by Maria Edgeworth
[Footnotes have been inserted in the text in square ("") brackets, close to the point where they were originally.
Characters printed in italics in the original text have been written in capital letters in this etext.
The British Pound Sterling symbol has been written 'L'.]
NOTES ON 'THE ABSENTEE'
In August 1811, we are told, she wrote a little play about landlords and tenants for the children of her sister, Mrs. Beddoes. Mr. Edgeworth tried to get the play produced on the London boards. Writing to her aunt, Mrs. Ruxton, Maria says, 'Sheridan has answered as I foresaw he must, that in the present state of this country the Lord Chamberlain would not license THE ABSENTEE; besides there would be a difficulty in finding actors for so many Irish characters.' The little drama was then turned into a story, by Mr. Edgeworth's advice. Patronage was laid aside for the moment, and THE ABSENTEE appeared in its place in the second part of TALES OF FASHIONABLE LIFE. We all know Lord Macaulay's verdict upon this favourite story of his, the last scene of which he specially admired and compared to the ODYSSEY. [Lord Macaulay was not the only notable admirer of THE ABSENTEE. The present writer remembers hearing Professor Ruskin on one occasion break out in praise and admiration of the book. 'You can learn more by reading it of Irish politics,' he said, 'than from a thousand columns out of blue-books.'] Mrs. Edgeworth tells us that much of it was written while Maria was suffering a misery of toothache.
Miss Edgeworth's own letters all about this time are much more concerned with sociabilities than with literature. We read of a pleasant dance at Mrs. Burke's; of philosophers at sport in Connemara; of cribbage, and company, and country houses, and Lord Longford's merry anecdotes during her visit to him. Miss Edgeworth, who scarcely mentions her own works, seems much interested at this time in a book called MARY AND HER CAT, which she is reading with some of the children.
Little scraps of news (I cannot resist quoting one or two of them) come in oddly mixed with these personal records of work and family talk. 'There is news of the Empress (Marie Louise), who is liked not at all by the Parisians; she is too haughty, and sits back in her carriage when she goes through the streets. 'Of Josephine, who is living very happily, amusing herself with her gardens and her shrubberies.' This ci-devant Empress and Kennedy and Co., the seedsmen, are in partnership, says Miss Edgeworth. And then among the lists of all the grand people Maria meets in London in 1813 (Madame de Stael is mentioned as expected), she gives an interesting account of an actual visitor, Peggy Langan, who was grand-daughter to Thady in CASTLE RACKRENT. Peggy went to England with Mrs. Beddoes, and was for thirty years in the service of Mrs. Haldimand we are told, and was own sister to Simple Susan.
The story of THE ABSENTEE is a very simple one, and concerns Irish landlords living in England, who ignore their natural duties and station in life, and whose chief ambition is to take their place in the English fashionable world. The grand English ladies are talking of Lady Clonbrony.
'"If you knew all she endures to look, speak, move, breathe like an Englishwoman, you would pity her,"' said Lady Langdale.
'"Yes, and you CAWNT conceive the PEENS she TEEKES to talk of the TEEBLES and CHEERS, and to thank Q, and, with so much TEESTE, to speak pure English,"' said Mrs. Dareville.
'"Pure cockney, you mean," said Lady Langdale.'
Lord Colambre, the son of the lady in question, here walks across the room, not wishing to listen to any more strictures upon his mother. He is the very most charming of walking gentlemen, and when stung by conscience he goes off to Ireland, disguised in a big cloak, to visit his father's tenantry and to judge for himself of the state of affairs, all our sympathies go with him. On his way he stops at Tusculum, scarcely less well known than its classical namesake. He is entertained by Mrs. Raffarty, that esthetical lady who is determined to have a little 'taste' of everything at Tusculum. She leads the way into a little conservatory, and a little pinery, and a little grapery, and a little aviary, and a little pheasantry, and a little dairy for show, and a little cottage for ditto, with a grotto full of shells, and a little hermitage full of earwigs, and a little ruin full of looking-glass, to enlarge and multiply the effect of the Gothic.... But you could only put your head in, because it was just fresh painted, and though there had been a fire ordered in the ruin all night, it had only smoked.
