HotFreeBooks.com
The Fortunes of Nigel
by Sir Walter Scott
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

Lowestoffe, having thus seen his friend fairly installed in his new apartment, and having obtained for him a note of the rate at which he could be accommodated with victuals from a neighbouring cook's shop, now took his leave, offering, at the same time, to send the whole, or any part of Lord Glenvarloch's baggage, from his former place of residence to his new lodging. Nigel mentioned so few articles, that the Templar could not help observing, that his lordship, it would seem, did not intend to enjoy his new privileges long.

"They are too little suited to my habits and taste, that I should do so," replied Lord Glenvarloch.

"You may change your opinion to-morrow," said Lowestoffe; "and so I wish you a good even. To-morrow I will visit you betimes."

The morning came, but instead of the Templar, it brought only a letter from him. The epistle stated, that Lowestoffe's visit to Alsatia had drawn down the animadversions of some crabbed old pantaloons among the benchers, and that he judged it wise not to come hither at present, for fear of attracting too much attention to Lord Glenvarloch's place of residence. He stated, that he had taken measures for the safety of his baggage, and would send him, by a safe hand, his money-casket, and what articles he wanted. Then followed some sage advices, dictated by Lowestoffe's acquaintance with Alsatia and its manners. He advised him to keep the usurer in the most absolute uncertainty concerning the state of his funds-never to throw a main with the captain, who was in the habit of playing dry-fisted, and paying his losses with three vowels; and, finally, to beware of Duke Hildebrod, who was as sharp, he said, as a needle, though he had no more eyes than are possessed by that necessary implement of female industry.



CHAPTER XVIII

Mother. What I dazzled by a flash from Cupid's mirror, With which the boy, as mortal urchins wont, Flings back the sunbeam in the eye of passengers— Then laughs to see them stumble!

Daughter. Mother! no— It was a lightning-flash which dazzled me, And never shall these eyes see true again. Beef and Pudding.-An Old English Comedy.

It is necessary that we should leave our hero Nigel for a time, although in a situation neither safe, comfortable, nor creditable, in order to detail some particulars which have immediate connexion with his fortunes.

It was but the third day after he had been forced to take refuge in the house of old Trapbois, the noted usurer of Whitefriars, commonly called Golden Trapbois, when the pretty daughter of old Ramsay, the watchmaker, after having piously seen her father finish his breakfast, (from the fear that he might, in an abstruse fit of thought, swallow the salt-cellar instead of a crust of the brown loaf,) set forth from the house as soon as he was again plunged into the depth of calculation, and, accompanied only by that faithful old drudge, Janet, the Scots laundress, to whom her whims were laws, made her way to Lombard Street, and disturbed, at the unusual hour of eight in the morning, Aunt Judith, the sister of her worthy godfather.

The venerable maiden received her young visitor with no great complacency; for, naturally enough, she had neither the same admiration of her very pretty countenance, nor allowance for her foolish and girlish impatience of temper, which Master George Heriot entertained. Still Mistress Margaret was a favourite of her brother's, whose will was to Aunt Judith a supreme law; and she contented herself with asking her untimely visitor, "what she made so early with her pale, chitty face, in the streets of London?"

"I would speak with the Lady Hermione," answered the almost breathless girl, while the blood ran so fast to her face as totally to remove the objection of paleness which Aunt Judith had made to her complexion.

"With the Lady Hermione?" said Aunt Judith—"with the Lady Hermione? and at this time in the morning, when she will scarce see any of the family, even at seasonable hours? You are crazy, you silly wench, or you abuse the indulgence which my brother and the lady have shown to you."

"Indeed, indeed I have not," repeated Margaret, struggling to retain the unbidden tear which seemed ready to burst out on the slightest occasion. "Do but say to the lady that your brother's god-daughter desires earnestly to speak to her, and I know she will not refuse to see me."

Aunt Judith bent an earnest, suspicious, and inquisitive glance on her young visitor, "You might make me your secretary, my lassie," she said, "as well as the Lady Hermione. I am older, and better skilled to advise. I live more in the world than one who shuts herself up within four rooms, and I have the better means to assist you."

"O! no—no—no," said Margaret, eagerly, and with more earnest sincerity than complaisance; "there are some things to which you cannot advise me, Aunt Judith. It is a case—pardon me, my dear aunt— a case beyond your counsel."

"I am glad on't, maiden," said Aunt Judith, somewhat angrily; "for I think the follies of the young people of this generation would drive mad an old brain like mine. Here you come on the viretot, through the whole streets of London, to talk some nonsense to a lady, who scarce sees God's sun, but when he shines on a brick wall. But I will tell her you are here."

She went away, and shortly returned with a dry—"Miss Marget, the lady will be glad to see you; and that's more, my young madam, than you had a right to count upon."

Mistress Margaret hung her head in silence, too much perplexed by the train of her own embarrassed thoughts, for attempting either to conciliate Aunt Judith's kindness, or, which on other occasions would have been as congenial to her own humour, to retaliate on her cross- tempered remarks and manner. She followed Aunt Judith, therefore, in silence and dejection, to the strong oaken door which divided the Lady Hermione's apartments from the rest of George Heriot's spacious house.

At the door of this sanctuary it is necessary to pause, in order to correct the reports with which Richie Moniplies had filled his master's ear, respecting the singular appearance of that lady's attendance at prayers, whom we now own to be by name the Lady Hermione. Some part of these exaggerations had been communicated to the worthy Scotsman by Jenkin Vincent, who was well experienced in the species of wit which has been long a favourite in the city, under the names of cross-biting, giving the dor, bamboozling, cramming, hoaxing, humbugging, and quizzing; for which sport Richie Moniplies, with his solemn gravity, totally unapprehensive of a joke, and his natural propensity to the marvellous, formed an admirable subject. Farther ornaments the tale had received from Richie himself, whose tongue, especially when oiled with good liquor, had a considerable tendency to amplification, and who failed not, while he retailed to his master all the wonderful circumstances narrated by Vincent, to add to them many conjectures of his own, which his imagination had over-hastily converted into facts.

Yet the life which the Lady Hermione had led for two years, during which she had been the inmate of George Heriot's house, was so singular, as almost to sanction many of the wild reports which went abroad. The house which the worthy goldsmith inhabited, had in former times belonged to a powerful and wealthy baronial family, which, during the reign of Henry VIII., terminated in a dowager lady, very wealthy, very devout, and most unalienably attached to the Catholic faith. The chosen friend of the Honourable Lady Foljambe was the Abbess of Saint Roque's Nunnery, like herself a conscientious, rigid, and devoted Papist. When the house of Saint Roque was despotically dissolved by the fiat of the impetuous monarch, the Lady Foljambe received her friend into her spacious mansion, together with two vestal sisters, who, like their Abbess, were determined to follow the tenor of their vows, instead of embracing the profane liberty which the Monarch's will had thrown in their choice. For their residence, the Lady Foljambe contrived, with all secrecy—for Henry might not have relished her interference—to set apart a suite of four rooms, with a little closet fitted up as an oratory, or chapel; the whole apartments fenced by a stout oaken door to exclude strangers, and accommodated with a turning wheel to receive necessaries, according to the practice of all nunneries. In this retreat, the Abbess of Saint Roque and her attendants passed many years, communicating only with the Lady Foljambe, who, in virtue of their prayers, and of the support she afforded them, accounted herself little less than a saint on earth. The Abbess, fortunately for herself, died before her munificent patroness, who lived deep in Queen Elizabeth's time, ere she was summoned by fate.

The Lady Foljambe was succeeded in this mansion by a sour fanatic knight, a distant and collateral relation, who claimed the same merit for expelling the priestess of Baal, which his predecessor had founded on maintaining the votaresses of Heaven. Of the two unhappy nuns, driven from their ancient refuge, one went beyond sea; the other, unable from old age to undertake such a journey, died under the roof of a faithful Catholic widow of low degree. Sir Paul Crambagge, having got rid of the nuns, spoiled the chapel of its ornaments, and had thoughts of altogether destroying the apartments, until checked by the reflection that the operation would be an unnecessary expense, since he only inhabited three rooms of the large mansion, and had not therefore the slightest occasion for any addition to its accommodations. His son proved a waster and a prodigal, and from him the house was bought by our friend George Heriot, who, finding, like Sir Paul, the house more than sufficiently ample for his accommodation, left the Foljambe apartments, or Saint Roque's rooms, as they were called, in the state in which he found them.

About two years and a half before our history opened, when Heriot was absent upon an expedition to the Continent, he sent special orders to his sister and his cash-keeper, directing that the Foljambe apartments should be fitted up handsomely, though plainly, for the reception of a lady, who would make them her residence for some time; and who would live more or less with his own family according to her pleasure. He also directed, that the necessary repairs should be made with secrecy, and that as little should be said as possible upon the subject of his letter.

When the time of his return came nigh, Aunt Judith and the household were on the tenter-hooks of impatience. Master George came, as he had intimated, accompanied by a lady, so eminently beautiful, that, had it not been for her extreme and uniform paleness, she might have been reckoned one of the loveliest creatures on earth. She had with her an attendant, or humble companion, whose business seemed only to wait upon her. This person, a reserved woman, and by her dialect a foreigner, aged about fifty, was called by the lady Monna Paula, and by Master Heriot, and others, Mademoiselle Pauline. She slept in the same room with her patroness at night, ate in her apartment, and was scarcely ever separated from her during the day.

