Discipline: A Novel

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The next morning, on entering the breakfast-parlour, the first object which met my eye was Miss Mortimer, in a travelling dress. Notwithstanding our conversation on the preceding day, the consciousness of having done amiss made me ascribe her departure, or at least the suddenness of it, to displeasure against me; and, "soon moved with touch of blame," I would not deign to notice the circumstance, but took my place at the breakfast-table in surly silence. Our meal passed gloomily enough. I sat trying to convince myself that Miss Mortimer was unreasonably offended; my father wrinkled his dark brows till his eyes were scarcely visible; Miss Arnold fidgeted upon her chair; and Miss Mortimer bent over her untasted chocolate, stealing up her fingers now and then to arrest the tear ere it reached her cheek.

"Truly, Miss Mortimer," said my father, at last, "I must say I think it a little strange that you should leave us so suddenly, before we have had time to provide a person to be with Ellen." This speech, or the manner in which it was spoken, roused Miss Mortimer; for she answered with a degree of spirit which broke upon the meekness of her usual manner like summer lightning on the twilight. "While I had a hope of being useful to Miss Percy," said she, "I was willing to doubt of the necessity for leaving her: but every such hope must end, since it is judged advisable to use concealment with me. Besides, I am now fully aware of my situation. Dr. ----- has told me that any delay will be fatal to all chance of success."

"Well," said my father, "every one is the best judge of his own affairs; but my opinion is that you had better have stayed where you are. You might have had my family surgeon to attend you when you chose, without expense. I take it your accommodations would have been somewhat different from what you can have in that confined hovel of yours."

Miss Mortimer shook her head. "I cannot doubt your liberality, sir," said she; "but the very name of home compensates many a want; and I find it is doubly dear to the sick and the dying."

Miss Mortimer's last words, and the sound of her carriage as it drove to the door, brought our comfortless meal to a close; and, in a mood between sorrow and anger, I retreated to a window, where I stood gazing as steadfastly into the street, as if I had really observed what was passing there. I did not venture to look round while I listened to Miss Mortimer's last farewell to my father; and I averted my face still more when she drew near and took the hand which hung listless by my side. "Ellen," said her sweet plaintive voice, "shall we not part friends?"

I would have given the universe at that moment for the obduracy to utter a careless answer; but it was impossible:--so I stretched my neck as if to watch somewhat at the farther end of the street, though in truth my eyes were dim with tears more bitter than those of sorrow. Miss Mortimer for awhile stood by me silent, and when she spoke, her voice was broken with emotion. "Perhaps we may meet again," whispered she, "if I live, perhaps. I know it is in vain to tell you now that you are leaning on a broken reed; but if it should pierce you--if worldly pleasures fail you--if you should ever long for the sympathy of a faithful heart, will you think of me, Ellen? Will you remember your natural, unalienable right over her whom your mother loved and trusted?"

I answered not. Indeed I could not answer. My father and Miss Arnold were present; and, in the cowardice of pride, I could not dare the humiliation of exposing to them the better feeling which swelled my heart to bursting. I snatched my hand from the grasp of my friend,--my only real friend,--darted from her presence, and shut myself up alone.

By mere accident the place of my refuge was my mother's parlour. All was there as she had left it; for when the other apartments were new modelled to the fashion of the day, I had rescued hers from change. There lay the drawing-case where she had sketched flowers for me. There was the work-box where I had ravelled her silks unchidden. There stood the footstool on which I used to sit at her feet; and there stood the couch on which at last the lovely shadow leaned, when she was wasting away from our sight. "Oh, mother, mother!" I cried aloud; "mother, who loved me so fondly, who succoured me with thy life! is this my gratitude for all thy love! Thou hadst one friend, one dear and true to thee; and I have slighted, abused, driven her from me, sick and dying! Oh, why didst thou cast away thy precious life for such a heartless, thankless thing as I am!"

My well-deserved self-reproach was interrupted by something that touched me. It was poor Fido; who, laying his paw upon my knee, looked up in my face, and gave a short low whine, as if inquiring what ailed me? "Fido! poor Fido!" said I, "what right have I to you?--you should Lave been Miss Mortimer's. She would not misuse even a dog of my mother's. Go, go!" I continued, as the poor creature still fawned on me; "all kindness is lost upon me. Miss Mortimer better deserves to have the only living memorial of her friend."