'As they proceeded and walked through the grounds, from which Mrs. Raffarty, though she had done her best, could not take that which nature had given, she pointed out to my lord "a happy moving termination," consisting of a Chinese bridge, with a fisherman leaning over the rails. On a sudden, the fisherman was seen to tumble over the bridge into the water. The gentlemen ran to extricate the poor fellow, while they heard Mrs. Raffarty bawling to his lordship to beg he would never mind, and not trouble himself.
'When they arrived at the bridge, they saw the man hanging from part of the bridge, and apparently struggling in the water; but when they attempted to pull him up, they found it was only a stuffed figure which had been pulled into the stream by a real fish, which had seized hold of the bait.'
The dinner-party is too long to quote, but it is written in Miss Edgeworth's most racy and delightful vein of fun.
One more little fact should not be omitted in any mention of THE ABSENTEE. One of the heroines is Miss Broadhurst, the heiress. The Edgeworth family were much interested, soon after the book appeared, to hear that a real living Miss Broadhurst, an heiress, had appeared upon the scenes, and was, moreover, engaged to be married to Sneyd Edgeworth, one of the eldest sons of the family. In the story, says Mrs. Edgeworth, Miss Broadhurst selects from her lovers one who 'unites worth and wit,' and then she goes on to quote an old epigram of Mr. Edgeworth's on himself, which concluded with,'There's an Edge to his wit and there's worth in his heart.'
Mr. Edgeworth, who was as usual busy building church spires for himself and other people, abandoned his engineering for a time to criticise his daughter's story, and he advised that the conclusion of THE ABSENTEE should be a letter from Larry the postilion. 'He wrote one, she wrote another,' says Mrs. Edgeworth. 'He much preferred hers, which is the admirable finale of THE ABSENTEE.' And just about this time Lord Ross is applied to, to frank the Edgeworth manuscripts.
'I cannot by any form of words express how delighted I am that you are none of you angry with me,' writes modest Maria to her cousin, Miss Ruxton, 'and that my uncle and aunt are pleased with what they have read of THE ABSENTEE. I long to hear whether their favour continues to the end, and extends to the catastrophe, that dangerous rock upon which poor authors are wrecked.'
'Are you to be at Lady Clonbrony's gala next week?' said Lady Langdale to Mrs. Dareville, whilst they were waiting for their carriages in the crush-room of the opera house.
'Oh yes! everybody's to be there, I hear,' replied Mrs. Dareville. 'Your ladyship, of course?'
'Why, I don't know—if I possibly can. Lady Clonbrony makes it such a point with me, that I believe I must look in upon her for a few minutes. They are going to a prodigious expense on this occasion. Soho tells me the reception rooms are all to be new furnished, and in the most magnificent style.'
'At what a famous rate those Clonbronies are dashing on,' said Colonel Heathcock. 'Up to anything.'
'Who are they?—these Clonbronies, that one hears of so much of late' said her Grace of Torcaster. 'Irish absentees I know. But how do they support all this enormous expense?'
'The son WILL have a prodigiously fine estate when some Mr. Quin dies,' said Mrs. Dareville.
'Yes, everybody who comes from Ireland WILL have a fine estate when somebody dies,' said her grace. 'But what have they at present?'
'Twenty thousand a year, they say,' replied Mrs. Dareville.
'Ten thousand, I believe,' cried Lady Langdale. 'Make it a rule, you know, to believe only half the world says.'
'Ten thousand, have they?—possibly,' said her grace. 'I know nothing about them—have no acquaintance among the Irish. Torcaster knows something of Lady Clonbrony; she has fastened herself, by some means, upon him: but I charge him not to COMMIT me. Positively, I could not for anybody—and much less for that sort of person—extend the circle of my acquaintance.'
'Now that is so cruel of your grace,' said Mrs. Dareville, laughing, 'when poor Lady Clonbrony works so hard, and pays so high, to get into certain circles.'
