The morning shone bright with a summer sun. The trees, though now rich in foliage, were still varied with the fresh hues of spring. The river flashed gaily in the sunbeam, or rolled foaming from the prows of stately vessels, which now veered as in conscious grace, now moved onward as in power without effort, bearing wealth and plenty from distant lands. "How richly," I exclaimed, "has the Creator adorned this fair dwelling of his children! A glorious dwelling, worthy of the noble creatures for whom it was designed;--creatures whose courage braves the mighty ocean,--whose power compels the service of the elements,--whose wisdom scales the heavens, and unlocks the springs of a moving universe! And can there be zealots whose gloomy souls behold in this magnificent frame of things, only the scene of a dull and toilsome pilgrimage, for beings wayworn, guilty, wretched?"
In these thoughts, and others of like reasonableness and humility, I reached the dwelling of my friend. It was a low thatched cottage, standing somewhat apart from a few scattered dwellings, which scarcely deserved the name of a village. I had seen it in my childhood, when a holiday had dismissed me from confinement; and it was associated in my mind with images of gaiety and freedom. Alas! those images but ill accorded with its present aspect. It looked deserted and forlorn. She, by whose taste it had been adorned, was now a prisoner within its walls. The flowers which she had planted were blooming in confused luxuriance. The rose-tree, which she had taught to climb the latticed porch, now half impeded entrance, and the jessamine which she had twined round her casement, now threw back its dishevelled sprays as if to shade her death-bed. The carriage stopped at the wicket of the neglected garden; and I, my lofty thoughts somewhat quelled by the desolateness of the scene, passed thoughtfully towards the cottage, along a walk once kept with neatness the most precise, now faintly marked with a narrow track which alone repressed the disorderly vegetation.
The door was opened for me by Miss Mortimer's only domestic; a grave and reverend-looking person, with silver grey hair, combed smooth under a neat crimped coif, and with a starched white handkerchief crossed decently upon her breast. Nor were her manners less a contrast to those of the flippant gentlewomen to whose attendance I was accustomed. With abundance of ceremony, she ushered me up stairs; then passing me with a low courtesy and a few words of respectful apology, she went before me into her mistress's apartment, and announced my arrival in terms in which the familiar kindness of a friend blended oddly with the reverence of an inferior. Miss Mortimer, with an exclamation of joy, stretched her arms fondly towards me. Prepared as I was for an alteration in her appearance, I was shocked at the change which a few weeks had effected. A faint glow flushed her face for a moment, and vanished. Her eyes, that were wont to beam with such dove-like softness, now shed an ominous brilliance. The hand which she extended towards me scarcely seemed to exclude the light, and every little vein was perceptible in its sickly transparency. Yet her wasted countenance retained its serenity; and her feeble voice still spoke the accents of cheerfulness. "My dearest Ellen," said she, "this is so kind! And yet I expected it, too! I knew you would come." "Blushing at praise which my tardy kindness had so ill deserved, I hastily inquired concerning her health. "I believe," said she smiling, though she sighed, too, "that I am still to cumber the ground a little longer. I am told that my immediate danger is past."
"Heavens be praised!" cried I, with fervent sincerity.
"God's will be done!" said Miss Mortimer; "I once seemed so near my haven! I little thought to be cast back upon the stormy ocean; but, God's will be done!"
"Nay, call it not the stormy ocean," said I. Say rather, upon a cheerful stream, where you and I shall glide peacefully on together. You will soon be able to come to us at Richmond; and then I will show you all the affection and all the respect which--" "I ought always to have shown," were the words which rose to my lips; but pride stifled the accents of confession. "Were you once able," continued I, "to taste the blessed air that stirs all living things so joyously to-day, and see how all earth and heaven are gladdened with this glorious sunshine, you would gain new life and vigour every moment."
"Ay, he is shining brightly," said Miss Mortimer, looking towards her darkened casement. "And a better sun, too, is gladdening all earth and heaven; but I, confined in a low cottage, see only the faint reflection of his brightness. But I know that He is shining gloriously," continued she, the flush of rapture mounting to her face, "and I shall yet see Him, and rejoice!"
I made no reply. "It is fortunate," thought I, "that they who have no pleasure in this life can solace themselves with the prospect of another." Little did I at that moment imagine, that I myself was destined to furnish proof, that the loss of all worldly comfort cannot of itself procure this solace; that the ruin of all our earthly prospects cannot of itself elevate the hope long used to grovel among earthly things.