The parting steps of my neglected monitress now sounded on my ear as she passed to the carriage; and, catching my little favourite up in my arms, I sprang towards the door. "I will bid her keep him for my mother's sake," thought I, "and ask her too, for my mother's sake, to pardon me." My hand was on the lock, when I heard Miss Arnold's voice, uttering, unmoved, a cold parting compliment; and I was not yet sufficiently humbled to let her witness my humiliation. I did not dare to meet the stoical scrutiny of her eye, and hastily retreated from the door. After a moment's hesitation, I pulled the bell, and a servant came. "Take that dog to Miss Mortimer," said I, turning away to hide my swollen eyes, "and tell her I beg as a particular favour that she will carry him away with her--he has grown intolerably troublesome." The man stood staring in inquisitive surprise; for all the household knew that Fido was my passion. "Why don't you do as you are desired?" cried I, impatiently. The servant disappeared with my favourite; I Listened till I heard the carriage drive off; then threw myself on my mother's couch, and wept bitterly.

Glad to turn my thoughts from a channel in which nothing pleasurable was to be found, I now reverted to the incidents of the former evening. But there, too, all was comfortless or obscure. The situation in which I had been surprised by Lady Maria was gall and wormwood to my recollection. I could neither endure nor forbear to anticipate the form which the ingenuity of hatred might give to the story of my indiscretion; and, while I pictured myself already the object of sly sarcasm,--of direct reproach,--of insulting pity,--every vein throbbed feverishly with proud impatience of disgrace, and redoubled hatred of my enemy. In the tumult of my thoughts, a wish crossed my mind, that I had once sheltered myself from calumny, and inflicted vengeance on my foe, by consenting to accompany Lord Frederick to Scotland; but this was only the thought of a moment; and the next I relieved my mind from the crowd of tormenting images which pressed upon it, by considering whether my lover had really meditated a bold experiment upon my pliability, or whether my masquerade friend had been mistaken in his intelligence. Finding myself unable to solve this question, I went to seek the assistance of Miss Arnold. I was told she was abroad; and, after wondering a little whither she could have gone without acquainting me, I ordered the carriage, and went to escape from my doubts, and from myself, by a consultation with Lady St. Edmunds.

Her Ladyship's servant seemed at first little inclined to admit me; but observing that a hackney coach moved from the door to let my barouche draw up, I concluded that my friend was at home, and resolutely made my way into the house. The servant, seeing me determined, ushered me into a back drawing-room; where, after waiting some time, I was joined by Lady St. Edmunds. She never received me with more seeming kindness. In the course of our conversation, I related, so far as it was known to me, the whole story of the mask; and ended by asking her opinion of the affair. She listened to my tale with every appearance of curiosity and interest; and, when I paused for a reply, declared, without hesitation, that she considered the whole interference and behaviour of my strange protector as a jest. I opposed this opinion, and Lady St. Edmunds defended it; till I inadvertently confessed that I had private reasons for believing him to be perfectly serious. Her Ladyship's countenance now expressed a lively curiosity, but I was too much ashamed of my "private reasons" to acknowledge them; and she was either too polite to urge me, or confident of gaining the desired information by less direct means.

Finding me assured upon this point, she averred that the information given by my black domino, if not meant in jest, must at least have originated in mistake. "These prying geniuses," said she, "will always find a mystery, or make one. But of this I am sure, Frederick has too much of your own open undesigning temper to entrap you; even though," added she, with a sly smile, "he were wholly without hopes from persuasion." I was defending myself in some confusion from this attack, when Lady St. Edmunds interrupted me by crying out, "Oh, I can guess now how this mystery of yours has been manufactured! I have this moment recollected that Frederick intended setting out early this morning for Lincolnshire. Probably he might go the first stage in the carriage which took him home from the ball; and your black domino having discovered this circumstance, has knowingly worked it up into a little romance."

Glad to escape from the uneasiness of suspicion, and perhaps from the necessity of increasing my circumspection, I eagerly laid hold on this explanation, and declared myself perfectly satisfied; but Lady St. Edmunds, who seemed anxious to make my conviction as complete as possible, insisted on despatching a messenger to inquire into her nephew's motions.