These females took possession of the nunnery of the devout Abbess, and, without observing the same rigorous seclusion, according to the letter, seemed wellnigh to restore the apartments to the use to which they had been originally designed. The new inmates lived and took their meals apart from the rest of the family. With the domestics Lady Hermione, for so she was termed, held no communication, and Mademoiselle Pauline only such as was indispensable, which she dispatched as briefly as possible. Frequent and liberal largesses reconciled the servants to this conduct; and they were in the habit of observing to each other, that to do a service for Mademoiselle Pauline, was like finding a fairy treasure.

To Aunt Judith the Lady Hermione was kind and civil, but their intercourse was rare; on which account the elder lady felt some pangs both of curiosity and injured dignity. But she knew her brother so well, and loved him so dearly, that his will, once expressed, might be truly said to become her own. The worthy citizen was not without a spice of the dogmatism which grows on the best disposition, when a word is a law to all around. Master George did not endure to be questioned by his family, and, when he had generally expressed his will, that the Lady Hermione should live in the way most agreeable to her, and that no inquiries should be made concerning their history, or her motives for observing such strict seclusion, his sister well knew that he would have been seriously displeased with any attempt to pry into the secret.

But, though Heriot's servants were bribed, and his sister awed into silent acquiescence in these arrangements, they were not of a nature to escape the critical observation of the neighbourhood. Some opined that the wealthy goldsmith was about to turn papist, and re-establish Lady Foljambe's nunnery—others that he was going mad—others that he was either going to marry, or to do worse. Master George's constant appearance at church, and the knowledge that the supposed votaress always attended when the prayers of the English ritual were read in the family, liberated him from the first of these suspicions; those who had to transact business with him upon 'Change, could not doubt the soundness of Master Heriot's mind; and, to confute the other rumours, it was credibly reported by such as made the matter their particular interest, that Master George Heriot never visited his guest but in presence of Mademoiselle Pauline, who sat with her work in a remote part of the same room in which they conversed. It was also ascertained that these visits scarcely ever exceeded an hour in length, and were usually only repeated once a week, an intercourse too brief and too long interrupted, to render it probable that love was the bond of their union.

The inquirers were, therefore, at fault, and compelled to relinquish the pursuit of Master Heriot's secret, while a thousand ridiculous tales were circulated amongst the ignorant and superstitious, with some specimens of which our friend Richie Moniplies had been crammed, as we have seen, by the malicious apprentice of worthy David Ramsay.

There was one person in the world who, it was thought, could (if she would) have said more of the Lady Hermione than any one in London, except George Heriot himself; and that was the said David Ramsay's only child, Margaret.

This girl was not much past the age of fifteen when the Lady Hermione first came to England, and was a very frequent visitor at her godfather's, who was much amused by her childish sallies, and by the wild and natural beauty with which she sung the airs of her native country. Spoilt she was on all hands; by the indulgence of her godfather, the absent habits and indifference of her father, and the deference of all around to her caprices, as a beauty and as an heiress. But though, from these circumstances, the city-beauty had become as wilful, as capricious, and as affected, as unlimited indulgence seldom fails to render those to whom it is extended; and although she exhibited upon many occasions that affectation of extreme shyness, silence, and reserve, which misses in their teens are apt to take for an amiable modesty; and, upon others, a considerable portion of that flippancy, which youth sometimes confounds with wit, Mistress Margaret had much real shrewdness and judgment, which wanted only opportunities of observation to refine it—a lively, good-humoured, playful disposition, and an excellent heart. Her acquired follies were much increased by reading plays and romances, to which she devoted a great deal of her time, and from which she adopted ideas as different as possible from those which she might have obtained from the invaluable and affectionate instructions of an excellent mother; and the freaks of which she was sometimes guilty, rendered her not unjustly liable to the charge of affectation and coquetry. But the little lass had sense and shrewdness enough to keep her failings out of sight of her godfather, to whom she was sincerely attached; and so high she stood in his favour, that, at his recommendation, she obtained permission to visit the recluse Lady Hermione.

The singular mode of life which that lady observed; her great beauty, rendered even more interesting by her extreme paleness; the conscious pride of being admitted farther than the rest of the world into the society of a person who was wrapped in so much mystery, made a deep impression on the mind of Margaret Ramsay; and though their conversations were at no time either long or confidential, yet, proud of the trust reposed in her, Margaret was as secret respecting their tenor as if every word repeated had been to cost her life. No inquiry, however artfully backed by flattery and insinuation, whether on the part of Dame Ursula, or any other person equally inquisitive, could wring from the little maiden one word of what she heard or saw, after she entered these mysterious and secluded apartments. The slightest question concerning Master Heriot's ghost, was sufficient, at her gayest moment, to check the current of her communicative prattle, and render her silent.

We mention this, chiefly to illustrate the early strength of Margaret's character—a strength concealed under a hundred freakish whims and humours, as an ancient and massive buttress is disguised by its fantastic covering of ivy and wildflowers. In truth, if the damsel had told all she heard or saw within the Foljambe apartments, she would have said but little to gratify the curiosity of inquirers.

At the earlier period of their acquaintance, the Lady Hermione was wont to reward the attentions of her little friend with small but elegant presents, and entertain her by a display of foreign rarities and curiosities, many of them of considerable value. Sometimes the time was passed in a way much less agreeable to Margaret, by her receiving lessons from Pauline in the use of the needle. But, although her preceptress practised these arts with a dexterity then only known in foreign convents, the pupil proved so incorrigibly idle and awkward, that the task of needlework was at length given up, and lessons of music substituted in their stead. Here also Pauline was excellently qualified as an instructress, and Margaret, more successful in a science for which Nature had gifted her, made proficiency both in vocal and instrumental music. These lessons passed in presence of the Lady Hermione, to whom they seemed to give pleasure. She sometimes added her own voice to the performance, in a pure, clear stream of liquid melody; but this was only when the music was of a devotional cast. As Margaret became older, her communications with the recluse assumed a different character. She was allowed, if not encouraged, to tell whatever she had remarked out of doors, and the Lady Hermione, while she remarked the quick, sharp, and retentive powers of observation possessed by her young friend, often found sufficient reason to caution her against rashness in forming opinions, and giddy petulance in expressing them.

The habitual awe with which she regarded this singular personage, induced Mistress Margaret, though by no means delighting in contradiction or reproof, to listen with patience to her admonitions, and to make full allowance for the good intentions of the patroness by whom they were bestowed; although in her heart she could hardly conceive how Madame Hermione, who never stirred from the Foljambe apartments, should think of teaching knowledge of the world to one who walked twice a-week between Temple Bar and Lombard Street, besides parading in the Park every Sunday that proved to be fair weather. Indeed, pretty Mistress Margaret was so little inclined to endure such remonstrances, that her intercourse with the inhabitants of the Foljambe apartments would have probably slackened as her circle of acquaintance increased in the external world, had she not, on the one hand, entertained an habitual reverence for her monitress, of which she could not divest herself, and been flattered, on the other, by being to a certain degree the depository of a confidence for which others thirsted in vain. Besides, although the conversation of Hermione was uniformly serious, it was not in general either formal or severe; nor was the lady offended by flights of levity which Mistress Margaret sometimes ventured on in her presence, even when they were such as made Monna Paula cast her eyes upwards, and sigh with that compassion which a devotee extends towards the votaries of a trivial and profane world. Thus, upon the whole, the little maiden was disposed to submit, though not without some wincing, to the grave admonitions of the Lady Hermione; and the rather that the mystery annexed to the person of her monitress was in her mind early associated with a vague idea of wealth and importance, which had been rather confirmed than lessened by many accidental circumstances which she had noticed since she was more capable of observation.

It frequently happens, that the counsel which we reckon intrusive when offered to us unasked, becomes precious in our eyes when the pressure of difficulties renders us more diffident of our own judgment than we are apt to find ourselves in the hours of ease and indifference; and this is more especially the case if we suppose that our adviser may also possess power and inclination to back his counsel with effectual assistance. Mistress Margaret was now in that situation. She was, or believed herself to be, in a condition where both advice and assistance might be necessary; and it was therefore, after an anxious and sleepless night, that she resolved to have recourse to the Lady Hermione, who she knew would readily afford her the one, and, as she hoped, might also possess means of giving her the other. The conversation between them will best explain the purport of the visit.



CHAPTER XIX

By this good light, a wench of matchless mettle! This were a leaguer-lass to love a soldier, To bind his wounds, and kiss his bloody brow, And sing a roundel as she help'd to arm him, Though the rough foeman's drums were beat so nigh, They seem'd to bear the burden. Old Play.

When Mistress Margaret entered the Foljambe apartment, she found the inmates employed in their usual manner; the lady in reading, and her attendant in embroidering a large piece of tapestry, which had occupied her ever since Margaret had been first admitted within these secluded chambers.

Hermione nodded kindly to her visitor, but did not speak; and Margaret, accustomed to this reception, and in the present case not sorry for it, as it gave her an interval to collect her thoughts, stooped over Monna Paula's frame and observed, in a half whisper, "You were just so far as that rose, Monna, when I first saw you—see, there is the mark where I had the bad luck to spoil the flower in trying to catch the stitch—I was little above fifteen then. These flowers make me an old woman, Monna Paula."

"I wish they could make you a wise one, my child," answered Monna Paula, in whose esteem pretty Mistress Margaret did not stand quite so high as in that of her patroness; partly owing to her natural austerity, which was something intolerant of youth and gaiety, and partly to the jealousy with which a favourite domestic regards any one whom she considers as a sort of rival in the affections of her mistress.

