"But seriously, Charlotte," said I, when at a late hour we found ourselves once more alone in our chamber, "seriously, do you think it was quite right in you to use this concealment with me?"
"Seriously, I think it was. Long before I knew you, I could have guessed that you would dislike receiving even a trifling service from Mr. ----. No, I never yet called Henry Graham by that upstart mercantile name, and I never will. To tell you the truth, Ellen, my brother had so far made me his confidant, that, judging of you by myself, I thought you would rather lose your money than owe it to his good offices."
"I am sorry you thought it necessary to humour my pride at such an expense. Humbled and mortified I might have been by any kindness from Mr. Maitland; but I have perhaps deserved the humiliation more than the kindness. He owes me a little mortification, for drawing him into the greatest folly he ever was guilty of."
"Oh, you must not imagine that all my discretion was exerted only to humour your saucy spirit. I had a purpose of my own to serve. I dare say we should never have slid into any real intimacy, if you had known me to be the sister of a quondam lover; watching, no doubt, with a little womanly jealousy, the character of one whom my favourite brother once loved better than me."
"I am persuaded this could have made little difference; for my faults, unfortunately, will not be concealed; and my good qualities I shall always be willing enough to display."
"Oh, to be sure, my dear humble Miss Percy would knowingly and wittingly have come here to ingratiate herself with us all! No doubt, you would have been much more at home with us, had you known our connexion with your old admirer! and no doubt, you would have quietly waited his arrival here, that you might be courted in due form!"
"Pshaw, Charlotte, I am sure that it--I hope--I mean, I am quite certain that your brother has no such nonsense in his thoughts. And I am sure it is much better it should be so; for you know I have always told you that I have a natural indifference about me--Heigho!"
"What! even after you have seen that 'it was your duty to be in love long ago!' Will you 'deprive' yourself of 'the honour,' the 'happiness'--"
"Surely, Charlotte, you will never be so mischievous, so cruel, as to repeat these thoughtless, unmeaning expressions to your brother! You know they were spoken under entire misconception. And, besides, to be sensible of what I ought once to have done is a very different thing from being able to do it now."
"Make yourself quite easy, my dear Ellen," said Charlotte, with a provoking smile, "I have more esprit de corps than to tell a lady's secret. Besides, even for my brother's own sake, I shall leave him to make discoveries for himself. But by the way, it is very good-natured in me to promise all this; for I have reason to be angry, that you think it necessary to warn me against repeating anything uttered in the mere unguardedness of chit-chat."
I made no apology; for I have such an abhorrence of trick and contrivance of every kind, that, to own the truth, I, at that moment, felt half-justified in withdrawing part of my confidence from Charlotte. "How in the world did such a scheme occur to you?" said I, after a pause. "Nothing like a plot ever enters my head."
"It occurred to me in the simplest way possible, my dear. Henry writes to me remitting your money; describing you so as to prevent any chance of imposition; and charging me not to rest till I have found you. 'It will distress her,' says he, 'to owe this little service to me, but perhaps there is no remedy.' Now, was not the very spirit of contradiction enough to make one devise a remedy? Then he goes on--stay, here is the letter:--
"'If she be found, I do not ask you to receive her to your acquaintance, to your intimacy, there is something in Miss Percy which will irresistibly win you to both. But I do ask you to tell me, with perfect candour, the impression which her character makes upon your mind. Tell me, with minute exactness, of her temper, her sentiments, her employments, her pleasures. Describe even her looks and gestures. There is meaning in the least of them. Write fearlessly--I am no weak lover now. I know you ladies are all firm believers in the eternity of love; and one part of the passion is indeed immortal in a heart of ordinary warmth and delicacy. My interest in Miss Percy's welfare and improvement is not less strong than in yours, my own Charlotte. Perhaps the precariousness of her situation even turns my anxieties more strongly towards her. Of course, this will no longer be the case when I know that she is safe at Eredine; for you must prevail upon her to visit Eredine. She has a thousand little womanlinesses about her, which you could never observe in an ordinary acquaintance of calls and tea-drinkings; and you must be intimate with her before you can know or value that delightful warmth and singleness of heart, which cannot but attach you. I am sure she will bewitch my father. There is a gladness in her smile that will delight his very soul.'