She left the room for this purpose; and I almost unconsciously began to turn over some visiting cards which were strewed on her table. One of them bore Miss Arnold's name, underneath which this sentence was written in French: "Admit me for five minutes; I have something particular to say." These words were pencilled, and so carelessly, that I was not absolutely certain of their being Miss Arnold's hand-writing. I was still examining this point, when Lady St. Edmunds returned; and, quite unsuspectingly, I showed her the card; asking her smiling, "What was this deep mystery of Juliet's?"

"That?" said Lady St. Edmunds;--"oh, that was--a--let me see--upon my word, I have forgotten what it was--a consultation about a cap, or a feather, or some such important affair--I suppose it has lain on that table these six months."

"Six months!" repeated I simply. "I did not know that you had been so long acquainted."

"How amusingly precise you are!" cried Lady St. Edmunds, laughing. "I did not mean to say exactly six times twenty-nine days and six hours, but merely that the story is so old that I have not the least recollection of the matter."

She then immediately changed the subject. With a countenance full of concern, and with apologies for the liberty she took, she begged that I would enable her to contradict a malicious tale which, she said, Lady Maria de Burgh had, after I left the masquerade, half-hinted, half-told, to almost every member of the company. Ready to weep with vexation, I was obliged to confess that the tale was not wholly unfounded; and I related the affair as it had really happened. Lady St. Edmunds lifted her hands and eyes, ejaculating upon the effects of malice and envy in such a manner, as convinced me that my indiscretion had been dreadfully aggravated in the narration; but when I pressed to know the particulars, she drew back, as if unwilling to wound me further, and even affected to make light of the whole affair. She declared that, being now acquainted with the truth, she should find it very easy to defend me:--"At all events," added she, "considering the terms on which you and Frederick stand with each other, nobody, except an old prude or two, will think the matter worth mentioning." I was going to protest against this ground of acquittal, when the servant came to inform his mistress aloud, that Lord Frederick had set out for Lincolnshire at five o'clock that morning. This confirmation of Lady St. Edmunds' conjecture entirely removed my suspicions; and convinced me that my black domino, having executed his commission with more zeal than discernment, had utterly mistaken Lord Frederick's intentions.

Some other visitors being now admitted, I left Lady St. Edmunds, and ordered my carriage home, intending to take up Miss Arnold before I began my usual morning rounds. At the corner of Bond Street, the overturn of a heavy coal-waggon had occasioned considerable interruption; and, while one line of carriages passed cautiously on, another was entirely stopped. My dexterous coachman, experienced in surmounting that sort of difficulty, contrived to dash into the moving line. As we slowly passed along, I thought I heard Miss Arnold's voice. She was urging the driver of a hackney coach to proceed, while he surlily declared, "that he would not break his line and have his wheels torn off to please anybody." The coach had in its better days been the property of an acquaintance of mine, whose arms were still blazoned on the panel; and this circumstance made me distinctly remember, that it was the same which I had seen that morning at Lady St. Edmunds' door.

On observing me, Miss Arnold at first drew back; but presently afterwards looked out, and nodding familiarly, made a sign for me to stop and take her into my barouche. I obeyed the signal; but not, I must own, with that cordial good-will which usually impelled me towards Miss Arnold. My friend's manner, however, did not partake of the restraint of mine. To my cold inquiry, "where she had been," she answered, with ready frankness, that she had been looking at spring silks in a shop at the end of the street. In spite of the manner in which this assertion was made, I must own that I was not entirely satisfied of its truth. The incident of the hackney-coach, and the words which I had seen written on the card, recurring together to my mind, I could not help suspecting that Miss Arnold had paid Lady St. Edmunds a visit which was intended to be kept secret from me. Already out of humour, and dispirited, I admitted this suspicion with unwonted readiness; and, after conjecturing for some moments of surly silence, what could be the motive of this little circumvention, I bluntly asked my friend, whether she had not been in Grosvenor Square that morning?

Miss Arnold reddened. "In Grosvenor Square!" repeated she. "What should make you think so?"