I spent almost two hours with my friend; during which, though so weak that the slightest exertions seemed oppressive to her, she at intervals conversed cheerfully. She inquired with friendly interest into my employments and recreations; but she knew me too well to hazard more direct interrogation concerning the effect of her monitory letter. In the course of our conversation, she asked, whether I often saw Mr. Maitland? The question was a very simple one; but my roused watchfulness upon that subject made me fancy something particular in her manner of asking it. It had occurred to me, that she might possibly be able to solve the difficulty which had of late so much perplexed me; but I could not prevail upon myself to state the case directly. "I wonder," said I, "now that you are gone, what can induce Maitland to visit us so often?" I thought there was meaning in Miss Mortimer's smile; but her reply was prevented by the entrance of the maid with refreshments. I wished Barbara a thousand miles off with her tray, though it contained rich wines, and some of the most costly fruits of the season. Miss Mortimer pressed me to partake of them, telling me, that she was regularly and profusely supplied. "The giver," said she, "withholds nothing except his name, and that, too, I believe I can guess."
A gentle knock at the house-door now drew Barbara from the room, and I instantly began to contrive how I might revert to the subject of my curiosity. "Could you have imagined," said I, "that my father was the kind of man likely to attract Maitland so much?"
My enemy again made her appearance. "Mr. Maitland is below, madam," said she; "I asked him in, because I thought you would not turn his worthy worship away the third time he is come to ask for you?"
"Well, Ellen," said Miss Mortimer, smiling, "as your presence may protect my character, I think I may see him to-day."
As Mr. Maitland entered the room, I saw my friend make a feeble effort to rise from her seat; and, bending towards her, I supported her in my arms. The moment Maitland's eye fell upon me, it lightened with satisfaction. After speaking to my friend he turned to me. "Miss Percy!" said he; and he said no more; but I would not have exchanged these words and the look which accompanied them for all the compliments of all mankind. Yet at that moment the spirit of coquetry slept; I quite forgot to calculate upon his love, and thought only of his approbation.
I believe neither Maitland nor I recollected that he still held the hand he had taken, till Miss Mortimer offered him some fruit, hinting that she suspected him of having a peculiar right to it. A slight change of colour betrayed him; but he only answered carelessly, that fruit came seasonably after a walk of seven miles in a sultry day. "You never travel otherwise than on foot on Sunday," said Miss Mortimer. "I seldom find occasion to travel on Sunday at all," answered Maitland; "but I knew that I could spend an hour with you without violating the spirit of the fourth commandment."
The hour was spent, and spent without weariness even to me; yet I cannot recollect that a single sentence was uttered in reference to worldly business or amusement: except that Maitland once bitterly lamented his disappointed hopes of usefulness to the African cause. "However," added he, "I believe I had need of that lesson. Our Master is the only one whose servants venture to be displeased if they may not direct what service he will accept from them."
"Nobody is more in want of such a lesson than I," said Miss Mortimer, "when my foolish heart is tempted to repine at the prospect of being thus laid aside, perhaps for years; useless as it should seem to myself and to all human kind."
"My good friend," returned Maitland, "say not that you are useless, while you can show forth the praise of your Creator. His goodness shines gloriously when he bestows and blesses the gifts of nature and of fortune; but more gloriously when his mercy gladdens life after all these gifts are withdrawn. It is the high privilege of your condition to prove that our Father is of himself alone sufficient for the happiness of his children." "I am sure, my friend," cried I, "of all people upon earth, you need the least regret being made idle for a little while; for the recollection of the good which you have already done must furnish your mind with a continual feast."
"Indeed, Ellen," returned Miss Mortimer, "you never were more mistaken. I do not recollect one action of my life, not even among those which originated in a sense of duty, that has not been degraded by some mixture of evil, either in the motive or in the performance."
"Oh, but you know perfection is not expected from us.
Maitland shook his head. "I fear," said he, "we must not trust much to your plea, so long as we are commanded to 'be perfect.' Miss Mortimer will feel at peace; not because she hopes that her King will, instead of her just tribute, accept of counters, but because she knows that the full tribute has been paid."
