TALES AND NOVELS, VOL. III
IN TEN VOLUMES. WITH ENGRAVINGS ON STEEL.
III. Lady Delacour's History
IV. The same continued
V. Birthday Dresses
VI. Ways and Means
VII. The Serpentine River
VIII. A Family Party
X. The Mysterious Boudoir
XII. The Macaw
XIII. Sortes Virgilianae
XIV. The Exhibition
XVI. Domestic Happiness
XVII. Rights of Woman
XVIII. A Declaration
XIX. A Wedding
XXII. A Spectre
XXIII. The Chaplain
XXIV. Peu a peu
XXV. Love me, love my dog
XXVII. A Discovery
XXVIII. E O
XXIX. A Jew
XXXI. The Denouement
Mrs. Stanhope, a well-bred woman, accomplished in that branch of knowledge which is called the art of rising in the world, had, with but a small fortune, contrived to live in the highest company. She prided herself upon having established half a dozen nieces most happily, that is to say, upon having married them to men of fortunes far superior to their own. One niece still remained unmarried—Belinda Portman, of whom she was determined to get rid with all convenient expedition. Belinda was handsome, graceful, sprightly, and highly accomplished; her aunt had endeavoured to teach her that a young lady's chief business is to please in society, that all her charms and accomplishments should be invariably subservient to one grand object—the establishing herself in the world:
"For this, hands, lips, and eyes were put to school, And each instructed feature had its rule."
Mrs. Stanhope did not find Belinda such a docile pupil as her other nieces, for she had been educated chiefly in the country; she had early been inspired with a taste for domestic pleasures; she was fond of reading, and disposed to conduct herself with prudence and integrity. Her character, however, was yet to be developed by circumstances.
Mrs. Stanhope lived at Bath, where she had opportunities of showing her niece off, as she thought, to advantage; but as her health began to decline, she could not go out with her as much as she wished. After manoeuvring with more than her usual art, she succeeded in fastening Belinda upon the fashionable Lady Delacour for the season. Her ladyship was so much pleased by Miss Portman's accomplishments and vivacity, as to invite her to spend the winter with her in London. Soon after her arrival in town, Belinda received the following letter from her aunt Stanhope.
"After searching every place I could think of, Anne found your bracelet in your dressing-table, amongst a heap of odd things, which you left behind you to be thrown away: I have sent it to you by a young gentleman, who came to Bath (unluckily) the very day you left me—Mr. Clarence Hervey—an acquaintance, and great admirer of my Lady Delacour. He is really an uncommonly pleasant young man, is highly connected, and has a fine independent fortune. Besides, he is a man of wit and gallantry, quite a connoisseur in female grace and beauty—just the man to bring a new face into fashion: so, my dear Belinda, I make it a point—look well when he is introduced to you, and remember, what I have so often told you, that nobody can look well without taking some pains to please.
"I see—or at least when I went out more than my health will at present permit—I used to see multitudes of silly girls, seemingly all cut out upon the same pattern, who frequented public places day after day, and year after year, without any idea farther than that of diverting themselves, or of obtaining transient admiration. How I have pitied and despised the giddy creatures, whilst I have observed them playing off their unmeaning airs, vying with one another in the most obvious, and consequently the most ridiculous manner, so as to expose themselves before the very men they would attract: chattering, tittering, and flirting; full of the present moment, never reflecting upon the future; quite satisfied if they got a partner at a hall, without ever thinking of a partner for life! I have often asked myself, what is to become of such girls when they grow old or ugly, or when the public eye grows tired of them? If they have large fortunes, it is all very well; they can afford to divert themselves for a season or two, without doubt; they are sure to be sought after and followed, not by mere danglers, but by men of suitable views and pretensions: but nothing to my mind can be more miserable than the situation of a poor girl, who, after spending not only the interest, but the solid capital of her small fortune in dress, and frivolous extravagance, fails in her matrimonial expectations (as many do merely from not beginning to speculate in time). She finds herself at five or six-and-thirty a burden to her friends, destitute of the means of rendering herself independent (for the girls I speak of never think of learning to play cards), de trop in society, yet obliged to hang upon all her acquaintance, who wish her in heaven, because she is unqualified to make the expected return for civilities, having no home, I mean no establishment, no house, &c. fit for the reception of company of a certain rank.—My dearest Belinda, may this never be your case!—You have every possible advantage, my love: no pains have been spared in your education, and (which is the essential point) I have taken care that this should be known—so that you have the name of being perfectly accomplished. You will also have the name of being very fashionable, if you go much into public, as doubtless you will with Lady Delacour.—Your own good sense must make you aware, my dear, that from her ladyship's situation and knowledge of the world, it will always be proper, upon all subjects of conversation, for her to lead and you to follow: it would be very unfit for a young girl like you to suffer yourself to stand in competition with Lady Delacour, whose high pretensions to wit and beauty are indisputable. I need say no more to you upon this subject, my dear. Even with your limited experience, you must have observed how foolish young people offend those who are the most necessary to their interests, by an imprudent indulgence of their vanity.
"Lady Delacour has an incomparable taste in dress: consult her, my dear, and do not, by an ill-judged economy, counteract my views—apropos, I have no objection to your being presented at court. You will, of course, have credit with all her ladyship's tradespeople, if you manage properly. To know how and when to lay out money is highly commendable, for in some situations, people judge of what one can afford by what one actually spends.—I know of no law which compels a young lady to tell what her age or her fortune may be. You have no occasion for caution yet on one of these points.
"I have covered my old carpet with a handsome green baize, and every stranger who comes to see me, I observe, takes it for granted that I have a rich carpet under it. Say every thing that is proper, in your best manner, for me to Lady Delacour.
"Adieu, my dear Belinda,
"Yours, very sincerely,
It is sometimes fortunate, that the means which are taken to produce certain effects upon the mind have a tendency directly opposite to what is expected. Mrs. Stanhope's perpetual anxiety about her niece's appearance, manners, and establishment, had completely worn out Belinda's patience; she had become more insensible to the praises of her personal charms and accomplishments than young women of her age usually are, because she had been so much flattered and shown off, as it is called, by her match-making aunt.—Yet Belinda was fond of amusement, and had imbibed some of Mrs. Stanhope's prejudices in favour of rank and fashion. Her taste for literature declined in proportion to her intercourse with the fashionable world, as she did not in this society perceive the least use in the knowledge that she had acquired. Her mind had never been roused to much reflection; she had in general acted but as a puppet in the hands of others. To her aunt Stanhope she had hitherto paid unlimited, habitual, blind obedience; but she was more undesigning, and more free from affectation and coquetry, than could have been expected, after the course of documenting which she had gone through. She was charmed with the idea of a visit to Lady Delacour, whom she thought the most agreeable—no, that is too feeble an expression—the most fascinating person she had ever beheld. Such was the light in which her ladyship appeared, not only to Belinda, but to all the world—that is to say, all the world of fashion, and she knew of no other.—The newspapers were full of Lady Delacour's parties, and Lady Delacour's dresses, and Lady Delacour's bon mots: every thing that her ladyship said was repeated as witty; every thing that her ladyship wore was imitated as fashionable. Female wit sometimes depends on the beauty of its possessor for its reputation; and the reign of beauty is proverbially short, and fashion often capriciously deserts her favourites, even before nature withers their charms. Lady Delacour seemed to be a fortunate exception to these general rules: long after she had lost the bloom of youth, she continued to be admired as a fashionable bel esprit; and long after she had ceased to be a novelty in society, her company was courted by all the gay, the witty, and the gallant. To be seen in public with Lady Delacour, to be a visitor at her house, were privileges of which numbers were vehemently ambitious; and Belinda Portman was congratulated and envied by all her acquaintance, for being admitted as an inmate. How could she avoid thinking herself singularly fortunate?
A short time after her arrival at Lady Delacour's, Belinda began to see through the thin veil with which politeness covers domestic misery.—Abroad, and at home, Lady Delacour was two different persons. Abroad she appeared all life, spirit, and good humour—at home, listless, fretful, and melancholy; she seemed like a spoiled actress off the stage, over-stimulated by applause, and exhausted by the exertions of supporting a fictitious character.—When her house was filled with well-dressed crowds, when it blazed with lights, and resounded with music and dancing, Lady Delacour, in the character of Mistress of the Revels, shone the soul and spirit of pleasure and frolic: but the moment the company retired, when the music ceased, and the lights were extinguishing, the spell was dissolved.
She would sometimes walk up and down the empty magnificent saloon, absorbed in thoughts seemingly of the most painful nature.
For some days after Belinda's arrival in town she heard nothing of Lord Delacour; his lady never mentioned his name, except once accidentally, as she was showing Miss Portman the house, she said, "Don't open that door—those are only Lord Delacour's apartments."—The first time Belinda ever saw his lordship, he was dead drunk in the arms of two footmen, who were carrying him up stairs to his bedchamber: his lady, who was just returned from Ranelagh, passed by him on the landing-place with a look of sovereign contempt.
"What is the matter?—Who is this?" said Belinda.
"Only the body of my Lord Delacour," said her ladyship: "his bearers have brought it up the wrong staircase. Take it down again, my good friends: let his lordship go his own way. Don't look so shocked and amazed, Belinda—don't look so new, child: this funeral of my lord's intellects is to me a nightly, or," added her ladyship, looking at her watch and yawning, "I believe I should say a daily ceremony—six o'clock, I protest!"
The next morning, as her ladyship and Miss Portman were sitting at the breakfast-table, after a very late breakfast, Lord Delacour entered the room.
"Lord Delacour, sober, my dear,"—said her ladyship to Miss Portman, by way of introducing him. Prejudiced by her ladyship, Belinda was inclined to think that Lord Delacour sober would not be more agreeable or more rational than Lord Delacour drunk. "How old do you take my lord to be?" whispered her ladyship, as she saw Belinda's eye fixed upon the trembling hand which carried his teacup to his lips: "I'll lay you a wager," continued she aloud—"I'll lay your birth-night dress, gold fringe, and laurel wreaths into the bargain, that you don't guess right."
"I hope you don't think of going to this birth-night, lady Delacour?" said his lordship.
"I'll give you six guesses, and I'll bet you don't come within sixteen years," pursued her ladyship, still looking at Belinda.