"Because the very carriage from which you have just alighted I saw at Lady St Edmunds' door not half an hour ago."

"Very likely," retorted my friend, "but you did not see me in it, I suppose."

I owned that I did not, but mentioned the card, which was connected with it in my mind; confessing, however, simply enough, that Lady St. Edmunds denied all recollection of it. Miss Arnold now raised her handkerchief to her eyes. "Unkind Ellen!" said she, "what is it you suspect? Why should I visit Lady St. Edmunds without your knowledge? But, since yesterday, you are entirely changed,--and, after seven years of faithful friendship --" She stopped, and turned from me as if to weep.

I was uneasy, but not sufficiently so to make concessions. "If my manner is altered, Juliet," said I, "you well know the cause of the change. Was it not owing to you that I was so absurdly committed to the malice of that hateful Lady Maria? And now there is I know not what of mystery in your proceedings that puts me quite out of patience."

"Yes, well I know the cause," answered Miss Arnold, as if still in tears. "Your generous nature would never have punished so severely an error of mere thoughtlessness, if that cruel Miss Mortimer had not prejudiced you against me. She is gone indeed herself; but she has left her sting behind. And I must go, too!" continued Miss Arnold, sobbing more violently. "I could have borne any thing except to be suspected."

My ungoverned temper often led me to inflict pain, which, with a selfishness sometimes miscalled good nature, I could not endure to witness. Entirely vanquished by the tears of my friend, I locked my arms round her neck, assured her of my restored confidence; and, as friends of my sex and age are accustomed to do, offered amends for my transient estrangement in a manner more natural than wise, by recanting aloud every suspicion, however momentary, which had formerly crossed my mind. A person of much less forecast than Miss Arnold might have learned from this recantation where to place her guards for the future.

My friend heard me to an end, and then with great candour confessed what she could not now conceal, that Lord Frederick had her wishes for his success; but she magnanimously forgave my imagining, even for a moment, that she could condescend to assist him; and appealed to myself, what motive she could have for favouring his suit, except the wish of seeing me rise to a rank worthy of me. She then justified herself from any clandestine transaction with Lady St. Edmunds, giving me some very unimportant explanation of the card which had perplexed me.

It is so painful to suspect a friend, and I was so accustomed to shun pain by all possible means, that I willingly suffered myself to be convinced; and harmony being restored by Miss Arnold's address, we engaged ourselves in shopping and visiting till it was tine to prepare for the pleasure of the night. My spirits were low, and my head ached violently; but I had not the fortitude to venture upon a solitary evening. From the dread of successful malice,--from the recollection of abused friendship,--in a word, from myself,--I fled, vainly fled, to the opera, and three parties; from whence I returned home, more languid and comfortless than ever.

I had just retired to my apartment, when a letter was brought me, which ran as follows:--

"When you read this letter, my dear Ellen, one circumstance may perhaps assist its influence. My counsels, however received, whether used or rejected, are now drawing to a close; and you may safely grant them the indulgence we allow to troubles which will soon cease to molest us. I know not how far this consideration may affect you, but I cannot think of it without strong emotion. I have often and deeply regretted that my usefulness to you has been so little answerable to my wishes; yet, with the sympathy which rivets our eyes on danger which we cannot avert, I would fain have lingered with you still; watching, with the same painful solicitude, the approach of evils, which I in vain implored you to avoid. But it must not be. Aware of my situation, I dare not trifle with a life which is not mine to throw away. I must leave you, my dearest child, probably for ever. I must loosen this last hold which the world has on a heart already severed from all its earliest affections. And can I quit you without one last effort for your safety;--without once again earnestly striving to rouse your watchfulness, ere you have cast away your all for trifles without use or value?