While I saw the truths of religion affect the vigorous mind of Maitland,--while I saw them triumph in a feebler soul over pain, and loneliness, and fear,--how could I remain wholly insensible to their power? Whilst I listened to the conversation of these Christians, how could I suppress a wish that their comforts might one day be mine? "Pray for me," I whispered to Miss Mortimer, half-desirous, half-afraid to extend my petition to Maitland, "pray for me that, when I am sick and dying, your God may bless me as he now blesses you." I know not how my friend replied; for Maitland laid his hand upon my head, with a look in which all kind and holy feeling was so blended, that raptured saints can image nothing more seraphic. He spoke not--but the language of man is feeble to the eloquence of that pause!
But my mind was as yet unfit to retain any serious impression. My religious humour vanished with the scene by which it was excited; and even Miss Mortimer's parting whisper helped to replace it by a far different spirit. "I can guess now," said she, "what carries Mr. Maitland so often to Bloomsbury-square." Before hearing this remark, I had offered to convey Maitland to town in my carriage; and now the heart which had so lately swelled with better feelings, beat with a little coquettish fluttering, when, having taken leave of my friend, I found myself seated tete-a-tete with my supposed admirer. Maitland was, however, the very innocent cause of my flutterings; since for a whole mile he talked of Miss Mortimer, and nothing but Miss Mortimer; then, perceiving that I was little inclined to answer, he was silent, and left me to my reflections.
The softness of evening was beginning to mingle with the cheerfulness of day, and a fresher breeze began to lighten the sultry air. "What an Arcadian day!" cried I. "Pity that you and I were not lovers, to enjoy it thus alone together!"
I meant to utter this with the prettiest air of simplicity imaginable, but found it quite impossible to suppress the conscious glow that stole over my face. I was certain that Maitland coloured, too, though he answered with great self-possession. "I make no pretensions to the character of a lover," said he; "but you may allow me to converse with you like a friend, which will do as well."
"Oh, the very worst substitute in nature, cried I; "for the conversation of lovers is all complaisance: whereas I find that those who beg leave to talk like friends always mean to ask something which I do not wish to tell, or to tell something which I do not wish to hear."
"Perhaps I may mean to do both," said Maitland; "for there is a question which I have often wished to ask you; and when you have answered, I may perhaps undertake the other office too. Are you aware that common report joins your name with that of Lord Frederick de Burgh?"
"Stop!" cried I; "positively you must not be my confessor."
"That must be as you please," returned Maitland. "Then I will in charity suppose you ignorant; and when I tell you that every gossip's tongue is busy with his good fortune, I think you will grant him no additional triumph, unless, indeed, it be possible that--" He paused, and then added, with unusual warmth--"but I will not think of such profanation, much less utter it."
"Now do, Mr. Maitland, desist, I entreat you," cried I, half smiling, half in earnest; "for I never was lectured in my life without being guilty of some impertinence; and there is nobody living whom I would not rather offend than you."
"I believe I must venture," returned Maitland, looking at me with a good-humoured smile. "I would hazard much for your advantage."
"Nay, positively you shall not," said I, playfully laying my hand upon his mouth.
This gesture, which, I protest, originated in mere thoughtlessness, ended in utter confusion; for Maitland, seizing my hand, pressed it to his lips. The whole affair was transacted in far less time than I can tell it; and we both sat looking, I believe, abundantly silly; though neither, I fancy, had the courage to take a view of the other.
The silence was first broken by a splenetic ejaculation from Maitland. "Pshaw!" said he, "you will compel me to act the puppy, in spite of myself." Now, whatever colour Maitland might try to throw upon his inadvertence, I plainly perceived that it had not originated in a cool sense of the duty of gallantry; for he was even studiously inattentive to all the common gallantries which I was accustomed to expect from others. My breast swelled with the pride of victory; and yet my situation was embarrassing enough, for Maitland, far from confirming my dreams of conquest, much more from empowering me to pursue my triumph, maintained a frozen silence, and seemed wrapt in a very un-lover like meditation.
The first words which he uttered were these: "Although Parliament refuses justice to these Africans, much might bo done for those already in slavery. Much might be done by a person residing among them, determined to own no interest but their welfare." I could not at that time follow the chain which had led to this idea. Unfortunately for me, I was soon enabled to trace the connexion.