"You cannot have the new carriage you have bespoken," said his lordship. "Will you do me the honour to attend to me, Lady Delacour?"
"Then you won't venture to guess, Belinda," said her ladyship (without honouring her lord with the smallest portion of her attention)—"Well, I believe you are right—for certainly you would guess him to be six-and-sixty, instead of six-and-thirty; but then he can drink more than any two-legged animal in his majesty's dominions, and you know that is an advantage which is well worth twenty or thirty years of a man's life—especially to persons who have no other chance of distinguishing themselves."
"If some people had distinguished themselves a little less in the world," retorted his lordship, "it would have been as well!"
"As well!—how flat!"
"Flatly then I have to inform you, Lady Delacour, that I will neither be contradicted nor laughed at—you understand me,—it would be as well, flat or not flat, my Lady Delacour, if your ladyship would attend more to your own conduct, and less to others!"
"To that of others—his lordship means, if he means any thing. Apropos, Belinda, did not you tell me Clarence Hervey is coming to town?—You have never seen him.—Well, I'll describe him to you by negatives. He is not a man who ever says any thing flat—he is not a man who must he wound up with half a dozen bottles of champaign before he can go—he is not a man who, when he does go, goes wrong, and won't be set right—he is not a man, whose whole consequence, if he were married, would depend on his wife—he is not a man, who, if he were married, would be so desperately afraid of being governed by his wife, that he would turn gambler, jockey, or sot, merely to show that he could govern himself."
"Go on, Lady Delacour," said his lordship, who had been in vain attempting to balance a spoon on the edge of his teacup during the whole of this speech, which was delivered with the most animated desire to provoke—"Go on, Lady Delacour—all I desire is, that you should go on; Clarence Hervey will be much obliged to you, and I am sure so shall I. Go on, my Lady Delacour—go on, and you'll oblige me."
"I never will oblige you, my lord, that you may depend upon," cried her ladyship, with a look of indignant contempt.
His lordship whistled, rang for his horses, and looked at his nails with a smile. Belinda, shocked and in a great confusion, rose to leave the room, dreading the gross continuance of this matrimonial dialogue.
"Mr. Hervey, my lady," said a footman, opening the door; and he was scarcely announced, when her ladyship went forward to receive him with an air of easy familiarity.—"Where have you buried yourself, Hervey, this age past?" cried she, shaking hands with him: "there's absolutely no living in this most stupid of all worlds without you.—Mr. Hervey—Miss Portman—but don't look as if you were half asleep, man—What are you dreaming of, Clarence? Why looks your grace so heavily to-day?"
"Oh! I have passed a miserable night," replied Clarence, throwing himself into an actor's attitude, and speaking in a fine tone of stage declamation.
"What was your dream, my lord? I pray you, tell me,"
said her ladyship in a similar tone.—Clarence went on—
"O Lord, methought what pain it was to dance! What dreadful noise of fiddles in my ears! What sights of ugly belles within my eyes! ——Then came wandering by, A shadow like a devil, with red hair, 'Dizen'd with flowers; and she bawl'd out aloud, Clarence is come; false, fleeting, perjured Clarence!"
"O, Mrs. Luttridge to the life!" cried Lady Delacour: "I know where you have been now, and I pity you—but sit down," said she, making room for him between Belinda and herself upon the sofa, "sit down here, and tell me what could take you to that odious Mrs. Luttridge's."
Mr. Hervey threw himself on the sofa; Lord Delacour whistled as before, and left the room without uttering a syllable.
"But my dream has made me forget myself strangely," said Mr. Hervey, turning to Belinda, and producing her bracelet: "Mrs. Stanhope promised me that if I delivered it safely, I should be rewarded with the honour of putting it on the owner's fair arm." A conversation now took place on the nature of ladies' promises—on fashionable bracelets—on the size of the arm of the Venus de Medici—on Lady Delacour's and Miss Portman's—on the thick legs of ancient statues—and on the various defects and absurdities of Mrs. Luttridge and her wig. On all these topics Mr. Hervey displayed much wit, gallantry, and satire, with so happy an effect, that Belinda, when he took leave, was precisely of her aunt's opinion, that he was a most uncommonly pleasant young man.
Clarence Hervey might have been more than a pleasant young man, if he had not been smitten with the desire of being thought superior in every thing, and of being the most admired person in all companies. He had been early flattered with the idea that he was a man of genius; and he imagined that, as such, he was entitled to be imprudent, wild, and eccentric. He affected singularity, in order to establish his claims to genius. He had considerable literary talents, by which he was distinguished at Oxford; but he was so dreadfully afraid of passing for a pedant, that when he came into the company of the idle and the ignorant, he pretended to disdain every species of knowledge. His chameleon character seemed to vary in different lights, and according to the different situations in which he happened to be placed. He could be all things to all men—and to all women. He was supposed to be a favourite with the fair sex; and of all his various excellencies and defects, there was none on which he valued himself so much as on his gallantry. He was not profligate; he had a strong sense of honour, and quick feelings of humanity; but he was so easily led, or rather so easily excited by his companions, and his companions were now of such a sort, that it was probable he would soon become vicious. As to his connexion with Lady Delacour, he would have started with horror at the idea of disturbing the peace of a family; but in her family, he said, there was no peace to disturb; he was vain of having it seen by the world that he was distinguished by a lady of her wit and fashion, and he did not think it incumbent on him to be more scrupulous or more attentive to appearances than her ladyship. By Lord Delacour's jealousy he was sometimes provoked, sometimes amused, and sometimes flattered. He was constantly of all her ladyship's parties in public and private; consequently he saw Belinda almost every day, and every day he saw her with increasing admiration of her beauty, and with increasing dread of being taken in to marry a niece of "the catch-match-maker," the name by which Mrs. Stanhope was known amongst the men of his acquaintance. Young ladies who have the misfortune to be conducted by these artful dames, are always supposed to be partners in all the speculations, though their names may not appear in the firm. If he had not been prejudiced by the character of her aunt, Mr. Hervey would have thought Belinda an undesigning, unaffected girl; but now he suspected her of artifice in every word, look, and motion; and even when he felt himself most charmed by her powers of pleasing, he was most inclined to despise her, for what he thought such premature proficiency in scientific coquetry. He had not sufficient resolution to keep beyond the sphere of her attraction; but, frequently, when he found himself within it, he cursed his folly, and drew back with sudden terror. His manner towards her was so variable and inconsistent, that she knew not how to interpret its language. Sometimes she fancied, that with all the eloquence of eyes he said, "I adore you, Belinda;" at other times she imagined that his guarded silence meant to warn her that he was so entangled by Lady Delacour, that he could not extricate himself from her snares. Whenever this last idea struck her, it excited, in the most edifying manner, her indignation against coquetry in general, and against her ladyship's in particular: she became wonderfully clear-sighted to all the improprieties of her ladyship's conduct. Belinda's newly acquired moral sense was so much shocked, that she actually wrote a full statement of her observations and her scruples to her aunt Stanhope; concluding by a request, that she might not remain under the protection of a lady, of whose character she could not approve, and whose intimacy might perhaps be injurious to her reputation, if not to her principles.
Mrs. Stanhope answered Belinda's letter in a very guarded style; she rebuked her niece severely for her imprudence in mentioning names in such a manner, in a letter sent by the common post; assured her that her reputation was in no danger; that she hoped no niece of hers would set up for a prude—a character more suspected by men of the world than even that of a coquette; that the person alluded to was a perfectly fit chaperon for any young lady to appear with in public, as long as she was visited by the first people in town; that as to any thing in the private conduct of that person, and as to any private brouillieries between her and her lord, Belinda should observe on these dangerous topics a profound silence, both in her letters and her conversation; that as long as the lady continued under the protection of her husband, the world might whisper, but would not speak out; that as to Belinda's own principles, she would be utterly inexcusable if, after the education she had received, they could be hurt by any bad examples; that she could not be too cautious in her management of a man of ——'s character; that she could have no serious cause for jealousy in the quarter she apprehended, as marriage there could not be the object; and there was such a difference of age, that no permanent influence could probably be obtained by the lady; that the most certain method for Miss Portman to expose herself to the ridicule of one of the parties, and to the total neglect of the other, would be to betray anxiety or jealousy; that, in short, if she were fool enough to lose her own heart, there would be little chance of her being wise enough to win that of———, who was evidently a man of gallantry rather than of sentiment, and who was known to play his cards well, and to have good luck whenever hearts were trumps.
Belinda's fears of Lady Delacour, as a dangerous rival, were much quieted by the artful insinuations of Mrs. Stanhope, with respect to her age, &c.; and in proportion as her fears subsided, she blamed herself for having written too harshly of her ladyship's conduct. The idea that whilst she appeared as Lady Delacour's friend she ought not to propagate any stories to her disadvantage, operated powerfully upon Belinda's mind, and she reproached herself for having told even her aunt what she had seen in private. She thought that she had been guilty of treachery, and she wrote again immediately to Mrs. Stanhope, to conjure her to burn her last letter; to forget, if possible, its contents; and to believe that not a syllable of a similar nature should ever more be heard from her: she was just concluding with the words—"I hope my dear aunt will consider all this as an error of my judgment, and not of my heart," when Lady Delacour burst into the room, exclaiming, in a tone of gaiety, "Tragedy or comedy, Belinda? The masquerade dresses are come. But how's this?" added she, looking full in Belinda's face—"tears in the eyes! blushes in the cheeks! tremors in the joints! and letters shuffling away! But, you novice of novices, how awkwardly shuffled!—A niece of Mrs. Stanhope's, and so unpractised a shuffler!—And is it credible she should tremble in this ridiculous way about a love-letter or two?"
"No love-letters, indeed, Lady Delacour," said Belinda, holding the paper fast, as her ladyship, half in play, half in earnest, attempted to snatch it from her.
"No love-letters! then it must be treason; and see it I must, by all that's good, or by all that's bad—I see the name of Delacour!"—and her ladyship absolutely seized the letters by force, in spite of all Belinda's struggles and entreaties.
"I beg, I request, I conjure you not to read it!" cried Miss Portman, clasping her hands. "Read mine, read mine, if you must, but don't read my aunt Stanhope's—Oh! I beg, I entreat, I conjure you!" and she threw herself upon her knees.