"Ellen, your mother was my first friend. We grow up together. We shared in common the sports and the improvements of youth; and common sorrows, in maturer life, formed a still stronger bond. Yet I know not if my friend herself awakened a tenderness so touching, as that which remembrance mingles with my affection for you, when your voice or your smile reminds me of what she was in her short years of youth and joy. Nor is it only in trifles such as these that the resemblance rises to endear you. You have your mother's simplicity and truth,--your mother's warm affections,--your mother's implicit confidence in the objects of her love. This last was indeed the shade, perhaps the only shade of her character. But she possessed that 'alchemy divine' which could transform even her dross into gold; and what might have been her weakness became her strength, when she placed her supreme regards upon excellence supreme. The nature of your affections also seems to give their object, whatever it be, implicit influence with you; and thus it becomes doubly important that they be worthily bestowed. It is this which has made me watch, with peculiar anxiety, the channels in which they seemed inclined to flow; and lament, with peculiar bitterness, that a propensity capable of such glorious application should be lost, or worse than lost to you.

"These, however, are subjects upon which you have never permitted me to enter. You have repelled them in anger; evaded them in sport; or barred them at once as points upon which you were determined to act, I must not say to judge, for yourself. If, indeed, you would have used your own judgment, one unpleasing part of this letter might have been spared; for surely your unbiassed judgment might show you the danger of some connexions into which you have entered. It might remind you, that the shafts of calumny are seldom so accurately directed, as not to glance aside from their chief mark to those who incautiously approach; that those whom it has once justly or unjustly suspected, the world views with an eye so jaundiced as may discolour even the most innocent action of their willing associate. Even upon these grounds I think your judgment, had it been consulted, must have given sentence against your intimacy with Lady St. Edmunds. But these are not all. Persons who know her Ladyship better than I pretend to do, represent her as a mixture, more common than amiable, of improvidence in the selection of her ends, with freedom in the choice, and dexterity in the use of the means which she employs: in short (pardon the severity of truth), as a mixture of imprudence and artifice. My dearest girl, what variety of evil may not result to you from such a connexion? Whatever may be my suspicions, I am not prepared to assert that Lady St. Edmunds has any sinister design against you. Your manifest indifference towards her nephew makes me feel more security on the point where I should otherwise have dreaded her influence the most. But I am convinced, that the mere love of manoeuvring becomes in itself a sufficient motive for intrigue, and is of itself sufficient to endanger the safety of all who venture within its sphere. The frank and open usually possess an instinct which, independently of caution, repels them from the designing. I must not name to you that unhappy trait in your character, by which this instinct has been made unavailing to you; by which the artful wind themselves into your confidence, and the heartless cheat you of your affection. Has not the ceaseless incense which Miss Arnold offers blinded you to faults, which far less talent for observation than you possess might have exposed to your knowledge and to your disdain? Do not throw aside my letter with indignation; but, if the words of truth offend you, consider that from me they will wound you no more; and pardon me, too, when I confess, that, in despair of influencing you upon this point, I have entreated your father not to renew his invitation to Miss Arnold, but rather to discourage, by every gentle and reasonable means, an intimacy so eminently prejudicial to you.