As soon as we entered the town, Maitland expressed a wish to alight, and immediately took a cold and formal leave. I returned home, with every thought full of my new discovery, every affection absorbed in vanity. Convinced of Maitland's attachment, I now only wondered why it was not avowed. I was determined that, cost what it would, the secret should be explicitly told, after which I should, of course, be entitled to exhibit and sport with my captive at pleasure. Beyond this mean and silly triumph I looked not. I forgot that the lion, even when tamed, will not learn the tricks of a monkey. Weaker souls, I knew, might be led contented in their silken fetters: I forgot that the strongest cords bound Samson only whilst he slept. To reward the expected patience of my lover was not in all my thoughts. I should as soon have dreamt of marrying my father.
Meanwhile Maitland was in no haste to renew my opportunities of coquetting. Business, or, as I then thought, the fear of committing himself, kept him a whole week from visiting us. During that week, I had canvassed the subject with Miss Arnold under every possible aspect, except those in which it would have appeared to a rational mind. I believe my friend began to be, as perhaps the reader is, heartily tired of my confidence. She certainly wished the occasion of our discussion at an end; but she had no desire that it should end favourably to my wishes. She dreaded the increase of Maitland's influence. A mutual dislike, indeed, subsisted between them. He seemed to have an intuitive perception of the dark side of her character; and she to feel a revolting awe of his undeceiving, undeceivable sagacity. I have often seen the artful, though they despise defenceless simplicity, and delight to exert their skill against weapons like their own, yet shrink with instinctive dread from plain, undesigning common sense. Maitland's presence always imposed a visible restraint upon Miss Arnold; but she had more cogent reasons than her dislike of Maitland for wishing to arrest the progress of an intercourse which threatened to baffle certain schemes of her own. Meaning to interrupt our good understanding, she gave me the advice which appeared most likely to effect her purpose. Of this I have now no doubt, though, at that time, I harboured not a suspicion of any motive less friendly than a desire to forward every purpose of mine.
"If you don't flirt more sentimentally," said she. "you will never make any impression upon Maitland. He knows you would never rattle away as you do to De Burgh with any man you really cared for. You should endeavour to seem in earnest."
"Oh, I am quite tired of endeavouring to 'seem.' And then I really can't be sentimental: it is not in my nature. Besides, it would be all in vain. Maitland has found out that I am not in love with Lord Frederick, and it will be impossible to convince him of the contrary."
"No matter; you may make him believe that yon are somehow bound in honour to Lord Frederick, which will quite answer the purpose."
"No, Juliet; that I cannot possibly do, without downright falsehood."
"Oh, I'll engage to make him believe it, without telling him one word of untruth. Let me manage the matter, and I'll make him as jealous as a very Osmyn; that is, provided he be actually in love."
"Well!" returned I, already beginning to yield, "if you could accomplish it honourably: but--no--no, I should not like to be thought weak enough to entangle myself with a man for whom I had no particular attachment."
"I am certain," returned Miss Arnold, more gravely, "that if Mr. Maitland thought your honour concerned, far from considering the fulfilment of even a tacit engagement as a weakness, he would highly admire you for the sacrifice."
The prospect of being "highly admired" by Mr. Maitland blinded me to the sophistry of this answer; yet I felt myself unwilling that he should actually believe me to be under engagement, and I expressed that unwillingness to my adviser. "Oh!" cried she, "we must guard against making him too sure. I would merely hint the thing as what I feared might happen, and leave you an opening to deny or explain at any time. As I live there he comes, just at the lucky moment! Now, leave him to me for half an hour, and I will engage to bring him to confession; that is, if he has anything to confess."
"Well! I should like to see you convinced for once, if it be possible to convince you; and yet what if he should--"
"Oh, there's his knock!" interrupted Juliet. "If we stand here objecting, we shall lose the opportunity. Sure, you can trust to my management."
"Well, Juliet," said I, with a prophetic sigh, "do as you please; but for heaven's sake be cautious!" She instantly accepted the permission, and flew down stairs to receive him in the parlour.
Let no woman retain in her confidence the treacherous ally who once persuades or assists her to depart from the plain path of simplicity. Such an ally, whatever partial fondness may allege, must be deficient either in understanding or in integrity. That the associate who incites you to deceive others will in time deceive yourself, is the least evil to be apprehended from such a connexion. The young are notoriously liable to the guidance of their intimates; and most women are, in this respect, young all their lives. If I had naturally any good tendency, it was toward sincerity; and yet a false friend, working on my ruling passion, had led me to the brink of actual deceit. So stable are the virtues which are founded only in constitution or humour! Had I been wisely unrelenting to the first artifice of pretended friendship, and honestly abhorrent even of the wile which professed to favour me, the bitterest misfortunes of my life might have been spared, and I might have escaped from sufferings never to be forgotten, from errors never to be cancelled.