"You beg! you entreat! you conjure! Why, this is like the Duchess de Brinvilliers, who wrote on her paper of poisons, 'Whoever finds this, I entreat, I conjure them, in the name of more saints than I can remember, not to open the paper any farther.'—What a simpleton, to know so little of the nature of curiosity!"
As she spoke, Lady Delacour opened Mrs. Stanhope's letter, read it from beginning to end, folded it up coolly when she had finished it, and simply said, "The person alluded to is almost as bad as her name at full length: does Mrs. Stanhope think no one can make out an inuendo in a libel, or fill up a blank, but an attorney-general?" pointing to a blank in Mrs. Stanhope's letter, left for the name of Clarence Hervey.
Belinda was in too much confusion either to speak or think.
"You were right to swear they were not love-letters," pursued her ladyship, laying down the papers. "I protest I snatched them by way of frolic—I beg pardon. All I can do now is not to read the rest."
"Nay—I beg—I wish—I insist upon your reading mine," said Belinda.
When Lady Delacour had read it, her countenance suddenly changed—"Worth a hundred of your aunt's, I declare," said she, patting Belinda's cheek. "What a treasure to meet with any thing like a new heart!—all hearts, now-a-days, are second-hand, at best."
Lady Delacour spoke with a tone of feeling which Belinda had never heard from her before, and which at this moment touched her so much, that she took her ladyship's hand and kissed it.
"Where were we when all this began?" cried Lady Delacour, forcing herself to resume an air of gaiety—"O, masquerade was the order of the day—-tragedy or comedy? which suits your genius best, my dear?"
"Whichever suits your ladyship's taste least."
"Why, my woman, Marriott, says I ought to be tragedy; and, upon the notion that people always succeed best when they take characters diametrically opposite to their own—Clarence Hervey's principle—perhaps you don't think that he has any principles; but there you are wrong; I do assure you, he has sound principles—of taste."
"Of that," said Belinda, with a constrained smile, "he gives the most convincing proof, by his admiring your ladyship so much."
"And by his admiring Miss Portman so much more. But whilst we are making speeches to one another, poor Marriott is standing in distress, like Garrick, between tragedy and comedy."
Lady Delacour opened her dressing-room door, and pointed to her as she stood with the dress of the comic muse on one arm, and the tragic muse on the other.
"I am afraid I have not spirits enough to undertake the comic muse," said Miss Portman.
Marriott, who was a personage of prodigious consequence, and the judge in the last resort at her mistress's toilette, looked extremely out of humour at having been kept waiting so long; and yet more so at the idea that her appellant jurisdiction could be disputed.
"Your ladyship's taller than Miss Portman by half ahead," said Marriott, "and to be sure will best become tragedy with this long train; besides, I had settled all the rest of your ladyship's dress. Tragedy, they say, is always tall; and, no offence, your ladyship's taller than Miss Portman by half a head."
"For head read inch," said Lady Delacour, "if you please."
"When things are settled, one can't bear to have them unsettled—but your ladyship must have your own way, to be sure—I'll say no more," cried she, throwing down the dresses.
"Stay, Marriott," said Lady Delacour, and she placed herself between the angry waiting-maid and the door.
"Why will you, who are the best creature in the world, put yourself into these furies about nothing? Have patience with us, and you shall be satisfied."
"That's another affair," said Marriott.
"Miss Portman," continued her ladyship, "don't talk of not having spirits, you that are all life!—What say you, Belinda?—O yes, you must be the comic muse; and I, it seems, must be tragedy, because Marriott has a passion for seeing me 'come sweeping by.' And because Marriott must have her own way in every thing—she rules me with a rod of iron, my dear, so tragedy I needs must be.—Marriott knows her power."
There was an air of extreme vexation in Lady Delacour's countenance as she pronounced these last words, in which evidently more was meant than met the ear. Upon many occasions Miss Portman had observed, that Marriott exercised despotic authority over her mistress; and she had seen, with surprise, that a lady, who would not yield an iota of power to her husband, submitted herself to every caprice of the most insolent of waiting-women. For some time, Belinda imagined that this submission was merely an air, as she had seen some other fine ladies proud of appearing to be governed by a favourite maid; but she was soon convinced that Marriott was no favourite with Lady Delacour; that her ladyship's was not proud humility, but fear. It seemed certain that a woman, extravagantly fond of her own will, would never have given it up without some very substantial reason. It seemed as if Marriott was in possession of some secret, which should for ever remain unknown. This idea had occurred to Miss Portman more than once, but never so forcibly as upon the present occasion. There had always been some mystery about her ladyship's toilette: at certain hours doors were bolted, and it was impossible for any body but Marriott to obtain admission. Miss Portman at first imagined that Lady Delacour dreaded the discovery of her cosmetic secrets, but her ladyship's rouge was so glaring, and her pearl powder was so obvious, that Belinda was convinced there must be some other cause for this toilette secrecy. There was a little cabinet beyond her bedchamber, which Lady Delacour called her boudoir, to which there was an entrance by a back staircase; but no one ever entered there but Marriott. One night, Lady Delacour, after dancing with great spirit at a ball, at her own house, fainted suddenly: Miss Portman attended her to her bedchamber, but Marriott begged that her lady might be left alone with her, and she would by no means suffer Belinda to follow her into the boudoir. All these things Belinda recollected in the space of a few seconds, as she stood contemplating Marriott and the dresses. The hurry of getting ready for the masquerade, however, dispelled these thoughts, and by the time she was dressed, the idea of what Clarence Hervey would think of her appearance was uppermost in her mind. She was anxious to know whether he would discover her in the character of the comic muse. Lady Delacour was discontented with her tragic attire, and she grew still more out of humour with herself, when she saw Belinda.
"I protest Marriott has made a perfect fright of me," said her ladyship, as she got into her carriage, "and I'm positive my dress would become you a million of times better than your own."
Miss Portman regretted that it was too late to change.
"Not at all too late, my dear," said Lady Delacour; "never too late for women to change their minds, their dress, or their lovers. Seriously, you know, we are to call at my friend Lady Singleton's—she sees masks to-night: I'm quite intimate there; I'll make her let me step up to her own room, where no soul can interrupt us, and there we can change our dresses, and Marriott will know nothing of the matter. Marriott's a faithful creature, and very fond of me; fond of power too—but who is not?—we must all have our faults: one would not quarrel with such a good creature as Marriott for a trifle." Then suddenly changing her tone, she said, "Not a human being will find us out at the masquerade; for no one but Mrs. Freke knows that we are the two muses. Clarence Hervey swears he should know me in any disguise—but I defy him—I shall take special delight in puzzling him. Harriot Freke has told him, in confidence, that I'm to be the widow Brady, in man's clothes: now that's to be Harriot's own character; so Hervey will make fine confusion."
As soon as they got to Lady Singleton's, Lady Delacour and Miss Portman immediately went up stairs to exchange dresses. Poor Belinda, now that she felt herself in spirits to undertake the comic muse, was rather vexed to be obliged to give up her becoming character; but there was no resisting the polite energy of Lady Delacour's vanity. Her ladyship ran as quick as lightning into a closet within the dressing-room, saying to Lady Singleton's woman, who attempted to follow with—"Can I do any thing for your ladyship?"—"No, no, no—nothing, nothing—thank ye, thank ye,—I want no assistance—I never let any body do any thing for me but Marriott;" and she bolted herself in the closet. In a few minutes she half opened the door, threw out her tragic robes, and cried, "Here, Miss Portman, give me yours—quick—and let's see whether comedy or tragedy will be ready first."
"Lord bless and forgive me," said Lady Singleton's woman, when Lady Delacour at last threw open the door, when she was completely dressed—"but if your la'ship has not been dressing all this time in that den, without any thing in the shape of a looking-glass, and not to let me help! I that should have been so proud."
Lady Delacour put half a guinea into the waiting-maid's hand, laughed affectedly at her own whimsicalities, and declared that she could always dress herself better without a glass than with one. All this went off admirably well with every body but Miss Portman; she could not help thinking it extraordinary that a person who was obviously fond of being waited upon would never suffer any person to assist her at her toilet except Marriott, a woman of whom she was evidently afraid. Lady Delacour's quick eye saw curiosity painted in Belinda's countenance, and for a moment she was embarrassed; but she soon recovered herself, and endeavoured to turn the course of Miss Portman's thoughts by whispering to her some nonsense about Clarence Hervey—a cabalistical name, which she knew had the power, when pronounced in a certain tone, of throwing Belinda into confusion.
The first person they saw, when they went into the drawing-room at Lady Singleton's, was this very Clarence Hervey, who was not in a masquerade dress. He had laid a wager with one of his acquaintance, that he could perform the part of the serpent, such as he is seen in Fuseli's well-known picture. For this purpose he had exerted much ingenuity in the invention and execution of a length of coiled skin, which he manoeuvred with great dexterity, by means of internal wires; his grand difficulty had been to manufacture the rays that were to come from his eyes. He had contrived a set of phosphoric rays, which he was certain would charm all the fair daughters of Eve. He forgot, it seems, that phosphorus could not well be seen by candlelight. When he was just equipped as a serpent, his rays set fire to part of his envelope, and it was with the greatest difficulty that he was extricated. He escaped unhurt, but his serpent's skin was utterly consumed; nothing remained but the melancholy spectacle of its skeleton. He was obliged to give up the hopes of shining at the masquerade, but he resolved to be at Lady Singleton's that he might meet Lady Delacour and Miss Portman. The moment that the tragic and comic muse appeared, he invoked them with much humour and mock pathos, declaring that he knew not which of them could best sing his adventure. After a recital of his misfortune had entertained the company, and after the muses had performed their parts to the satisfaction of the audience and their own, the conversation ceased to be supported in masquerade character; muses and harlequins, gipsies and Cleopatras, began to talk of their private affairs, and of the news and the scandal of the day.
A group of gentlemen, amongst whom was Clarence Hervey, gathered round the tragic muse; as Mr. Hervey had hinted that he knew she was a person of distinction, though he would not tell her name. After he had exercised his wit for some time, without obtaining from the tragic muse one single syllable, he whispered, "Lady Delacour, why this unnatural reserve? Do you imagine that, through this tragical disguise, I have not found you out?"