'If you knew all she endures, to look, speak, move, breathe like an Englishwoman, you would pity her,' said Lady Langdale.
'Yes, and you CAWNT conceive the PEENS she TEEKES to talk of the TEEBLES and CHEERS, and to thank Q, and, with so much TEESTE, to speak pure English,' said Mrs. Dareville.
'Pure cockney, you mean,' said Lady Langdale.
'But why does Lady Clonbrony want to pass for English?' said the duchess.
'Oh! because she is not quite Irish. BRED AND BORN—only bred, not born,' said Mrs. Dareville. 'And she could not be five minutes in your grace's company before she would tell you, that she was HENGLISH, born in HOXFORDSHIRE.'
'She must be a vastly amusing personage. I should like to meet her, if one could see and hear her incog.,' said the duchess. 'And Lord Clonbrony, what is he?'
'Nothing, nobody,' said Mrs. Dareville; 'one never even hears of him.'
'A tribe of daughters, too, I suppose?'
'No, no,' said Lady Langdale, 'daughters would be past all endurance.'
'There's a cousin, though, a Grace Nugent,' said Mrs. Dareville, 'that Lady Clonbrony has with her.'
'Best part of her, too,' said Colonel Heathcock; 'd-d fine girl!—never saw her look better than at the opera to-night!'
'Fine COMPLEXION! as Lady Clonbrony says, when she means a high colour,' said Lady Langdale.
'Grace Nugent is not a lady's beauty,' said Mrs. Dareville. 'Has she any fortune, colonel?'
''Pon honour, don't know,' said the colonel.
'There's a son, somewhere, is not there?' said Lady Langdale.
'Don't know, 'pon honour,' replied the colonel.
'Yes—at Cambridge—not of age yet,' said Mrs. Dareville. 'Bless me! here is Lady Clonbrony come back. I thought she was gone half an hour ago!'
'Mamma,' whispered one of Lady Langdale's daughters, leaning between her mother and Mrs. Dareville, 'who is that gentleman that passed us just now?'
'Towards the door. There now, mamma, you can see him. He is speaking to Lady Clonbrony—to Miss Nugent. Now Lady Clonbrony is introducing him to Miss Broadhurst.'
'I see him now,' said Lady Langdale, examining him through her glass; 'a very gentlemanlike-looking young man, indeed.'
'Not an Irishman, I am sure, by his manner,' said her grace.
'Heathcock!' said Lady Langdale, 'who is Miss Broadhurst talking to?'
'Eh! now really—'pon honour—don't know,' replied Heathcock.
'And yet he certainly looks like somebody one certainly should know,' pursued Lady Langdale, 'though I don't recollect seeing him anywhere before.'
'Really now!' was all the satisfaction she could gain from the insensible, immovable colonel. However, her ladyship, after sending a whisper along the line, gained the desired information, that the young gentleman was Lord Colambre, son, only son, of Lord and Lady Clonbrony—that he was just come from Cambridge—that he was not yet of age—that he would be of age within a year—that he would then, after the death of somebody, come into possession of a fine estate, by the mother's side 'and therefore, Cat'rine, my dear,' said she, turning round to the daughter, who had first pointed him out, 'you understand, we should never talk about other people's affairs.'
'No, mamma, never. I hope to goodness, mamma, Lord Colambre did not hear what you and Mrs. Dareville were saying!'
'How could he, child? He was quite at the other end of the world.'
'I beg your pardon, ma'am, he was at my elbow, close behind us; but I never thought about him till I heard somebody say, "My lord—"'
'Good heavens! I hope he didn't hear.'
'But, for my part, I said nothing,' cried Lady Langdale.
'And for my part, I said nothing but what everybody knows!' cried Mrs. Dareville.
'And for my part, I am guilty only of hearing,' said the duchess. 'Do, pray, Colonel Heathcock, have the goodness to see what my people are about, and what chance we have of getting away to-night.'