"Have not Henry and I shown a very decent portion of Highland second-sight and discretion, think you, Ellen? His prediction has been quite verified; and I am sure I have managed the plot incomparably."
"Ah, but Charlotte, after all, I wonder how you found it practicable. It was a hundred to one that somebody should have let me into the secret."
"Hum! I might have been in some danger while we were in Edinburgh, though few people there knew anything of the matter. But, from the moment we reached Glen Eredine, I knew we were safe. Nobody here would mention to an inmate of our family the only shade that ever rested on its name. Thank Heaven, even this stain is effaced now;--if, indeed, it be a stain to submit to a temporary degradation in obedience to a mother. You need not smile, Ellen. I am not so prejudiced as you think me. I know that if the name of those merchants had been mean as obscurity could make it, it would have become honourable when borne by Henry Graham. And to be sure, all professions are alike in the eye of reason; only there are some which I think a gentleman should leave to people who need money to distinguish them."
"Well," said I, laughing, "now that you have convinced me that you have no prejudice, tell me how you could he sure that I only knew your brother by his 'upstart mercantile name.' If he had had the spirit of his sister, he could not have refrained from hinting his right to be called a Graham."
"Oh, but Henry has nothing boastful in his disposition; and I knew that, having given up his name to please his uncle, he scorned to make the sacrifice by halves. The old gentleman hated us all as a clan of rebels; and, while he lived, my mother would never even allow us to address our letters to Henry under his real name; and I don't believe poor Henry himself ever mentioned it to a human being. So, before I saw you, I guessed that you might not be in the secret; and the moment I entered on the business with you, I found I had guessed right. But I dare say Henry will tell you his whole story now; for you must have many a confidential tete-a-tete."
Confidential tete-a-tetes with Mr. Maitland! The idea led me into such a reverie, that before I spoke again Charlotte was in bed, and asleep.
I rose early; and yet, in three months of country negligence, my clothes had all grown so troublesomely unbecoming, that before I could make them look tolerable, the family were assembled at breakfast. Maitland took his place by me. "I will sit between my sisters," said he; and from that time he called me, "Sister Ellen." The kindness of his manner made me burn with shame at the recollection of my ungenerous purpose against his peace. I held down my head, and was ready to thank Heaven that I saw him well and happy. I was very glad, however, when I handed him his tea, that my hand and arm were quite as beautiful as ever. My embarrassment soon wore away. Maitland had evidently forgiven, he had almost, I thought, forgotten my misconduct. So respectful, so kind were his attentions, so equally divided between Charlotte and me, that I soon forgot my restraint; and caught myself chattering and playing the fool in my own natural manner.
The day was past before I was aware; and every day stole away I know not how. Their flight was marked only by our progress in the books which Maitland read with Charlotte and me; or by that of a huge plantation which we all superintended together. Yet I protest, I have suffered more weariness in one party of pleasure, than I did in a whole winter in Glen Eredine. For, though the gentlemen always spent the mornings apart from us, Charlotte and I were at no loss to fill up the hours of their absence in the duties consequent upon being not only joint housewives in the Castle, but schoolmistresses, chamber-council, physicians, apothecaries, and listeners-general to all the female inhabitants of Glen Eredine. What endless, what innumerable stories did this latter office oblige me to hear? I am persuaded that I know not only the present circumstances and characters of every person in the Glen, but their family history from time immemorial, besides certain prophetic glimpses of their future fortunes.
I entirely escaped, however, the heavier labour of entertaining idle gentlemen; for the bitterest storm of winter never confined Eredine or Mr. Graham to the fireside. Wrapped in their plaids, they braved the blast, as the sports or the employments of the field required; and returned prepared to be pleased with everything at home. Our evenings were delightful; enlivened as they were by Eredine's cheerfulness, Charlotte's frank vivacity, and Henry's sly, quiet humour.
