Marriage is like sin; if we often allow it to be presented to our view, we learn to look without starting. I was supremely indifferent towards Lord Frederick, and never entertained one serious thought of becoming his wife; but I suffered myself to be rallied upon our future connexion, till the idea excited no distinct sentiment of disapprobation; and till by degrees I forgot to make up for the faintness of my denials, by the strength of my inward resolutions against the match. Perhaps I should describe my case more correctly, were I to own that I formed no plan for the future: all my serious consideration being reserved for the comparative merits of satin and velvet, or of an assembly and an opera. The reputation of Lord Frederick's attentions gave me much more pleasure than the attentions themselves; and my companions knew how to flatter me, by reminding me of his assiduities.
Of all my remembrancers, the most persevering, if not the most vehement, was Miss Arnold. She had made her calculations on the increased importance which rank might give her patroness; and, with her accustomed shrewdness, chose the means most effectual for promoting her object. She did not, indeed, like others of my acquaintance, rally me upon marriage; but, in Lord Frederick's absence, she made him her constant theme; and the moment he approached she resigned to him her place by my side. As she had intimate access to my mind, she knew how to accommodate her attacks to my prevailing sentiments. At first, she confined herself to chronicling the symptoms of Lady Maria's jealousy and spite: amusing me with pictures, half mimic, half descriptive of the ill-concealed malice of my foe, and instigating me to further irritation. Next, she began to mingle her register with hints of having observed, that the sport was becoming a serious one to Lord Frederick. I was at first little inclined to credit a circumstance which would have added to the impropriety of my favourite amusement; but when at last Miss Arnold's instances, and my own exuberant vanity, convinced me of the fact, some remains of justice and humanity prompted me to a change of conduct.
"If Lord Frederick has really taken it into his wise head to be in love with me," said I to her one day when we wore alone, "I believe, Juliet, I ought to carry the jest no farther."
I spoke with great gravity, for I was half afraid that she must be of my opinion. She looked steadily in my face, as if to see whether I were in earnest, and then burst into a hearty fit of laughter.--"Ridiculous!" cried she: "what! you expect him to die of it, do you? Really, my dear, I did not think you had been so romantic."
I believe I blushed for appearing to over-rate a passion which my companion considered as so frivolous; and answered carelessly, "Oh! I dare say he'll survive it; but one would not wilfully give uneasiness, however trivial, you know."
"Bagatelle! you, who make a hundred hearts ache every day, to trouble your conscience about one stray thing! Besides, I'll answer for it, that the affair, upon the whole, will give him more pleasure than pain. How many sighs, such as lordlings breathe, would it require to repay Lord Frederick for that air of yours, as you turned to him last night from young Lord Glendower?"
"Ah! but that pleasure was a free gift, Juliet. I have no right to make him pay for it; besides Glendowor is such a fool, that it was really a relief to get rid of him. But, to be serious, I believe I shall effect my retreat with the better grace the sooner I begin it."
Miss Arnold was silent for a few moments, apparently pondering the matter; then, with an air of mature reflection, said, "Well, perhaps, upon the whole, you may be right. Your indifference will probably cure Lord Frederick; besides, it will be a double charity--it will be such a relief to Lady Maria, poor girl! I confess, Ellen, I am often sorry for her. Did you observe what a passion she was in last night, when Lord Frederick would not quit you to dance with Lady Augusta Loftus?"
"It was provoking to see one's brother show so little taste," answered I, pulling myself up, and trying to suppress a simper. "I should have thought I had no chance with Lady Augusta."
"Not, indeed," returned Miss Arnold, with a contemptuous smile, "if every one judged like Lady Maria de Burgh, and estimated a woman, like a carrot, by the length of root she had under ground. Oh! what a passion she will be in when Lord Frederick makes his proposals, and is refused!"
"But if I go much farther, Juliet, how can I refuse him? I can't tell the man that I have been drawing him on merely for the purpose of teazing his sister."
"Well," returned Miss Arnold, "after all, I believe you are right; so just do as you please. Your father, to be sure, might easily manage that matter; but do as you please."
She knew that she might safely entrust me with this permission, secure that, even if my resolutions were good, they would be ineffective. To shake off the attentions of a man who has once been encouraged requires more firmness than usually falls to the lot of woman. Besides, Lord Frederick had habit in his favour; and, with those who are neither guided by reason nor principle, habit is omnipotent. Pride, too, refused to resign the only means of repaying Lady Maria's scorn; and, in spite of the momentary checks of conscience, the flirtation proceeded just as before.