"What is it you say to Monna, little one?" asked the lady.

"Nothing, madam," replied Mistress Margaret, "but that I have seen the real flowers blossom three times over since I first saw Monna Paula working in her canvass garden, and her violets have not budded yet."

"True, lady-bird," replied Hermione; "but the buds that are longest in blossoming will last the longest in flower. You have seen them in the garden bloom thrice, but you have seen them fade thrice also; now, Monna Paula's will remain in blow for ever—they will fear neither frost nor tempest."

"True, madam," answered Mistress Margaret; "but neither have they life or odour."

"That, little one," replied the recluse, "is to compare a life agitated by hope and fear, and chequered with success and disappointment, and fevered by the effects of love and hatred, a life of passion and of feeling, saddened and shortened by its exhausting alternations, to a calm and tranquil existence, animated but by a sense of duties, and only employed, during its smooth and quiet course, in the unwearied discharge of them. Is that the moral of your answer?"

"I do not know, madam," answered Mistress Margaret; "but, of all birds in the air, I would rather be the lark, that sings while he is drifting down the summer breeze, than the weathercock that sticks fast yonder upon his iron perch, and just moves so much as to discharge his duty, and tell us which way the wind blows."

"Metaphors are no arguments, my pretty maiden," said the Lady Hermione, smiling.

"I am sorry for that, madam," answered Margaret; "for they are such a pretty indirect way of telling one's mind when it differs from one's betters—besides, on this subject there is no end of them, and they are so civil and becoming withal."

"Indeed?" replied the lady; "let me hear some of them, I pray you."

"It would be, for example, very bold in me," said Margaret, "to say to your ladyship, that, rather than live a quiet life, I would like a little variety of hope and fear, and liking and disliking—and—and— and the other sort of feelings which your ladyship is pleased to speak of; but I may say freely, and without blame, that I like a butterfly better than a bettle, or a trembling aspen better than a grim Scots fir, that never wags a leaf—or that of all the wood, brass, and wire that ever my father's fingers put together, I do hate and detest a certain huge old clock of the German fashion, that rings hours and half hours, and quarters and half quarters, as if it were of such consequence that the world should know it was wound up and going. Now, dearest lady, I wish you would only compare that clumsy, clanging, Dutch-looking piece of lumber, with the beautiful timepiece that Master Heriot caused my father to make for your ladyship, which uses to play a hundred merry tunes, and turns out, when it strikes the hour, a whole band of morrice dancers, to trip the hays to the measure."

"And which of these timepieces goes the truest, Margaret?" said the lady.

"I must confess the old Dutchman has the advantage in that"—said Margaret. "I fancy you are right, madam, and that comparisons are no arguments; at least mine has not brought me through."

"Upon my word, maiden Margaret," said the lady, smiling, "you have been of late thinking very much of these matters."

"Perhaps too much, madam," said Margaret, so low as only to be heard by the lady, behind the back of whose chair she had now placed herself. The words were spoken very gravely, and accompanied by a half sigh, which did not escape the attention of her to whom they were addressed. The Lady Hermione turned immediately round, and looked earnestly at Margaret, then paused for a moment, and, finally, commanded Monna Paula to carry her frame and embroidery into the antechamber. When they were left alone, she desired her young friend to come from behind the chair on the back of which she still rested, and sit down beside her upon a stool.

"I will remain thus, madam, under your favour," answered Margaret, without changing her posture; "I would rather you heard me without seeing me."

"In God's name, maiden," returned her patroness, "what is it you can have to say, that may not be uttered face to face, to so true a friend as I am?"

Without making any direct answer, Margaret only replied, "You were right, dearest lady, when you said, I had suffered my feelings too much to engross me of late. I have done very wrong, and you will be angry with me—so will my godfather, but I cannot help it—he must be rescued."

"He?" repeated the lady, with emphasis; "that brief little word does, indeed, so far explain your mystery;—but come from behind the chair, you silly popinjay! I will wager you have suffered yonder gay young apprentice to sit too near your heart. I have not heard you mention young Vincent for many a day—perhaps he has not been out of mouth and out of mind both. Have you been so foolish as to let him speak to you seriously?—I am told he is a bold youth."

"Not bold enough to say any thing that could displease me, madam," said Margaret.

"Perhaps, then, you were not displeased," said the lady; "or perhaps he has not spoken, which would be wiser and better. Be open-hearted, my love—your godfather will soon return, and we will take him into our consultations. If the young man is industrious, and come of honest parentage, his poverty may be no such insurmountable obstacle. But you are both of you very young, Margaret—I know your godfather will expect, that the youth shall first serve out his apprenticeship."

Margaret had hitherto suffered the lady to proceed, under the mistaken impression which she had adopted, simply because she could not tell how to interrupt her; but pure despite at hearing her last words gave her boldness at length to say "I crave your pardon, madam; but neither the youth you mention, nor any apprentice or master within the city of London—"

"Margaret," said the lady, in reply, "the contemptuous tone with which you mention those of your own class, (many hundreds if not thousands of whom are in all respects better than yourself, and would greatly honour you by thinking of you,) is methinks, no warrant for the wisdom of your choice—for a choice, it seems, there is. Who is it, maiden, to whom you have thus rashly attached yourself?—rashly, I fear it must be."

"It is the young Scottish Lord Glenvarloch, madam," answered Margaret, in a low and modest tone, but sufficiently firm, considering the subject.

"The young Lord of Glenvarloch!" repeated the lady, in great surprise- -"Maiden, you are distracted in your wits."

"I knew you would say so, madam," answered Margaret. "It is what another person has already told me—it is, perhaps, what all the world would tell me—it is what I am sometimes disposed to tell myself. But look at me, madam, for I will now come before you, and tell me if there is madness or distraction in my look and word, when I repeat to you again, that I have fixed my affections on this young nobleman."

"If there is not madness in your look or word, maiden, there is infinite folly in what you say," answered the Lady Hermione, sharply. "When did you ever hear that misplaced love brought any thing but wretchedness? Seek a match among your equals, Margaret, and escape the countless kinds of risk and misery that must attend an affection beyond your degree.—Why do you smile, maiden? Is there aught to cause scorn in what I say?"

"Surely no, madam," answered Margaret. "I only smiled to think how it should happen, that, while rank made such a wide difference between creatures formed from the same clay, the wit of the vulgar should, nevertheless, jump so exactly the same length with that of the accomplished and the exalted. It is but the variation of the phrase which divides them. Dame Ursley told me the very same thing which your ladyship has but now uttered; only you, madam, talk of countless misery, and Dame Ursley spoke of the gallows, and Mistress Turner, who was hanged upon it."

"Indeed?" answered the Lady Hermione; "and who may Dame Ursley be, that your wise choice has associated with me in the difficult task of advising a fool?"

"The barber's wife at next door, madam," answered Margaret, with feigned simplicity, but far from being sorry at heart, that she had found an indirect mode of mortifying her monitress. "She is the wisest woman that I know, next to your ladyship."

"A proper confidant," said the lady, "and chosen with the same delicate sense of what is due to yourself and others!—But what ails you, maiden—where are you going?"

"Only to ask Dame Ursley's advice," said Margaret, as if about to depart; "for I see your ladyship is too angry to give me any, and the emergency is pressing."

"What emergency, thou simple one?" said the lady, in a kinder tone.— "Sit down, maiden, and tell me your tale. It is true you are a fool, and a pettish fool to boot; but then you are a child—an amiable child, with all your self-willed folly, and we must help you, if we can.—Sit down, I say, as you are desired, and you will find me a safer and wiser counseller than the barber-woman. And tell me how you come to suppose, that you have fixed your heart unalterably upon a man whom you have seen, as I think, but once."

"I have seen him oftener," said the damsel, looking down; "but I have only spoken to him once. I should have been able to get that once out of my head, though the impression was so deep, that I could even now repeat every trifling word he said; but other things have since riveted it in my bosom for ever."

"Maiden," replied the lady, "for ever is the word which comes most lightly on the lips in such circumstances, but which, not the less, is almost the last that we should use. The fashion of this world, its passions, its joys, and its sorrows, pass away like the winged breeze—there is nought for ever but that which belongs to the world beyond the grave."

"You have corrected me justly, madam," said Margaret calmly; "I ought only to have spoken of my present state of mind, as what will last me for my lifetime, which unquestionably may be but short."

"And what is there in this Scottish lord that can rivet what concerns him so closely in your fancy?" said the lady. "I admit him a personable man, for I have seen him; and I will suppose him courteous and agreeable. But what are his accomplishments besides, for these surely are not uncommon attributes."

"He is unfortunate, madam—most unfortunate—and surrounded by snares of different kinds, ingeniously contrived to ruin his character, destroy his estate, and, perhaps, to reach even his life. These schemes have been devised by avarice originally, but they are now followed close by vindictive ambition, animated, I think, by the absolute and concentrated spirit of malice; for the Lord Dalgarno—"

"Here, Monna Paula—Monna Paula!" exclaimed the Lady Hermione, interrupting her young friend's narrative. "She hears me not," she answered, rising and going out, "I must seek her—I will return instantly." She returned accordingly very soon after. "You mentioned a name which I thought was familiar to me," she said; "but Monna Paula has put me right. I know nothing of your lord—how was it you named him?"