How often in their course did I wonder that I could ever think Maitland cold and stately? His extensive information, his acquaintance with scenes and manners which were new to us all, did indeed render his conversation a source of instruction, as well as of amusement; but no man was ever more free from that tendency towards dogma and harangue, which is so apt to infect those who chiefly converse with inferiors. He joined his family circle, neither determined to be wise nor to be witty, but to give and receive pleasure. His was the true fire of conversation; the kindly warmth was essential to its nature, the brilliance was an accident. Maitland, indeed--but I must bid farewell to that name, the only subject on which I cannot sympathize with the friends whom I love the best. To me, though it be coupled with feeling of self-reproach and regret, it is associated too with all that is venerable in worth, and all that is splendid in eloquence. I exchange it for a noble name,--a name which has mingled with many a wild verse, and many a romantic tale,--a name which the historian and the poet shall celebrate when they blazon actions more dazzling, but not more virtuous, than those which daily marked the life of Henry Graham!
Spring came; and never, since the first spring adorned Eden, did that season appear so lovely! So soft were its colours, so balmy its breezes, so pure, so peaceful its moonlight,--such repose, such blest seclusion, such confidential kindly home-breathing sweetness were in every scene! I shall never forget the delightful coolness of a shower that dimpled the calm lake, as Graham and I stood sheltered by an old fantastic fir-tree. No sound was heard but the hush of the rain-drops, and now and then the distant wailing of the water-fowl. "How often, both sleeping and awake, have I dreamt of this!" said Graham, in the low confiding tone which scarcely disturbed the stillness. "And even now, I can scarcely believe that it is not all a dream. This profound repose! every shadow sleeping just where it lay, when I used to wonder what immeasurable depth of waters could so represent the vault of heaven! And after my weary exile, to be thus near to all that is dearest to me,--to feel their very touch, their very breath on my cheek--"
I know not how it happened, but, at that moment, I breathed with some difficulty, and moved a little away. But then I suddenly recollected that Charlotte was standing at his other side; and I moved back again, lest he should think me very silly indeed. For Mr. Graham was no lover of mine; that is, he never talked of love to me; but I had begun to feel an odd curiosity to know whether he ever would talk of it, and when.
I pondered this matter very deeply for some days; and, after sundry lonely rambles, and sederunts under the aforesaid fir-tree, I convinced myself that, if Mr. Graham chose to make love, I could not, without abominable ingratitude, refuse to listen.
I had returned from one of these rambles, and was just going to enter the parlour, when, as I opened the door, I was arrested by the voice of Graham within, speaking in that impressive tone of suppressed emotion which he had already fixed irrevocably in my recollection. "If it be so," said he, "I am gone to-morrow. This day se'nnight I shall be in London."
I was thunderstruck. He was going then without a thought of me! My hand dropped from the lock; and I turned away, in a confused desire to escape from his sight and hearing.
"Bless me! Ellen! what is the matter with you?" cried Charlotte, whom I met on the stair. I hurried past her without speaking, and shut myself into my own apartment.
"What is the matter with me!" said I, throwing myself on a seat. The question was no sooner asked than answered; and, though I was alone, I could not help covering my face with my hands. The first distinct purpose which broke in upon my amazement and consternation, was to see Graham no more; to remain in my place of refuge till he was gone; and then--it did not signify what then!--all after-life must be a blank then!
However, I was obliged to yield to Charlotte's entreaties for admission; and, though all the interests of life were so soon to close, I was obliged to take my tea; and then I was half forced to try the open air, as a remedy for the headache, to which, like all heroines, I ascribed my agitation. I somewhat repented of this compliance, however, when I found that Graham was to be the companion of my walk; and, though I could not decently refuse to take his arm, I endeavoured to look as frozen and disagreeable as possible. He spoke to me, however, with such kind solicitude, such respectful tenderness, that I was soon a little reconciled to myself and him; and when Charlotte declared that she must stop to visit a sick cottager, and he would by no means allow me to breathe the close air of the cabin, I must own that I began to feel an instinctive desire to escape a tete-a-tete. But I had not presence of mind enough to defeat his purpose, and we pursued our walk together.
He led me towards a little woody dell; I talking laboriously without having anything to say, he preserving an abstracted silence. But this could not long continue; and, by the time we had lost sight of human dwelling, our conversation was confined to short sentences, which, at intervals of some minutes, made the listener start. In mere escape from the awkwardness of my situation, I uttered some commonplace on the beauty of the scenery; and desired Graham to look back towards the bright lake, seen through the vista formed by the shaggy rocks, which threw a twilight round us.