My punishment began even during the momenta of Miss Arnold's conference with Maitland. I was restless and agitated. My heart throbbed violently, less with the hopes of triumph than with the anxiousness of duplicity, and the dread of detection. I trembled; I breathed painfully; at every noise I started, thinking it betokened the close of the conference, which yet seemed endless. Again and again I approached the parlour door, and as often retreated, fearing to spoil all by a premature interruption. I was once more resolving to join my friend, when I heard some one leave the house. I flew to a window, and saw Maitland walk swiftly along the square, and disappear, without once looking back. This seemed ominous; but as my friend did not come to make her report, I went in search of her.
I found her in an attitude of meditation; and though she instantly advanced towards me with a smile, her countenance bore traces of discomposure. "Well, I protest," cried she, "there is no dealing with these men without a little management."
This sounded somewhat like a boast; and, my spirits reviving, I inquired "how her management had succeeded?"
"You shall judge," returned Miss Arnold. "I will tell you all exactly and candidly." People seldom vouch for the candour of their narratives when it is above suspicion. "I could not be abrupt, you know," proceeded my candid narrator; "but I contrived to lead dexterously towards the point; and, after smoothing my way a little, just hinted a possibility that Lord Frederick might succeed. Signor Maestoso took not the least notice. Then I grew a little more explicit. Still without effect! He only fixed his staring black eyes upon me, as if he would have looked through me, to see what was my purpose in telling him all that. At last I was obliged to say downrightly (Heaven forgive me for the fib!) that I was afraid you might marry De Burgh at last, though I owned you had no serious regard for him. All this while, Don Pompous had been walking about the room; but at this he stopped short, just opposite to me, and asked me, with a frown as dark as a thunder cloud, 'what reason I had to say so?' I--I declare I was quite frightened."
Miss Arnold stopped, and seemed to hesitate. "Well! go on!" cried I, impatiently.--"You know," continued she, "I could not answer his question in any other way, except by giving him some little instances of your--your good understanding with De Burgh; but still I could extort no answer from the impenetrable creature, except now and then a kind of grunt."
"How tedious you are! Do proceed."
"At last, when I found nothing else would do I--I was obliged to have recourse to--to an expedient, which produced an immediate effect. And now, Ellen, I am convinced that Maitland loves you to distraction!"
"Indeed! What? How?"
"Ah, Ellen! you have a thousand times more penetration than I. I would give the world for your faculty of reading the heart."
"But, dear Juliet! how was it,--how did you discover--"
"Why, when nothing else seemed likely to avail, I--I thought I might venture to hint, just by way of a trifling instance of your intimacy with Lord Frederick, that--that you had--had borrowed a small sum from him."
"Good heaven, Juliet! did you tell Maitland this? Oh! he will despise me for ever. Leave me,--treacherous,--you have undone me."
"Ellen, my dearest Ellen," said my friend, caressing me with the most humble affection, "I own I was very wrong; but indeed--indeed, if you had seen how he was affected, you would have been convinced, that nothing else could have been so effectual. If you had seen how pale he grew, and how he trembled, and gasped for breath! You never saw a man in such agitation. Dear Ellen, forgive me! You know I could have no motive except to serve you."
In spite of my vexation, I was not insensible to this statement, to which my vanity gave full credit; though the slightest comparison of the circumstances with the character of Maitland must nave convinced me that they were exaggerated. At length, curiosity so far prevailed over my wrath, that I condescended to inquire what answer he had given to Miss Arnold's information? Miss Arnold replied, that the first words which he was able to utter, announced that he must see me instantly. "And why then," I asked, "is he gone in such haste?"
My friend made me repeat this question before she could hear it;--an expedient which often serves those whose answer is not quite ready, "Because he--he afterwards changed his mind, and said he would call upon you in an hour."
Before the hour had elapsed, my resentment had yielded partly to my friend's representations, partly to a new subject of alarm. I dreaded lest, if Maitland considered my debt to Lord Frederick in so serious a light, he might think it a duty of friendship to apprise my father of my involvement; and, anxious to secure his secrecy, yet too proud to beg it, I suffered him, at his return, to be admitted to my dressing-room, although I had never before been so unwilling to encounter him. Maitland, on his part, seemed little less embarrassed than myself. He began to speak, but his words were inarticulate. He cleared his throat, and seized my attention by a look full of meaning; and the effort ended in some insignificant inquiry, to the answer of which he was evidently insensible. At last, suddenly laying his hand upon my arm, "Miss Percy," said he, "pardon my abruptness--I really can neither think nor talk of trifles at this moment. Let me speak plainly to you. Allow me for once the privilege of a friend. You cannot have one more sincere than myself; nor," added he, with a deep sigh, "one more disinterested."