"While my soi-disant friend encouraged my follies no Mentor was at hand to repress them. My father, mingling little in the circles which I frequented, was ignorant of the encouragement which I gave to Lord Frederick. Miss Mortimer, ill calculated to arrest the notice of the gay and the giddy, was almost excluded from the endless invitations which were addressed to me. The public amusements, which consumed so much of my time, were unsuitable to her habits, to her principles, and to the delicacy of her health. Thus she was seldom the witness of my indiscretions. Accordingly, my intimacy with Lord Frederick had, for almost three months, excited the smiles, the envy, or the censure of "everybody one knows," when Miss Mortimer was surprised into hearing a copious account of my imprudence from a lady, who declared "that she was quite concerned to see that lovely girl, Miss Percy, give so much occasion for censorious tales." Who could doubt the kindness of that concern which led her to detail my errors to my friend, while she delicately forbore from hinting them to myself? My entrance happening to interrupt her narrative, I heard her say, with great emphasis, "So very ridiculous, that I thought it an act of friendship--" But, seeing me, she stopped; frowned very significantly at Miss Mortimer; and then, resuming her complacency of countenance, she accosted me in the most affectionate manner, protesting that she rejoiced in being so fortu- nate as to meet with me. "I was just telling Miss Mortimer," said she, "that I never saw you look so lovely as when you were de- lighting us all with that divine concerto upon the harp, last night." In the same style she ran on for about three minutes; then, declaring that she always forgot how time went when she was visiting us, she hurried away; first, however, repeating her frown to Miss Mortimer, accompanied with a cautioning shake of the head.
I turned towards my real friend, and observed that she was looking on me through rising tears. We were alone, and I think I was always less indocile, less unamiable, when there were few witnesses of my behaviour. Touched with the affectionate con- cern that was painted in her face, before I knew what I was doing, I had locked her hand in mine, and had inquired, "What was the matter with my good friend?"
"My dearest Ellen," returned she, and her mild eyes filled again, "would you but allow me to be your friend! But I will not talk to you now; that prating woman has discomposed me."
My conscience at that moment giving warning of a lecture in embryo, I instantly recollected myself. "Oh!" cried I, "how can you mind what she says? She is so prodigal of her talk, that her own stores are nothing to her. She must depend upon the public for supply, and you know what the proverb says of 'begging and choosing.' But I must be gone; I promised to meet Lady Waller at the exhibition. Good-bye."
My reader, especially if he be a male reader, will more easily conceive than I can express the abhorrence of rebuke which, at this period of my life, was strong upon me. I believe I could with more patience have endured a fit of cramp, than the most gentle reproof that ever friendship administered. By Miss Arnold's help, I for some days escaped the admonitions of Miss Mortimer, till I was unfortunately placed at her mercy by an indisposition, which I caught in striving, for two hours, to make my way through the Duchess of-----'s lobby, on the night of a rout. The first day of my illness, Miss Arnold was pretty constantly at my bedside; the second, she was obliged to dine abroad, and could not return before two o'clock in the morning; the third, while she was gone to the auction to buy some toy which I had intended purchasing, I received permission to leave my chamber; and Miss Mortimer, who had scarcely quitted me by day or night, attended me to my dressing-room.
From mere habit, I approached my glass; but three days of illness had destroyed its power to please. "Bless me!" cried I, "what shall I do? I am not fit to be seen! And I am dying to see somebody or other. Do, Grant, tell them to let in Mr. Maitland, if he calls. It is ten to one that he will not observe what a haggard wretch I look."
"I have heard," said Miss Mortimer, "that love-lorn damsels sigh for solitude. I hope your inclination for company is a sign that your heart is still safe, in spite of reports to the contrary."
She forced a smile, yet looked in my face with such sad earnestness, as if she had wished, but feared, to read my soul.
There is no escape now, thought I, so I must make the best of it. "Quite safe," answered I; "so safe that I scarcely know whether I have one. I rather imagine, that in me, as in certain heroines whom I have read of at school, a deficiency has been made on one side, on purpose that I might wound with greater dexterity and success."
"I rejoice to hear you say so," returned Miss Mortimer, "and still more to see, by that candid countenance, that you are not deceiving yourself. I knew that you were above deceiving me."
"Nay," said I, "I won't answer for that, if I had anything serious to conceal; but there is no cause for deceit. I would not give my dear Fido here for all other animals of his sex upon earth, except my father and--"
"And whom?" asked Miss Mortimer.
"I was going to say Mr. Maitland," answered I, "because he is so good a man; but Fido is a hundred times more affectionate and amusing."
Miss Mortimer now smiled without trying it. "Mr. Maitland is indeed a good man," said she; "and if you would show him half the kindness and attention that you do to Fido--"
She, too, left the sentence unfinished. Now, though I had not, I believe, a thought of finding a lover in Mr. Maitland, I often recollected, not without pique, Miss Mortimer's first decision on that subject; and, with a vague idea that she was going to recant, I said, with some quickness, "Well, what would happen, if I did?"