"Lord Dalgarno," said Margaret;—"the wickedest man who lives. Under pretence of friendship, he introduced the Lord Glenvarloch to a gambling-house with the purpose of engaging him in deep play; but he with whom the perfidious traitor had to deal, was too virtuous, moderate, and cautious, to be caught in a snare so open. What did they next, but turn his own moderation against him, and persuade others that—because he would not become the prey of wolves, he herded with them for a share of their booty! And, while this base Lord Dalgarno was thus undermining his unsuspecting countryman, he took every measure to keep him surrounded by creatures of his own, to prevent him from attending Court, and mixing with those of his proper rank. Since the Gunpowder Treason, there never was a conspiracy more deeply laid, more basely and more deliberately pursued."

The lady smiled sadly at Margaret's vehemence, but sighed the next moment, while she told her young friend how little she knew the world she was about to live in, since she testified so much surprise at finding it full of villainy.

"But by what means," she added, "could you, maiden, become possessed of the secret views of a man so cautious as Lord Dalgarno—as villains in general are?"

"Permit me to be silent on that subject," said the maiden; "I could not tell you without betraying others—let it suffice that my tidings are as certain as the means by which I acquired them are secret and sure. But I must not tell them even to you."

"You are too bold, Margaret," said the lady, "to traffic in such matters at your early age. It is not only dangerous, but even unbecoming and unmaidenly."

"I knew you would say that also," said Margaret, with more meekness and patience than she usually showed on receiving reproof; "but, God knows, my heart acquits me of every other feeling save that of the wish to assist this most innocent and betrayed man.—I contrived to send him warning of his friend's falsehood;—alas! my care has only hastened his utter ruin, unless speedy aid be found. He charged his false friend with treachery, and drew on him in the Park, and is now liable to the fatal penalty due for breach of privilege of the king's palace."

"This is indeed an extraordinary tale," said Hermione; "is Lord Glenvarloch then in prison?"

"No, madam, thank God, but in the Sanctuary at Whitefriars—it is matter of doubt whether it will protect him in such a case—they speak of a warrant from the Lord Chief Justice—A gentleman of the temple has been arrested, and is in trouble for having assisted him in his flight.—Even his taking temporary refuge in that base place, though from extreme necessity, will be used to the further defaming him. All this I know, and yet I cannot rescue him—cannot rescue him save by your means."

"By my means, maiden?" said the lady—"you are beside yourself!—What means can I possess in this secluded situation, of assisting this unfortunate nobleman?"

"You have means," said Margaret, eagerly; "you have those means, unless I mistake greatly, which can do anything—can do everything, in this city, in this world—you have wealth, and the command of a small portion of it will enable me to extricate him from his present danger. He will be enabled and directed how to make his escape—and I—" she paused.

"Will accompany him, doubtless, and reap the fruits of your sage exertions in his behalf?" said the Lady Hermione, ironically.

"May heaven forgive you the unjust thought, lady," answered Margaret. "I will never see him more—but I shall have saved him, and the thought will make me happy."

"A cold conclusion to so bold and warm a flame," said the lady, with a smile which seemed to intimate incredulity.

"It is, however, the only one which I expect, madam—I could almost say the only one which I wish—I am sure I will use no efforts to bring about any other; if I am bold in his cause, I am timorous enough in my own. During our only interview I was unable to speak a word to him. He knows not the sound of my voice—and all that I have risked, and must yet risk, I am doing for one, who, were he asked the question, would say he has long since forgotten that he ever saw, spoke to, or sat beside, a creature of so little signification as I am."

"This is a strange and unreasonable indulgence of a passion equally fanciful and dangerous," said Lady Hermione. "You will not assist me, then?" said Margaret; "have good-day, then, madam—my secret, I trust, is safe in such honourable keeping."

"Tarry yet a little," said the lady, "and tell me what resource you have to assist this youth, if you were supplied with money to put it in motion."

"It is superfluous to ask me the question, madam," answered Margaret, "unless you purpose to assist me; and, if you do so purpose, it is still superfluous. You could not understand the means I must use, and time is too brief to explain."

"But have you in reality such means?" said the lady.

"I have, with the command of a moderate sum," answered Margaret Ramsay, "the power of baffling all his enemies—of eluding the passion of the irritated king—the colder but more determined displeasure of the prince—the vindictive spirit of Buckingham, so hastily directed against whomsoever crosses the path of his ambition—the cold concentrated malice of Lord Dalgarno—all, I can baffle them all!"

"But is this to be done without your own personal risk, Margaret?" replied the lady; "for, be your purpose what it will, you are not to peril your own reputation or person, in the romantic attempt of serving another; and I, maiden, am answerable to your godfather,—to your benefactor, and my own,—not to aid you in any dangerous or unworthy enterprise."

"Depend upon my word,—my oath,—dearest lady," replied the supplicant, "that I will act by the agency of others, and do not myself design to mingle in any enterprise in which my appearance might be either perilous or unwomanly."

"I know not what to do," said the Lady Hermione; "it is perhaps incautious and inconsiderate in me to aid so wild a project; yet the end seems honourable, if the means be sure—what is the penalty if he fall into their power?"

"Alas, alas! the loss of his right hand!" replied Margaret, her voice almost stifled with sobs.

"Are the laws of England so cruel? Then there is mercy in heaven alone," said the lady, "since, even in this free land, men are wolves to each other.—Compose yourself, Margaret, and tell me what money is necessary to secure Lord Glenvarloch's escape."

"Two hundred pieces," replied Margaret; "I would speak to you of restoring them—and I must one day have the power—only that I know— that is, I think—your ladyship is indifferent on that score."

"Not a word more of it," said the lady; "call Monna Paula hither."



CHAPTER XX

Credit me, friend, it hath been ever thus, Since the ark rested on Mount Ararat. False man hath sworn, and woman hath believed— Repented and reproach'd, and then believed once more. The New World.

By the time that Margaret returned with Monna Paula, the Lady Hermione was rising from the table at which she had been engaged in writing something on a small slip of paper, which she gave to her attendant.

"Monna Paula," she said, "carry this paper to Roberts the cash-keeper; let them give you the money mentioned in the note, and bring it hither presently."

Monna Paula left the room, and her mistress proceeded.

"I do not know," she said, "Margaret, if I have done, and am doing, well in this affair. My life has been one of strange seclusion, and I am totally unacquainted with the practical ways of this world—an ignorance which I know cannot be remedied by mere reading.—I fear I am doing wrong to you, and perhaps to the laws of the country which affords me refuge, by thus indulging you; and yet there is something in my heart which cannot resist your entreaties."

"O, listen to it—listen to it, dear, generous lady!" said Margaret, throwing herself on her knees and grasping those of her benefactress and looking in that attitude like a beautiful mortal in the act of supplicating her tutelary angel; "the laws of men are but the injunctions of mortality, but what the heart prompts is the echo of the voice from heaven within us."

"Rise, rise, maiden," said Hermione; "you affect me more than I thought I could have been moved by aught that should approach me. Rise and tell me whence it comes, that, in so short a time, your thoughts, your looks, your speech, and even your slightest actions, are changed from those of a capricious and fanciful girl, to all this energy and impassioned eloquence of word and action?"

"I am sure I know not, dearest lady," said Margaret, looking down; "but I suppose that, when I was a trifler, I was only thinking of trifles. What I now reflect is deep and serious, and I am thankful if my speech and manner bear reasonable proportion to my thoughts."

"It must be so," said the lady; "yet the change seems a rapid and strange one. It seems to be as if a childish girl had at once shot up into deep-thinking and impassioned woman, ready to make exertions alike, and sacrifices, with all that vain devotion to a favourite object of affection, which is often so basely rewarded."

The Lady Hermione sighed bitterly, and Monna Paula entered ere the conversation proceeded farther. She spoke to her mistress in the foreign language in which they frequently conversed, but which was unknown to Margaret.

"We must have patience for a time," said the lady to her visitor; "the cash-keeper is abroad on some business, but he is expected home in the course of half an hour."

Margaret wrung her hands in vexation and impatience.

"Minutes are precious," continued the lady; "that I am well aware of; and we will at least suffer none of them to escape us. Monna Paula shall remain below and transact our business, the very instant that Roberts returns home."

She spoke to her attendant accordingly, who again left the room.

"You are very kind, madam—very good," said the poor little Margaret, while the anxious trembling of her lip and of her hand showed all that sickening agitation of the heart which arises from hope deferred.

"Be patient, Margaret, and collect yourself," said the lady; "you may, you must, have much to do to carry through this your bold purpose— reserve your spirits, which you may need so much—be patient—it is the only remedy against the evils of life."

"Yes, madam," said Margaret, wiping her eyes, and endeavouring in vain to suppress the natural impatience of her temper,—"I have heard so— very often indeed; and I dare say I have myself, heaven forgive me, said so to people in perplexity and affliction; but it was before I had suffered perplexity and vexation myself, and I am sure I will never preach patience to any human being again, now that I know how much the medicine goes against the stomach."

"You will think better of it, maiden," said the Lady Hermione; "I also, when I first felt distress, thought they did me wrong who spoke to me of patience; but my sorrows have been repeated and continued till I have been taught to cling to it as the best, and—religious duties excepted, of which, indeed, patience forms a part—the only alleviation which life can afford them."

Margaret, who neither wanted sense nor feeling, wiped her tears hastily, and asked her patroness's forgiveness for her petulance.