'The Duchess of Torcaster's carriage stops the way!'—a joyful sound to Colonel Heathcock and to her grace, and not less agreeable, at this instant, to Lady Langdale, who, the moment she was disembarrassed of the duchess, pressed through the crowd to Lady Clonbrony, and, addressing her with smiles and complacency, was 'charmed to have a little moment to speak to her—could NOT sooner get through the crowd—would certainly do herself the honour to be at her ladyship's gala on Wednesday.' While Lady Langdale spoke, she never seemed to see or think of anybody but Lady Clonbrony, though, all the time, she was intent upon every motion of Lord Colambre, and, whilst she was obliged to listen with a face of sympathy to a long complaint of Lady Clonbrony's, about Mr. Soho's want of taste in ottomans, she was vexed to perceive that his lordship showed no desire to be introduced to her, or to her daughters; but, on the contrary, was standing talking to Miss Nugent. His mother, at the end of her speech, looked round for Colambre called him twice before he heard—introduced him to Lady Langdale, and to Lady Cat'rine, and Lady Anne—, and to Mrs. Dareville; to all of whom he bowed with an air of proud coldness, which gave them reason to regret that their remarks upon his mother and his family had not been made SOTTO VOCE.
'Lady Langdale's carriage stops the way!' Lord Colambre made no offer of his services, notwithstanding a look from his mother. Incapable of the meanness of voluntarily listening to a conversation not intended for him to hear, he had, however, been compelled, by the pressure of the crowd, to remain a few minutes stationary, where he could not avoid hearing the remarks of the fashionable friends. Disdaining dissimulation, he made no attempt to conceal his displeasure. Perhaps his vexation was increased by his consciousness that there was some mixture of truth in their sarcasms. He was sensible that his mother, in some points—her manners, for instance—was obvious to ridicule and satire. In Lady Clonbrony's address there was a mixture of constraint, affectation, and indecision, unusual in a person of her birth, rank, and knowledge of the world. A natural and unnatural manner seemed struggling in all her gestures, and in every syllable that she articulated—a naturally free, familiar, good-natured, precipitate, Irish manner, had been schooled, and schooled late in life, into a sober, cold, still, stiff deportment, which she mistook for English. A strong, Hibernian accent, she had, with infinite difficulty, changed into an English tone. Mistaking reverse of wrong for right, she caricatured the English pronunciation; and the extraordinary precision of her London phraseology betrayed her not to be a Londoner, as the man, who strove to pass for an Athenian, was detected by his Attic dialect. Not aware of her real danger, Lady Clonbrony was, on the opposite side, in continual apprehension, every time she opened her lips, lest some treacherous A or E, some strong R, some puzzling aspirate, or non-aspirate, some unguarded note, interrogative or expostulatory, should betray her to be an Irishwoman. Mrs. Dareville had, in her mimickry, perhaps a little exaggerated as to the TEEBLES and CHEERS, but still the general likeness of the representation of Lady Clonbrony was strong enough to strike and vex her son. He had now, for the first time, an opportunity of judging of the estimation in which his mother and his family were held by certain leaders of the ton, of whom, in her letters, she had spoken so much, and into whose society, or rather into whose parties, she had been admitted. He saw that the renegade cowardice, with which she denied, abjured, and reviled her own country, gained nothing but ridicule and contempt. He loved his mother; and, whilst he endeavoured to conceal her faults and foibles as much as possible from his own heart, he could not endure those who dragged them to light and ridicule. The next morning the first thing that occurred to Lord Colambre's remembrance when he awoke was the sound of the contemptuous emphasis which had been laid on the words IRISH ABSENTEES! This led to recollections of his native country, to comparisons of past and present scenes, to future plans of life. Young and careless as he seemed, Lord Colambre was capable of serious reflection. Of naturally quick and strong capacity, ardent affections, impetuous temper, the early years of his childhood passed at his father's castle in Ireland, where, from the lowest servant to the well-dressed dependant of the family, everybody had conspired to wait upon, to fondle, to flatter, to worship, this darling of their lord. Yet he was not spoiled—not rendered selfish. For, in the midst of this flattery and servility, some strokes of genuine generous affection had gone home to his little heart; and, though unqualified submission had increased the natural impetuosity of his temper, and though visions of his future grandeur had touched