TALES AND NOVELS, VOL. V
MANOEUVRING; ALMERIA; AND VIVIAN. (TALES OF FASHIONABLE LIFE.)
IN TEN VOLUMES. WITH ENGRAVINGS ON STEEL.
"And gave her words, where oily Flatt'ry lays The pleasing colours of the art of praise."—PARNELL.
NOTE FROM MRS. BEAUMONT TO MISS WALSINGHAM.
"I am more grieved than I can express, my dearest Miss Walsingham, by a cruel contre-temps, which must prevent my indulging myself in the long-promised and long-expected pleasure of being at your fete de famille on Tuesday, to celebrate your dear father's birthday. I trust, however, to your conciliating goodness, my kind young friend, to represent my distress properly to Mr. Walsingham. Make him sensible, I conjure you, that my heart is with you all, and assure him that this is no common apology. Indeed, I never employ such artifices with my friends: to them, and to you in particular, my dear, I always speak with perfect frankness and candour. Amelia, with whom, entre nous, you are more a favourite than ever, is so much vexed and mortified by this disappointment, that I see I shall not be restored to favour till I can fix a day for going to you: yet when that may be, circumstances, which I should not feel myself quite justified in mentioning, will not permit me to decide.
"Kindest regards and affectionate remembrances to all your dear circle.—Any news of the young captain? Any hopes of his return from sea?
"Ever with perfect truth, my dearest Miss Walsingham's sincere friend,
"P.S.—Private—read to yourself.
"To be candid with you, my dear young friend, my secret reason for denying myself the pleasure of Tuesday's fete is, that I have just heard that there is a shocking chicken-pox in the village near you; and I confess it is one of my weaknesses to dread even the bare rumour of such a thing, on account of my Amelia: but I should not wish to have this mentioned in your house, because you must be sensible your father would think it an idle womanish fear; and you know how anxious I am for his esteem.
"Burn this, I beseech you——
"Upon second thoughts, I believe it will be best to tell the truth, and the whole truth, to your father, if you should see that nothing else will do——In short, I write in haste, and must trust now, as ever, entirely to your discretion."
"Well, my dear," said Mr. Walsingham to his daughter, as the young lady sat at the breakfast table looking over this note, "how long do you mean to sit the picture of The Delicate Embarrassment? To relieve you as far as in me lies, let me assure you that I shall not ask to see this note of Mrs. Beaumont's, which as usual seems to contain some mighty mystery."
"No great mystery; only——"
"Only—some minikin mystery?" said Mr. Walsingham. "Yes, 'Elle est politique pour des choux et des raves.'—This charming widow Beaumont is manoeuvrer. We can't well make an English word of it. The species, thank Heaven! is not so numerous yet in England as to require a generic name. The description, however, has been touched by one of our poets:
'Julia's a manager: she's born for rule, And knows her wiser husband is a fool. For her own breakfast she'll project a scheme, Nor take her tea without a stratagem.'
Even from the time when Mrs. Beaumont was a girl of sixteen I remember her manoeuvring to gain a husband, and then manoeuvring to manage him, which she did with triumphant address."
"What sort of a man was Colonel Beaumont?"
"An excellent man; an open-hearted soldier, of the strictest honour and integrity."
"Then is it not much in Mrs. Beaumont's favour, that she enjoyed the confidence of such a man, and that he left her guardian to his son and daughter?"
"If he had lived with her long enough to become acquainted with her real character, what you say, my dear, would be unanswerable. But Colonel Beaumont died a few years after his marriage, and during those few years he was chiefly with his regiment."
"You will, however, allow," said Miss Walsingham, "that since his death Mrs. Beaumont has justified his confidence.—Has she not been a good guardian, and an affectionate mother?"
"Why—as a guardian, I think she has allowed her son too much liberty, and too much money. I have heard that young Beaumont has lost a considerable sum at Newmarket, I grant you that Mrs. Beaumont is an affectionate mother, and I am convinced that she is extremely anxious to advance the worldly interests of her children; still I cannot, my dear, agree with you, that she is a good mother. In the whole course of the education of her son and daughter, she has pursued a system of artifice. Whatever she wanted them to learn, or to do, or to leave undone, some stratagem, sentimental or scenic, was employed; somebody was to hint to some other body to act upon Amelia to make her do so and so. Nothing—that is, nothing like truth, ever came directly from the mother: there were always whisperings and mysteries, and 'Don't say that before Amelia!' and 'I would not have this told to Edward,' because it might make him like something that she did not wish that he should like, and that she had her reasons for not letting him know that she did not wish him to like. There was always some truth to be concealed for some mighty good purpose; and things and persons were to be represented in false lights, to produce on some particular occasion some partial effect. All this succeeded admirably in detail, and for the management of helpless, ignorant, credulous childhood. But mark the consequences of this system: children grow up, and cannot always see, hear, and understand, just as their mothers please. They will go into the world; they will mix with others; their eyes will be opened; they will see through the whole system of artifice by which their childhood was so cleverly managed; and then, confidence in the parent must be destroyed for ever."
Miss Walsingham acknowledged the truth of what her father said; but she observed that this was a common error in education, which had the sanction of high authority in its favour; even the eloquent Rousseau, and the elegant and ingenious Madame de Genlis. "And it is certain," continued Miss Walsingham, "that Mrs. Beaumont has not made her children artful; both Amelia and Mr. Beaumont are remarkably open, sincere, honourable characters. Mr. Beaumont, indeed, carries his sincerity almost to a fault: he is too blunt, perhaps, in his manner;—and Amelia, though she is of such a timid, gentle temper, and so much afraid of giving pain, has always courage enough to speak the truth, even in circumstances where it is most difficult. So at least you must allow, my dear father, that Mrs. Beaumont has made her children sincere."
"I am sorry, my dear, to seem uncharitable; but I must observe, that sometimes the very faults of parents produce a tendency to opposite virtues in their children: for the children suffer by the consequences of these faults, and detecting, despise, and resolve to avoid them. As to Amelia and Mr. Beaumont, their acquaintance with our family has been no unfavourable circumstance in their education. They saw amongst us the advantages of sincerity: they became attached to you, and to my excellent ward Captain Walsingham; he obtained strong power over young Beaumont's mind, and used it to the best purposes. Your friendship for Amelia was, I think, equally advantageous to her: as you are nearly of the same age, you had opportunities of winning her confidence; and your stronger mind fortified hers, and inspired her timid character with the courage necessary to be sincere."
"Well," persisted Miss Walsingham, "though Mrs. Beaumont may have used a little finesse towards her children in trifles, yet in matters of consequence, I do think that she has no interest but theirs; and her affection for them will make her lay aside all art, when their happiness is at stake."
Mr. Walsingham shook his head.—"And do you then really believe, my dear Marianne, that Mrs. Beaumont would consider any thing, for instance, in the marriage of her son and daughter, but fortune, and what the world calls connexion and establishments?"
"Certainly I cannot think that these are Mrs. Beaumont's first objects; because we are people but of small fortune, and yet she prefers us to many of large estates and higher station."
"You should say, she professes to prefer us," replied Mr. Walsingham. "And do you really believe her to be sincere? Now, there is my ward, Captain Walsingham, for whom she pretends to have such a regard, do you think that Mrs. Beaumont wishes her daughter should marry him?"
"I do, indeed; but Mrs. Beaumont must speak cautiously on that subject; this is prudence, not dissimulation: for you know that my cousin Walsingham never declared his attachment to Miss Beaumont; on the contrary, he always took the most scrupulous pains to conceal it from her, because he had not fortune enough to marry, and he was too honourable to attempt, or even to wish, to engage the affections of one to whom he had no prospect of being united."
"He is a noble fellow!" exclaimed Mr. Walsingham. "There is no sacrifice of pleasure or interest he would hesitate to make to his duty. For his friends there is no exertion, no endurance, no forbearance, of which he has not shown himself capable. For his country——All I ask from Heaven for him is, opportunity to serve his country. Whether circumstances, whether success, will ever prove his merits to the world, I cannot foretell; but I shall always glory in him as my ward, my relation, my friend."
"Mrs. Beaumont speaks of him just as you do," said Miss Walsingham.
"Speaks, but not thinks," said Mr. Walsingham. "No, no! Captain Walsingham is not the man she desires for a son-in-law. She wants to marry Amelia to Sir John Hunter."
"To Sir John Hunter!"
"Yes, to Sir John Hunter, a being without literature, without morals, without even youth, to plead in his favour. He is nearly forty years old, old enough to be Amelia's father; yet this is the man whom Mrs. Beaumont prefers for the husband of her beloved daughter, because he is heir presumptive to a great estate, and has the chance of a reversionary earldom.—And this is your modern good mother."
"Oh, no, no!" cried Miss Walsingham, "you do Mrs. Beaumont injustice; I assure you she despises Sir John Hunter as much as we do."
"Yet observe the court she has paid to the whole family of the Hunters."
"Yes, but that has been merely from regard to the late Lady Hunter, who was her particular friend."
"Particular friend! a vamped-up, sentimental conversation reason."
"But I assure you," persisted Miss Walsingham, "that I know Mrs. Beaumont's mind better than you do, father, at least on this subject."
"You! a girl of eighteen, pretend to know a manoeuvrer of her age!"
"Only let me tell you my reasons.—It was but last week that Mrs. Beaumont told me that she did not wish to encourage Sir John Hunter, and that she should be perfectly happy if she could see Amelia united to such a man as Captain Walsingham."
"Such a man as Captain Walsingham! nicely guarded expression!"
"But you have not heard all yet.—Mrs. Beaumont anxiously inquired from me whether he had made any prize-money, whether there was any chance of his returning soon; and she added, with particular emphasis, 'You don't know how much I wish it! You don't know what a favourite he is of mine!'"
"That last, I will lay any wager," cried Mr. Walsingham, "she said in a whisper, and in a corner."
"Yes, but she could not do otherwise, for Amelia was present. Mrs. Beaumont took me aside."
"Aside; ay, ay, but take care, I advise you, of her asides, and her whisperings, and her cornerings, and her inuendoes, and semiconfidences, lest your own happiness, my dear, unsuspecting, enthusiastic daughter, should be the sacrifice."
Miss Walsingham now stood perfectly silent, in embarrassed and breathless anxiety.