"I might have thought"—she said, "I ought to have reflected, that even from the manner of your life, madam, it is plain you must have suffered sorrow; and yet, God knows, the patience which I have ever seen you display, well entitles you to recommend your own example to others."

The lady was silent for a moment, and then replied—

"Margaret, I am about to repose a high confidence in you. You are no longer a child, but a thinking and a feeling woman. You have told me as much of your secret as you dared—I will let you know as much of mine as I may venture to tell. You will ask me, perhaps, why, at a moment when your own mind is agitated, I should force upon you the consideration of my sorrows? and I answer, that I cannot withstand the impulse which now induces me to do so. Perhaps from having witnessed, for the first time these three years, the natural effects of human passion, my own sorrows have been awakened, and are for the moment too big for my own bosom—perhaps I may hope that you, who seem driving full sail on the very rock on which I was wrecked for ever, will take warning by the tale I have to tell. Enough, if you are willing to listen, I am willing to tell you who the melancholy inhabitant of the Foljambe apartments really is, and why she resides here. It will serve, at least, to while away the time until Monna Paula shall bring us the reply from Roberts."

At any other moment of her life, Margaret Ramsay would have heard with undivided interest a communication so flattering in itself, and referring to a subject upon which the general curiosity had been so strongly excited. And even at this agitating moment, although she ceased not to listen with an anxious ear and throbbing heart for the sound of Monna Paula's returning footsteps, she nevertheless, as gratitude and policy, as well as a portion of curiosity dictated, composed herself, in appearance at least, to the strictest attention to the Lady Hermione, and thanked her with humility for the high confidence she was pleased to repose in her. The Lady Hermione, with the same calmness which always attended her speech and actions, thus recounted her story to her young friend:

"My father," she said, "was a merchant, but he was of a city whose merchants are princes. I am the daughter of a noble house in Genoa, whose name stood as high in honour and in antiquity, as any inscribed in the Golden Register of that famous aristocracy.

"My mother was a noble Scottish woman. She was descended—do not start—and not remotely descended, of the house of Glenvarloch—no wonder that I was easily led to take concern in the misfortunes of this young lord. He is my near relation, and my mother, who was more than sufficiently proud of her descent, early taught me to take an interest in the name. My maternal grandfather, a cadet of that house of Glenvarloch, had followed the fortunes of an unhappy fugitive, Francis Earl of Bothwell, who, after showing his miseries in many a foreign court, at length settled in Spain upon a miserable pension, which he earned by conforming to the Catholic faith. Ralph Olifaunt, my grandfather, separated from him in disgust, and settled at Barcelona, where, by the friendship of the governor, his heresy, as it was termed, was connived at. My father, in the course of his commerce, resided more at Barcelona than in his native country, though at times he visited Genoa.

"It was at Barcelona that he became acquainted with my mother, loved her, and married her; they differed in faith, but they agreed in affection. I was their only child. In public I conformed to the docterins and ceremonial of the Church of Rome; but my mother, by whom these were regarded with horror, privately trained me up in those of the reformed religion; and my father, either indifferent in the matter, or unwilling to distress the woman whom he loved, overlooked or connived at my secretly joining in her devotions.

"But when, unhappily, my father was attacked, while yet in the prime of life, by a slow wasting disease, which he felt to be incurable, he foresaw the hazard to which his widow and orphan might be exposed, after he was no more, in a country so bigoted to Catholicism as Spain. He made it his business, during the two last years of his life, to realize and remit to England a large part of his fortune, which, by the faith and honour of his correspondent, the excellent man under whose roof I now reside, was employed to great advantage. Had my father lived to complete his purpose, by withdrawing his whole fortune from commerce, he himself would have accompanied us to England, and would have beheld us settled in peace and honour before his death. But heaven had ordained it otherwise. He died, leaving several sums engaged in the hands of his Spanish debtors; and, in particular, he had made a large and extensive consignment to a certain wealthy society of merchants at Madrid, who showed no willingness after his death to account for the proceeds. Would to God we had left these covetous and wicked men in possession of their booty, for such they seemed to hold the property of their deceased correspondent and friend! We had enough for comfort, and even splendour, already secured in England; but friends exclaimed upon the folly of permitting these unprincipled men to plunder us of our rightful property. The sum itself was large, and the claim having been made, my mother thought that my father's memory was interested in its being enforced, especially as the defences set up for the mercantile society went, in some degree, to impeach the fairness of his transactions.

"We went therefore to Madrid. I was then, my Margaret, about your age, young and thoughtless, as you have hitherto been—We went, I say, to Madrid, to solicit the protection of the Court and of the king, without which we were told it would be in vain to expect justice against an opulent and powerful association.

"Our residence at the Spanish metropolis drew on from weeks to months. For my part, my natural sorrow for a kind, though not a fond father, having abated, I cared not if the lawsuit had detained us at Madrid for ever. My mother permitted herself and me rather more liberty than we had been accustomed to. She found relations among the Scottish and Irish officers, many of whom held a high rank in the Spanish armies; their wives and daughters became our friends and companions, and I had perpetual occasion to exercise my mother's native language, which I had learned from my infancy. By degrees, as my mother's spirits were low, and her health indifferent, she was induced, by her partial fondness for me, to suffer me to mingle occasionally in society which she herself did not frequent, under the guardianship of such ladies as she imagined she could trust, and particularly under the care of the lady of a general officer, whose weakness or falsehood was the original cause of my misfortunes. I was as gay, Margaret, and thoughtless—I again repeat it—as you were but lately, and my attention, like yours, became suddenly riveted to one object, and to one set of feelings.

"The person by whom they were excited was young, noble, handsome, accomplished, a soldier, and a Briton. So far our cases are nearly parallel; but, may heaven forbid that the parallel should become complete! This man, so noble, so fairly formed, so gifted, and so brave—this villain, for that, Margaret, was his fittest name, spoke of love to me, and I listened—-Could I suspect his sincerity? If he was wealthy, noble, and long-descended, I also was a noble and an opulent heiress. It is true, that he neither knew the extent of my father's wealth, nor did I communicate to him (I do not even remember if I myself knew it at the time) the important circumstance, that the greater part of that wealth was beyond the grasp of arbitrary power, and not subject to the precarious award of arbitrary judges. My lover might think, perhaps, as my mother was desirous the world at large should believe, that almost our whole fortune depended on the precarious suit which we had come to Madrid to prosecute—a belief which she had countenanced out of policy, being well aware that a knowledge of my father's having remitted such a large part of his fortune to England, would in no shape aid the recovery of further sums in the Spanish courts. Yet, with no more extensive views of my fortune than were possessed by the public, I believe that he, of whom I am speaking, was at first sincere in his pretensions. He had himself interest sufficient to have obtained a decision in our favour in the courts, and my fortune, reckoning only what was in Spain, would then have been no inconsiderable sum. To be brief, whatever might be his motives or temptation for so far committing himself, he applied to my mother for my hand, with my consent and approval. My mother's judgment had become weaker, but her passions had become more irritable, during her increasing illness.

"You have heard of the bitterness of the ancient Scottish feuds, of which it may be said, in the language of Scripture, that the fathers eat sour grapes, and the teeth of the children are set on edge. Unhappily—I should say happily, considering what this man has now shown himself to be—some such strain of bitterness had divided his house from my mother's, and she had succeeded to the inheritance of hatred. When he asked her for my hand, she was no longer able to command her passions—she raked up every injury which the rival families had inflicted upon each other during a bloody feud of two centuries—heaped him with epithets of scorn, and rejected his proposal of alliance, as if it had come from the basest of mankind.

"My lover retired in passion; and I remained to weep and murmur against fortune, and—I will confess my fault—against my affectionate parent. I had been educated with different feelings, and the traditions of the feuds and quarrels of my mother's family in Scotland, which we're to her monuments and chronicles, seemed to me as insignificant and unmeaning as the actions and fantasies of Don Quixote; and I blamed my mother bitterly for sacrificing my happiness to an empty dream of family dignity.

"While I was in this humour, my lover sought a renewal of our intercourse. We met repeatedly in the house of the lady whom I have mentioned, and who, in levity, or in the spirit of intrigue, countenanced our secret correspondence. At length we were secretly married—so far did my blinded passion hurry me. My lover had secured the assistance of a clergyman of the English church. Monna Paula, who had been my attendant from infancy, was one witness of our union. Let me do the faithful creature justice—She conjured me to suspend my purpose till my mother's death should permit us to celebrate our marriage openly; but the entreaties of my lover, and my own wayward passion, prevailed over her remonstrances. The lady I have spoken of was another witness, but whether she was in full possession of my bridegroom's secret, I had never the means to learn. But the shelter of her name and roof afforded us the means of frequently meeting, and the love of my husband seemed as sincere and as unbounded as my own.

"He was eager, he said, to gratify his pride, by introducing me to one or two of his noble English friends. This could not be done at Lady D- —'s; but by his command, which I was now entitled to consider as my law, I contrived twice to visit him at his own hotel, accompanied only by Monna Paula. There was a very small party, of two ladies and two gentlemen. There was music, mirth, and dancing. I had heard of the frankness of the English nation, but I could not help thinking it bordered on license during these entertainments, and in the course of the collation which followed; but I imputed my scruples to my inexperience, and would not doubt the propriety of what was approved by my husband.

"I was soon summoned to other scenes: My poor mother's disease drew to a conclusion—Happy I am that it took place before she discovered what would have cut her to the soul.