"You would find him quite as amusing," answered she.
"Is that all?" said I, poutingly; "then I may as well amuse myself with Lord Frederick, who does not give me the trouble of drawing him out." In my momentary pet I had started the very subject which I wished to avoid. Miss Mortimer instantly took advantage of my inadvertence. "A little more caution," said she, gravely, "may be necessary in the one case than in the other; for Mr. Maitland, far from wilfully misleading you, would guard the delicacy of your good name with a father's jealousy."
"In what respect does Lord Frederick mislead me?"
"Nay, I will not assert that he does; but, my dear Ellen, our grandmothers used to warn us against the arts of men. They represented lovers as insidious spoilers, subtle to contrive, and forward to seize every occasion of advantage."
"Gorgons and hydras, and chimeras dire!" exclaimed I; "what a train you have conjured up! But I can assure you, Lord Frederick is no insidious spoiler, nor subtle, nor very bold; but a good-natured, giddy-brained fellow no more a match for me in cunning than I am for him at the small-sword."
"Take care, Ellen. We all over-rate ourselves where we are deficient. No part of your character is more striking than your perfect singleness of heart."
"But what need is there of so much caution. I may as well marry Lord Frederick as anybody else. He wants fortune, I want rank. The bargain would be very equitable. What objection could there be to it?"
"None," replied Miss Mortimer, with a deep sigh, "provided that your father were satisfied; and which is, if possible, of still more importance, provided you are sure that Lord Frederick is the man whom your sober judgment would approve."
"What! would you have me marry on mere sober judgment?"
"No, I would not go quite so far; but, at least, I would not have you marry against your sober judgment. Much, very much, will depend upon the character of your husband. Toys cannot always please you, Ellen; for you have warm affections. These affections may meet with neglect, perhaps with unkindness; and have your habits fitted you for patient endurance? You have strong feelings; and have you learnt the blessed art of weakening their power upon your own mind, by diverting them into less selfish channels?"
She spoke with such warmth as flushed her cheek with almost youthful bloom: while I smiled at the solemnity with which she treated a subject so far from serious; and inwardly pitied that ignorance of the world, which could so much mistake the nature of a harmless flirtation. "Oh!" cried I, "if I were to marry Lord Frederick, I should support his neglect with great philosophy; and as for unkindness, we could provide against that in the settlements."
Miss Mortimer's manner grew still more solemn. "Answer me as gaily as you will," said she; "but, by all that you value, my dearest child, I adjure you to be serious with yourself. You have told me that you mean one day to change your plan of life,--to put away childish things,--to begin your education for eternity. Is Lord Frederick well fitted to be your companion,--your assistant in this mighty work?"
This view of the subject was far too awful for sport, far too just for raillery, and far too grave for my taste; so I hastened to dismiss the theme. "Well, well, my good Miss Mortimer," said I, "be under no apprehensions, I have not the slightest intention of marrying Lord Frederick."
"If that be the case," returned she, "suffer me to ask why you encourage his attentions?"
"Merely for the sake of a little amusement," answered I.
"Ah, Ellen!" said Miss Mortimer, "how many young women are lured on by the same bait, till they have no honourable means of escape; and marry without even inclination to excuse their folly, or mitigate its effects! Let the warning voice of experience--"
The warning voice was, at that moment, silenced by the entrance of Miss Arnold. "Here, Ellen," said she, "is a packet for you, which I found in the lobby.--What have you got there?" continued she, as I opened it.
"A note from Lord Frederick, and two tickets to Lady St. Edmunds' masked ball."
"Delightful! When is it to be?"
"On Monday, the fifth of May."
"Oh, we have no engagement; that is charming!"
Miss Arnold skipped about, and seemed in ecstasies. Miss Mortimer, on the contrary, looked gravely intent upon her work. Her gravity, and the extravagance of Juliet's raptures, alike restrained my pleasure; and I only expressed it by saying, with tolerable composure, that of all amusements, a masked ball was the one which most desired to see.
"Oh! it will be enchanting!" cried Miss Arnold. "What dresses shall we wear, Ellen?"
Miss Mortimer having cut a cap, which she had been shaping, into more than fifty shreds, now leant earnestly towards me; and, timid and faltering, as if she feared my answer, asked, "if I would accept of Lord Frederick's tickets?"
"To be sure she will," said Miss Arnold, answering for me.
"Why should I not?" said I.
"I hope you will at least consider the matter," returned Miss Mortimer, still addressing herself particularly to me. "This sort of amusement is regarded with suspicion by all sober-minded persons; and I own I could wish that Miss Percy thought this a sufficient reason for refusing it her countenance."