"I see," continued her father, "that Mrs. Beaumont, for whose mighty genius one intrigue at a time is not sufficient, wants also to persuade you, my dear, that she wishes to have you for a daughter-in-law: and yet all the time she is doing every thing she can to make her son marry that fool, Miss Hunter, merely because she has two hundred thousand pounds fortune."
"There I can assure you that you are mistaken," said Miss Walsingham; "Mrs. Beaumont dreads that her son should marry Miss Hunter. Mrs. Beaumont thinks her as silly as you do, and complained to me of her having no taste for literature, or for any thing, but dress, and trifling conversation."
"I wonder, then, that Mrs. Beaumont selects her continually for her companion."
"She thinks Miss Hunter the most insipid companion in the world; but I dare not tell you, lest you should laugh at me again, that it was for the sake of the late Lady Hunter that Mrs. Beaumont was so kind to the daughter; and now Miss Hunter is so fond of her, and so grateful, that, as Mrs. Beaumont says, it would be cruelty to shake her off."
"Mighty plausible! But the truth of all this, begging Mrs. Beaumont's pardon, I doubt; I will not call it a falsehood, but I may be permitted to call it a Beaumont. Time will show: and in the mean time, my dear daughter, be on your guard against Mrs. Beaumont's art, and against your own credulity. The momentary pain I give my friends by speaking the plain truth, I have always found overbalanced by the pleasure and advantage of mutual confidence. Our domestic happiness has arisen chiefly from our habits of openness and sincerity. Our whole souls are laid open; there is no management, no 'intrigue de cabinet, no 'esprit de la ligue.'"
Mr. Walsingham now left the room; and Miss Walsingham, absorbed in reflections more interesting to her than even the defence of Mrs. Beaumont, went out to walk. Her father's house was situated in a beautiful part of Devonshire, near the sea-shore, in the neighbourhood of Plymouth; and as Miss Walsingham was walking on the beach, she saw an old fisherman mooring his boat to the projecting stump of a tree. His figure was so picturesque, that she stopped to sketch it; and as she was drawing, a woman came from the cottage near the shore to ask the fisherman what luck he had had. "A fine turbot," says he, "and a john-doree."
"Then away with them this minute to Beaumont Park," said the woman; "for here's Madam Beaumont's man, Martin, called in a flustrum while you was away, to say madam must have the nicest of our fish, whatsomever it might be, and a john-doree, if it could be had for love or money, for Tuesday."—Here the woman, perceiving Miss Walsingham, dropped a curtsy. "Your humble servant, Miss Walsingham," said the woman.
"On Tuesday?" said Miss Walsingham: "are you sure that Mrs. Beaumont bespoke the fish for Tuesday?"
"Oh, sartin sure, miss; for Martin mentioned, moreover, what he had heard talk in the servants' hall, that there is to be a very pettiklar old gentleman, as rich! as rich! as rich can be! from foreign parts, and a great friend of the colonel that's dead; and he—that is, the old pettiklar gentleman—is to be down all the way from Lon'on to dine at the park on Tuesday for sartin: so, husband, away with the john-doree and the turbot, while they be fresh."
"But why," thought Miss Walsingham, "did not Mrs. Beaumont tell us the plain truth, if this is the truth?"
"Young Hermes next, a close contriving god, Her brows encircled with his serpent rod; Then plots and fair excuses fill her brain, And views of breaking am'rous vows for gain."
The information which Mrs. Beaumont's man, Martin, had learned from the servants' hall, and had communicated to the fisherman's wife, was more correct, and had been less amplified, embellished, misunderstood, or misrepresented, than is usually found to be the case with pieces of news which are so heard and so repeated. It was true that Mrs. Beaumont expected to see on Tuesday an old gentleman, a Mr. Palmer, who had been a friend of her husband's; he had lately returned from Jamaica, where he had made a large fortune. It is true, also, that this old gentleman was a little particular, but not precisely in the sense in which the fisherman's wife understood the phrase; he was not particularly fond of john-dorees and turbots, but he was particularly fond of making his fellow-creatures happy; particularly generous, particularly open and honest in his nature, abhorring all artifice himself, and unsuspicious of it in others. He was unacquainted with Mrs. Beaumont's character, as he had been for many years in the West Indies, and he knew her only from her letters, in which she appeared every thing that was candid and amiable. His great friendship for her deceased husband also inclined him to like her. Colonel Beaumont had appointed him one of the guardians of his children, but Mr. Palmer, being absent from England, had declined to act: he was also trustee to Mrs. Beaumont's marriage-settlement, and she had represented that it was necessary he should be present at the settlement of her family affairs upon her son's coming of age; an event which was to take place in a few days. The urgent representations of Mrs. Beaumont, and the anxious desire she expressed to see Mr. Palmer, had at last prevailed with the good old gentleman to journey down to Beaumont Park, though he was a valetudinarian, and though he was obliged, he said, to return to Jamaica with the West India fleet, which was expected to sail in ten days; so that he announced positively that he could stay but a week at Beaumont Park with his good friends and relations.
He was related but distantly to the Beaumonts, and he stood in precisely the same degree of relationship to the Walsinghams. He had no other relations, and his fortune was completely at his own disposal. On this fortune our cunning widow had speculated long and deeply, though in fact there was no occasion for art: it was Mr. Palmer's intention to leave his large fortune to the Beaumonts; or to divide it between the Beaumont and Walsingham families; and had she been sincere in her professed desire of a complete union by a double marriage between the representatives of the families, her favourite object would have been, in either case, equally secure. Here was a plain, easy road to her object; but it was too direct for Mrs. Beaumont. With all her abilities, she could never comprehend the axiom that a right line is the shortest possible line between any two points:—an axiom equally true in morals and in mathematics. No, the serpentine line was, in her opinion, not only the most beautiful, but the most expeditious, safe, and convenient.
She had formed a triple scheme of such intricacy, that it is necessary distinctly to state the argument of her plot, lest the action should be too complicated to be easily developed.
She had, in the first place, a design of engrossing the whole of Mr. Palmer's fortune for her own family; and for this purpose she determined to prevent Mr. Palmer from becoming acquainted with his other relations, the Walsinghams, to whom she had always had a secret dislike, because they were of remarkably open, sincere characters. As Mr. Palmer proposed to stay but a week in the country, this scheme of preventing their meeting seemed feasible.
In the second place, Mrs. Beaumont wished to marry her daughter to Sir John Hunter, because Sir John was heir expectant to a large estate, called the Wigram estate, and because there was in his family a certain reversionary title, the earldom of Puckeridge, which would devolve to Sir John after the death of a near relation.
In the third place, Mrs. Beaumont wished to marry her own son to Miss Hunter, who was Sir John's sister by a second marriage, and above twenty years younger than he was: this lady was preferred to Miss Walsingham for a daughter-in-law, for the reasons which Mr. Walsingham had given; because she possessed an independent fortune of two hundred thousand pounds, and because she was so childish and silly that Mrs. Beaumont thought she could always manage her easily, and by this means retain power over her son. Miss Hunter was very pretty, and Mrs. Beaumont had observed that her son had sometimes been struck with her beauty sufficiently to give hopes that, by proper management, he might be diverted from his serious, sober preference of Miss Walsingham.
Mrs. Beaumont foresaw many difficulties in the execution of these plans. She knew that Amelia liked Captain Walsingham, and that Captain Walsingham was attached to her, though he had never declared his love: and she dreaded that Captain Walsingham, who was at this time at sea, should return, just whilst Mr. Palmer was with her; because she was well aware that the captain was a kind of man Mr. Palmer would infinitely prefer to Sir John Hunter. Indeed, she had been secretly informed that Mr. Palmer hated every one who had a title; therefore she could not, whilst he was with her, openly encourage Sir John Hunter in his addresses to Amelia. To conciliate these seemingly incompatible schemes, she determined——But let our heroine speak for herself.
"My dearest Miss Hunter," said she, "now we are by ourselves, let me open my mind to you; I have been watching for an opportunity these two days, but so hurried as I have been!—Where's Amelia?"
"Out walking, ma'am. She told me you begged her to walk to get rid of her head-ache; and that she might look well to-day, as Mr. Palmer is to come. I would not go with her, because you whispered to me at breakfast that you had something very particular to say to me."
"But you did not give that as a reason, I hope! Surely you didn't tell Amelia that I had something particular to say to you?"
"Oh, no, ma'am; I told her that I had something to do about my dress—and so I had—my new hat to try on."
"True, my love; quite right; for you know I wouldn't have her suspect that we had any thing to say to each other that we didn't wish her to hear, especially as it is about herself."
"Herself!—Oh, is it?" said Miss Hunter, in a tone of disappointment.
"And about you, too, my darling. Be assured I have no daughter I love better, or ever shall. With such a son as I have, and such a daughter-in-law as I hope and trust I shall have ere long, I shall think myself the most fortunate of mothers."
Silly Miss Hunter's face brightened up again. "But now, my love," continued Mrs. Beaumont, taking her hand, leading her to a window, and speaking very low, though no one else was in the room, "before we talk any more of what is nearest my heart, I must get you to write a note for me to your brother, directly, for there is a circumstance I forgot—thoughtless creature that I am! but indeed, I never can think when I feel much. Some people are always so collected and prudent. But I have none of that!—Heigho! Well, my dear, you must supply my deficiencies. You will write and tell Sir John, that in my agitation when he made his proposal for my Amelia, of which I so frankly approved, I omitted to warn him, that no hint must be given that I do any thing more than permit him to address my daughter upon an equal footing with any other gentleman who might address her. Stay, my dear; you don't understand me, I see. In short, to be candid with you—old Mr. Palmer is coming to-day, you know. Now, my dear, you must be aware that it is of the greatest consequence to the interests of my family, of which I hope you always consider yourself (for I have always considered you) as forming a part, and a very distinguished part—I say, my darling, that we must consider that it is our interest in all things to please and humour this good old gentleman. He will be with us but for a week, you know. Well, the point is this. I have been informed from undoubted authority, people who were about him at the time, and knew, that the reason he quarrelled with that nephew of his, who died two years ago, was the young man's having accepted a baronetage: and at that time old Palmer swore, that no sprig of quality—those were the very words—should ever inherit a shilling of his money. Such a ridiculous whim! But these London merchants, who make great fortunes from nothing, are apt to have their little eccentricities; and then, they have so much pride in their own way, and so much self-will and mercantile downrightness in their manners, that there's no managing them but by humouring their fancies. I'm convinced, if Mr. Palmer suspected that I even wished Amelia to marry Sir John, he would never leave any of us a farthing, and it would all go to the Walsinghams. So, my dear, do you explain to your brother, that though I have not the least objection to his coming here whilst Mr. Palmer is with us, he must not take umbrage at any seeming coldness in my manner. He knows my heart, I trust; at least, you do, my Albina. And even if I should be obliged to receive or to go to see the Walsinghams, which, by-the-bye, I have taken means to prevent; but if it should happen that they were to hear of Palmer's being with us, and come, and Sir John should meet them, he must not he surprised or jealous at my speaking in the highest terms of Captain Walsingham. This I shall be obliged to do as a blind before Mr. Palmer. I must make him believe that I prefer a commoner for my son-in-law, or we are all undone with him. You know it is my son's interest, and yours, as well as your brother's and Amelia's, that I consider. So explain all this to him, my dear; you will explain it so much better, and make it so much more palpable to your brother than I could."