"Yes," said he, with a faint smile; "let us stand and look at it together for a few short moments. Perhaps one of us will never again see it with pleasure. Lean on me, dear Miss Percy, as you are used to do, and let me be happy while I dare."
He paused, but my eloquence was exhausted. I could not utter a word.
"This night, this very hour," he went on, "must make all these beauties a sickening blank to me, or perhaps heighten their interest a thousand-fold! Before we part this night, Ellen, I must learn from you whether duty and pleasure are never to unite for me. You know how long I have loved you, but I fear you can scarcely guess how tenderly. Dearest Ellen! think what the affection must be, which withstood your errors, your indifference, your scorn;--which neither time, nor absence, nor reason, could overcome. Think what it must be now, when I see thee all that man ought to love! To live without you now, to remember thy form in every scene, and know that thou art gone:--oh, Ellen! do not force me to bear this! Say that you will permit me to try what perseverance, what love unutterable, can do to win for me such affection as will satisfy your own sense of duty, your own innocent mind, in that blessed connexion which would make us more than lovers or friends to each other."
He paused in vain for a reply. If the fate of the universe had depended on my speaking, I could have uttered nothing intelligible. I suppose, however, the pleader began to conceive good hopes of his cause; for a certain degree of saucy exultation mingled with the tones of entreaty, as he said, "Speak to me, dearest Ellen--only one word. Tell me that I may one day hope to hear you own, that friendship, or habit, or call it what you will, has made me necessary to your happiness."
I would have given the world for some expression that should convey decent security to the worthy heart of Graham, without quite betraying the weakness of my own. "I cannot promise," said I, without daring to look up, "that ever you will bring me to actual confession."
"Nay, Ellen," said the unreasonable creature, "think you this little coquettish answer will content a man who asks his whole happiness from you?"
"I am sure I do not mean to coquet. Tell me what you wish me--what I ought to say, and I will say it--if I can?"
"My own, my bewitching Ellen!" said Graham.
But hold! I will not tell what he said. If Henry Graham for once spoke nonsense, it would ill become me to record it. Nor will I relate my answer; because, in truth, I know not what it was. But Graham understood it to mean, that I was no longer the arrogant girl whose understanding, dazzled by prosperity, was blind to his merit; whose heart, hardened by vanity, was insensible to his love; no longer the thoughtless being whose hopes and wishes were engrossed by the most unsubstantial of all the cheats that delude us in this world of shadows;--but a humbled creature, thankful to find, in his sound mind and steady principle, a support for her acknowledged weakness;--a traveller to a better country, pleased to meet a fellow-pilgrim, who, animating her diligence, and checking her wanderings, might soothe the toils of her journey, and rejoice with her for ever in its blessed termination.
I have now been many years a wife; and, in all that time, have never left, nor wished to leave, Glen Eredine. Graham is still a kind of lover; and though I retain a little of the coquettish sauciness of Ellen Percy, I here confess that he is, if it be possible, dearer to me than when he first folded his bride to his heart, and whispered, "Mine for ever."
We are still the guests of our venerable father; and within this hour he told me that his heart makes no difference between me and his own Charlotte. Some misses, lately arrived from a boarding-school, have begun to call my sister an old maid; yet I do not perceive that this cabalistic term has produced any ill effect on Charlotte's temper or on her happiness.
I am the mother of three hardy, generous boys, and two pretty, affectionate little girls. But far beyond my own walls extend the charities of kindred. Many a smoke, curling in the morning sun, guides my eye to the abode of true, though humble friends; for every one of this faithful romantic race is united to me by the ties of relationship. I am the mother of their future chieftain. Their interests, their joys, their sorrows, are become my own.
Having in my early days seized the enjoyments which selfish pleasure can bestow, I might now compare them with those of enlarged affections, of useful employment, of relaxations truly social, of lofty contemplation, of devout thankfulness, of glorious hope. I might compare them!--but the Lowland tongue wants energy for the contrast.
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.