his infant thought, yet, fortunately, before he acquired any fixed habits of insolence or tyranny, he was carried far away from all that were bound or willing to submit to his commands, far away from all signs of hereditary grandeur—plunged into one of our great public schools—into a new world. Forced to struggle, mind and body, with his equals, his rivals, the little lord became a spirited schoolboy, and, in time, a man. Fortunately for him, science and literature happened to be the fashion among a set of clever young men with whom he was at Cambridge. His ambition for intellectual superiority was raised, his views were enlarged, his tastes and his manners formed. The sobriety of English good sense mixed most advantageously with Irish vivacity; English prudence governed, but did not extinguish his Irish enthusiasm. But, in fact, English and Irish had not been invidiously contrasted in his mind: he had been so long resident in England, and so intimately connected with Englishmen, that he was not obvious to any of the commonplace ridicule thrown upon Hibernians; and he had lived with men who were too well informed and liberal to misjudge or depreciate a sister country. He had found, from experience, that, however reserved the English may be in manner, they are warm at heart; that, however averse they may be from forming new acquaintance, their esteem and confidence once gained, they make the most solid friends. He had formed friendships in England; he was fully sensible of the superior comforts, refinement, and information, of English society; but his own country was endeared to him by early association, and a sense of duty and patriotism attached him to Ireland. And shall I too be an absentee? was a question which resulted from these reflections—a question which he was not yet prepared to answer decidedly. In the meantime, the first business of the morning was to execute a commission for a Cambridge friend. Mr. Berryl had bought from Mr. Mordicai, a famous London coachmaker, a curricle, WARRANTED SOUND, for which he had paid a sound price, upon express condition that Mr. Mordicai, BARRING ACCIDENTS, should be answerable for all repairs of the curricle for six months. In three, both the carriage and body were found to be good for nothing—the curricle had been returned to Mr. Mordicai—nothing had since been heard of it, or from him—and Lord Colambre had undertaken to pay him and it a visit, and to make all proper inquiries. Accordingly, he went to the coachmaker's, and, obtaining no satisfaction from the underlings, desired to see the head of the house. He was answered, that Mr. Mordicai was not at home. His lordship had never seen Mr. Mordicai; but, just then, he saw, walking across the yard, a man, who looked something like a Bond Street coxcomb, but not the least like a gentleman, who called, in the tone of a master, for 'Mr. Mordicai's barouche!' It appeared; and he was stepping into it when Lord Colambre took the liberty of stopping him; and, pointing to the wreck of Mr. Berryl's curricle, now standing in the yard, began a statement of his friend's grievances, and an appeal to common justice and conscience, which he, unknowing the nature of the man with whom he had to deal, imagined must be irresistible. Mr. Mordicai stood without moving a muscle of his dark wooden face. Indeed, in his face there appeared to be no muscles, or none which could move; so that, though he had what are generally called handsome features, there was, all together, something unnatural and shocking in his countenance. When, at last, his eyes turned, and his lips opened, this seemed to be done by machinery, and not by the will of a living creature, or from the impulse of a rational soul. Lord Colambre was so much struck with this strange physiognomy, that he actually forgot much he had to say of springs and wheels. But it was no matter. Whatever he had said, it would have come to the same thing; and Mordicai would have answered as he now did—
'Sir, it was my partner made that bargain, not myself; and I don't hold myself bound by it, for he is the sleeping-partner only, and not empowered to act in the way of business. Had Mr. Berryl bargained with me, I should have told him that he should have looked to these things before his carriage went out of our yard.'
The indignation of Lord Colambre kindled at these words—but in vain. To all that indignation could by word or look urge against Mordicai, he replied—
'Maybe so, sir; the law is open to your friend—the law is open to all men who can pay for it.'
Lord Colambre turned in despair from the callous coach-maker, and listened to one of his more compassionate-looking workmen, who was reviewing the disabled curricle; and, whilst he was waiting to know the sum of his friend's misfortune, a fat, jolly, Falstaff looking personage came into the yard, accosted Mordicai with a degree of familiarity, which, from a gentleman, appeared to Lord Colambre to be almost impossible.