"And now I think I see you raise your indignant head; and, with the lofty scorn of baseness which I have so often seen expressed in your countenance and mien, I hear you exclaim, 'Shall I desert my earliest friend!--repay with cold ingratitude her long-tried, ardent attachment?' Your indignation, Ellen, is virtuous, but mistaken. If Miss Arnold's attachment be real, she has a claim to your gratitude, indeed; but not to your intimacy, your confidence, your imitation. These are due to far other qualifications. But are you sure, Ellen, that the warm return you make to Miss Arnold's supposed affection is itself entirely real? Are you sure, that it is not rather the form under which you choose to conceal from yourself, that her adulation is become necessary to you? Before you indignantly repel this charge, ask your own heart, whether you are, in every instance, thus grateful for disinterested love? Is there not a friend of whose love you are regardless?--whose counsels you neglect?--whose presence you shun?--from whom you withhold your trust, though the highest confidence were here the highest wisdom?--whom you refuse to imitate, though here the most imperfect imitation were glorious? You exchange your affection, and all the influence which your affection bestows, for a mere shadow of good-will. The very dog that fawns upon you, is caressed with childish fondness. Oh, Ellen, does it never strike you with strong amazement to reflect, that you are sensible to every love but that which is boundless? grateful for every kindness but that which is wholly undeserved--wholly beyond return? Is nothing due to an unwearied friend? Is it fitting, that one who lives, who enjoys so much to sweeten life, by the providence, the bounty, the forbearance of a benefactor, should live to herself alone? Yet ask your own conscience, what part of your plan of life, or rather, since I believe your life is without a plan, which of your habits is inspired by gratitude. Dare to be candid with yourself, and though the odious word will grate upon your ear, inquire whether selfishness be not rather your chosen guide;--whether you be not selfish in your pursuit of pleasure,--selfish in your fondness for the flatterer who soothes your vanity,--selfish in the profuse liberality with which you vainly hope to purchase an affection which it is not in her nature to bestow,--selfish even in the relief which you indiscriminately lavish on every complainer whose cry disturbs you on your bed of roses. Is this the temper of a Christian--of one 'who is not her own, but is bought with a price?' Consider this awful price, and how will your own conduct change in your estimation? How will you start as from a fearful dream, when you remember that of this mighty debt you have hitherto lived regardless? How will you then abhor that pursuit of selfish pleasure which has hitherto alienated your mind from all that best deserves your care,--blasted the very sense by which you should have perceived the excellence of your benefactor,--diverted your regards from the deeper and deeper death which is palsying your soul; and closed your ear against the renovating voice which calls you to arise and live? This voice, once heard, would exalt your confiding temper to the elevations of faith,--ennoble your careless generosity to the self-devotion of saints and martyrs,--your warmth of affection, now squandered on the meanest of objects to the love of God. The true religion once received, would change the whole current of your hopes and fears;--would ennoble your desires, subdue passion, humble the proud heart, overcome the world. But you will not give her whereon to plant her foot: for where, amidst the multitude of your toys, shall religion find a place? Oh, why should we, by continued sacrifice, confirm our natural idolatry of created things? Why fill, with the veriest baubles of this unsubstantial scene, hearts already too much inclined to exclude their rightful possessor? The pursuit of selfish pleasure is indeed natural, for self is the idol of fallen man; but the great end of his present state of being is to prostrate that idol before the Supreme. The stony Dagon bows unwillingly, but bow he must. Our heavenly Father, though a merciful, is not a fond or partial parent; and the same lot is more or less the portion of us all. He has freely given. He has done more; he has warned us of the real uses of his gifts. Perverse by nature, we abuse his bounty. Again, he exhorts us by the ministry of his servants; and often graciously sweetens his warnings, by conveying them in the voice of partial friendship, or parental love. We reject counsel; and the father unwillingly chastises. He withdraws the gifts which we have perverted, or suffers them to become themselves the punishment of their own abuse. If kindness cannot touch, nor exhortation move, nor warning alarm, nor chastisement reclaim, what other means can be employed with a moral being? What remains but the fearful sentence, 'He is joined to his idols; let him alone.' Oh, Ellen, my blood freezes at the thought that such a sentence may ever go forth against you. Rouse you, dear child of my love,--rouse you from your ill-boding security. Tremble, lest you already approach that state where mercy itself assumes the form of punishment. You have hitherto lived to yourself alone. Now venture to examine this god of your idolatry;--for the being whose pleasure and whose honour you seek, is your god, call it by what name you will. See if it be worthy to divide even your least service with Him who, infinite in goodness, accepts the imperfect,--showers his bounty on the unprofitable,--and opens, even to the rebel, the arms of a father!--who meets your offences with undesired pardon, and anticipates your wants with offers of himself! Think you that this generous love could lay on you a galling yoke? I know that, though you should distrust my judgment, you will credit ray testimony: and I solemnly protest to you, that I have found his service to be 'perfect freedom.' He exalts my joys as gifts of his bounty; He blesses my sorrows as tokens of His love; He lightens my duties by honouring them, poor as they are, with his acceptance; and even the pang with which I feel and own myself a lost sinner is sweetened by remembrance of that mercy which came to seek and to save me, because I was lost. These are my pleasures; and I know that they can counterbalance poverty, and loneliness, and pain. Your pleasures too I have tried; and I know them to be cold, fleeting, and unsubstantial, as the glories of a winter sky. Oh, for the eloquence of angels, that I might persuade you to exchange them for the real treasure! Yet vain were the eloquence of Angels, if the 'still small voice' be wanting, which alone can speak to the heart. I may plead, and testify, and entreat; but is aught else within my power?--Yes,--I will go and pray for you.


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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.