"Well!" returned I, moved by the kindness of his voice and manner, and willing to shake off my embarrassment; "use the privilege generously, and I don't care if, for once, I grant it you.
Maitland instantly, without compliment or apology, availed himself of my concession. "I presume," said he, "that Miss Arnold has acquainted you with her very strange communication to me this morning." I only bowed in answer, and did not venture again to raise my head. "Did she tell you, too," proceeded Maitland, in the tone of strong indignation, "that she meant to conceal from you this most unprovoked act of treachery, had I not insisted upon warning you against a confidant who could betray your secret,--and such a secret!"
Abashed and humbled, I stammered out a few words, implying, that perhaps Miss Arnold did not affix any importance to the secret.
"The inferences she drew," cried Maitland, "leave no doubt that she thought it important; or, granting it were as you say, is the woman fit to be a friend who could regard such a transaction as immaterial? Is there any real friend to whom you could confide it without reluctance? I need not ask if you have intrusted it to your father."
The tears of mortification and resentment which had been collected in my eyes while Maitland spoke, burst from them when I attempted to answer. But my wounded pride quickly came to my assistance. "No, sir," returned I, "but if you think your own reproofs insufficient, you will of course aid them with my father's."
Maitland could not resist the sight of my uneasiness. His countenance expressed the most gentle compassion; and his voice softened even to tenderness. "And is the reproof of a father," said he, "more formidable to you than all that your delicacy must suffer under obligation to a confident admirer? Dearest Miss Percy, as a friend--a most attached, most anxious friend--I beseech you to--"
He stopped short, and coloured very deeply--suddenly aware, I believe, that he was speaking with a warmth which friendship seldom assumes; then, taking refuge in a double intrenchment of formality, he begged me to pardon a freedom which he ascribed to his friendship for my father and Miss Mortimer. In spite of my mortifying situation, my heart bounded with triumph as I traced through this disguise the proofs of my power over the affections of Maitland. Recovering my spirits, I told him frankly that I was determined to make no application to my father, since a few weeks would enable me to escape from my difficulty, without the hazard of incensing him. Maitland looked distressed, but made no further attempt to persuade me. "This is what I feared," said he; "but I am sensible that I have no right to urge you."
He was silent for some moments, and seemed labouring with something which he knew not how to utter. A certain tremor began to steal over me, too, and expectation made my breath come short when I again heard his voice. "There may be an impropriety," he began, but again he stopped, embarrassed; "there may be objections against your--your condescension to Lord Frederick, which do not apply to all your acquaintance; and--and--I have taken the liberty to--to bring a few hundred pounds, in case you would do me the honour to--" The manly brow of Maitland's cheek flushed with a warmer tint as he spoke: and the eye which had so often awed my turbulent spirit, now sank timidly before mine: for he was conferring an obligation, and his generous heart entered by sympathy into the situation of one compelled to accept a pecuniary favour. But I was teazed and disappointed; for here was nothing of the expected declaration; on the contrary, Maitland had wilfully marked the difference between himself and a lover.
He probably read vexation in my face, though he ascribed it to a wrong cause. "I see," said he, in a tone of mortification, "that this is a degree of confidence which I must not expect. Perhaps you will suffer me to mention the matter to Miss Mortimer--she, I am sure, will allow me to be her banker for any sum you may require."
Shame on the heartless being who could see in this delicate kindness only a triumph for the most despicable vanity! In vain did Maitland veil his interest under the semblance of friendship. Seeing, and glorying to see, that passion lurked under the disguise, I could not restrain my impatience to force the mask away. I thanked Maitland, but told him that the delay of a few weeks could be of little importance; adding, gaily, that I fancied Lord Frederick was in no haste for payment, and would prefer the right of a creditor over the liberty of his debtor.