"Dear Mrs. Beaumont, how can you think so? You who write so well, and such long letters about every thing, and so quick! But goodness! I shall never get it all into a letter I'm afraid, and before Mr. Palmer comes, and then it will soon be dressing-time! La! I could say it all to John in five minutes: what a pity he is not here to-day!"
"Well, my love, then suppose you were to go to him; as you so prudently remark, things of this sort are always so much easier and better said than written. And now I look at my watch, I see you cannot have time to write a long letter, and to dress. So I believe, though I shall grieve to lose you, I must consent to your going for this one day to your brother's. My carriage and Williamson shall attend you," said Mrs. Beaumont, ringing the bell to order the carriage; "but remember you promise me now to come back, positively, to-morrow, or next day at farthest, if I should not be able to send the carriage again to-morrow. I would not, upon any account, have you away, if it can possibly be helped, whilst Mr. Palmer is here, considering you as I do [The carriage to the door directly, and Williamson to attend Miss Hunter]—considering you as I do, my dearest Albina, quite as my own daughter."
"Oh, my dearest Mrs. Beaumont, you are so kind!" said the poor girl, whom Mrs. Beaumont could always thus easily pay with words.
The carriage came to the door with such prompt obedience to Mrs. Beaumont's summons, that one of a more reflecting or calculating nature than Miss Hunter might have suspected that it had been ordered to be in readiness to carry her away this morning.
"Fare ye well, my own Albina! be sure you don't stay long from us," said Mrs. Beaumont, accompanying her to the hall-door. "A thousand kind things to everybody, and your brother in particular. But, my dear Miss Hunter, one word more," said she, following to the carriage door, and whispering: "there's another thing that I must trust to your management and cleverness;—I mentioned that Mr. Palmer was to know nothing of the approbation of Sir John's suit."
"Oh, yes, yes, ma'am, I understand perfectly."
"But stay, my love; you must understand, too, that it is to be quite a secret between ourselves, not to be mentioned to my son even; for you know he is sudden in his temper, and warm and quite in the Walsingham interest, and there's no knowing what might be the consequence if it were to be let out imprudently, and Sir John and Edward both so high-spirited. One can't be too cautious, my dear, to prevent mischief between gentlemen. So caution your brother to leave it to me to break it, and bring things about with Edward and Amelia,"—[stopping Miss Hunter again as she made a second effort to get into the carriage,]— "You comprehend, my dear, that Amelia is not in the secret yet—so not a word from your brother to her about my approbation!—that would ruin all. I trust to his honour; and besides—" drawing the young lady back for the third whisper.—Miss Hunter stood suspended with one foot in air, and the other on the step; the coachman, impatient to be off, manoeuvred to make his horses restless, whilst at the same time he cried aloud—"So! so! Prancer—stand still, Peacock; stand still, sir!"
Miss Hunter jumped down on terra firma. "Those horses frighten me so for you, my dear!" said Mrs. Beaumont. "Martin, stand at their heads. My dear child, I won't detain you, for you'll be late. I had only to say, that—oh! that I trust implicitly to your brother's honour; but, besides this, it will not be amiss for you to hint, as you know you can delicately—delicately, you understand—that it is for his interest to leave me to manage every thing. Yet none of this is to be said as if from me—pray don't let it come from me. Say it all from yourself. Don't let my name be mentioned at all. Don't commit me, you understand?"
"Perfectly, perfectly, ma'am: one kiss, dear Mrs. Beaumont, and adieu. Is my dressing-box in? Tell him to drive fast, for I hate going slow. Dearest Mrs. Beaumont, good bye. I feel as if I were going for an age, though it is only for one day."
"Dear, affectionate girl! I love heart—Good bye—Drive fast, as Miss Hunter desires you."
Our fair politician, well satisfied with the understanding of her confidante, which never comprehended more than met the ear, and secure in a charge d'affaires, whose powers it was never necessary to limit, stood on the steps before the house-door, deep in reverie, for some minutes after the carriage had driven away, till she was roused by seeing her son returning from his morning's ride.
"Will you hear a Spanish lady, How she woo'd an English man? Garments gay as rich as may be, Deck'd with jewels, she had on." THE SPANISH LADY'S LOVE. Percy's Reliques of Ancient Poetry
Mr. Beaumont had just been at a neighbouring farm-house, where there lived one of Mr. Walsingham's tenants; a man of the name of Birch, a respectable farmer, who was originally from Ireland, and whose son was at sea with Captain Walsingham. The captain had taken young Birch under his particular care, at Mr. Walsingham's request.
Birch's parents had this day received a letter from their son, which in the joy and pride of their hearts they showed to Mr. Beaumont, who was in the habit of calling at their house to inquire if they had heard any news of their son, or of Captain Walsingham. Mr. Beaumont liked to read Birch's letters, because they were written with characteristic simplicity and affection, and somewhat in the Irish idiom, which this young sailor's English education had not made him entirely forget.
LETTER FROM BIRCH TO HIS PARENTS.
"I write this from sea, lat. N. 44.15—long. W. 9.45—wind N.N.E.—to let you know you will not see me so soon as I said in my last, of the 16th. Yesterday, P.M. two o'clock, some despatches were brought to my good captain, by the Pickle sloop, which will to-morrow, wind and weather permitting, alter our destination. What the nature of them is I cannot impart to you, for it has not transpired beyond the lieutenants; but whatever I do under the orders of my good captain, I am satisfied and confident all is for the best. For my own share, I long for an opportunity of fighting the French, and of showing the captain what is in me, and that the pains he has took to make a gentleman, and an honour to his majesty's service, of me, is not thrown away. Had he been my own father, or brother, he could not be better, or done more. God willing, I will never disgrace his principles, for it would be my ambition to be like him in every respect; and he says, if I behave myself as I ought, I shall soon be a lieutenant; and a lieutenant in his majesty's navy is as good a gentleman as any in England, and has a right (tell my sister Kitty) to hand the first woman in Lon'on out of her carriage, if he pleases, and if she pleases.
"Now we talk of ladies, and as please God we shall soon be in action, and may not have another opportunity of writing to you this great while, for there is talk of our sailing southward with the fleet to bring the French and Spaniards to action, I think it best to send you all the news I have in this letter. But pray bid Kate, with my love, mind this, that not a word of the following is to take wind for her life, on account of my not knowing if it might be agreeable, or how it might affect my good captain, and others that shall be nameless. You must know then that when we were at ——, where we were stationed six weeks and two days, waiting for the winds, and one cause or other, we used to employ ourselves, I and my captain, taking soundings (which I can't more particularly explain the nature of to you, especially in a letter); for he always took me out to attend him in preference to any other; and after he had completed his soundings, and had no farther use for me in that job, I asked him leave to go near the same place in the evening to fish, which my good captain consented to (as he always does to what (duty done) can gratify me), provided I was in my ship by ten. Now you must know that there are convents in this country (which you have often heard of, Kitty, no doubt), being damnable places, where young Catholic women are shut up unmarried, often, it is to be reasonably supposed, against their wills. And there is a convent in one of the suburbs which has a high back wall to the garden of it that comes down near the strand; and it was under this wall we two used to sound, and that afterwards I used to be fishing. And one evening, when I was not thinking of any such thing, there comes over the wall a huge nosegay of flowers, with a stone in it, that made me jump. And this for three evenings running the same way, about the same hour; till at last one evening as I was looking up at the wall, as I had now learned to do about the time the nosegays were thrown over, I saw coming down a stone tied to a string, and to the stone a letter, the words of which I can't particularly take upon me to recollect, because I gave up the paper to my captain, who desired it of me, and took no copy; but the sense was, that in that convent there was shut up a lady, the daughter of an English gentleman by a Spanish wife, both her parents being dead, and her Spanish relations and father-confessor (or catholic priest of a man), not wishing she should get to England, where she might be what she had a right to be by birth, at least by her father's side (a protestant), shut her up since she was a child. And that there was a relative of hers in England, who with a wicked lawyer or attorney had got possession of her estate, and made every body believe she was dead. And so, it being seven years and more since she was heard of, she is what is called dead in law, which sort of death however won't signify, if she appears again. Wherefore the letter goes on to say, she would be particularly glad to make her escape, and get over to old England. But she confesses that she is neither young nor handsome, and may-be never may be rich; therefore, that whoever helps her must do it for the sake of doing good and nothing else; for though she would pay all expenses handsomely, she could not promise more. And that she knew the danger of the undertaking to be great; greater for them that would carry her off even than for herself. That she knows, however, that British sailors are brave as they are generous (this part of the letter was very well indited, and went straight to my heart the minute ever I read it); and she wished it could be in the power of Captain Walsingham to take her under his immediate protection, and that she had taken measures so as she could escape over the wall of the garden if he would have a boat in readiness to carry her to his ship; and at the same hour next evening the stone should be let down as usual, and he might fasten his answer to it, which would be drawn up in due course. Concluding all this with, 'That she would not go at all unless Captain Walsingham came for her himself (certifying himself to be himself, I suppose), for she knew him to be a gentleman by reputation, and she should be safe under his protection, and so would her secret, she was confident, at all events.' This was the entire and sum total of the letter. So when I had read to the end, and looked for the postscript and all, I found for my pains that the lady mistook me for my captain, or would not have written or thrown the nosegays. So I took the letter to my captain; and what he answered, and how it was settled (by signals, I suppose) between them after, it was not for me to inquire. Not a word more was said by him to me or I to him on the topic, till the very night we were to sail for England. It was then that our captain took me aside, and he says, 'Birch, will you assist me? I ask this not as your captain, so you are at liberty to do as you