The tragic muse, apparently absorbed in meditation, vouchsafed no reply.
"The devil a word can you get for your pains, Hervey," said a gentleman of his acquaintance, who joined the party at this instant. "Why didn't you stick to t'other muse, who, to do her justice, is as arrant a flirt as your heart could wish for?"
"There's danger in flirting," said Clarence, "with an arrant flirt of Mrs. Stanhope's training. There's a kind of electricity about that girl. I have a sort of cobweb feeling, an imaginary net coming all over me."
"Fore-warned is fore-armed," replied his companion: "a man must be a novice indeed that could be taken in at this time of day by a niece of Mrs. Stanhope's."
"That Mrs. Stanhope must be a good clever dame, faith," said a third gentleman: "there's no less than six of her nieces whom she has got off within these four winters—not one of 'em now that has not made a catch-match.—There's the eldest of the set, Mrs. Tollemache, what had she, in the devil's name, to set up with in the world but a pair of good eyes?—her aunt, to be sure, taught her the use of them early enough: they might have rolled to all eternity before they would have rolled me out of my senses; but you see they did Tollemache's business. However, they are going to part now, I hear: Tollemache was tired of her before the honey-moon was over, as I foretold. Then there's the musical girl. Joddrell, who has no more ear than a post, went and married her, because he had a mind to set up for a connoisseur in music; and Mrs. Stanhope flattered him that he was one."
The gentlemen joined in the general laugh: the tragic muse sighed.
"Even were she at the School for Scandal, the tragic muse dare not laugh, except behind her mask," said Clarence Hervey.
"Far be it from her to laugh at those follies which she must for ever deplore!" said Belinda, in a feigned voice.—"What miseries spring from these ill-suited marriages! The victims are sacrificed before they have sense enough to avoid their fate."
Clarence Hervey imagined that this speech alluded to Lady Delacour's own marriage.
"Damn me if I know any woman, young or old, that would avoid being married, if she could, though," cried Sir Philip Baddely, a gentleman who always supplied "each vacuity of sense" with an oath: "but, Rochfort, didn't Valleton marry one of these nieces?"
"Yes: she was a mighty fine dancer, and had good legs enough: Mrs. Stanhope got poor Valleton to fight a duel about her place in a country dance, and then he was so pleased with himself for his prowess, that he married the girl."
Belinda made an effort to change her seat, but she was encompassed so that she could not retreat.
"As to Jenny Mason, the fifth of the nieces," continued the witty gentleman, "she was as brown as mahogany, and had neither eyes, nose, mouth, nor legs: what Mrs. Stanhope could do with her I often wondered; but she took courage, rouged her up, set her a going as a dasher, and she dashed herself into Tom Levit's curricle, and Tom couldn't get her out again till she was the honourable Mrs. Levit: she then took the reins into her own hands, and I hear she's driving him and herself the road to ruin as fast as they can gallop. As for this Belinda Portman, 'twas a good hit to send her to Lady Delacour's; but, I take it she hangs upon hand; for last winter, when I was at Bath, she was hawked about every where, and the aunt was puffing her with might and main. You heard of nothing, wherever you went, but of Belinda Portman, and Belinda Portman's accomplishments: Belinda Portman, and her accomplishments, I'll swear, were as well advertised as Packwood's razor strops."
"Mrs. Stanhope overdid the business, I think," resumed the gentleman who began the conversation: "girls brought to the hammer this way don't go off well. It's true, Christie himself is no match for dame Stanhope. Many of my acquaintance were tempted to go and look at the premises, but not one, you may be sure, had a thought of becoming a tenant for life."
"That's an honour reserved for you, Clarence Hervey," said another, tapping him upon the shoulder.—"Give ye joy, Hervey; give ye joy!"
"Me!" said Clarence, starting.
"I'll be hanged if he didn't change colour," said his facetious companion; and all the young men again joined in a laugh.
"Laugh on, my merry men all!" cried Clarence; "but the devil's in it if I don't know my own mind better than any of you. You don't imagine I go to Lady Delacour's to look for a wife?—Belinda Portman's a good pretty girl, but what then? Do you think I'm an idiot?—do you think I could be taken in by one of the Stanhope school? Do you think I don't see as plainly as any of you that Belinda Portman's a composition of art and affectation?"
"Hush—not so loud, Clarence; here she comes," said his companion. "The comic muse, is not she—?"
Lady Delacour, at this moment, came lightly tripping towards them, and addressing herself, in the character of the comic muse, to Hervey, exclaimed,
"Hervey! my Hervey! most favoured of my votaries, why do you forsake me?
'Why mourns my friend, why weeps his downcast eye? That eye where mirth and fancy used to shine.'
Though you have lost your serpent's form, yet you may please any of the fair daughters of Eve in your own."
Mr. Hervey bowed; all the gentlemen who stood near him smiled; the tragic muse gave an involuntary sigh.
"Could I borrow a sigh, or a tear, from my tragic sister," pursued Lady Delacour, "however unbecoming to my character, I would, if only sighs or tears can win the heart of Clarence Hervey:—let me practise"—and her ladyship practised sighing with much comic effect.
"Persuasive words and more persuasive sighs,"
said Clarence Hervey.
"A good bold Stanhope cast of the net, faith," whispered one of his companions. "Melpomene, hast thou forgot thyself to marble?" pursued Lady Delacour. "I am not very well," whispered Miss Portman to her ladyship: "could we get away?"
"Get away from Clarence Hervey, do you mean?" replied her ladyship, in a whisper: "'tis not easy, but we'll try what can be done, if it is necessary."
Belinda had no power to reply to this raillery; indeed, she scarcely heard the words that were said to her; but she put her arm within Lady Delacour's, who, to her great relief, had the good nature to leave the room with her immediately. Her ladyship, though she would sacrifice the feelings of others, without compunction, to her vanity, whenever the power of her wit was disputed, yet towards those by whom it was acknowledged she showed some mercy.
"What is the matter with the child?" said she, as she went down the staircase.
"Nothing, if I could have air," said Belinda. There was a crowd of servants in the hall.
"Why does Lady Delacour avoid me so pertinaciously? What crime have I committed, that I was not favoured with one word?" said Clarence Hervey, who had followed them down stairs, and overtook them in the hall.
"Do see if you can find any of my people," cried Lady Delacour.
"Lady Delacour, the comic muse!" exclaimed Mr. Hervey. "I thought—"
"No matter what you thought," interrupted her ladyship. "Let my carriage draw up, for here's a young friend of yours trembling so about nothing, that I am half afraid she will faint; and you know it would not be so pleasant to faint here amongst footmen. Stay! this room is empty. O, I did not mean to tell you to stay," said she to Hervey, who involuntarily followed her in the utmost consternation.
"I'm perfectly well, now—perfectly well," said Belinda.
"Perfectly a simpleton, I think," said Lady Delacour. "Nay, my dear, you must be ruled; your mask must come off: didn't you tell me you wanted air?—What now! This is not the first time Clarence Hervey has ever seen your face without a mask, is it? It's the first time indeed he, or anybody else, ever saw it of such a colour, I believe."
When Lady Delacour pulled off Belinda's mask, her face was, during the first instant, pale; the next moment, crimsoned over with a burning blush.
"What is the matter with ye both? How he stands!" said Lady Delacour, turning to Mr. Hervey. "Did you never see a woman blush before?—or did you never say or do any thing to make a woman blush before? Will you give Miss Portman a glass of water?—there's some behind you on that sideboard, man!—but he has neither eyes, ears, nor understanding.—Do go about your business," said her ladyship, pushing him towards the door—"Do go about your business, for I haven't common patience with you: on my conscience I believe the man's in love—and not with me! That's sal-volatile for you, child, I perceive," continued she to Belinda. "O, you can walk now—but remember you are on slippery ground: remember Clarence Hervey is not a marrying man, and you are not a married woman."
"It is perfectly indifferent to me, madam," Belinda said, with a voice and look of proud indignation.
"Lady Delacour, your carriage has drawn up," said Clarence Hervey, returning to the door, but without entering.
"Then put this 'perfectly well' and 'perfectly indifferent' lady into it," said Lady Delacour.
He obeyed without uttering a syllable.
"Dumb! absolutely dumb! I protest," said her ladyship, as he handed her in afterwards. "Why, Clarence, the casting of your serpent's skin seems to have quite changed your nature—nothing but the simplicity of the dove left; and I expect to hear, you cooing presently—don't you, Miss Portman?" She ordered the coachman to drive to the Pantheon.
"To the Pantheon! I was in hopes your ladyship would have the goodness to set me down at home; for indeed I shall be a burden to you and everybody else at the masquerade."
"If you have made any appointment for the rest of the evening in Berkley-square, I'll set you down, certainly, if you insist upon it, my dear—for punctuality is a virtue; but prudence is a virtue too, in a young lady; who, as your aunt Stanhope would say, has to establish herself in the world. Why these tears, Belinda?—or are they tears? for by the light of the lamps I can scarcely tell; though I'll swear I saw the handkerchief at the eyes. What is the meaning of all this? You'd best trust me—for I know as much of men and manners as your aunt Stanhope at least; and in one word, you have nothing to fear from me, and every thing to hope from yourself, if you will only dry up your tears, keep on your mask, and take my advice; you'll find it as good as your aunt Stanhope's."
"My aunt Stanhope's! O," cried Belinda, "never, never more will I take such advice; never more will I expose myself to be insulted as a female adventurer.—Little did I know in what a light I appeared; little did I know what gentlemen thought of my aunt Stanhope, of my cousins, of myself!"
"Gentlemen! I presume Clarence Hervey stands at this instant, in your imagination, as the representative of all the gentlemen in England; and he, instead of Anacharsis Cloots, is now, to be sure, l'orateur du genre humain. Pray let me have a specimen of the eloquence, which, to judge by its effects, must be powerful indeed."