Maitland almost shuddered. "Can you jest upon such a subject?" said he. The expression of uneasiness which crossed his features only encouraged me to proceed. "No, really," said I, with affected seriousness, "I am quite in earnest. One day or other I suppose I must give somebody a right to me, and it may as well be Lord Frederick as another. Marriage will be at best but a heartless business to me--Heigho!"
"I hope it will be otherwise," said Maitland, with a sigh not quite so audible as mine, but a little more sincere.
"No, no," said I, sighing again, "love is out of the question with me. The creatures that dangle after me want either a toy upon which to throw away their money, or money to throw away upon their toys. A heart would be quite lost upon any of them. If, indeed, a man of sense and worth had attached himself to me,--a man with sincerity enough to tell me my faults,--with gentleness to do it kindly,--with--with something in his character, perhaps in his manners, to secure respect,--he might have--have found me not incapable of--of an animated--I mean of a--a very respectful friendship."
I could not utter this last sentence without palpable emotion. In the confusion which I had brought upon myself, I should have utterly forgotten to watch the success of my experiment, had not my attention been drawn by the tremor of Maitland's hand. I ventured, thus encouraged, to steal a glance at his countenance.
His eye was fixed upon me with a keenness which seemed to search my very soul. Deep glowing crimson flushed his face. It was only for a moment. His colour instantly fading to more than its natural paleness, he almost threw from him the hand which he had held. "Oh, Ellen!" he cried in a tone of bitter reproach, "how can you! suspecting, as I see you do, the power of your witchery over me, how can you! Others might despise my weakness--I myself despise it--but with you it should have been sacred!"
Where is the spirit of prophecy which can foretell how that, which at a distance seems desirable, will affect us when it meets our grasp? Who could have believed that this avowal, so long expected, so eagerly anticipated, should have been heard only with shame and mortification! Far indeed from the elation of conquest were my feelings, while I shrank from the rebuke of him whose displeasure had, with me, the power of a reproving angel. Abashed and confounded, I did not even dare to raise my eyes; whilst Maitland, retreating from me, stood for some moments in thoughtful silence. Approaching me again, "No," said he, in a low constrained voice, "I cannot speak to you now. Give me a few minutes to-morrow:--they shall be the last."
Before I could have articulated a word, had the universe depended upon my utterance, Maitland was gone.
As soon as my recollection returned, I stole, like a culprit, to my own apartment, where, locking myself in, I fell into a reverie, in which stifled self-reproach, resentment against Miss Arnold, and an undefined dread of the consequences of Maitland's displeasure, were but faintly relieved by complacency towards my own victorious charms. Maitland's parting words rung in my ears; and though I endeavoured to persuade myself that they were dictated by a resentment which could not resist the slightest concession from me, they never recurred to my mind unattended by some degree of alarm. I was determined, however, that no consideration should tempt me to betray the cause of my sex, by humbling myself before a proud lover; "and, if he be resolved to break my chains, let him do so," said I, "if he can." I justly considered the loss of a lover as no very grievous misfortune. Alas! I could not then estimate the evil of losing such a friend as Maitland.
The next morning he came early to claim his audience; not such as I had seen him the evening before; but calm, self-possessed, and dignified. He entered upon his subject with little apparent effort; telling me that he was come to give me, if I had the patience to receive it, the explanation to which he conceived me entitled, after the inadvertencies which had at different times betrayed his secret. Provoked by his composure, I answered, that "explanation was quite unnecessary, since I did not apprehend that either his conduct or motives could at all affect me."
"Suffer me, then," said he, mildly, "to explain them for my own sake, that I may, if I can, escape the imputation of caprice." I made some light, silly reply; and, affecting the utmost indifference, took my knotting, and sat down. "Have you no curiosity," said Maitland, "to know how you won, and how you have lost a heart that could have loved you faithfully? Though my affections are of no value to you, you may one day prize those which the same errors might alienate."
"That is not very likely, sir," said I. "I shall probably not approach so near the last stage of celibacy as to catch my advantage of any wandering fancy which may cross a man's mind."
"This was no wandering fancy," said Maitland, with calm seriousness. "You are the first woman I ever loved; and I shall retain the most tender, the most peculiar interest in your welfare, long after what is painful in my present feelings has passed away. But I must fly while I can--before I lose the power to relinquish what I know it would be misery to obtain."
"Oh, sir, I assure you that this is a misery I should spare you," cried I; my heart swelling with impatience at a style of profession, for it cannot be called courtship, to which I was so little accustomed.