"In Spain you may have heard how the Catholic priests, and particularly the monks, besiege the beds of the dying, to obtain bequests for the good of the church. I have said that my mother's temper was irritated by disease, and her judgment impaired in proportion. She gathered spirits and force from the resentment which the priests around her bed excited by their importunity, and the boldness of the stern sect of reformers, to which she had secretly adhered, seemed to animate her dying tongue. She avowed the religion she had so long concealed; renounced all hope and aid which did not come by and through its dictates; rejected with contempt the ceremonial of the Romish church; loaded the astonished priests with reproaches for their greediness and hypocrisy, and commanded them to leave her house. They went in bitterness and rage, but it was to return with the inquisitorial power, its warrants, and its officers; and they found only the cold corpse left of her, on whom they had hoped to work their vengeance. As I was soon discovered to have shared my mother's heresy, I was dragged from her dead body, imprisoned in a solitary cloister, and treated with severity, which the Abbess assured me was due to the looseness of my life, as well as my spiritual errors. I avowed my marriage, to justify the situation in which I found myself—I implored the assistance of the Superior to communicate my situation to my husband. She smiled coldly at the proposal, and told me the church had provided a better spouse for me; advised me to secure myself of divine grace hereafter, and deserve milder treatment here, by presently taking the veil. In order to convince me that I had no other resource, she showed me a royal decree, by which all my estate was hypothecated to the convent of Saint Magdalen, and became their complete property upon my death, or my taking the vows. As I was, both from religious principle, and affectionate attachment to my husband, absolutely immovable in my rejection of the veil, I believe— may heaven forgive me if I wrong her—that the Abbess was desirous to make sure of my spoils, by hastening the former event.

"It was a small and a poor convent, and situated among the mountains of Guadarrama. Some of the sisters were the daughters of neighbouring Hidalgoes, as poor as they were proud and ignorant; others were women immured there on account of their vicious conduct. The Superior herself was of a high family, to which she owed her situation; but she was said to have disgraced her connexions by her conduct during youth, and now, in advanced age, covetousness and the love of power, a spirit too of severity and cruelty, had succeeded to the thirst after licentious pleasure. I suffered much under this woman—and still her dark, glassy eye, her tall, shrouded form, and her rigid features, haunt my slumbers.

"I was not destined to be a mother. I was very ill, and my recovery was long doubtful. The most violent remedies were applied, if remedies they indeed were. My health was restored at length, against my own expectation and that of all around me. But, when I first again beheld the reflection of my own face, I thought it was the visage of a ghost. I was wont to be flattered by all, but particularly by my husband, for the fineness of my complexion—it was now totally gone, and, what is more extraordinary, it has never returned. I have observed that the few who now see me, look upon me as a bloodless phantom—Such has been the abiding effect of the treatment to which I was subjected. May God forgive those who were the agents of it!—I thank Heaven I can say so with as sincere a wish, as that with which I pray for forgiveness of my own sins. They now relented somewhat towards me—moved perhaps to compassion by my singular appearance, which bore witness to my sufferings; or afraid that the matter might attract attention during a visitation of the bishop, which was approaching. One day, as I was walking in the convent-garden, to which I had been lately admitted, a miserable old Moorish slave, who was kept to cultivate the little spot, muttered as I passed him, but still keeping his wrinkled face and decrepit form in the same angle with the earth—'There is Heart's Ease near the postern.'

"I knew something of the symbolical language of flowers, once carried to such perfection among the Moriscoes of Spain; but if I had been ignorant of it, the captive would soon have caught at any hint which seemed to promise liberty. With all the haste consistent with the utmost circumspection—for I might be observed by the Abbess or some of the sisters from the window—I hastened to the postern. It was closely barred as usual, but when I coughed slightly, I was answered from the other side—and, O heaven! it was my husband's voice which said, 'Lose not a minute here at present, but be on this spot when the vesper bell has tolled.'

"I retired in an ecstasy of joy. I was not entitled or permitted to assist at vespers, but was accustomed to be confined to my cell while the nuns were in the choir. Since my recovery, they had discontinued locking the door; though the utmost severity was denounced against me if I left these precincts. But, let the penalty be what it would, I hastened to dare it.—No sooner had the last toll of the vesper bell ceased to sound, than I stole from my chamber, reached the garden unobserved, hurried to the postern, beheld it open with rapture, and in the next moment was in my husband's arms. He had with him another cavalier of noble mien—both were masked and armed. Their horses, with one saddled for my use, stood in a thicket hard by, with two other masked horsemen, who seemed to be servants. In less than two minutes we were mounted, and rode off as fast as we could through rough and devious roads, in which one of the domestics appeared to act as guide.

"The hurried pace at which we rode, and the anxiety of the moment, kept me silent, and prevented my expressing my surprise or my joy save in a few broken words. It also served as an apology for my husband's silence. At length we stopped at a solitary hut—the cavaliers dismounted, and I was assisted from my saddle, not by M——M——my husband, I would say, who seemed busied about his horse, but by the stranger.

"'Go into the hut,' said my husband, 'change your dress with the speed of lightning—you will find one to assist you—we must forward instantly when you have shifted your apparel.'

"I entered the hut, and was received in the arms of the faithful Monna Paula, who had waited my arrival for many hours, half distracted with fear and anxiety. With her assistance I speedily tore off the detested garments of the convent, and exchanged them for a travelling suit, made after the English fashion. I observed that Monna Paula was in a similar dress. I had but just huddled on my change of attire, when we were hastily summoned to mount. A horse, I found, was provided for Monna Paula, and we resumed our route. On the way, my convent-garb, which had been wrapped hastily together around a stone, was thrown into a lake, along the verge of which we were then passing. The two cavaliers rode together in front, my attendant and I followed, and the servants brought up the rear. Monna Paula, as we rode on, repeatedly entreated me to be silent upon the road, as our lives depended on it. I was easily reconciled to be passive, for, the first fever of spirits which attended the sense of liberation and of gratified affection having passed away, I felt as it were dizzy with the rapid motion; and my utmost exertion was necessary to keep my place on the saddle, until we suddenly (it was now very dark) saw a strong light before us.

"My husband reined up his horse, and gave a signal by a low whistle twice repeated, which was answered from a distance. The whole party then halted under the boughs of a large cork-tree, and my husband, drawing himself close to my side, said, in a voice which I then thought was only embarrassed by fear for my safety,—'We must now part. Those to whom I commit you are contrabandists, who only know you as English-women, but who, for a high bribe, have undertaken to escort you through the passes of the Pyrenees as far as Saint Jean de Luz.'

"'And do you not go with us?' I exclaimed with emphasis, though in a whisper.

"'It is impossible,' he said, 'and would ruin all—See that you speak in English in these people's hearing, and give not the least sign of understanding what they say in Spanish—your life depends on it; for, though they live in opposition to, and evasion of, the laws of Spain, they would tremble at the idea of violating those of the church—I see them coming—farewell—farewell.'

"The last words were hastily uttered-I endeavoured to detain him yet a moment by my feeble grasp on his cloak.

"'You will meet me, then, I trust, at Saint Jean de Luz?'

"'Yes, yes,' he answered hastily, 'at Saint Jean de Luz you will meet your protector.'

"He then extricated his cloak from my grasp, and was lost in the darkness. His companion approached—kissed my hand, which in the agony of the moment I was scarce sensible of, and followed my husband, attended by one of the domestics."

The tears of Hermione here flowed so fast as to threaten the interruption of her narrative. When she resumed it, it was with a kind of apology to Margaret.

"Every circumstance," she said, "occurring in those moments, when I still enjoyed a delusive idea of happiness, is deeply imprinted in my remembrance, which, respecting all that has since happened, is waste and unvaried as an Arabian desert. But I have no right to inflict on you, Margaret, agitated as you are with your own anxieties, the unavailing details of my useless recollections."

Margaret's eyes were full of tears—it was impossible it could be otherwise, considering that the tale was told by her suffering benefactress, and resembled, in some respects, her own situation; and yet she must not be severely blamed, if, while eagerly pressing her patroness to continue her narrative, her eye involuntarily sought the door, as if to chide the delay of Monna Paula.

The Lady Hermione saw and forgave these conflicting emotions; and she, too, must be pardoned, if, in her turn, the minute detail of her narrative showed, that, in the discharge of feelings so long locked in her own bosom, she rather forgot those which were personal to her auditor, and by which it must be supposed Margaret's mind was principally occupied, if not entirely engrossed.

"I told you, I think, that one domestic followed the gentlemen," thus the lady continued her story, "the other remained with us for the purpose, as it seemed, of introducing us to two persons whom M—, I say, whom my husband's signal had brought to the spot. A word or two of explanation passed between them and the servant, in a sort of patois, which I did not understand; and one of the strangers taking hold of my bridle, the other of Monna Paula's, they led us towards the light, which I have already said was the signal of our halting. I touched Monna Paula, and was sensible that she trembled very much, which surprised me, because I knew her character to be so strong and bold as to border upon the masculine.

"When we reached the fire, the gipsy figures of those who surrounded it, with their swarthy features, large Sombrero hats, girdles stuck full of pistols and poniards, and all the other apparatus of a roving and perilous life, would have terrified me at another moment. But then I only felt the agony of having parted from my husband almost in the very moment of my rescue. The females of the gang—for there were four or five women amongst these contraband traders—received us with a sort of rude courtesy. They were, in dress and manners, not extremely different from the men with whom they associated—were almost as hardy and adventurous, carried arms like them, and were, as we learned from passing circumstances, scarce less experienced in the use of them.