Miss Portman, not without some reluctance, repeated the conversation which she had heard.—"And is this all?" cried Lady Delacour. "Lord, my dear, you must either give up living in the world, or expect to hear yourself, and your aunts, and your cousins, and your friends, from generation to generation, abused every hour in the day by their friends and your friends; 'tis the common course of things. Now you know what a multitude of obedient humble servants, dear creatures, and very sincere and most affectionate friends, I have in my writing-desk, and on my mantel-piece, not to mention the cards which crowd the common rack from intimate acquaintance, who cannot live without the honour, or favour, or pleasure of seeing Lady Delacour twice a week;—do you think I'm fool enough to imagine that they would care the hundredth part of a straw if I were this minute thrown into the Red or the Black Sea?—No, I have not one real friend in the world except Harriot Freke; yet, you see I am the comic muse, and mean to keep it up—keep it up to the last—on purpose to provoke those who would give their eyes to be able to pity me;—I humbly thank them, no pity for Lady Delacour. Follow my example, Belinda; elbow your way through the crowd: if you stop to be civil and beg pardon, and 'hope I didn't hurt ye,' you will be trod under foot. Now you'll meet those young men continually who took the liberty of laughing at your aunt, and your cousins, and yourself; they are men of fashion. Show them you've no feeling, and they'll acknowledge you for a woman of fashion. You'll marry better than any of your cousins,—Clarence Hervey if you can; and then it will be your turn to laugh about nets and cages. As to love and all that—"
The carriage stopped at the Pantheon just as her ladyship came to the words "love and all that." Her thoughts took a different turn, and during the remainder of the night she exhibited, in such a manner as to attract universal admiration, all the ease, and grace, and gaiety, of Euphrosyne.
To Belinda the night appeared long and dull: the commonplace wit of chimney-sweepers and gipsies, the antics of harlequins, the graces of flower-girls and Cleopatras, had not power to amuse her; for her thoughts still recurred to that conversation which had given her so much pain—a pain which Lady Delacour's raillery had failed to obliterate.
"How happy you are, Lady Delacour," said she, when they got into the carriage to go home; "how happy you are to have such an amazing flow of spirits!"
"Amazing you might well say, if you knew all," said Lady Delacour; and she heaved a deep sigh, threw herself back in the carriage, let fall her mask, and was silent. It was broad daylight, and Belinda had a full view of her countenance, which was the picture of despair. She uttered not one syllable more, nor had Miss Portman the courage to interrupt her meditations till they came within sight, of Lady Singleton's, when Belinda ventured to remind her that she had resolved to stop there and change dresses before Marriott saw them.
"No, it's no matter," said Lady Delacour; "Marriott will leave me at the last, like all the rest—'tis no matter." Her ladyship sunk back into her former attitude; but after she had remained silent for some minutes, she started up and exclaimed—
"If I had served myself with half the zeal that I have served the world, I should not now be thus forsaken! I have sacrificed reputation, happiness, every thing to the love of frolic:—all frolic will soon be at an end with me—I am dying—and I shall die unlamented by any human being. If I were to live my life over again, what a different life it should be!—What a different person I would be!—But it is all over now—I am dying."
Belinda's astonishment at these words, and at the solemn manner in which they were pronounced, was inexpressible; she gazed at Lady Delacour, and then repeated the word,—'dying!'—"Yes, dying!" said Lady Delacour.
"But you seem to me, and to all the world, in perfect health; and but half an hour ago in perfect spirits," said Belinda.
"I seem to you and to all the world, what I am not—I tell you I am dying," said her ladyship in an emphatic tone.
Not a word more passed till they got home. Lady Delacour hurried up stairs, bidding Belinda follow her to her dressing-room. Marriott was lighting the six wax candles on the dressing-table.—"As I live, they have changed dresses after all," said Marriott to herself, as she fixed her eyes upon Lady Delacour and Miss Portman. "I'll be burnt, if I don't make my lady remember this."
"Marriott, you need not wait; I'll ring when I want you," said Lady Delacour; and taking one of the candles from the table, she passed on hastily with Miss Portman through her dressing-room, through her bedchamber, and to the door of the mysterious cabinet.
"Marriott, the key of this door," cried she impatiently, after she had in vain attempted to open it.
"Heavenly graciousness!" cried Marriott; "is my lady out of her senses?"
"The key—the key—quick, the key," repeated Lady Delacour, in a peremptory tone. She seized it as soon as Marriott drew it from her pocket, and unlocked the door.
"Had not I best put the things to rights, my lady?" said Marriott, catching fast hold of the opening door.
"I'll ring when you are wanted, Marriott," said Lady Delacour; and pushing open the door with violence she rushed forward to the middle of the room, and turning back, she beckoned to Belinda to follow her—"Come in; what is it you are afraid of?" said she. Belinda went on, and the moment she was in the room, Lady Delacour shut and locked the door. The room was rather dark, as there was no light in it except what came from the candle which Lady Delacour held in her hand, and which burned but dimly. Belinda, as she looked round, saw nothing but a confusion of linen rags; vials, some empty, some full, and she perceived that there was a strong smell of medicines.
Lady Delacour, whose motions were all precipitate, like those of a person whose mind is in great agitation, looked from side to side of the room, without seeming to know what she was in search of. She then, with a species of fury, wiped the paint from her face, and returning to Belinda, held the candle so as to throw the light full upon her livid features. Her eyes were sunk, her cheeks hollow; no trace of youth or beauty remained on her death-like countenance, which formed a horrid contrast with her gay fantastic dress.
"You are shocked, Belinda," said she; "but as yet you have seen nothing—look here,"—and baring one half of her bosom, she revealed a hideous spectacle.
Belinda sunk back into a chair; Lady Delacour flung herself on her knees before her.
"Am I humbled, am I wretched enough?" cried she, her voice trembling with agony. "Yes, pity me for what you have seen, and a thousand times more for that which you cannot see:—my mind is eaten away like my body by incurable disease—inveterate remorse—remorse for a life of folly—of folly which has brought on me all the punishments of guilt."
"My husband," continued she, and her voice suddenly altered from the tone of grief to that of anger—"my husband hates me—no matter—I despise him. His relations hate me—no matter—I despise them. My own relations hate me—no matter, I never wish to see them more—never shall they see my sorrow—never shall they hear a complaint, a sigh from me. There is no torture which I could not more easily endure than their insulting pity. I will die, as I have lived, the envy and admiration of the world. When I am gone, let them find out their mistake; and moralize, if they will, over my grave." She paused. Belinda had no power to speak.
"Promise, swear to me," resumed Lady Delacour vehemently, seizing Belinda's hand, "that you will never reveal to any mortal what you have seen and heard this night. No living creature suspects that Lady Delacour is dying by inches, except Marriott and that woman whom but a few hours ago I thought my real friend, to whom I trusted every secret of my life, every thought of my heart. Fool! idiot! dupe that I was to trust to the friendship of a woman whom I knew to be without principle: but I thought she had honour; I thought she could never betray me,—O Harriot! Harriot! you to desert me!—Any thing else I could have borne—but you, who I thought would have supported me in the tortures of mind and body which I am to go through—you that I thought would receive my last breath —you to desert me!—Now I am alone in the world—left to the mercy of an insolent waiting-woman."
Lady Delacour hid her face in Belinda's lap, and almost stifled by the violence of contending emotions, she at last gave vent to them, and sobbed aloud.
"Trust to one," said Belinda, pressing her hand, with all the tenderness which humanity could dictate, "who will never leave you at the mercy of an insolent waiting-woman—trust to me."
"Trust to you!" said Lady Delacour, looking up eagerly in Belinda's face; "yes—I think—I may trust to you; for though a niece of Mrs. Stanhope's, I have seen this day, and have seen with surprise, symptoms of artless feeling about you. This was what tempted me to open my mind to you when I found that I had lost the only friend—but I will think no more of that—if you have a heart, you must feel for me.—Leave me now—tomorrow you shall hear my whole history—now I am quite exhausted—ring for Marriott." Marriott appeared with a face of constrained civility and latent rage. "Put me to bed, Marriott," said Lady Delacour, with a subdued voice; "but first light Miss Portman to her room—she need not—yet—see the horrid business of my toilette."
Belinda, when she was left alone, immediately opened her shutters, and threw up the sash, to refresh herself with the morning air. She felt excessively fatigued, and in the hurry of her mind she could not think of any thing distinctly. She took off her masquerade dress, and went to bed in hopes of forgetting, for a few hours, what she felt indelibly impressed upon her imagination. But it was in vain that she endeavoured to compose herself to sleep; her ideas were in too great and painful confusion. For some time, whenever she closed her eyes, the face and form of Lady Delacour, such as she had just beheld them, seemed to haunt her; afterwards, the idea of Clarence Hervey, and the painful recollection of the conversation she had overheard, recurred to her: the words, "Do you think I don't know that Belinda Portman is a composition of art and affectation?" fixed in her memory. She recollected with the utmost minuteness every look of contempt which she had seen in the faces of the young men whilst they spoke of Mrs. Stanhope, the match-maker. Belinda's mind, however, was not yet sufficiently calm to reflect; she seemed only to live over again the preceding night. At last, the strange motley figures which she had seen at the masquerade flitted before her eyes, and she sunk into an uneasy slumber.
LADY DELACOUR'S HISTORY.
Miss Portman was awakened by the ringing of Lady Delacour's bedchamber bell. She opened her eyes with the confused idea that something disagreeable had happened; and before she had distinctly recollected herself, Marriott came to her bedside, with a note from Lady Delacour: it was written with a pencil.
"DELACOUR—my lord!!!! is to have to-day what Garrick used to call a gander feast—will you dine with me tete-a-tete, and I'll write an excuse, alias a lie, to Lady Singleton, in the form of a charming note—I pique myself sur l'eloquence du billet—then we shall have the evening to ourselves. I have much to say, as people usually have when they begin to talk of themselves.
"I have taken a double dose of opium, and am not so horribly out of spirits as I was last night; so you need not be afraid of another scene.
"Let me see you in my dressing-room, dear Belinda, as soon as you have adored
'With head uncover'd the cosmetic powers.'
"But you don't paint—no matter—you will—you must—every body must, sooner or later. In the mean time, whenever you want to send a note that shall not be opened by the bearer, put your trust neither in wafer nor wax, but twist it as I twist mine. You see I wish to put you in possession of some valuable secrets before I leave this world—this, by-the-bye, I don't, upon second thoughts, which are always best, mean to do yet. There certainly were such people as Amazons—I hope you admire them—for who could live without the admiration of Belinda Portman?—not Clarence Hervey assuredly—nor yet
"T. C. H. DELACOUR."