"I am sure that is a nonsensical prejudice," cried Miss Arnold. "At a subscription masquerade, indeed, one might meet with low people, but at Lady St Edmunds' there will be none but the best company in town."
"The best born company, I suppose you mean," answered Miss Mortimer; "but I imagine, that the very use of masks is to banish the privileges and the restraints of personal respectability."
"Nay now, my dear Miss Mortimer!" cried I, playfully laying my hand upon her mouth, "pray, don't throw away that nice lecture; you know I never was at a masquerade in my life, and you would not be so savage as to prose me out of going to one! only one!"
"If I thought there were any chance of success," said Miss Mortimer, smiling affectionately on me, "I would make captives of these little hands till I tried all my rhetoric."
"It would be all lost," cried I, "for positively I must and will go." Miss Mortimer's countenance fell; for she knew that in spite of the sportiveness of my manner, I was inaccessible to conviction; and she saw that no argument was likely to find admission where, instead of being welcomed as an honest counsellor, it was guarded against as an insolent mutineer.
After a short silence she changed her point of attack. "If," said she, "your acceptance of Lord Frederick's tickets implies any obligation to accept his particular attendance, I think, Ellen, you will see the prudence of refusing them."
Recollecting our late conversation, I felt myself embarrassed, and knew not what to answer. But my companion quickly relieved my dilemma. "Indeed, Miss Mortimer," said she, "you know nothing of these matters. Ellen cannot invite gentlemen to Lady St. Edmunds' house, so it is clear that we must allow Lord Frederick to go with us; but when we are there, we shall soon find attendants enough."
"Yes," said I, willing to satisfy Miss Mortimer, "and when we get into the rooms we shall be under the Countess's protection, and may shake off the gentlemen as soon as we choose."
Miss Mortimer looked more and more anxious. "What protection can Lady St. Edmunds afford you," said she, "where hundreds around her have equal claims: and left in such a place without any guard but your own discretion? Dearest Ellen, I beseech you, return these tickets."
Though I was far from owning to myself that Miss Mortimer was in the right, I could not entirely suppress the consciousness that my resistance was wrong. The consequence was, that I grew angry with her for making me displeased with myself, and peevishly answered, that I would not return the tickets, nor be debarred from a harmless amusement by anybody's unfounded prejudices.
"Call them prejudices, or what you will, Ellen," said Miss Mortimer, in a voice which I must have been a savage to resist, "only yield to them!"
My self-condemnation, and of course my ill-humour, were increased by her mildness; and, forgetting all her claims to my respect, all her patient affection, all her saint-like forbearance, I turned upon her with the petulance of a spoiled child, and asked, "who gave her a right to thwart and importune me?" Tears rushed to her meek eyes. "It was your mother, Ellen!" cried she; "when she bade me, in remembrance of our long and faithful friendship, to watch and advise, and restrain her child. Will you not give me up a few short hours of pleasure for her sake?"
I was overpowered and burst into tears; yet tears, I must own, as much of spleen, as of tenderness. Such as they were, I was ashamed of them; and dashing them away, snatched the tickets and enclosed them in a short note of apology to Lord Frederick. "Are you going to return them?" cried Miss Arnold, looking over my shoulder at what I had written, and speaking in a tone of the utmost surprise. "Certainly!" said I, in a manner so decided, that, without the least attempt to oppose my design, she sat down opposite to me, as if taking wistfully her last look of the tickets.
"Pull the bell, Juliet," said I somewhat triumphantly, as I sealed the note.
"Give me the note," said Miss Arnold, "I am going down stairs, and will give it to a servant. It is a pity the poor creatures should have unnecessary trouble." She took the packet, and quitted the room.
Miss Mortimer, the big drops still trickling down her cheek, pressed my hand, as if she would have thanked me, had her voice been at her command. Conscious of having made a proper sacrifice, I involuntarily recovered my good humour; but my pride refused to let my kind friend think her victory complete; and, releasing my hand, I turned away with cold stateliness.
But what am I doing? Is the world peopled with Miss Mortimers, that I should expect its forbearance for such a character as mine?--No; but I will endure the shame which I have merited. Detest me, reader. I was worthy of your detestation! Throw aside, if you will, my story in disgust. Yet remember, that indignation against vice is not of itself virtue. Your abhorrence of pride and ingratitude is no farther genuine than as it operates against your own pride, your own ingratitude.
This presentation of Discipline: A Novel, by Mary Brunton is Copyright 2003 by P.J. LaBrocca. It may not be copied, duplicated, stored or transmitted in any form without written permission. The text is in the public domain.