"Now this is childish," said Maitland. "Are you angry at having escaped being teazed with useless importunity? If you would have me feel all the pang of leaving you, call back the candour and sweetness that first bewitched me. For it was not your beauty, Ellen. I had seen you more than once ere I observed that you were beautiful, and twenty times ere I felt it. It was your playful simplicity, your want of all design, your perfect transparency of mind, that won upon me before I was aware; and when I was weary of toil, and sick of the heartlessness and duplicity of mankind, I turned to you, and thought,--it matters not what."
Maitland paused, but I was in no humour to break the silence. My anger gave place to a more gentle feeling. I felt that I had possessed, that I had lost, the approbation of Maitland, and the tears were rising to my eyes; but the fear that he should ascribe them to regret for the loss of his stoic-love, forced them back to the proud heart.
"Yet," continued Maitland, "I perceived, pardon my plainness, that your habits and inclinations were such as must be fatal to every plan of domestic comfort; and at four-and-thirty a man begins to foresee, that, after the raptures of the lover are past, the husband has a long life before him; in which he must either share his joys and his sorrows with a friend, or exact the submission of an inferior. To be a restraint upon your pleasures is what I could not endure: yet otherwise they must have interfered with every pursuit of my life,--nay, must every hour have shocked my perceptions of right and wrong. Nor is this all," continued Maitland, guiding my comprehension by the increased solemnity of his manner. "Who that seeks a friend would choose one who would consider his employments as irksome, his pleasures as fantastic, his hopes as a dream?--one who would regard the object of his supreme desire as men do a fearful vision, visiting them unwelcome in their hours of darkness, but slighted or forgotten in every happier season? No, Ellen! the wife of a Christian must be more than the toy of his leisure; she must be his fellow-labourer, his fellow-worshipper."
"Very well, sir!" interrupted I, my spirit of impatience again beginning to stir. "Enough of my disqualifications for an office which I really have no ambition to fill."
"I believe you, Miss Percy," returned Maitland, "and that belief is all that reconciles me to my sacrifice;—-therefore, beware how you weaken it by these affected airs of scorn. I assure you, they were not necessary to convince me that you are not to be won unsought. It was this conviction which made me follow you even when I saw my danger. I flattered myself that I might be useful to you,--or rather, perhaps, this was the only device by which I could excuse my weakness to myself. In a vain trust in the humility of a woman, and a trust yet more vain in the prudence of a lover, I purposed to conceal my feelings till they should be lost amidst the cares of a busy life. Your penetration, or my own imprudence, has defeated that purpose, just as I began to perceive that you are too powerful for cares and business. Nothing, then, remains, but to fly whilst I have the power. In a fortnight hence, I shall sail for the West Indies.
I started, as if a dart had pierced me. The utmost which I had apprehended of Maitland's threats of desertion was, that he should withdraw from our family circle. "For the West Indies!" I faintly repeated.
"Yes. It happens not unfortunately that I have business there. But I have dwelt too long upon myself and my concerns. Since I must 'cut off the right hand,' better the stroke were past. I have only one request to make,--one earnest request, and then--"He paused. I would have asked the nature of his request, but a rising in my throat threatened to betray me, and I only ventured an inquiring look. Maitland took my hand, and the demon of coquetry was now so entirely laid, that I suffered him to retain it without a struggle. "Dear, ever dear Ellen," said he, "many an anxious thought will turn to you when we are far asunder,--repay me for them all, by granting one petition. It is, that you will confide your difficulties, whatever they be, to Miss Mortimer; and, when you do so, give her this packet."
"No, no," interrupted I, with quickness. "The sum I owe Lord Frederick is a trifle compared to what you suppose it. It was the price of a bauble,--a vile bauble. It was no secret,--hundreds saw it,--accident, mere accident, made me--"
Shocked at the emotion I was betraying, and in horror lest Maitland should impute it to a humbling cause, I suddenly changed my manner; haughtily declaring that I would neither distress my friend in her illness, nor incur any new obligation. Maitland modestly endeavoured to shake my determination, but, finding me resolute, he rose to be gone. "Farewell, Ellen," said he; "every blessing--," the rest could not reach my ear, but 106 while I have being I shall remember his look as he turned from me. It was anguish, rendered more touching by a faint struggle for a smile, that came like a watery beam upon the troubled deep, making the sadness more dreary. I turned to a window, and watched till he disappeared.
This presentation of Emmeline. With Some Other Pieces., 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.