenger to apprize my dear Miss Beaufort of my being in her neighborhood. To my great disappointment, Lady Shafto found me out immediately; and when, in compliance with her importunate invitation, I walked down to an early dinner with her yesterday, little did I expect to meet the amiable cousin of our sweet friend. So delightful an accident has amply repaid me for the pain I endured in seeing Miss Dundas at the Lodge; an insolent and reproachful letter which she wrote to me concerning you has rendered her an object of my aversion."
Thaddeus smiled and gently bent his head. "Since, my dear Lady Tinemouth, her groundless malice and Miss Euphemia's folly have failed in estranging either your confidence or the esteem of Miss Beaufort from me, I pardon them both. Perhaps I ought to pity them; for is it not difficult to pass through the brilliant snares of wealth and adulation and emerge pure as when we entered them? Unclouded fortune is, indeed, a trial of spirits; and how brightly does Miss Beaufort rise from the blaze! Surrounded by splendor, homage and indulgence, she is yet all nature, gentleness and virtue!"
The latter part of this burst of heart he uttered rapidly, the nerves of that heart beating full at every word.
The countess, who wished to appear cheerful, rallied him on the warmth of his expressions; and observing that "the day was fine," invited him to walk out with her through the romantic, though long- neglected, domains of the Abbey.
Meanwhile, the family at Somerset were just drawn round the breakfast-board, when they were agreeably surprised by the sudden entrance of Pembroke. During the repast Miss Beaufort repeated the contents of the note she had received the preceding day from Lady Tinemouth, and requested that her cousin would be kind enough to drive her in his curricle that morning to Harrowby.
"I will, with pleasure," answered he. "I have seen her ladyship, and even supped with her last night."
"How came that?" asked Miss Dorothy.
"I shall explain it to my father, whenever he will honor me with an audience," returned her happy nephew, addressing the baronet with all the joy of his heart looking out at his eyes. "Will you indulge me, dear sir, by half an hour's attention?"
"Certainly," replied Sir Robert; "at present I am going into my study to settle my steward's books, but the moment I have finished, I will send for you."
Miss Dorothy walked out after her brother, to attend her aviary, and Miss Beaufort, remaining alone with her cousin, made some inquiries about the countess's reasons for coming to the Abbey. "I know nothing about them," replied he, gayly, "for she went to bed almost the instant I entered the house. Too good to remain where her company was not wanted, she left me to enjoy a most delightful tete—tete with a dear friend, from whom I parted nearly four years ago. In short, we sat up the whole night together, talking over past scenes— and present ones too, for, I assure you, you were not forgotten."
"I! what had I to do with it?" replied Mary, smiling. "I cannot recollect any dear friend of yours whom you have not seen these four years."
"Well, that is strange!" answered Pembroke; "he remembers you perfectly; but, true to your sex, you affirm what you please, though I know there is not a man in the world I prefer before him."
Miss Beaufort shook her head, laughed, and sighed; and withdrawing her hand from his, threatened to leave him if he would not be serious.
"I am serious," cried he. "Would you have me swear that I have seen him whom you most wish to see?"
She regarded the expression of his countenance with a momentary emotion; taking her seat again, she said, "You can have seen no one that is of consequence to me; whoever your friend may be, I have only to congratulate you on a meeting which affords you so much delight."
Pembroke burst into a joyous laugh at her composure.
"So cold!" cried he—"so cautious! Yet I verily believe you would participate in my delights were I to tell you who he is. However, you are such a skeptic, that I wont hint even one of the many fine things he said of you."
She smiled incredulously.
"I could beat you, Mary," exclaimed he, "for this oblique way of saying I am telling lies! But I will have my revenge on your curiosity; for on my honor I declare," added he, emphatically, "that last night I met with a friend at Lady Tinemouth's who four years ago saved my life, who entertained me several weeks in his house, and who has seen and adores you! Tis true; true, on my existence! And what is more, I have promised that you will repay these weighty obligations by the free gift of this dear hand. What do you say to this, my sweet Mary?"
Miss Beaufort looked anxious at the serious and energetic manner in which he made those assertions; even the sportive kiss that ended the question did not dispel the gravity with which she prepared to reply.