Belinda obeyed the summons to her ladyship's dressing-room: she found Lady Delacour with her face completely repaired with paint, and her spirits with opium. She was in high consultation with Marriott and Mrs. Franks, the milliner, about the crape petticoat of her birthnight dress, which was extended over a large hoop in full state. Mrs. Franks descanted long and learnedly upon festoons and loops, knots and fringes, submitting all the time every thing to her ladyship's better judgment.
Marriott was sulky and silent. She opened her lips but once upon the question of laburnum or no laburnum flowers.
Against them she quoted the memoirs and authority of the celebrated Mrs. Bellamy, who has a case in point to prove that "straw colour must ever look like dirty white by candlelight." Mrs. Franks, to compromise the matter, proposed gold laburnums, "because nothing can look better by candlelight, or any light, than gold;" and Lady Delacour, who was afraid that the milliner's imagination, now that it had once touched upon gold, might be led to the vulgar idea of ready money, suddenly broke up the conference, by exclaiming,
"We shall be late at Phillips's exhibition of French china. Mrs. Franks must let us see her again to-morrow, to take into consideration your court dress, my dear Belinda—'Miss Portman presented by Lady Delacour'—Mrs. Franks, let her dress, for heaven's sake, be something that will make a fine paragraph:—I give you four-and-twenty hours to think of it. I have done a horrid act this day," continued she, after Mrs. Franks had left the room—"absolutely written a twisted note to Clarence Hervey, my dear—but why did I tell you that? Now your head will run upon the twisted note all day, instead of upon 'The Life and Opinions of a Lady of Quality, related by herself.'"
After dinner Lady Delacour having made Belinda protest and blush, and blush and protest, that her head was not running upon the twisted note, began the history of her life and opinions in the following manner:—
"I do nothing by halves, my dear. I shall not tell you my adventures as Gil Blas told his to the Count d'Olivarez—skipping over the useful passages. I am no hypocrite, and have nothing worse than folly to conceal: that's bad enough—for a woman who is known to play the fool is always suspected of playing the devil. But I begin where I ought to end—with my moral, which I dare say you are not impatient to anticipate. I never read or listened to a moral at the end of a story in my life:—manners for me, and morals for those that like them. My dear, you will be woefully disappointed if in my story you expect any thing like a novel. I once heard a general say, that nothing was less like a review than a battle; and I can tell you that nothing is more unlike a novel than real life. Of all lives, mine has been the least romantic. No love in it, but a great deal of hate. I was a rich heiress—I had, I believe, a hundred thousand pounds, or more, and twice as many caprices: I was handsome and witty—or, to speak with that kind of circumlocution which is called humility, the world, the partial world, thought me a beauty and a bel-esprit. Having told you my fortune, need I add, that I, or it, had lovers in abundance—of all sorts and degrees—not to reckon those, it may be presumed, who died of concealed passions for me? I had sixteen declarations and proposals in form; then what in the name of wonder, or of common sense—which by-the-bye is the greatest of wonders—what, in the name of common sense, made me marry Lord Delacour? Why, my dear, you—no, not you, but any girl who is not used to have a parcel of admirers, would think it the easiest thing in the world to make her choice; but let her judge by what she feels when a dexterous mercer or linen-draper produces pretty thing after pretty thing—and this is so becoming, and this will wear for ever, as he swears; but then that's so fashionable;—the novice stands in a charming perplexity, and after examining, and doubting, and tossing over half the goods in the shop, it's ten to one, when it begins to get late, the young lady, in a hurry, pitches upon the very ugliest and worst thing that she has seen. Just so it was with me and my lovers, and just so—
'Sad was the hour, and luckless was the day,'
I pitched upon Viscount Delacour for my lord and judge. He had just at that time lost at Newmarket more than he was worth in every sense of the word; and my fortune was the most convenient thing in the world to a man in his condition. Lozenges are of sovereign use in some complaints. The heiress lozenge is a specific in some consumptions. You are surprised that I can laugh and jest about such a melancholy thing as my marriage with Lord Delacour; and so am I, especially when I recollect all the circumstances; for though I bragged of there being no love in my history, there was when I was a goose or a gosling of about eighteen— just your age, Belinda, I think—something very like love playing about my heart, or my head. There was a certain Henry Percival, a Clarence Hervey of a man—no, he had ten times the sense, begging your pardon, of Clarence Hervey—his misfortune, or mine, was, that he had too much sense —he was in love with me, but not with my faults; now I, wisely considering that my faults were the greatest part of me, insisted upon his being in love with my faults. He wouldn't, or couldn't—I said wouldn't, he said couldn't. I had been used to see the men about me lick the dust at my feet, for it was gold dust. Percival made wry faces—Lord Delacour made none. I pointed him out to Percival as an example—it was an example he would not follow. I was provoked, and I married in hopes of provoking the man I loved. The worst of it was, I did not provoke him as much as I expected. Six months afterwards I heard of his marriage with a very amiable woman. I hate those very amiable women. Poor Percival! I should have been a very happy woman, I fancy, if I had married you—for I believe you were the only man who ever really loved me; but all that is over now!—Where were we? O, I married my Lord Delacour, knowing him to be a fool, and believing that, for this reason, I should find no trouble in governing him. But what a fatal mistake!-a fool, of all animals in the creation, is the most difficult to govern. We set out in the fashionable world with a mutual desire to be as extravagant as possible. Strange, that with this similarity of taste we could never agree!—strange, that this similarity of taste was the cause of our perpetual quarrels! During the first year of our marriage, I had always the upper hand in these disputes, and the last word; and I was content. Stubborn as the brute was, I thought I should in time break him in. From the specimens you have seen, you may guess that I was even then a tolerable proficient in the dear art of tormenting. I had almost gained my point, just broken my lord's heart, when one fair morning I unluckily told his man Champfort that he knew no more how to cut hair than a sheep-shearer. Champfort, who is conceit personified, took mortal offence at this; and the devil, who is always at hand to turn anger into malice, put it into Champfort's head to put it into my lord's head, that the world thought—'My lady governed him.' My lord took fire. They say the torpedo, the coldest of cold creatures, sometimes gives out a spark—I suppose when electrified with anger. The next time that innocent I insisted upon my Lord Delacour's doing or not doing—I forget which—the most reasonable thing in the world, my lord turns short round, and answers—'My Lady Delacour, I am not a man to be governed by a wife.'—And from that time to this the words, 'I am not a man to be governed by a wife,' have been written in his obstinate face, as all the world who can read the human countenance may see. My dear, I laugh; but even in the midst of laughter there is sadness. But you don't know what it is—I hope you never may—to have an obstinate fool for a bosom friend.
"I at first flattered myself that my lord's was not an inveterate, incurable malady: but from his obvious weakness, I might have seen that there was no hope; for cases of obstinacy are always dangerous in proportion to the weakness of the patient. My lord's case was desperate. Kill or cure was my humane or prudent maxim. I determined to try the poison of jealousy, by way of an alterative. I had long kept it in petto as my ultimate remedy. I fixed upon a proper subject—a man with whom I thought that I could coquette to all eternity, without any danger to myself—a certain Colonel Lawless, as empty a coxcomb as you would wish to see. The world, said I to myself, can never be so absurd as to suspect Lady Delacour with such a man as this, though her lord may, and will; for nothing is too absurd for him to believe. Half my theory proved just; that is saying a great deal for any theory. My lord swallowed the remedy that I had prepared for him with an avidity and a bonhommie which it did me good to behold; my remedy operated beyond my most sanguine expectations. The poor man was cured of his obstinacy, and became stark mad with jealousy. Then indeed I had some hopes of him; for a madman can be managed, a fool cannot. In a month's time I made him quite docile. With a face longer than the weeping philosopher's, he came to me one morning, and assured me, 'he would do every thing I pleased, provided I would consult my own honour and his, and give up Colonel Lawless.'
"'Give up!'—I could hardly forbear laughing at the expression. I replied, 'that as long as my lord treated me with becoming respect, I had never in thought or deed given him just cause of complaint; but that I was not a woman to be insulted, or to be kept, as I had hitherto been, in leading-strings by a husband.' My lord, flattered as I meant he should be with the idea that it was possible he should be suspected of keeping a wife in leading-strings, fell to making protestations—'He hoped his future conduct would prove,' &c. Upon this hint, I gave the reins to my imagination, and full drive I went into a fresh career of extravagance: if I were checked, it was an insult, and I began directly to talk of leading-strings. This ridiculous game I played successfully enough for some time, till at length, though naturally rather slow at calculation, he actually discovered, that if we lived at the rate of twenty thousand a-year, and had only ten thousand a-year to spend, we should in due time have nothing left. This notable discovery he communicated to me one morning, after a long preamble. When he had finished prosing, I agreed that it was demonstrably just that he should retrench his expenses; but that it was equally unjust and impossible that I could make any reformation in my civil list: that economy was a word which I had never heard of in my life till I married his lordship; that, upon second recollection, it was true I had heard of such a thing as national economy, and that it would be a very pretty, though rather hackneyed topic of declamation for a maiden speech in the House of Lords. I therefore advised him to reserve all he had to say upon the subject for the noble lord upon the woolsack; nay, I very graciously added, that upon this condition I would go to the house myself to give his arguments and eloquence a fair hearing, and that I would do my best to keep myself awake. This was all mighty playful and witty; but it happened that my Lord Delacour, who never had any great taste for wit, could not this unlucky morning at all relish it. Of course I grew angry, and reminded him, with an indelicacy which his want of generosity justified, that an heiress, who had brought a hundred thousand pounds into his family, had some right to amuse herself, and that it was not my fault if elegant amusements were more expensive than others.
"Then came a long criminating and recriminating chapter. It was, 'My lord, your Newmarket blunders'—'My lady, your cursed theatricals'—'My lord, I have surely a right'—and, 'My lady, I have surely as good a right.'