"It was impossible not to fear these wild people; yet they gave us no reason to complain of them, but used us on all occasions with a kind of clumsy courtesy, accommodating themselves to our wants and our weakness during the journey, even while we heard them grumbling to each other against our effeminacy,—like some rude carrier, who, in charge of a package of valuable and fragile ware, takes every precaution for its preservation, while he curses the unwonted trouble which it occasions him. Once or twice, when they were disappointed in their contraband traffic, lost some goods in a rencontre with the Spanish officers of the revenue, and were finally pursued by a military force, their murmurs assumed a more alarming tone, in the terrified ears of my attendant and myself, when, without daring to seem to understand them, we heard them curse the insular heretics, on whose account God, Saint James, and Our Lady of the Pillar, had blighted their hopes of profit. These are dreadful recollections, Margaret."

"Why, then, dearest lady," answered Margaret, "will you thus dwell on them?"

"It is only," said the Lady Hermione, "because I linger like a criminal on the scaffold, and would fain protract the time that must inevitably bring on the final catastrophe. Yes, dearest Margaret, I rest and dwell on the events of that journey, marked as it was by fatigue and danger, though the road lay through the wildest and most desolate deserts and mountains, and though our companions, both men and women, were fierce and lawless themselves, and exposed to the most merciless retaliation from those with whom they were constantly engaged—yet would I rather dwell on these hazardous events than tell that which awaited me at Saint Jean de Luz."

"But you arrived there in safety?" said Margaret.

"Yes, maiden," replied the Lady Hermione; "and were guided by the chief of our outlawed band to the house which had been assigned for reception, with the same punctilious accuracy with which he would have delivered a bale of uncustomed goods to a correspondent. I was told a gentleman had expected me for two days—I rushed into the apartment, and, when I expected to embrace my husband—I found myself in the arms of his friend!"

"The villain!" exclaimed Margaret, whose anxiety had, in spite of herself, been a moment suspended by the narrative of the lady.

"Yes," replied Hermione, calmly, though her voice somewhat faltered, "it is the name that best—that well befits him. He, Margaret, for whom I had sacrificed all—whose love and whose memory were dearer to me than my freedom, when I was in the convent—than my life, when I was on my perilous journey—had taken his measures to shake me off, and transfer me, as a privileged wanton, to the protection of his libertine friend. At first the stranger laughed at my tears and my agony, as the hysterical passion of a deluded and overreached wanton, or the wily affection of a courtezan. My claim of marriage he laughed at, assuring me he knew it was a mere farce required by me, and submitted to by his friend, to save some reserve of delicacy; and expressed his surprise that I should consider in any other light a ceremony which could be valid neither in Spain nor England, and insultingly offered to remove my scruples, by renewing such a union with me himself. My exclamations brought Monna Paula to my aid—she was not, indeed, far distant, for she had expected some such scene."

"Good heaven!" said Margaret, "was she a confidant of your base husband?"

"No," answered Hermione, "do her not that injustice. It was her persevering inquiries that discovered the place of my confinement—it was she who gave the information to my husband, and who remarked even then that the news was so much more interesting to his friend than to him, that she suspected, from an early period, it was the purpose of the villain to shake me off. On the journey, her suspicions were confirmed. She had heard him remark to his companion, with a cold sarcastic sneer, the total change which my prison and my illness had made on my complexion; and she had heard the other reply, that the defect might be cured by a touch of Spanish red. This, and other circumstances, having prepared her for such treachery, Monna Paula now entered, completely possessed of herself, and prepared to support me. Her calm representations went farther with the stranger than the expressions of my despair. If he did not entirely believe our tale, he at least acted the part of a man of honour, who would not intrude himself on defenceless females, whatever was their character; desisted from persecuting us with his presence; and not only directed Monna Paula how we should journey to Paris, but furnished her with money for the purpose of our journey. From the capital I wrote to Master Heriot, my father's most trusted correspondent; he came instantly to Paris on receiving the letter; and—But here comes Monna Paula, with more than the sum you desired. Take it, my dearest maiden—serve this youth if you will. But, O Margaret, look for no gratitude in return!"

The Lady Hermione took the bag of gold from her attendant, and gave it to her young friend, who threw herself into her arms, kissed her on both the pale cheeks, over which the sorrows so newly awakened by her narrative had drawn many tears, then sprung up, wiped her own overflowing eyes, and left the Foljambe apartments with a hasty and resolved step.



CHAPTER XXI

Rove not from pole to pole-the man lives here Whose razor's only equall'd by his beer; And where, in either sense, the cockney-put May, if he pleases, get confounded cut. On the sign of an Alehouse kept by a Barber.

We are under the necessity of transporting our readers to the habitation of Benjamin Suddlechop, the husband of the active and efficient Dame Ursula, and who also, in his own person, discharged more offices than one. For, besides trimming locks and beards, and turning whiskers upward into the martial and swaggering curl, or downward into the drooping form which became mustaches of civil policy; besides also occasionally letting blood, either by cupping or by the lancet, extracting a stump, and performing other actions of petty pharmacy, very nearly as well as his neighbour Raredrench, the apothecary: he could, on occasion, draw a cup of beer as well as a tooth, tap a hogshead as well as a vein, and wash, with a draught of good ale, the mustaches which his art had just trimmed. But he carried on these trades apart from each other.

His barber's shop projected its long and mysterious pole into Fleet Street, painted party-coloured-wise, to represent the ribbons with which, in elder times, that ensign was garnished. In the window were seen rows of teeth displayed upon strings like rosaries—cups with a red rag at the bottom, to resemble blood, an intimation that patients might be bled, cupped, or blistered, with the assistance of "sufficient advice;" while the more profitable, but less honourable operations upon the hair of the head and beard, were briefly and gravely announced. Within was the well-worn leather chair for customers, the guitar, then called a ghittern or cittern, with which a customer might amuse himself till his predecessor was dismissed from under Benjamin's hands, and which, therefore, often flayed the ears of the patient metaphorically, while his chin sustained from the razor literal scarification. All, therefore, in this department, spoke the chirurgeon-barber, or the barber-chirurgeon.

But there was a little back-room, used as a private tap-room, which had a separate entrance by a dark and crooked alley, which communicated with Fleet Street, after a circuitous passage through several by-lanes and courts. This retired temple of Bacchus had also a connexion with Benjamin's more public shop by a long and narrow entrance, conducting to the secret premises in which a few old topers used to take their morning draught, and a few gill-sippers their modicum of strong waters, in a bashful way, after having entered the barber's shop under pretence of being shaved. Besides, this obscure tap-room gave a separate admission to the apartments of Dame Ursley, which she was believed to make use of in the course of her multifarious practice, both to let herself secretly out, and to admit clients and employers who cared not to be seen to visit her in public. Accordingly, after the hour of noon, by which time the modest and timid whetters, who were Benjamin's best customers, had each had his draught, or his thimbleful, the business of the tap was in a manner ended, and the charge of attending the back-door passed from one of the barber's apprentices to the little mulatto girl, the dingy Iris of Dame Suddlechop. Then came mystery thick upon mystery; muffled gallants, and masked females, in disguises of different fashions, were seen to glide through the intricate mazes of the alley; and even the low tap on the door, which frequently demanded the attention of the little Creole, had in it something that expressed secrecy and fear of discovery.

It was the evening of the same day when Margaret had held the long conference with the Lady Hermione, that Dame Suddlechop had directed her little portress to "keep the door fast as a miser's purse-strings; and, as she valued her saffron skin, to let in none but—-" the name she added in a whisper, and accompanied it with a nod. The little domestic blinked intelligence, went to her post, and in brief time thereafter admitted and ushered into the presence of the dame, that very city-gallant whose clothes sat awkwardly upon him, and who had behaved so doughtily in the fray which befell at Nigel's first visit to Beaujeu's ordinary. The mulatto introduced him—"Missis, fine young gentleman, all over gold and velvet "—then muttered to herself as she shut the door, "fine young gentleman, he!—apprentice to him who makes the tick-tick."

It was indeed—we are sorry to say it, and trust our readers will sympathize with the interest we take in the matter—it was indeed honest Jin Vin, who had been so far left to his own devices, and abandoned by his better angel, as occasionally to travesty himself in this fashion, and to visit, in the dress of a gallant of the day, those places of pleasure and dissipation, in which it would have been everlasting discredit to him to have been seen in his real character and condition; that is, had it been possible for him in his proper shape to have gained admission. There was now a deep gloom on his brow, his rich habit was hastily put on, and buttoned awry; his belt buckled in a most disorderly fashion, so that his sword stuck outwards from his side, instead of hanging by it with graceful negligence; while his poniard, though fairly hatched and gilded, stuck in his girdle like a butcher's steel in the fold of his blue apron. Persons of fashion had, by the way, the advantage formerly of being better distinguished from the vulgar than at present; for, what the ancient farthingale and more modern hoop were to court ladies, the sword was to the gentleman; an article of dress, which only rendered those ridiculous who assumed it for the nonce, without being in the habit of wearing it. Vincent's rapier got between his legs, and, as he stumbled over it, he exclaimed—"Zounds! 'tis the second time it has served me thus—I believe the damned trinket knows I am no true gentleman, and does it of set purpose."

"Come, come, mine honest Jin Vin—come, my good boy," said the dame, in a soothing tone, "never mind these trankums—a frank and hearty London 'prentice is worth all the gallants of the inns of court."