Pembroke perceiving her intent, prevented her by exclaiming, "Cease, Mary, cease! I see you are going to make a false statement. Let truth prevail, and you will not deny that I am suing for a plighted faith? You will not deny who it was that softened and subdued your heart? You cannot conceal from me that the wanderer Constantine possesses your affections?"
Amazed at so extraordinary a charge from her hitherto always respectful as well as fraternally affectionate cousin, she reddened with pain and displeasure. Rising from her seat, and averting her tearful eyes, she said, "I did not expect this cruel, this ungenerous speech from you, Pembroke! What have I done to deserve so rude, so unfeeling a reproach?"
Pembroke threw his arm round her. "Come," said he, in a sportive voice; "don't be tragical. I never meant to reproach you, Mary. I dare say if you gave your heart, it was only in return for his. I know you are a grateful girl; and I verily believe you won't find much difference between my friend the young Count Sobieski and the forlorn Constantine."
A suspicion of the truth flashed across Miss Beaufort's mind. Unable to speak, she caught hold of her cousin's hands, and looking eagerly in his face, her eyes declared the question she would have asked.
Pembroke laughed triumphantly. A servant entering to tell him that Sir Robert was ready, he strained her to his breast and exclaimed, "Now I am revenged! Farewell! I leave you to all the pangs of doubt and curiosity!" He then flew out of the room with an arch glance at her agitated countenance, and hurried up stairs.
She clasped her trembling hands together as the door closed on him. "O, gracious Providence!" cried she, "what am I to understand by this mystery, this joy of my cousin's? Can it be possible that the illustrious Sobieski and my contemned Constantine are the same person?" A burning blush overspread her face at the expression my which had escaped her lips.
Whilst the graces, the sweetness, the dignity of Thaddeus had captivated her notice, his sufferings, his virtues, and the mysterious interests which involved his history, in like manner had fixed her attention had awakened her esteem. From these grounds the step is short to love. "When the mind is conquered, the heart surrenders at discretion." But she knew not that she had advanced too far to retreat, until the last scene at Dundas House, by forcing her to defend Constantine against the charge of loving her, made her confess to herself how much she wished the charge were true.
Poor and lowly as he seemed, she found that her whole heart and life were wrapped in his remembrance; that his worshipped idea was her solace; her most precious property the dear treasure of her secret and sweetest felicity, It was the companion of her walks, the monitor of her actions. Whenever she planned, whenever she executed, she asked herself, how would Constantine consider this? and accordingly did she approve or condemn her conduct, for she had heard enough from Mrs. Robson to convince her that piety was the sure fountain of his virtues.
When she had left London, and so far separated from this idol of her memory, such was the impression he had stamped on her heart; he seemed ever present. The shade of Laura visited the solitude of Vaucluse; the image of Constantine haunted the walks of Somerset. The loveliness of nature, its leafy groves and verdant meadows, its blooming mornings and luxuriant sunsets, the romantic shadows of twilight or the soft glories of the moon and stars, as they pressed beauty and sentiment upon her heart, awoke it to the remembrance of Constantine; she saw his image, she felt his soul, in every object. Subtile and undefinable is that ethereal chord which unites our tenderest thought, with their chain of association!
Before this conversation, in which Pembroke mentioned the name of Constantine with so much badinage and apparent familiarity, he never heard him spoken of by Mary or his aunt without declaring a displeasure nearly amounting to anger. Hence when she considered his now so strangely altered tone, Miss Beaufort necessarily concluded that he had seen, in the person of him she most valued, the man whose public character she had often heard him admire, and who, she now doubted not, had at some former period given him some private reason for calling him his friend. Before this time, she more than once had suspected, from the opinions which Somerset occasionally repeated respecting the affairs of Poland, that he could only have acquired so accurate a knowledge of its events by having visited the country itself. She mentioned her suspicion to Mr. Loftus: he denied the fact; and she had thought no more on the subject until the present ambiguous hints of her cousin conjured up these doubts anew, and led her to suppose that if Pembroke had not disobeyed his father so far as to go to Warsaw, he must have met with the Count Sobieski in some other realm. The possibility that this young hero, of whom fame spoke so loudly, might be the mysterious Constantine, bewildered and delighted her. The more she compared what she had heard of the one with what she had witnessed in the other, the more was she reconciled to the probability of her ardent hope. Besides, she could not for a moment retain a belief that her cousin would so cruelly sport with her delicacy and peace as to excite expectations that he could not fulfil.