"But, my dear Belinda, however we might pay one another, we could not pay all the world with words. In short, after running through thousands and tens of thousands, we were actually in distress for money. Then came selling of lands, and I don't know what devices for raising money, according to the modes of lawyers and attorneys. It was quite indifferent to me how they got money, provided they did get it. By what art these gentlemen raised money, I never troubled myself to inquire; it might have been the black art, for any thing I know to the contrary. I know nothing of business. So I signed all the papers they brought to me; and I was mighty well pleased to find, that by so easy an expedient as writing 'T. C. H. Delacour,' I could command money at will. I signed, and signed, till at last I was with all due civility informed that my signature was no longer worth a farthing; and when I came to inquire into the cause of this phenomenon, I could nowise understand what my Lord Delacour's lawyer said to me: he was a prig, and I had not patience either to listen to him or to look at him. I sent for an old uncle of mine, who used to manage all my money matters before I was married: I put the uncle and the lawyer into a room, together with their parchments, to fight the matter out, or to come to a right understanding if they could. The last, it seems, was quite impossible. In the course of half an hour, out comes my uncle in such a rage! I never shall forget his face—all the bile in his body had gotten into it; he had literally no whites to his eyes. 'My dear uncle,' said I, 'what is the matter? Why, you are absolutely gold stick in waiting.'
"'No matter what I am, child,' said the uncle; 'I'll tell you what you are, with all your wit—a dupe: 'tis a shame for a woman of your sense to be such a fool, and to know nothing of business; and if you knew nothing yourself, could not you send for me?'
"'I was too ignorant to know that I know nothing,' said I. But I will not trouble you with all the said I's and said he's. I was made to understand, that if Lord Delacour were to die the next day, I should live a beggar. Upon this I grew serious, as you may imagine. My uncle assured me that I had been grossly imposed upon by my lord and his lawyer; and that I had been swindled out of my senses, and out of my dower. I repeated all that my uncle said, very faithfully, to Lord Delacour; and all that either he or his lawyer could furnish out by way of answer was, that 'Necessity had no law.' Necessity, it must be allowed, though it might be the mother of law, was never with my lord the mother of invention. Having now found out that I had a good right to complain, I indulged myself in it most gloriously; in short, my dear, we had a comfortable family quarrel. Love quarrels are easily made up, but of money quarrels there is no end. From the moment these money quarrels commenced, I began to hate Lord Delacour; before, I had only despised him. You can have no notion to what meanness extravagance reduces men. I have known Lord Delacour shirk, and look so shabby, and tell so many lies to people about a hundred guineas—a hundred guineas!—what do I say?—about twenty, ten, five! O, my dear, I cannot bear the thoughts of it!
"But I was going on to tell you, that my good uncle and all my relations quarrelled with me for having ruined myself, as they said; but I said they quarrelled with me for fear I should ask them for some of their 'vile trash.' Accordingly, I abused and ridiculed them, one and all; and for my pains, all my acquaintance said, that 'Lady Delacour was a woman of a vast deal of spirit.'
"We were relieved from our money embarrassments by the timely death of a rich nobleman, to whose large estate my Lord Delacour was heir-at-law. I was intoxicated with the idle compliments of all my acquaintance, and I endeavoured to console myself for misery at home by gaiety abroad. Ambitious of pleasing universally, I became the worst of slaves—-a slave to the world. Not a moment of my time was at my own disposal—not one of my actions; I may say, not one of my thoughts was my own; I was obliged to find things 'charming' every hour, which tired me to death; and every day it was the same dull round of hypocrisy and dissipation. You wonder to hear me speak in this manner, Belinda—but one must speak the truth sometimes; and this is what I have been saying to Harriot Freke continually, for these ten years past. Then why persist in the same kind of life? you say. Why, my dear, because I could not stop: I was fit for this kind of life and for no other: I could not be happy at home; for what sort of a companion could I have made of Lord Delacour? By this time he was tired of his horse Potatoe, and his horse Highflyer, and his horse Eclipse, and Goliah, and Jenny Grey, &c.; and he had taken to hard drinking, which soon turned him, as you see, quite into a beast.
"I forgot to tell you that I had three children during the first five years of my marriage. The first was a boy: he was born dead; and my lord, and all his odious relations, laid the blame upon me, because I would not be kept prisoner half a year by an old mother of his, a vile Cassandra, who was always prophesying that my child would not be born alive. My second child was a girl; but a poor diminutive, sickly thing. It was the fashion at this time for fine mothers to suckle their own children: so much the worse for the poor brats. Fine nurses never made fine children. There was a prodigious rout made about the matter; a vast deal of sentiment and sympathy, and compliments and inquiries; but after the novelty was over, I became heartily sick of the business; and at the end of about three months my poor child was sick too—I don't much like to think of it—it died. If I had put it out to nurse, I should have been thought by my friends an unnatural mother; but I should have saved its life. I should have bewailed the loss of the infant more, if Lord Delacour's relations and my own had not made such lamentations upon the occasion that I was stunned. I couldn't or wouldn't shed a tear; and I left it to the old dowager to perform in public, as she wished, the part of chief mourner, and to comfort herself in private by lifting up her hands and eyes, and railing at me as the most insensible of mothers. All this time I suffered more than she did; but that is what she shall never have the satisfaction of knowing. I determined, that if ever I had another child, I would not have the barbarity to nurse it myself. Accordingly when my third child, a girl, was born, I sent it off immediately to the country, to a stout, healthy, broad-faced nurse, under whose care it grew and flourished; so that at three years old, when it was brought back to me, I could scarcely believe the chubby little thing was my own child. The same reasons which convinced me I ought not to nurse my own child, determined me, a plus forte raison, not to undertake its education. Lord Delacour could not bear the child, because it was not a boy. The girl was put under the care of a governess, who plagued my heart out with her airs and tracasseries for three or four years; at the end of which time, as she turned out to be Lord Delacour's mistress in form, I was obliged—in form—to beg she would leave my house: and I put her pupil into better hands, I hope, at a celebrated academy for young ladies. There she will, at any rate, be better instructed than she could be at home. I beg your pardon, my dear, for this digression on nursing and schooling; but I wanted only to explain to you why it was that, when I was weary of the business, I still went on in a course of dissipation. You see I had nothing at home, either in the shape of husband or children, to engage my affections. I believe it was this 'aching void' in my heart which made me, after looking abroad some time for a bosom friend, take such a prodigious fancy to Mrs. Freke. She was just then coming into fashion; she struck me, the first time I met her, as being downright ugly; but there was a wild oddity in her countenance which made one stare at her, and she was delighted to be stared at, especially by me; so we were mutually agreeable to each other—I as starer, and she as staree. Harriot Freke had, without comparison, more assurance than any man or woman I ever saw; she was downright brass, but of the finest kind—Corinthian brass. She was one of the first who brought what I call harum scarum manners into fashion. I told you that she had assurance—impudence I should have called it, for no other word is strong enough. Such things as I have heard Harriot Freke say!—-You will not believe it—but her conversation at first absolutely made me, like an old-fashioned fool, wish I had a fan to play with. But, to my astonishment, all this took surprisingly with a set of fashionable young men. I found it necessary to reform my manners. If I had not taken heart of grace, and publicly abjured the heresies of false delicacy, I should have been excommunicated. Lady Delacour's sprightly elegance—allow me to speak of myself in the style in which the newspaper writers talk of me—Lady Delacour's sprightly elegance was but pale, not to say faded pink, compared with the scarlet of Mrs. Freke's dashing audacity. As my rival, she would on certain ground have beat me hollow; it was therefore good policy to make her my friend: we joined forces, and nothing could stand against us. But I have no right to give myself credit for good policy in forming this intimacy; I really followed the dictates of my heart or my imagination. There was a frankness in Harriot's manner which I mistook for artlessness of character: she spoke with such unbounded freedom on certain subjects, that I gave her credit for unbounded sincerity on all subjects: she had the talent of making the world believe that virtue to be invulnerable by nature which disdained the common outworks of art for its defence. I, amongst others, took it for granted, that the woman who could make it her sport to 'touch the brink of all we hate,' must have a stronger head than other people. I have since been convinced, however, of my mistake. I am persuaded that few can touch the brink without tumbling headlong down the precipice. Don't apply this, my dear, literally, to the person of whom we were speaking; I am not base enough to betray her secrets, however I may have been provoked by her treachery. Of her character and history you shall hear nothing but what is necessary for my own justification. The league of amity between us was scarcely ratified before my Lord Delacour came, with his wise remonstrating face, to beg me 'to consider what was due to my own honour and his.' Like the cosmogony-man in the Vicar of Wakefield, he came out over and over with this cant phrase, which had once stood him in stead. 'Do you think, my lord,' said I, 'that because I gave up poor Lawless to oblige you, I shall give up all common sense to suit myself to your taste? Harriot Freke is visited by every body but old dowagers and old maids: I am neither an old dowager nor an old maid—the consequence is obvious, my lord.' Pertness in dialogue, my dear, often succeeds better with my lord than wit: I therefore saved the sterling gold, and bestowed upon him nothing but counters. I tell you this to save the credit of my taste and judgment.