please. Will you help me to rescue this lady, who seems to be unjustly detained, and to carry her back safe to her country and her friends?' I told him I would do that or any thing else he bid me, confident he would never ask me to do a wrong thing; and as to the lady, I should be proud to help to carry her off to old England and her lawful friends, only I thought (if I might be so bold) it was a pity she was not young and handsome, for his sake. At that he smiled, and only said, 'Perhaps it was best for him as it was.' Then he settled about the boat, and who were to go, and when. It was twelve o'clock striking by the great town clock when we were under the walls of the convent, as appointed. And all was hush and silent as the grave for our very lives. For it was a matter of life or death, I promise you, and we all knew as much, and the sailors had a dread of the Inquisition upon them that was beyond all terrible! So we watched and waited, and waited and watched so long, that we thought something must have gone wrong, or that all was found out, and the captain could not delay the ship's sailing; and he struck his repeater, and it was within a quarter of one, and he said, 'It is too late; we must put back.' Just then, I, that was watching with the lantern in my hand, gave notice, and first there comes down a white bundle, fastened to the stone and cord. Then the captain and I fixed the ladder of ropes, and down came the lady, as well as ever she went up, and not a word but away with her: the captain had her in a trice in our boat, safe and snug, and off we put, rowing for the bare life, all silent as ever. I think I hear the striking of our oars and the plashing of the water this minute, which we would have gladly silenced, but could not any way in nature. But none heard it, or at least took any notice against us. I can give you no idea of the terror which the lady manifested when the boat stood out to sea, at the slightest squall of wind, or the least agitation of the waves; for besides being naturally cowardly, as all or most women are for the first time at sea, here was a poor soul who had been watching, and may be fasting, and worn out mind and body with the terror of perfecting her escape from the convent, where she had been immured all her life, and as helpless as a child. So it was wonderful she went through it as well as she did and without screaming, which should be an example to Kate and others. Glad enough even we men were when we reached the ship. There was, at that time, a silence on board you could have heard a pin drop, all being in perfect readiness for getting under way, the sails ready for dropping, and officers and sailors waiting in the greatest expectation of our boat's return. Our boat passed swiftly alongside, and great beyond belief was the astonishment of all at seeing a woman veiled, hoisted out, and in, and ushered below, half fainting. I never felt more comfortable in my life than when we found her and ourselves safe aboard l'Ambuscade. The anchor was instantly weighed, all sail made, and the ship stood out to sea. To the lady the captain gave up his cabin: double sentries were placed, and as the captain ordered, every precaution that could shield her character in such suspicious circumstances were enforced with the utmost punctilio. I cannot describe, nor can you even conceive, Kate, the degree of curiosity shown about her; all striving to get a sight of her when she first went down, and most zealous they were to bring lights; but that would not do, for they could not see her for her veil. Yet through all we could make out that she was a fine figure of a woman at any rate, and something more than ordinary, from the air she had with her. The next day when she was sitting on deck the wind by times would blow aside her veil so as to give us glimpses of her face; when, to our surprise, and I am sure to the captain's satisfaction, we found she was beyond all contradiction young and handsome. And moreover I have reason to believe she has fine jewels with her, besides a ring from her own finger, which with a very pretty action she put on his, that next day on deck, as I noticed, when nobody was minding. So that no doubt she is as much richer as she is handsomer than she made believe, contrary to the ways of other women, which is in her favour and my good captain's; for from what I can judge, after all he has done for her, she has no dislike nor objection to him.
"I have not time to add any thing more, but my love to Kitty, and Nancy, and Tom, and Mary, and little Bess; and, honoured parents, wishing you good health as I am in, thank God, at this present,
"I am your dutiful and loving son,
"P.S. I open my letter to tell you we are going southward immediately, all in high spirits, as there is hopes of meeting the French and Spaniards. We have just hoisted the nun-lady on board an English packet. God send her and this letter safe to England."
* * * * *
Mr. Beaumont might perhaps have been amused by this romantic story, and by the style in which it was told, if he had not been alarmed by the hint at the conclusion of the letter, that the lady was not indifferent to her deliverer. Now Mr. Beaumont earnestly wished that his friend Captain Walsingham might become his brother-in-law; and he began to have fears about this Spanish lady, with her gratitude, her rings, and the advantages of the great interest her misfortunes and helpless condition would excite, together with the vast temptations to fall in love that might occur during the course of a voyage. Had he taken notice of the postscript, his mind would have been somewhat relieved. On this subject Mr. Beaumont pondered all the way that he rode home, and on this subject he was still meditating when he saw his mother standing on the steps, where we left her when Miss Hunter's carriage drove away.
"I shall in all my best obey you, madam." HAMLET.
"Did you meet Miss Hunter, my dear son?" said she.
"Yes, ma'am, I just passed the carriage in the avenue: she is going home, is not she?" said he, rather in a tone of satisfaction.
"Ah, poor thing! yes," said Mrs. Beaumont, in a most pathetic tone: "ah, poor thing!"
"Why, ma'am, what has happened to her? What's the matter?"
"Matter? Oh, nothing!—Did I say that any thing was the matter? Don't speak so loud," whispered she: "your groom heard every word we said; stay till he is out of hearing, and then we can talk."
"I don't care if all the world hears what I say," cried Mr. Beaumont hastily: but, as if suppressing his rising indignation, he, with a milder look and tone, added, "I cannot conceive, my dear mother, why you are always so afraid of being overheard."
"Servants, my dear, make such mischief, you know, by misunderstanding and misrepresenting every thing they hear; and they repeat things so oddly, and raise such strange reports!"
"True—very true indeed, ma'am," said Mr. Beaumont. "You are quite right, and I beg pardon for being so hasty—I wish you could teach me a little of your patience and prudence."
"Prudence! ah! my dear Edward, 'tis only time and sad experience of the world can teach that to people of our open tempers. I was at your age ten times more imprudent and unsuspicious than you are."
"Were you, ma'am?—But I don't think I am unsuspicious. I was when I was a boy—I wish we could continue children always in some things. I hate suspicion in any body—but more than in any one else, I hate it in myself. And yet—"
Mr. Beaumont hesitated, and his mother instantly went on with a fluent panegyric upon the hereditary unsuspiciousness of his temper.
"But, madam, were you not saying something to me about Miss Hunter?"
"Was I?—Oh, I was merely going to say, that I was sorry you did not know she was going this morning, that you might have taken leave of her, poor thing!"
"Take leave of her! ma'am: I bowed to her, and wished her a good morning, when I met her just now, and she told me she was only going to the hall for a day. Surely no greater leave-taking was requisite, when I am to see the lady again to-morrow, I presume."
"That is not quite so certain as she thinks, poor soul! I told her I would send for her again to-morrow, just to keep up her spirits at leaving me. Walk this way, Edward, under the shade of the trees, for I am dead with the heat; and you, too, look so hot! I say I am not so sure that it would be prudent to have her here so much, especially whilst Mr. Palmer is with us, you know—" Mrs. Beaumont paused, as if waiting for an assent, or a dissent, or a leading hint how to proceed: but her son persisting in perverse silence, she was forced to repeat, "You know, Edward, my dear, you know?"
"I don't know, indeed, ma'am."
"You don't know!"
"Faith, not I, ma'am. I don't know, for the soul of me, what Mr. Palmer's coming has to do with Miss Hunter's going. There's room enough in the house, I suppose, for each of them, and all of us to play our parts. As to the rest, the young lady's coming or going is quite a matter of indifference to me, except, of course, as far as politeness and hospitality go. But all that I leave to you, who do the honours for me so well."
Mrs. Beaumont's ideas were utterly thrown out of their order by this speech, no part of which was exactly what she wished or expected: not that any of the sentiments it contained or suggested were new to her; but she was not prepared to meet them thus clothed in distinct words, and in such a compact form. She had drawn up her forces for battle in an order which this unexpectedly decisive movement of the enemy discomfited; and a less able tactician might have been, in these circumstances, not only embarrassed, but utterly defeated: yet, however unprepared for this sudden shock, with admirable generalship our female Hannibal, falling back in the centre, admitted him to advance impetuous and triumphant, till she had him completely surrounded.
"My being of age in a few days," continued Mr. Beaumont, "will not make any difference, surely; I depend upon it, that you will always invite whomever you like to this house, of which I hope, my dear mother, you will always do me the favour to be the mistress—till I marry, at least. For my wife's feelings," added he, smiling, "I can't engage, before I have her."
"And before we know who she is to be," said Mrs. Beaumont, carelessly. "Time enough, as you say, to think of that. Besides, there are few women in the world, I know scarcely one, with whom, in the relation of mother and daughter-in-law, I should wish to live. But wherever I live, my dear son, as long as I have a house, I hope you will always do me the justice and the pleasure to consider yourself as its master. Heaven knows I shall never give any other man a right to dispute with you the sovereignty of my castle, or my cottage, whichever it may be. As to the rest," pursued Mrs. Beaumont, "you cannot marry against my wishes, my dear Edward; for your wishes on this, as on all other subjects, will ever govern mine."
Her son kissed her hand with warm gratitude.
"You will not, I hope, think that I seek to prolong my regency, or to assume undue power or influence in affairs," continued Mrs. Beaumont, "if I hint to you in general terms what I think may contribute to your happiness. You must afterwards decide for yourself; and are now, as you have ever been, master, to do as you please."
"Too much—too much. I have had too much liberty, and have too little acquired the habit of commanding my will and my passions by my reason. Of this I am sensible. My excellent friend, Captain Walsingham, told me, some years ago, that this was the fault of my character, and he charged me to watch over myself; and so I have; but not so strictly, I fear, as if he had watched along with me.——Well, ma'am, you were going to give me some advice; I am all attention."