'How are you, Mordicai, my good fellow?' cried he, speaking with a strong Irish accent.
'Who is this?' whispered Lord Colambre to the foreman, who was examining the curricle.
'Sir Terence O'Fay, sir. There must be entire new wheels.'
'Now tell me, my tight fellow,' continued Sir Terence, holding Mordicai fast, 'when, in the name of all the saints, good or bad, in the calendar, do you reckon to let us sport the SUICIDE?'
Mordicai forcibly drew his mouth into what he meant for a smile, and answered, 'As soon as possible, Sir Terence.'
Sir Terence, in a tone of jocose, wheedling expostulation, entreated him to have the carriage finished OUT OF HAND. 'Ah, now! Mordy, my precious! let us have it by the birthday, and come and dine with us o' Monday, at the Hibernian Hotel—there's a rare one—will you?'
Mordicai accepted the invitation, and promised faithfully that the SUICIDE should be finished by the birthday. Sir Terence shook hands upon this promise, and, after telling a good story, which made one of the workmen in the yard—an Irishman—grin with delight, walked off. Mordicai, first waiting till the knight was out of hearing, called aloud—
'You grinning rascal! mind, at your peril, and don't let that there carriage be touched, d'ye see, till further orders.'
One of Mr. Mordicai's clerks, with a huge long-feathered pen behind his ear, observed that Mr. Mordicai was right in that caution, for that, to the best of his comprehension, Sir Terence O'Fay and his principal, too, were over head and ears in debt.
Mordicai coolly answered that he was well aware of that; but that the estate could afford to dip further; that, for his part, he was under no apprehension; he knew how to look sharp, and to bite before he was bit. That he knew Sir Terence and his principal were leagued together to give the creditors THE GO BY, but that, clever as they both were at that work, he trusted he was their match.
'Will you be so good, sir, to finish making out this estimate for me?' interrupted Lord Colambre.
'Immediately, sir. Sixty-nine pound four, and the perch. Let us see—Mr. Mordicai, ask him, ask Paddy, about Sir Terence,' said the foreman, pointing back over his shoulder to the Irish workman, who was at this moment pretending to be wondrous hard at work. However, when Mr. Mordicai defied him to tell him anything he did not know, Paddy, parting with an untasted bit of tobacco, began, and recounted some of Sir Terence O'Fay's exploits in evading duns, replevying cattle, fighting sheriffs, bribing SUBS, managing cants, tricking CUSTODEES, in language so strange, and with a countenance and gestures so full of enjoyment of the jest, that, whilst Mordicai stood for a moment aghast with astonishment, Lord Colambre could not help laughing, partly at, and partly with, his countryman. All the yard were in a roar of laughter, though they did not understand half of what they heard; but their risible muscles were acted upon mechanically, or maliciously, merely by the sound of the Irish brogue.
Mordicai, waiting till the laugh was over, dryly observed that 'the law is executed in another guess sort of way in England from what it is in Ireland'; therefore, for his part, he desired nothing better than to set his wits fairly against such SHARKS. That there was a pleasure in doing up a debtor which none but a creditor could know.
'In a moment, sir; if you'll have a moment's patience, sir, if you please,' said the slow foreman to Lord Colambre; 'I must go down the pounds once more, and then I'll let you have it.'
'I'll tell you what, Smithfield,' continued Mr. Mordicai, coming close beside his foreman, and speaking very low, but with a voice trembling with anger, for he was piqued by his foreman's doubts of his capacity to cope with Sir Terence O'Fay; 'I'll tell you what, Smithfield, I'll be cursed, if I don't get every inch of them into my power. You know how?'
'You are the best judge, sir,' replied the foreman; 'but I would not undertake Sir Terence; and the question is, whether the estate will answer the LOT of the debts, and whether you know them all for certain?'
'I do, sir, I tell you. There's Green there's Blancham—there's Gray—there's Soho—naming several more—and, to my knowledge, Lord Clonbrony—'
'Stop, sir,' cried Lord Colambre in a voice which made Mordicai, and everybody present, start—'I am his son—'
'The devil!' said Mordicai.