"But to return to my friendship for Harriot Freke. I, of course, repeated to her every word which had passed between my husband and me. She out-heroded Herod upon the occasion; and laughed so much at what she called my folly in pleading guilty in the Lawless cause, that I was downright ashamed of myself, and, purely to prove my innocence, I determined, upon the first convenient opportunity, to renew my intimacy with the colonel. The opportunity which I so ardently desired of redeeming my independence was not long wanting. Lawless, as my stars (which you know are always more in fault than ourselves) would have it, returned just at this time from the continent, where he had been with his regiment; he returned with a wound across his forehead and a black fillet, which made him look something more like a hero, and ten times more like a coxcomb, than ever. He was in fashion, at all events; and amongst other ladies, Mrs. Luttridge, odious Mrs. Luttridge! smiled upon him. The colonel, however, had taste enough to know the difference between smile and smile: he laid himself and his laurels at my feet, and I carried him and them about in triumph. Wherever I went, especially to Mrs. Luttridge's, envy and scandal joined hands to attack me, and I heard wondering and whispering wherever I went. I had no object in view but to provoke my husband; therefore, conscious of the purity of my intentions, it was my delight to brave the opinion of the wondering world. I gave myself no concern about the effect my coquetry might have upon the object of this flirtation. Poor Lawless! Heart, I took it for granted, he had none; how should a coxcomb come by a heart? Vanity I knew he had in abundance, but this gave me no alarm, as I thought that if it should ever make him forget him self, I mean forget what was due to me, I could, by one flash of my wit, strike him to the earth, or blast him for ever. One night we had been together at Mrs. Luttridge's;—she, amongst other good things, kept a faro bank, and, I am convinced, cheated. Be that as it may, I lost an immensity of money, and it was my pride to lose with as much gaiety as any body else could win; so I was, or appeared to be, in uncommonly high spirits, and Lawless had his share of my good humour. We left Mrs. Luttridge's together early, about half-past one. As the colonel was going to hand me to my carriage, a smart-looking young man, as I thought, came up close to the coach door, and stared me full in the face: I was not a woman to be disconcerted at such a thing as this, but I really was startled when the young fellow jumped into the carriage after me: I thought he was mad: I had only courage enough to scream. Lawless seized hold of the intruder to drag him out, and out he dragged the youth, exclaiming, in a high tone, 'What is the meaning of all this, sir? Who the devil are you? My name's Lawless: who the devil are you?' The answer to this was a convulsion of laughter. By the laugh I knew it to be Harriot Freke. 'Who am I? only a Freke!' cried she: 'shake hands.' I gave her my hand, into the carriage she sprang, and desired the colonel to follow her: Lawless laughed, we all laughed, and drove away. 'Where do you think I've been?' said Harriot; 'in the gallery of the House of Commons; almost squeezed to death these four hours; but I swore I'd hear Sheridan's speech to-night, and I did; betted fifty guineas I would with Mrs. Luttridge, and have won. Fun and Freke for ever, huzza!' Harriot was mad with spirits, and so noisy and unmanageable, that, as I told her, I was sure she was drunk. Lawless, in his silly way, laughed incessantly, and I was so taken up with her oddities, that, for some time, I did not perceive we were going the Lord knows where; till, at last, when the 'larum of Harriot's voice ceased for an instant, I was struck with the strange sound of the carriage. 'Where are we? not upon the stones, I'm sure,' said I; and putting my head out of the window, I saw we were beyond the turnpike. 'The coachman's drunk as well as you, Harriot,' said I; and I was going to pull the string to stop him, but Harriot had hold of it. 'The man is going very right,' said she; 'I've told him where to go. Now don't fancy that Lawless and I are going to run away with you. All this is unnecessary now-a-days, thank God!' To this I agreed, and laughed for fear of being ridiculous. 'Guess where you are going,' said Harriot, I guessed and guessed, but could not guess right; and my merry companions were infinitely diverted with my perplexity and impatience, more especially as, I believe, in spite of all my efforts, I grew rather graver than usual. We went on to the end of Sloane-street, and quite out of town; at last we stopped. It was dark; the footman's flambeau was out; I could only just see by the lamps that we were at the door of a lone, odd-looking house. The house door opened, and an old woman appeared with a lantern in her hand.
"'Where is this farce, or freak, or whatever you call it, to end?' said I, as Harriot pulled me into the dark passage along with her.
"Alas! my dear Belinda," said Lady Delacour, pausing, "I little foresaw where or how it was to end. But I am not come yet to the tragical part of my story, and as long as I can laugh I will. As the old woman and her miserable light went on before us, I could almost have thought of Sir Bertrand, or of some German horrifications; but I heard Lawless, who never could help laughing at the wrong time, bursting behind me, with a sense of his own superiority.
"'Now you will learn your destiny, Lady Delacour!' said Harriot, in a solemn tone.
"'Yes! from the celebrated Mrs. W——, the modern dealer in art magic,' said I, laughing, 'for, now I guess whereabouts I am. Colonel Lawless's laugh broke the spell. Harriot Freke, never whilst you live expect to succeed in the sublime.' Harriot swore at the colonel for the veriest spoil-sport she had ever seen, and she whispered to me—'The reason he laughs is because he is afraid of our suspecting the truth of him, that he believes tout de bon in conjuration, and the devil, and all that.' The old woman, whose cue I found was to be dumb, opened a door at the top of a narrow staircase, and pointing to a tall figure, completely enveloped in fur, left us to our fate. I will not trouble you with a pompous description of all the mummery of the scene, my dear, as I despair of being able to frighten you out of your wits. I should have been downright angry with Harriot Freke for bringing me to such a place, but that I knew women of the first fashion had been with Mrs. W—— before us—some in sober sadness, some by way of frolic. So as there was no fear of being ridiculous, there was no shame, you know, and my conscience was quite at ease. Harriot had no conscience, so she was always at ease; and never more so than in male attire, which she had been told became her particularly. She supported the character of a young rake with such spirit and truth, that I am sure no common conjuror could have discovered any thing feminine about her. She rattled on with a set of nonsensical questions; and among other things she asked, 'How soon will Lady Delacour marry again after her lord's death?'
"'She will never marry after her lord's death,' answered the oracle. 'Then she will marry during his lifetime,' said Harriot. 'True,' answered the oracle. Colonel Lawless laughed; I was angry; and the colonel would have been quiet, for he was a gentleman, but there was no such thing as managing Mrs. Freke, who, though she had laid aside the modesty of her own sex, had not acquired the decency of the other. 'Who is to be Lady Delacour's second husband?' cried she; 'you'll not offend any of the present company by naming the man.' 'Her second husband I cannot name,' replied the oracle, 'but let her beware of a Lawless lover.' Mrs. Freke and Colonel Lawless, encouraged by her, triumphed over me without mercy—I may say, without shame! Well, my dear, I am in a hurry to have done with all this: though I 'doted upon folly,' yet I was terrified at the thoughts of any thing worse. The idea of a divorce, the public brand of a shameful life, shocked me in spite of all my real and all my assumed levity. O that I had, at this instant, dared to be myself! But my fear of ridicule was greater than my fear of vice. 'Bless me, my dear Lady Delacour,' whispered Harriot, as we left this house, 'what can make you in such a desperate hurry to get home? You gape and fidget: one would think you had never sat up a night before in your life. I verily believe you are afraid to trust yourself with us. Which of us are you afraid of, Lawless, or me, or yourself?' There was a tone of contempt in the last words which piqued me to the quick; and however strange it may seem, I was now anxious only to convince Harriot that I was not afraid of myself. False shame made me act as if I had no shame. You would not suspect me of knowing any thing of false shame, but depend upon it, my dear, many, who appear to have as much assurance as I have, are secretly its slaves. I moralize, because I am come to a part of my story which I should almost be glad to omit; but I promised you that there should be no sins of omission. It was light, but not broad daylight, when we got to Knightsbridge. Lawless, encouraged (for I cannot deny it) by the levity of my manner, as well as of Harriot's, was in higher and more familiar spirits than I ever saw him. Mrs. Freke desired me to set her down at her sister's, who lived in Grosvenor-place: I did so, and I beg you to believe that I was in an agony, to get rid of my colonel at the same time; but you know I could not, before Harriot Freke, absolutely say to him, 'Get out!' Indeed, to tell things as they were, it was scarcely possible to guess by my manner that I was under any anxiety, I acted my part so well, or so ill. As Harriot Freke jumped out of the coach, a cock crowed in the area of her sister's house: 'There!' cried Harriot, 'do you hear the cock crow, Lady Delacour? Now it's to be hoped your fear of goblins is over, else I would not be so cruel as to leave the pretty dear all alone.' 'All alone!' answered I: 'your friend the colonel Is much obliged to you for making nobody of him.' 'My friend the colonel,' whispered Harriot, leaning with her bold masculine arms on the coach door—'my friend the colonel is much obliged to me, I'm sure, for remembering what the cunning or the knowing woman told us just now: so when I said I left you alone, I was not guilty of a bull, was I?' I had the grace to be heartily ashamed of this speech, and called out, in utter confusion, 'To Berkley-square. But where shall I set you down, colonel? Harriot, good morning: don't forget you are in man's clothes.' I did not dare to repeat the question of 'where shall I set you down, colonel?' at this instant, because Harriot gave me such an arch, sneering look, as much as to say, 'Still afraid of yourself!' We drove on: I'm persuaded that the confusion which, in spite of all my efforts, broke through my affected levity, encouraged Lawless, who was naturally a coxcomb and a fool, to believe that I was actually his, else he never could have been so insolent. In short, my dear, before we had got through the turnpike gate, I was downright obliged to say to him, 'Get out!' which I did with a degree of indignation that quite astonished him. He muttered something about ladies knowing their minds; and I own, though I went off with flying colours, I secretly blamed myself as much as I did him, and I blamed Harriot more than I did either. I sent for her the next day, as soon as I could, to consult her. She expressed such astonishment, and so much concern at this catastrophe of our night's frolic, and blamed herself with so many oaths, and execrated Lawless for a coxcomb, so much to the ease and satisfaction of my conscience, that I was confirmed in my good opinion of her, and indeed felt for her the most lively affection and esteem; for observe, with me esteem ever followed affection, instead of affection following esteem. Woe be to all who in morals preposterously put the cart before the horse! But to proceed with my history: all fashionable historians stop to make reflections, supposing that no one else can have the sense to make any. My esteemed friend agreed with me that it would be best for all parties concerned to hush up this business; that as Lawless was going out of town in a few days, to be elected for a borough, we should get rid of him in the best way possible, without 'more last words;' that he had been punished sufficiently on the spot, and that to punish twice for the same offence, once in private and once in public, would be contrary to the laws of Englishmen and Englishwomen, and in my case would be contrary to the evident dictates of prudence, because I could not complain without calling upon Lord Delacour to call Lawless out; this I could not do without acknowledging that his lordship had been in the right, in warning me about his honour and my own, which old phrase I dreaded to hear for the ninety-ninth time: besides, Lord Delacour was the last man in the world I should have chosen for my knight, though unluckily he was my lord; besides, all things considered, I thought the whole story might not tell so well in the world for me, tell it which way I would: we therefore agreed that it would be most expedient to hold our tongues. We took it for granted that Lawless would hold his, and as for my people, they knew nothing, I thought, or if they did, I was sure of them. How the thing got abroad I could not at the time conceive, though now I am well acquainted with the baseness and treachery of the woman I called my friend. The affair was known and talked of every where the next day, and the story was told especially at odious Mrs. Luttridge's, with such exaggerations as drove me almost mad. I was enraged, inconceivably enraged with Lawless, from whom I imagined the reports originated.