"My dear son, Captain Walsingham showed his judgment more, perhaps, in pointing out causes than effects. The weakness of a fond mother, I am sensible, did indulge you in childhood, and, perhaps, more imprudently in youth, with an unlimited liberty to judge and act for yourself. Your mother's system of education came, alas! more from her heart than her head. Captain Walsingham himself cannot be more sensible of my errors than I am."
"Captain Walsingham, believe me, mother, never mentioned this in reproach to you. He is not a man to teach a son to see his mother's errors—if she had any. He always spoke of you with the greatest respect. And since I must, at my own expense, do him justice, it was, I well remember, upon some occasion where I spoke too hastily, and insisted upon my will in opposition to yours, madam, that Captain Walsingham took me aside, and represented to me the fault into which my want of command over myself had betrayed me. This he did so forcibly, that I have never from that hour to this (I flatter myself) on any material occasion, forgotten the impression he made on my mind. But, madam, I interrupt you: you were going to give me your advice about—"
"No, no—no advice—no advice; you are, in my opinion, fully adequate to the direction of your own conduct. I was merely going to suggest, that, since you have not been accustomed to control from a mother, and since you have, thank Heaven! a high spirit, that would sooner break than bend, it must be essential to your happiness to have a wife of a compliant, gentle temper; not fond of disputing the right, or attached to her own opinions; not one who would be tenacious of rule, and unseasonably inflexible."
"Unseasonably inflexible! Undoubtedly, ma'am. Yet I should despise a mean-spirited wife."
"I am sure you would. But compliance that proceeds from affection, you know, can never deserve to be called mean-spirited—nor would it so appear to you. I am persuaded that there is a degree of fondness, of affection, enthusiastic affection, which disposes the temper always to a certain softness and yieldingness, which, I conceive, would be peculiarly attractive to you, and essential to your happiness: in short, I know your temper could not bear contradiction."
"Oh, indeed, ma'am, you are quite mistaken."
"Quite mistaken! and at the very moment he reddens with anger, because I contradict, even in the softest, gentlest manner in my power, his opinion of himself!"
"You don't understand me, indeed, you don't understand me," said Mr. Beaumont, beating with his whip the leaves of a bush which was near him. "Either you don't understand me, or I don't understand you. I am much more able to bear contradiction than you think I am, provided it be direct. But I do not love—what I am doing at this instant," added he, smiling—"I don't love beating about the bush."
"Look there now!—Strange creatures you men are! So like he looks to his poor father, who used to tell me that he loved to be contradicted, and yet who would not, I am sure, have lived three days with any woman who had ventured to contradict him directly. Whatever influence I obtained in his heart, and whatever happiness we enjoyed in our union, I attribute to my trusting to my observations on his character rather than to his own account of himself. Therefore I may be permitted to claim some judgment of what would suit your hereditary temper."
"Certainly, ma'am, certainly. But to come to the point at once, may I ask this plain question—Do you, by these reflections, mean to allude to any particular persons? Is there any woman in the world you at this instant would wish me to marry?"
Mr. Beaumont started with joyful surprise, when his mother thus immediately pronounced the very name he wished to hear.
"You surprise and delight me, my dear mother!"
"Surprise!—How can that be?—Surely you must know my high opinion of Miss Walsingham. But——"
"But—you added but——"
"There is no woman who may not be taxed with a but—yet it is not for her friend to lower her merit. My only objection to her is—I shall infallibly affront you, if I name it."
"Name it! name it! You will not affront me."
"My only objection to her then is, her superiority. She is so superior, that, forgive me, I don't know any man, yourself not excepted, who is at all her equal."
"I think precisely as you do, and rejoice."
"Rejoice? why there I cannot sympathize with you. I own, as a mother, I should feel a little—a little mortified to see my son not the superior; and when the comparison is to be daily and hourly made, and to last for life, and all the world to see it as well as myself. I own I have a mother's vanity. I should wish to see my son always what he has hitherto been—the superior, and master in his own house."
Mr. Beaumont made no reply to these insinuations, but walked on in silence; and his mother, unable to determine precisely whether the vexation apparent in his countenance proceeded from disapprobation of her observations, or from their working the effect she desired upon his pride, warily waited till he should betray some decisive symptom of his feelings. But she waited in vain—he was resolved not to speak.
"There is not a woman upon earth I should wish so much to have as a daughter-in-law, a companion, and a friend, as Miss Walsingham. You must be convinced," resumed Mrs. Beaumont, "so far as I am concerned, it is the most desirable thing in the world. But I should think it my duty to put my own feelings and wishes out of the question, and to make myself prefer whomsoever, all things considered, my judgment tells me would make you the happiest."
"And whom would your judgment prefer, madam?"
"Why—I am not at liberty to tell—unless I could explain all my reasons. Indeed, I know not what to say."
"Dear madam, explain all your reasons, or we shall never understand one another, and never come to an end of these half explanations."
Here they were interrupted by seeing Mr. Twigg, a courtly clergyman, coming towards them. Beaumont was obliged to endure his tiresome flattery upon the beauties of Beaumont Park, and upon the judicious improvements that were making, had been made, and would, no doubt, be very soon made. Mrs. Beaumont, at last, relieved his or her own impatience by commissioning Mr. Twigg to walk round the improvements by himself. By himself she insisted it should be, that she might have his unbiassed judgment upon the two lines which had been marked for the new belt or screen; and he was also to decide whether they should call it a belt or a screen.—Honoured with this commission, he struck off into the walk to which Mrs. Beaumont pointed, and began his solitary progress.
Mr. Beaumont then urged his mother to go on with her explanation. Mrs. Beaumont thought that she could not hazard much by flattering the vanity of a man on that subject on which perhaps it is most easily flattered; therefore, after sufficient delicacy of circumlocution, she informed her son that there was a young lady who was actually dying for love of him; whose extreme fondness would make her live but in him; and who, besides having a natural ductility of character, and softness of temper, was perfectly free from any formidable superiority of intellect, and had the most exalted opinion of his capacity, as well as of his character and accomplishments; in short, such an enthusiastic adoration, as would induce that belief in the infallibility of a husband, which must secure to him the fullest enjoyment of domestic peace, power, and pre-eminence.
Mr. Beaumont seemed less moved than his mother had calculated that the vanity of man must be, by such a declaration—discovery it could not be called. "If I am to take all this seriously, madam," replied he, laughing, "and if, au pied de la lettre my vanity is to believe that this damsel is dying for love; yet, still I have so little chivalry in my nature, that I cannot understand how it would add to my happiness to sacrifice myself to save her life. That I am well suited to her, I am as willing as vanity can make me to believe; but how is it to be proved that the lady is suited to me?"
"My dear, these things do not admit of logical proof."
"Well—moral, sentimental, or any kind of proof you please."
"Have you no pity? and is not pity akin to love?"
"Akin! Oh, yes, ma'am, it is akin; but for that very reason it may not be a friend—relations, you know, in these days, are as often enemies as friends."
"Vile pun! far-fetched quibble!—provoking boy!—But I see you are not in a humour to be serious, so I will take another time to talk to you of this affair."
"Now or never, ma'am, for mercy's sake!"
"Mercy's sake! you who show none—Ah! this is the way with you men; all this is play to you, but death to us."
"Death! dear ma'am; ladies, you know as well as I do, don't die of love in these days—you would not make a fool of your son."
"I could not; nor could any other woman—that is clear: but amongst us, I am afraid we have, undesignedly indeed, but irremediably, made a fool of this poor confiding girl."
"But, ma'am, in whom did she confide? not in me, I'll swear. I have nothing to reproach myself with, thank God!—My conscience is clear; I have been as ungallant as possible. I have been as cruel as my nature would permit. I am sure no one can charge me with giving false promises—I scarcely speak—nor false hopes, for I scarcely look at the young lady."
"So, then, you know who the young lady in question is?"
"Perhaps I ought not to pretend to know."
"That would be useless affectation, alas! for I fear many know, and have seen, and heard, much more than you have—or I either."
Here Mrs. Beaumont observed that her son's colour changed, and that he suddenly grew serious: aware that she had now touched upon the right chord, she struck it again "with a master's hand and prophet's fire." She declared that all the world took it for granted that Miss Hunter was to be married to Mr. Beaumont; that it was talked of every where; that she was asked continually by her correspondents, when the marriage was to take place?—in confirmation of which assertion, she produced bundles of letters from her pockets, from Mrs. and Miss, and from Lady This, and Lady That.
"Nay," continued she, "if it were confined even to the circle of one's private friends and acquaintance, I should not so much mind it, for one might contradict, and have it contradicted, and one might send the poor thing away to some watering-place, and the report might die away, as reports do—sometimes. But all that sort of thing it is too late to think of now—for the thing is public! quite public! got into the newspapers! Here's a paragraph I cut out this very morning from my paper, lest the poor girl should see it. The other day, I believe you saw it yourself, there was something of the same sort. 'We hear that, as soon as he comes of age, Mr. Beaumont, of Beaumont Park, is to lead to the altar of Hymen, Miss Hunter, sister to Sir John Hunter, of Devonshire.' Well,—after you left the room, Albina took up the paper you had been reading; and when she saw this paragraph, I thought she would have dropped. I did not know what to do. Whatever I could say, you know, would only make it worse. I tried to turn it off, and talked of twenty things; but it would not do—no, no, it is too serious for that: well, though I believe she would rather have put her hand in the fire, she had the courage to speak to me about it herself."
"And what did she say, ma'am?" inquired Mr. Beaumont, eagerly.