"I was a frank and hearty London 'prentice before I knew you, Dame Suddlechop," said Vincent; "what your advice has made me, you may find a name for; since, fore George! I am ashamed to think about it myself."

"A-well-a-day," quoth the dame, "and is it even so with thee?—nay, then, I know but one cure;" and with that, going to a little corner cupboard of carved wainscoat, she opened it by the assistance of a key, which, with half-a-dozen besides, hung in a silver chain at her girdle, and produced a long flask of thin glass cased with wicker, bringing forth at the same time two Flemish rummer glasses, with long stalks and capacious wombs. She filled the one brimful for her guest, and the other more modestly to about two-thirds of its capacity, for her own use, repeating, as the rich cordial trickled forth in a smooth oily stream—"Right Rosa Solis, as ever washed mulligrubs out of a moody brain!"

But, though Jin Vin tossed off his glass without scruple, while the lady sippped hers more moderately, it did not appear to produce the expected amendment upon his humour. On the contrary, as he threw himself into the great leathern chair, in which Dame Ursley was wont to solace herself of an evening, he declared himself "the most miserable dog within the sound of Bow-bell."

"And why should you be so idle as to think yourself so, silly boy?" said Dame Suddlechop; "but 'tis always thus—fools and children never know when they are well. Why, there is not one that walks in St. Paul's, whether in flat cap, or hat and feather, that has so many kind glances from the wenches as you, when ye swagger along Fleet Street with your bat under your arm, and your cap set aside upon your head. Thou knowest well, that, from Mrs. Deputy's self down to the waist- coateers in the alley, all of them are twiring and peeping betwixt their fingers when you pass; and yet you call yourself a miserable dog! and I must tell you all this over and over again, as if I were whistling the chimes of London to a pettish child, in order to bring the pretty baby into good-humour!"

The flattery of Dame Ursula seemed to have the fate of her cordial—it was swallowed, indeed, by the party to whom she presented it, and that with some degree of relish, but it did not operate as a sedative on the disturbed state of the youth's mind. He laughed for an instant, half in scorn, and half in gratified vanity, but cast a sullen look on Dame Ursley as he replied to her last words,

"You do treat me like a child indeed, when you sing over and over to me a cuckoo song that I care not a copper-filing for."

"Aha!" said Dame Ursley; "that is to say, you care not if you please all, unless you please one—You are a true lover, I warrant, and care not for all the city, from here to Whitechapel, so you could write yourself first in your pretty Peg-a-Ramsay's good-will. Well, well, take patience, man, and be guided by me, for I will be the hoop will bind you together at last."

"It is time you were so," said Jenkin, "for hitherto you have rather been the wedge to separate us."

Dame Suddlechop had by this time finished her cordial—it was not the first she had taken that day; and, though a woman of strong brain, and cautious at least, if not abstemious, in her potations, it may nevertheless be supposed that her patience was not improved by the regimen which she observed.

"Why, thou ungracious and ingrate knave," said Dame Ursley, "have not I done every thing to put thee in thy mistress's good graces? She loves gentry, the proud Scottish minx, as a Welshman loves cheese, and has her father's descent from that Duke of Daldevil, or whatsoever she calls him, as close in her heart as gold in a miser's chest, though she as seldom shows it—and none she will think of, or have, but a gentleman—and a gentleman I have made of thee, Jin Vin, the devil cannot deny that."

"You have made a fool of me," said poor Jenkin, looking at the sleeve of his jacket.

"Never the worse gentleman for that," said Dame Ursley, laughing.

"And what is worse," said he, turning his back to her suddenly, and writhing in his chair, "you have made a rogue of me."

"Never the worse gentleman for that neither," said Dame Ursley, in the same tone; "let a man bear his folly gaily and his knavery stoutly, and let me see if gravity or honesty will look him in the face now-a- days. Tut, man, it was only in the time of King Arthur or King Lud, that a gentleman was held to blemish his scutcheon by a leap over the line of reason or honesty—It is the bold look, the ready hand, the fine clothes, the brisk oath, and the wild brain, that makes the gallant now-a-days."

"I know what you have made me," said Jin Vin; "since I have given up skittles and trap-ball for tennis and bowls, good English ale for thin Bordeaux and sour Rhenish, roast-beef and pudding for woodcocks and kickshaws—my bat for a sword, my cap for a beaver, my forsooth for a modish oath, my Christmas-box for a dice-box, my religion for the devil's matins, and mine honest name for—Woman, I could brain thee, when I think whose advice has guided me in all this!"

"Whose advice, then? whose advice, then? Speak out, thou poor, petty cloak-brusher, and say who advised thee!" retorted Dame Ursley, flushed and indignant—"Marry come up, my paltry companion—say by whose advice you have made a gamester of yourself, and a thief besides, as your words would bear—The Lord deliver us from evil!" And here Dame Ursley devoutly crossed herself.

"Hark ye, Dame Ursley Suddlechop," said Jenkin, starting up, his dark eyes flashing with anger; "remember I am none of your husband—and, if I were, you would do well not to forget whose threshold was swept when they last rode the Skimmington [Footnote: A species of triumphal procession in honour of female supremacy, when it rose to such a height as to attract the attention of the neighbourhood. It is described at full length in Hudibras. (Part II. Canto II.) As the procession passed on, those who attended it in an official capacity were wont to sweep the threshold of the houses in which Fame affirmed the mistresses to exercise paramount authority, which was given and received as a hint that their inmates might, in their turn, be made the subject of a similar ovation. The Skimmington, which in some degree resembled the proceedings of Mumbo Jumbo in an African village, has been long discontinued in England, apparently because female rule has become either milder or less frequent than among our ancestors.] upon such another scolding jade as yourself."

"I hope to see you ride up Holborn next," said Dame Ursley, provoked out of all her holiday and sugar-plum expressions, "with a nosegay at your breast, and a parson at your elbow!"

"That may well be," answered Jin Vin, bitterly, "if I walk by your counsels as I have begun by them; but, before that day comes, you shall know that Jin Vin has the brisk boys of Fleet Street still at his wink.—Yes, you jade, you shall be carted for bawd and conjurer, double-dyed in grain, and bing off to Bridewell, with every brass basin betwixt the Bar and Paul's beating before you, as if the devil were banging them with his beef-hook."

Dame Ursley coloured like scarlet, seized upon the half-emptied flask of cordial, and seemed, by her first gesture, about to hurl it at the head of her adversary; but suddenly, and as if by a strong internal effort, she checked her outrageous resentment, and, putting the bottle to its more legitimate use, filled, with wonderful composure, the two glasses, and, taking up one of them, said, with a smile, which better became her comely and jovial countenance than the fury by which it was animated the moment before—

"Here is to thee, Jin Vin, my lad, in all loving kindness, whatever spite thou bearest to me, that have always been a mother to thee."

Jenkin's English good-nature could not resist this forcible appeal; he took up the other glass, and lovingly pledged the dame in her cup of reconciliation, and proceeded to make a kind of grumbling apology for his own violence—

"For you know," he said, "it was you persuaded me to get these fine things, and go to that godless ordinary, and ruffle it with the best, and bring you home all the news; and you said, I, that was the cock of the ward, would soon be the cock of the ordinary, and would win ten times as much at gleek and primero, as I used to do at put and beggar- my-neighbour—and turn up doublets with the dice, as busily as I was wont to trowl down the ninepins in the skittle-ground—and then you said I should bring you such news out of the ordinary as should make us all, when used as you knew how to use it—and now you see what is to come of it all!"

"'Tis all true thou sayest, lad," said the dame; "but thou must have patience. Rome was not built in a day—you cannot become used to your court-suit in a month's time, any more than when you changed your long coat for a doublet and hose; and in gaming you must expect to lose as well as gain—'tis the sitting gamester sweeps the board."

"The board has swept me, I know," replied Jin Vin, "and that pretty clean out.—I would that were the worst; but I owe for all this finery, and settling-day is coming on, and my master will find my accompt worse than it should be by a score of pieces. My old father will be called in to make them good; and I—may save the hangman a labour and do the job myself, or go the Virginia voyage."

"Do not speak so loud, my dear boy," said Dame Ursley; "but tell me why you borrow not from a friend to make up your arrear. You could lend him as much when his settling-day came round."

"No, no—I have had enough of that work," said Vincent. "Tunstall would lend me the money, poor fellow, an he had it; but his gentle, beggarly kindred, plunder him of all, and keep him as bare as a birch at Christmas. No—my fortune may be spelt in four letters, and these read, RUIN."

"Now hush, you simple craven," said the dame; "did you never hear, that when the need is highest the help is nighest? We may find aid for you yet, and sooner than you are aware of. I am sure I would never have advised you to such a course, but only you had set heart and eye on pretty Mistress Marget, and less would not serve you—and what could I do but advise you to cast your city-slough, and try your luck where folks find fortune?"

"Ay, ay—I remember your counsel well," said Jenkin; "I was to be introduced to her by you when I was perfect in my gallantries, and as rich as the king; and then she was to be surprised to find I was poor Jin Vin, that used to watch, from matin to curfew, for one glance of her eye; and now, instead of that, she has set her soul on this Scottish sparrow-hawk of a lord that won my last tester, and be cursed to him; and so I am bankrupt in love, fortune, and character, before I am out of my time, and all along of you, Mother Midnight."

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13     Next Part
Home - Random Browse