'God bless every bone in his body, then! he's an Irishman,' cried Paddy; 'and there was the RASON my heart warmed to him from the first minute he come into the yard, though I did not know it till now.'
'What, sir! are you my Lord Colambre?' said Mr. Mordicai, recovering, but not clearly recovering, his intellects. 'I beg pardon, but I did not know you WAS Lord Colambre. I thought you told me you was the friend of Mr. Berryl.'
'I do not see the incompatibility of the assertion, sir,' replied Lord Colambre, taking from the bewildered foreman's unresisting hand the account, which he had been so long FURNISHING.
'Give me leave, my lord,' said Mordicai. 'I beg your pardon, my lord, perhaps we can compromise that business for your friend Mr. Berryl; since he is your lordship's friend, perhaps we can contrive to COMPROMISE and SPLIT THE DIFFERENCE.'
TO COMPROMISE and SPLIT THE DIFFERENCE, Mordicai thought were favourite phrases, and approved Hibernian modes of doing business, which would conciliate this young Irish nobleman, and dissipate the proud tempest which had gathered and now swelled in his breast.
'No, sir, no!' cried Lord Colambre, holding firm the paper. 'I want no favour from you. I will accept of none for my friend or for myself.'
'Favour! No, my lord, I should not presume to offer—But I should wish, if you'll allow me, to do your friend justice.'
Lord Colambre recollecting that he had no right, in his pride, to ding away his friend's money, let Mr. Mordicai look at the account; and, his impetuous temper in a few moments recovered by good sense, he considered that, as his person was utterly unknown to Mr. Mordicai, no offence could have been intended to him, and that, perhaps, in what had been said of his father's debts and distress, there might be more truth than he was aware of. Prudently, therefore, controlling his feelings, and commanding himself, he suffered Mr. Mordicai to show him into a parlour, to SETTLE his friend's business. In a few minutes the account was reduced to a reasonable form, and, in consideration of the partner's having made the bargain, by which Mr. Mordicai felt himself influenced in honour, though not bound in law, he undertook to have the curricle made better than new again, for Mr. Berryl, for twenty guineas. Then came awkward apologies to Lord Colambre, which he ill endured. 'Between ourselves, my lord,' continued Mordicai—
But the familiarity of the phrase, 'Between ourselves'—this implication of equality—Lord Colambre could not admit; he moved hastily towards the door and departed.
Full of what he had heard, and impatient to obtain further information respecting the state of his father's affairs, Lord Colambre hastened home; but his father was out, and his mother was engaged with Mr. Soho, directing, or rather being directed, how her apartments should be fitted up for her gala. As Lord Colambre entered the room, he saw his mother, Miss Nugent, and Mr. Soho, standing at a large table, which was covered with rolls of paper, patterns, and drawings of furniture: Mr. Soho was speaking in a conceited dictatorial tone, asserting that there was no 'colour in nature for that room equal to THE BELLY-O'-THE FAWN;' which BELLY-O'-THE FAWN he so pronounced that Lady Clonbrony understood it to be LA BELLE UNIFORME, and, under this mistake, repeated and assented to the assertion till it was set to rights, with condescending superiority, by the upholsterer. This first architectural upholsterer of the age, as he styled himself, and was universally admitted to be by all the world of fashion, then, with full powers given to him, spoke EN MAITRE. The whole face of things must be changed—there must be new hangings, new draperies, new cornices, new candelabras, new everything!
The upholsterer's eye, in a fine frenzy rolling, Glances from ceiling to floor, from floor to ceiling; And, as imagination bodies forth The form of things unknown, th' upholsterer's pencil Turns to shape and gives to airy nothing A local habitation and a NAME.
Of the value of a NAME no one could be more sensible than Mr. Soho.