"Poor simple creature! she had but one idea—that you had seen it! that she would not for the world you had read it. What would you think of her—she should never be able to meet you again—What could she do? It must be contradicted—somebody must contradict it. Then she worried me to have it contradicted in the papers. I told her I did not well know how that could be done, and urged that it would be much more prudent not to fix attention upon the parties by more paragraphs. But she was not in a state to think of prudence;—no. What would you think was the only idea in her mind?—If I would not write, she would write that minute herself, and sign her name. This, and a thousand wild things, she said, till I was forced to be quite angry, and to tell her she must be governed by those who had more discretion than herself. Then she was so subdued, so ashamed—really my heart bled for her, even whilst I scolded her. But it is quite necessary to be harsh with her; for she has no more foresight, nor art, nor command of herself sometimes, than a child of five years old. I assure you, I was rejoiced to get her away before Mr. Palmer came, for a new eye coming into a family sees so much one wouldn't wish to be seen. You know it would be terrible to have the poor young creature commit and expose herself to a stranger so early in life. Indeed, as it is, I am persuaded no one will ever think of marrying her, if you do not.——In worldly prudence—but of that she has not an atom—in worldly prudence she might do better, or as well, certainly; for her fortune will be very considerable. Sir John means to add to it, when he gets the Wigram estate; and the old uncle, Wigram, can't live for ever. But poor Albina, I dare swear, does not know what fortune she is to have, nor what you have. Love! love! all for love!—and all in vain. She is certainly very much to be pitied."
Longer might Mrs. Beaumont have continued in monologue, without danger of interruption from her son, who stood resolved to hear the utmost sum of all that she should say on the subject. Never interrupting her, he only filled certain pauses, that seemed expectant of reply, with the phrases—"I am very sorry, indeed, ma'am"—and, "Really, ma'am, it is out of my power to help it." But Mrs. Beaumont observed that the latter phrase had been omitted as she proceeded—and "I am very sorry indeed, ma'am," he repeated less as words of course, and more and more as if they came from the heart. Having so far, successfully, as she thought, worked upon her son's good-nature, and seeing her daughter through the trees coming towards them, she abruptly exclaimed, "Promise me, at all events, dearest Edward, I conjure you; promise me that you will not make proposals any where else, without letting me know of it beforehand,—and give me time," joining her hands in a supplicating attitude, "give me but a few weeks, to prepare my poor little Albina for this sad, sad stroke!"
"I promise you, madam, that I will not, directly or indirectly, make an offer of my hand or heart to any woman, without previously letting you know my determination. And as for a few weeks, more or less—my mother, surely, need not supplicate, but simply let me know her wishes—even without her reasons, they would have been sufficient with me. Do I satisfy you now, madam?"
"More than satisfy—as you ever do, ever will, my dear son."
"But you will require no more on this subject—I must be left master of myself."
"Indubitably—certainly—master of yourself—most certainly—of course."
Mr. Beaumont was going to add something beginning with, "It is better, at once, to tell you, that I can never—" But Mrs. Beaumont stopped him with, "Hush! my dear, hush! not a word more, for here is Amelia, and I cannot talk on this subject before her, you know.——My beloved Amelia, how languid you look! I fear that, to please me, you have taken too long a walk; and Mr. Palmer won't see you in your best looks, after all.—What note is that you have in your hand?"
"A note from Miss Walsingham, mamma."
"Oh! the chickenpox! take caer! letters, notes, every thing may convey the infection," cried Mrs. Beaumont, snatching the paper. "How could dearest Miss Walsingham be so giddy as to answer my note, after what I said in my postscript!—How did this note come?"
"By the little postboy, mamma; I met him at the porter's lodge."
"But what is all this strange thing?" said Mrs. Beaumont, after having read the note twice over.—It contained a certificate from the parish minister and churchwardens, apothecary, and surgeon, bearing witness, one and all, that there was no individual, man, woman, or child, in the parish, or within three miles of Walsingham House, who was even under any suspicion of having the chickenpox.
"My father desires me to send Mrs. Beaumont the enclosed clean bill of health—by which she will find that we need be no longer subject to quarantine; and, unless some other reasons prevent our having the pleasure of seeing her, we may hope soon that she will favour us with her long promised visit.
"I am delighted," said Mrs. Beaumont, "to find it was a false report, and that we shall not be kept, the Lord knows how long, away from the dear Walsinghams."
"Then we can go to them to-morrow, can't we, mamma? And I will write, and say so, shall I?" said Amelia.
"No need to write, my dear; if we promise for any particular day, and are not able to go, that seems unkind, and is taken ill, you see. And as Mr. Palmer is coming, we can't leave him."
"But he will go with us surely," said Mr. Beaumont. "The Walsinghams are as much his relations as we are; and if he comes two hundred miles to see us, he will, surely, go seven to see them."
"True," said Mrs. Beaumont; "but it is civil and kind to leave him to fix his own day, poor old gentleman. After so long a journey, we must allow him some rest. Consider, he can't go galloping about as you do, dear Edward."
"But," said Amelia, "as the Walsinghams know he is to be in the country, they will of course come to see him immediately."
"How do they know he is to be in the country?"
"I thought—I took it for granted, you told them so, mamma, when you wrote about not going to Walsingham House, on Mr. Walsingham's birthday."
"No, my dear; I was so full of the chickenpox, and terror about you, I could think of nothing else."
"Thank you, dear mother—but now that is out of the question, I had best write a line by the return of the postboy, to say, that Mr. Palmer is to be here to-day, and that he stays only one week."
"Certainly! love—but let me write about it, for I have particular reasons. And, my dear, now we are by ourselves, let me caution you not to mention that Mr. Palmer can stay but one week: in the first place it is uncivil to him, for we are not sure of it, and it is like driving him away; and in the next place, there are reasons I can't explain to you, that know so little of the world, my dear Amelia—but, in general, it is always foolish to mention things."
"Always foolish to mention things!" cried Mr. Beaumont, smiling.
"Of this sort, I mean," said Mrs. Beaumont, a little disconcerted.
"Of what sort?" persisted her son.
"Hush! my dear; here's the postboy and the ass."
"Any letters, my good little boy? Any letters for me?"
"I has, madam, a many for the house. I does not know for who—the bag will tell," said the boy, unstrapping the bag from his shoulders.
"Give it to me, then," said Mrs. Beaumont: "I am anxious for letters always." She was peculiarly anxious now to open the post-bag, to put a stop to a conversation which did not please her. Whilst seated on a rustic seat, under a spreading beech, our heroine, with her accustomed looks of mystery, examined the seals of her numerous and important letters, to ascertain whether they had been opened at the post-office, or whether their folds might have been pervious to any prying eye. Her son tore the covers off the newspapers; and, as he unfolded one, Amelia leaned upon his shoulder, and whispered softly, "Any news of the fleet, brother?"
Mrs. Beaumont, than whom Fine-ear himself had not quicker auditory nerves, especially for indiscreet whispers, looked up from her letters, and examined, unperceived, the countenance of Amelia, who was searching with eagerness the columns of the paper. As Mr. Beaumont turned over the leaf, Amelia looked up, and, seeing her mother's eyes fixed upon her, coloured; and from want of presence of mind to invent any thing better to say, asked if her mother wished to have the papers?
"No," said Mrs. Beaumont, coldly, "not I, Amelia; I am not such a politician as you are grown."
Amelia withdrew her attention, or at least her eyes, from the paper, and had recourse to the beech-tree, the beautiful foliage of which she studied with profound attention.
"God bless me! here's news! news of the fleet!" cried Beaumont, turning suddenly to his sister; and then recollecting himself, to his mother. "Ma'am, they say there has been a great engagement between the French and Spaniards, and the English—particulars not known yet: but, they say, ten sail of the French line are taken, and four Spaniards blown up, and six Spanish men-of-war disabled, and a treasure-ship taken. Walsingham must have been in the engagement—My horse!—I'll gallop over this minute, and know from the Walsinghams if they have seen the papers, and if there's any thing more about it in their papers."
"Gallop! my dearest Edward," said his mother, standing in his path; "but you don't consider Mr. Palmer—"
"Damn Mr. Palmer! I beg your pardon, mother—I mean no harm to the old gentleman—friend of my father's—great respect for him—I'll be back by dinner-time, back ready to receive him—he can't be here till six—only five by me, now! Ma'am, I shall have more than time to dress, too, cool as a cucumber, ready to receive the good old fellow."
"In one short hour, my dear!—seven miles to Walsingham House, and seven back again, and all the time you will waste there, and to dress too—only consider!"
"I do consider, ma'am; and have considered every thing in the world. My horse will carry me there and back in fifty minutes, easily, and five to spare, I'll be bound. I sha'n't light—so where's the paper? I'm off."
"Well—order your horse, and leave me the paper, at least, while he is getting ready. Ride by this way, and you will find us here—where is this famous paragraph?"
Beaumont drew the paper crumpled from the pocket into which he had thrust it—ran off for his horse, and quickly returned mounted. "Give me the paper, good friends!—I'm off."
"Away, then, my dear; since you will heat yourself for nothing. But only let me point out to you," said she, holding the paper fast whilst she held it up to him, "that this whole report rests on no authority whatever; not a word of it in the gazette; not a line from the admiralty; no official account; no bulletin; no credit given to the rumour at Lloyd's; stocks the same.—And how did the news come? Not even the news-writer pretends it came through any the least respectable channel. A frigate in latitude the Lord knows what! saw a fleet in a fog —might be Spanish—might be French—might be English—spoke another frigate some days afterwards, who heard firing: well—firing says nothing. But the frigate turns this firing into an engagement, and a victory; and presently communicates the news to a collier, and the collier tells another collier, and so it goes up the Thames, to some wonder-maker, standing agape for a paragraph, to secure a dinner. To the press the news goes, just as our paper is coming out; and to be sure we shall have a contradiction and an apology in our next."
"Well, ma'am; but I will ask Mr. Walsingham what he thinks, and show him the paper."
"Do, if you like it, my dear; I never control you; but don't overheat yourself for nothing. What can Mr. Walsingham, or all the Walsinghams in the world, tell more than we can? and as to showing him the paper, you know he takes the same paper. But don't let me detain you.—Amelia, who is that coming through the gate? Mr. Palmer's servant, I protest!"
"Well; it can't be, I see!" said Beaumont, dismounting.
"Take away your master's horse—quick—quick!—Amelia, my love, to dress! I must have you ready to receive your godfather's blessing. Consider, Mr. Palmer was your father's earliest friend; and besides, he is a relation, though distant; and it is always a good and prudent thing to keep up relationships. Many a fine estate has come from very distant relations most unexpectedly. And even independently of all relationships, when friendships are properly cultivated, there's no knowing to what they may lead;—not that I look to any thing of that sort here. But before you see Mr. Palmer, just as we are walking home, and quite to ourselves, let me give you some leading hints about this old gentleman's character, which I have gathered, no matter how, for your advantage, my dear children. He is a humourist, and must not be opposed in any of his oddities: he is used to be waited upon, and attended to, as all these men are who have lived in the West Indies. A bon vivant, of course. Edward, produce your best wines—the pilau and currie, and all that, leave to me. I had special notice of his love for a john-doree, and a john-doree I have for him. But now I am going to give you the master-key to his heart. Like all men who have made great fortunes, he loves to feel continually the importance his wealth confers; he loves to feel that wealth does every thing; is superior to every thing—to birth and titles especially: it is his pride to think himself, though a commoner, far above any man who condescends to take a title. He hates persons of quality; therefore, whilst he is here, not a word in favour of any titled person. Forget the whole house of peers—send them all to Coventry—all to Coventry, remember.—And, now you have the key to his heart, go and dress, to be ready for him."
Having thus given her private instructions, and advanced her secret plans, Mrs. Beaumont repaired to her toilet, well satisfied with her morning's work.
"Chi mi fa piu carezze che non sole; O m'ha ingannato, o ingannar me vuole."
"By St. George, there's nothing like Old England for comfort!" cried Mr. Palmer, settling himself in his arm-chair in the evening; "nothing after all in any part of the known world, like Old England for comfort. Why, madam, there's not another people in the universe that have in any of their languages a name even for comfort. The French have been forced to borrow it; but now they have got it, they don't know how to use it, nor even how to pronounce it, poor devils! Well, there's nothing like Old England for comfort."
"Ah! nothing like Old England for comfort!" echoed Mrs. Beaumont, in a sentimental tone, though at that instant her thoughts were far distant from her words; for this declaration of his love for Old England alarmed her with the notion that he might change his mind about returning immediately to Jamaica, and that he might take root again and flourish for years to come in his native soil—perhaps in her neighbourhood, to the bane of all her favourite projects. What would become of her scheme of marrying Amelia to the baronet, and her son to the docile Albina? What would become of the scheme of preventing him from being acquainted with the Walsinghams? For a week it might be practicable to keep them asunder by policising, but this could never be effected if he were to settle, or even to make any long stay, in the country. The Walsinghams would be affronted, and then what would become of their interest in the county? Her son could not be returned without that. And, worse than all the rest, Mr. Palmer might take a fancy to see these Walsinghams, who were as nearly related to him as the Beaumonts; and seeing, he might prefer, and preferring, he might possibly leave half, nay, perhaps the whole, of his large fortune to them,—and thus all her hopes and projects might at once be frustrated. Little aware of the long and perplexing trains of ideas, which his honest ejaculation in favour of his native country had raised, Mr. Palmer went on with his own comfortable thoughts.
"And of all the comforts our native land affords, I know of none so grateful to the heart," continued he, "as good friends, which are to be found nowhere else in such perfection. A man at my time of life misses many an old friend on his return to his native country; but then he sees them still in their representatives, and loves them again in their children. Mr. Beaumont looked at me at that instant, so like his father—he is the image of what my friend was, when I first knew him."
"I am rejoiced you see the likeness," said Mrs. Beaumont. "Amelia, my dear, pour out the coffee."
"And Miss Beaumont, too, has just his expression of countenance, which surprises me more, in her delicate features. Upon my word, I have reason to be proud of my god-daughter, as far as appearances go; and with English women, appearances, fair as they may be, seldom are even so good as the truth. There's her father's smile again for me—young lady, if that smile deceives, there's no truth in woman."
"Do not you find our coffee here very bad, compared with what you have been used to abroad?" said Mrs. Beaumont.
"I do rejoice to find myself here quiet in the country," continued Mr. Palmer, without hearing the lady's question; "nothing after all like a good old English family, where every thing speaks plenty and hospitality, without waste or ostentation; and where you are received with a hearty welcome, without compliments; and let do just as you please, without form, and without being persecuted by politeness."
This was the image of an English country family impressed early upon the good old gentleman's imagination, which had remained there fresh and unchanged since the days of his youth; and he now took it for granted that he should see it realized in the family of his late friend.
"I was afraid," resumed Mrs. Beaumont, "that after being so long accustomed to a West-Indian life, you would find many things unpleasant to your feelings here. But you are so kind, so accommodating. Is it really possible that you have not, since your return to England, experienced any uncomfortable sensations, suffered any serious injury to your health, my dear sir, from the damps and chills of our climate?"
"Why, now I think of it, I have—I have a caugh," said Mr. Palmer, coughing.
Mrs. Beaumont officiously shut the window.
"I do acknowledge that England is not quite so superior to all other countries in her climate as in every thing else: yet I don't 'damn the climate like a lord.' At my time of life, a man must expect to be a valetudinarian, and it would be unjust to blame one's native climate for that. But a man of seventy-five must live where he can, not where he will; and Dr. Y—— tells me that I can live nowhere but in the West Indies."
"Oh, sir, never mind Dr. Y——," exclaimed young Beaumont: "live with us in England. Many Englishmen live to a great age surely, let people say what they will of the climate."
"But, perhaps, brother," interposed Amelia, "those who, like Mr. Palmer, have lived much in a warm climate, might find a return to a cold country dangerous; and we should consider what is best for him, not merely what is most agreeable to ourselves."
"True, my dearest Amelia," said Mrs. Beaumont; "and to be sure, Dr. Y—— is one of our most skilful physicians. I could not be so rash or so selfish as to set my private wishes, or my private opinion, in opposition to Dr. Y——'s advice; but surely, my dear sir, you won't let one physician, however eminent, send you away from us all, and banish you again from England? We have a very clever physician here, Dr. Wheeler, in whom I have the greatest confidence. In my own case, I confess, I should prefer his judgment to any of the London fashionable physicians, who are so fine and so hurried, that they can't take time to study one's particular constitution, and hear all one has to say to them. Now that is Wheeler's great excellence—and I should so like to hear his opinion. I am sure, if he gives it against me, I will not say a word more: if he decide for Jamaica, I may be vexed, but I should make it a point of conscience to submit, and not to urge my good friend to stay in England at his own peril. Happy they who can live where they please, and whose fortune puts it in their power to purchase any climate, and to combine the comforts and luxuries of all countries!"
Nothing more was said upon the subject: Mrs. Beaumont turned the conversation to the different luxuries of the West and East Indies. Mr. Palmer, fatigued by his journey, retired early to rest, little dreaming that his kind hostess waked, whilst he slept, for the purpose of preparing a physician to give a proper opinion upon his case. Mrs. Beaumont left a note to her favourite Dr. Wheeler, to be sent very early in the morning. As if by accident, the doctor dropped in at breakfast time, and Mrs. Beaumont declared that it was the luckiest chance imaginable, that he should happen to call just when she was wishing to see him. When the question in debate was stated to him, he, with becoming gravity of countenance and suavity of manner, entered into a discussion upon the effect of hot and cold climates upon the solids and fluids, and nervous system in general; then upon English constitutions in particular; and, lastly, upon idiosyncrasies.
This last word cost Mr. Palmer half his breakfast: on hearing it he turned down his cup with a profound sigh, and pushed his plate from him; indications which did not escape the physician's demure eye. Gaining confidence from the weakness of the patient, Dr. Wheeler now boldly pronounced, that, in his opinion, any gentleman who, after having habituated himself long to a hot climate, as Jamaica, for instance, should come late in life to reside in a colder climate, as England, for example, must run very great hazard indeed—nay, he could almost venture to predict, would fall a victim to the sudden tension of the lax fibres.
Though a man of sound good sense in most things, Mr. Palmer's weakness was, on medical subjects, as great as his ignorance; his superstitious faith in physicians was as implicit as either Dr. Wheeler or Mrs. Beaumont could desire.
"Then," said Mr. Palmer, with a sigh still deeper than the first—for the first was for himself, and the second for his country—"then England, Old England! farewell for ever! All my judges pronounce sentence of transportation upon me!"
Mr. Beaumont and Amelia, in eager and persuasive tones of remonstrance and expostulation, at once addressed the doctor, to obtain a mitigation or suspension of his sentence. Dr. Wheeler, albeit unused to the imperative mood, reiterated his dictum. Though little accustomed to hold his opinion against the arguments or the wishes of the rich and fair, he, upon this occasion, stood his ground against Miss and Mr. Beaumont wonderfully well for nearly five minutes; till, to his utter perplexity and dismay, he saw Mrs. Beaumont appear amongst his assailants.
"Well, I said I would submit, and not say a word, if Dr. Wheeler was against me," she began; "but I cannot sit by silent: I must protest against this cruel, cruel decree, so contrary too to what I hoped and expected would be Dr. Wheeler's opinion."
Poor Dr. Wheeler twinkled and seemed as if he would have rubbed his eyes, not sure whether he was awake or in a dream. In his perplexity, he apprehended that he had misunderstood Mrs. Beaumont's note, and he now prepared to make his way round again through the solids and the fluids, and the whole nervous system, till, by favour of idiosyncrasy, he hoped to get out of his difficulty, and to allow Mr. Palmer to remain on British ground. Mrs. Beaumont's face, in spite of her powers of simulation, lengthened and lengthened, and darkened and darkened, as he proceeded in his recantation; but, when the exception to the general axiom was fairly made out, and a clear permit to remain in England granted, by such high medical authority, she forced a smile, and joined loudly in the general congratulations. Whilst her son was triumphing and shaking hands with Mr. Palmer, she slipped down stairs after Dr. Wheeler.
"Ah, doctor! What have you done! Ruined me! ruined me! Didn't you read my note? Didn't you understand it?—I thought a word to the wise was enough."
"Why!—then it was as I understood it at first? So I thought; but then I fancied I must be mistaken afterwards; for when I expected support, my dear madam, you opposed my opinion in favour of Jamaica more warmly than any one, and what was I to think?"
"To think! Oh, my dear doctor, you might have guessed that was only a sham opposition."
"But, my dear ma'am," cried Dr. Wheeler, who, though the mildest of men, was now worked up to something like indignation, "my dear ma'am—sham upon sham is too much for any man!"
The doctor went down stairs murmuring. Thus, by excess of hypocrisy, our heroine disgusted even her own adherents, in which she has the honour to resemble some of the most wily politicians famous in English history. But she was too wise ever to let any one who could serve or injure her go discontented out of her presence.
"My dear, good Dr. Wheeler, I never saw you angry before. Come, come," cried Mrs. Beaumont, sliding a douceur into his hand, "friends must not be vexed for trifles; it was only a mistake de part et d'autre, and you'll return here to-morrow, in your way home, and breakfast with us; and now we understand one another. And," added she, in a whisper, "we can talk over things, and have your cool judgment best, when only you, and I, and Mr. Palmer, are present. You comprehend."
Those who practise many manoeuvres, and carry on many intrigues at the same time, have this advantage, that if one fails, the success of another compensates for the disappointment. However she might have been vexed by this slight contre-temps with Dr. Wheeler, Mrs. Beaumont had ample compensation of different sorts this day; some due to her own exertions, some owing to accident. Her own exertions prevented her dear Albina Hunter from returning; for Mrs. Beaumont never sent the promised carriage—only a note of apology—a nail had run into one of the coach-horse's feet. To accident she owed that the Walsinghams were not at home when her son galloped over to see them the next morning, and to inquire what news from Captain Walsingham. That day's paper also brought a contradiction of the report of the engagement and victory; so that Mrs. Beaumont's apprehensions on this subject were allayed; and she had no doubt that, by proper management, with a sufficient number of notes and messages, misunderstandings, lame horses, and crossings upon the road, she might actually get through the week without letting the Walsinghams see Mr. Palmer; or at least without more than a vis, or a morning visit, from which no great danger could be apprehended. "Few, indeed, have so much character," thought she, "or so much dexterity in showing it, as to make a dangerous impression in the course of a formal morning visit."
"Ah! c'est mentir tant soit peu; j'en conviens; C'est un grand mal—mais il produit un bien." VOLTAIRE.
The third day went off still more successfully. Dr. Wheeler called at breakfast, frightened Mr. Palmer out of his senses about his health, and convinced him that his life depended upon his immediate return to the climate of Jamaica:—so this point was decided.
Mrs. Beaumont, calculating justly that the Walsinghams would return Mr. Beaumont's visit, and come to pay their respects to Mr. Palmer this morning, settled, as soon as breakfast was over, a plan of operations which should keep Mr. Palmer out till dinner-time. He must see the charming drive which her son had made round his improvements; and she must have the pleasure of showing it to him herself; and she assured him that he might trust to her driving.
So into Mrs. Beaumont's garden-chair he got; and when she had him fairly prisoner, she carried him far away from all danger of intruding visitors. It may readily be supposed that our heroine made good use of the five or six hours' leisure for manoeuvring which she thus secured.
So frank and cordial was this simple-hearted old man, any one but Mrs. Beaumont would have thought that with him no manoeuvring was necessary; that she need only to have trusted to his friendship and generosity, and have directly told him her wishes. He was so prepossessed in her favour, as being the widow of his friend, that he was almost incapable of suspecting her of any unhandsome conduct; besides, having had little converse with modern ladies, his imagination was so prepossessed with the old-fashioned picture of a respectable widow lady and guardian mother, that he took it for granted Mrs. Beaumont was just like one of the good matrons of former times, like Lady Bountiful, or Lady Lizard; and, as such, he spoke to her of her family concerns, in all the openness of a heart which knew no guile.
"Now, my good Mistress Beaumont, you must look upon me just as my friend the colonel would have done; as a man, who has your family interests at heart just as much as if I were one of yourselves. And let me in to all your little affairs, and trust me with all your little plans, and let us talk over things together, and settle how every thing can be done for the best for the young people. You know, I have no relations in the world but your family and the Walsinghams, of whom, by-the-bye, I know nothing. No one living has any claim upon me: I can leave or give my own just as I please; and you and yours are, of course, my first objects—and for the how, and the what, and the when, I must consult you; and only beg you to keep it in mind, that I would as soon give as bequeath, and rather; for as to what a man leaves to his friends, he can only have the satisfaction of thinking that they will be the better for him after he is dead and gone, which is but cold comfort; but what he gives he has the warm comfort of seeing them enjoy whilst he is alive with them."
"Such a generous sentiment!" exclaimed Mrs. Beaumont, "and so unlike persons in general who have large fortunes at their disposal! I feel so much obliged, so excessively—"
"Not at all, not at all, not at all—no more of that, no more of that, my good lady. The colonel and I were friends; so there can be no obligation between us, nor thanks, nor speeches. But, just as if you were talking to yourself, tell me your mind. And if there are any little embarrassments that the son may want to clear off on coming of age; or if there's any thing wanting to your jointure, my dear madam; or if there should be any marriages in the wind, where a few thousands, more or less, might be the making or the breaking of a heart;—let me hear about it all: and do me the justice to let me have the pleasure of making the young folks, and the old folks too, happy their own way; for I have no notion of insisting on all people being happy my way—no, no! I've too much English liberty in me for that; and I'm sure, you, my good lady, are as great a foe as I am to all family managements and mysteries, where the old don't know what the young do, nor the young what the old think. No, no—that's all nonsense and French convent work—nothing like a good old English family. So, my dear Mistress Beaumont, out with it all, and make me one of yourselves, free of the family from this minute. Here's my hand and heart upon it—an old friend may presume so far."
This frankness would have opened any heart except Mrs. Beaumont's; but it is the misfortune of artful people that they cannot believe others to be artless: either they think simplicity of character folly; or else they suspect that openness is only affected, as a bait to draw them into snares. Our heroine balanced for a moment between these two notions. She could not believe Mr. Palmer to be an absolute fool—no; his having made such a large fortune forbad that thought. Then he must have thrown himself thus open merely to try her, and to come at the knowledge of debts and embarrassments, which, if brought to light, would lower his opinion of the prudence of the family.
"My excellent friend, to be candid with you," she began, "there is no need of your generosity at present, to relieve my son from any embarrassments; for I know that he has no debts whatever. And I am confident he will make my jointure every thing, and more than every thing, I could desire. And, as to marriages, my Amelia is so young, there's time enough to consider."
"True, true; and she does well to take time to consider. But though I don't understand these matters much, she looks mightily like the notion I have of a girl that's a little bit in love."
"In love! Oh, my dear sir! you don't say so—in love?"
"Why, I suppose I should not say in love; there's some other way of expressing it come into fashion since my time, no doubt. And even then, I know that was not to be said of a young lady, till signing and sealing day; but it popped out, and I can't get it back again, so you must even let it pass. And what harm? for you know, madam, without love, what would become of the world?—though I was jilted once and away, I acknowledge—but forgive and forget. I don't like the girl a whit the worse for being a little bit tender-hearted. For I'm morally certain, even from the little I have heard her say, and from the way she has been brought up, and from her being her father's daughter, and her mother's, madam, she could not fix her affections on any one that would not do honour to her choice, or—which is only saying the same thing in other words—that you and I should not approve."
"Ah! there's the thing!" said Mrs. Beaumont, sighing.
"Why now I took it into my head from a blush I saw this morning, though how I came to notice it, I don't know; for to my recollection I have not noticed a girl's blushing before these twenty years—but, to be sure, here I have as near an interest, almost, as if she were my own daughter—I say, from the blush I saw this morning, when young Beaumont was talking of the gallop he had taken to inquire about Captain Walsingham, I took it into my head that he was the happy man."
"Oh! my dear sir, he never made any proposals for Amelia." That was strictly true. "Nor, I am sure, ever thought of it, as far as ever I heard."
The saving clause of "as far as ever I heard," prevented this last assertion from coming under that description of falsehoods denominated downright lies.
"Indeed, how could he?" pursued Mrs. Beaumont, "for you know he is no match for Amelia; he has nothing in the world but his commission. No; there never was any proposal from that quarter; and, of course, it is impossible my daughter could think of a man who has no thoughts of her."
"You know best, my good madam; I merely spoke at random. I'm the worst guesser in the world, especially on these matters: what people tell me, I know; and neither more not less."
Mrs. Beaumont rejoiced in the simplicity of her companion. "Then, my good friend, it is but fair to tell you," said she, "that Amelia has an admirer."
"A lover, hey! Who?"
"Ah, there's the misfortune; it is a thing I never can consent to."
"Ha! then now it is out! There's the reason the girl blushes, and is so absent at times."
A plan now occurred to Mrs. Beaumont's scheming imagination which she thought the master-piece of policy. She determined to account for whatever symptoms of embarrassment Mr. Palmer might observe in her daughter, by attributing them to a thwarted attachment for Sir John Hunter; and Mrs. Beaumont resolved to make a merit to Mr. Palmer of opposing this match because the lover was a baronet, and she thought that Mr. Palmer would be pleased by her showing an aversion to the thoughts of her daughter's marrying a sprig of quality. This ingenious method of paying her court to her open-hearted friend, at the expense equally of truth and of her daughter, she executed with her usual address.
"Well, I'm heartily glad, my dear good madam, to find that you have the same prejudices against sprigs of quality that I have. One good commoner is worth a million of them to my mind. So I told a puppy of a nephew of mine, who would go and buy a baronetage, forsooth—disinherited him! but he is dead, poor puppy."
"Poor young man! But this is all new to me," said Mrs. Beaumont, with well-feigned surprise.
"But did not you know, my dear madam, that I had a nephew, and that he is dead?"
"Oh, yes; but not the particulars."
"No; the particulars I never talk of—not to the poor dog's credit. It's well he's dead, for if he had lived, I am afraid I should have forgiven him. No, no, I never would. But there is no use in thinking any more of that. What were we saying? Oh, about your Amelia—our Amelia, let me call her. If she is so much attached, poor thing, to this man, though he is a baronet, which I own is against him to my fancy, yet it is to be presumed he has good qualities to balance that, since she values him; and young people must be young, and have their little foolish prepossessions for title, and so forth. To be sure, I should have thought my friend's daughter above that, of such a good family as she is, and with such good sense as she inherits too. But we have all our foibles, I suppose. And since it is so with Amelia, why do let me see this baronet-swain of hers, and let me try what good I can find out in him, and let me bring myself, if I can, over my prejudices. And then you, my dear madam, so good and kind a mother as you are, will make an effort too on your part; for we must see the girl happy, if it is not out of all sense and reason. And if the man be worthy of her, it is not his fault that he is a sprig of quality; and we must forgive and forget, and give our consent, my dear Mrs. Beaumont."