'Your la'ship sees—this is merely a scratch of my pencil—your la'ship's sensible—just to give you an idea of the shape, the form of the thing. You fill up your angles here with ECOINIERES—round your walls with the TURKISH TENT DRAPERY—a fancy of my own—in apricot cloth, or crimson velvet, suppose, or EN FLUTE, in crimson satin draperies, fanned and riched with gold fringes, EN SUITE—intermediate spaces, Apollo's heads with gold rays—and here, ma'am, you place four CHANCELIERES, with chimeras at the corners, covered with blue silk and silver fringe, elegantly fanciful—with my STATIRA CANOPY here—light blue silk draperies—aerial tint, with silver balls—and for seats here, the SERAGLIO OTTOMANS, superfine scarlet—your paws—griffin—golden—and golden tripods, here, with antique cranes—and oriental alabaster tables here and there—quite appropriate, your la'ship feels.
'And—let me reflect. For the next apartment, it strikes me—as your la'ship don't value expense—THE ALHAMBRA HANGINGS—my own thought entirely. Now, before I unroll them, Lady Clonbrony, I must beg you'll not mention I've shown them. I give you my sacred honour, not a soul has set eye upon the Alhambra hangings, except Mrs. Dareville, who stole a peep; I refused, absolutely refused, the Duchess of Torcaster—but I can't refuse your la'ship. So see, ma'am—(unrolling them)—scagliola porphyry columns supporting the grand dome—entablature, silvered and decorated with imitative bronze ornaments; under the entablature, A VALANCE IN PELMETS, of puffed scarlet silk, would have an unparalleled grand effect, seen through the arches—with the TREBISOND TRELLICE PAPER, would make a TOUT ENSEMBLE, novel beyond example. On that Trebisond trellice paper, I confess, ladies, I do pique myself.
'Then, for the little room, I recommend turning it temporarily into a Chinese pagoda, with this CHINESE PAGODA PAPER, with the PORCELAIN border, and josses, and jars, and beakers to match; and I can venture to promise one vase of pre-eminent size and beauty. Oh, indubitably! if your la'ship prefers it, you can have the EGYPTIAN HIEROGLYPHIC PAPER, with the IBIS BORDER to match! The only objection is, one sees it everywhere—quite antediluvian—gone to the hotels even; but, to be sure, if your la'ship has a fancy—At all events, I humbly recommend, what her Grace of Torcaster longs to patronise, my MOON CURTAINS, with candlelight draperies. A demisaison elegance this—I hit off yesterday—and—true, your la'ship's quite correct—out of the common, completely. And, of course, you'd have the SPHYNX CANDELABRAS, and the Phoenix argands. Oh! nothing else lights now, ma'am! Expense! Expense of the whole! Impossible to calculate here on the spot!—but nothing at all worth your ladyship's consideration!'
At another moment, Lord Colambre might have been amused with all this rhodomontade, and with the airs and voluble conceit of the orator; but, after what he had heard at Mr. Mordicai's, this whole scene struck him more with melancholy than with mirth. He was alarmed by the prospect of new and unbounded expense; provoked, almost past enduring, by the jargon and impertinence of this upholsterer; mortified and vexed to the heart to see his mother the dupe, the sport of such a coxcomb.
'Prince of puppies!—insufferable!—My own mother!' Lord Colambre repeated to himself, as he walked hastily up and down the room.
'Colambre, won't you let us have your judgment—your TEESTE' said his mother.
'Excuse me, ma'am. I have no taste, no judgment, in these things.'
He sometimes paused, and looked at Mr. Soho with a strong inclination to—But knowing that he should say too much, if he said anything, he was silent never dared to approach the council table—but continued walking up and down the room, till he heard a voice, which at once arrested his attention, and soothed his ire. He approached the table instantly, and listened, whilst Grace Nugent said everything he wished to have said, and with all the propriety and delicacy with which he thought he could not have spoken. He leaned on the table, and fixed his eyes upon her—years ago, he had seen his cousin—last night, he had thought her handsome, pleasing, graceful—but now, he saw a new person, or he saw her in a new light. He marked the superior intelligence, the animation, the eloquence of her countenance, its variety, whilst alternately, with arch raillery or grave humour, she played off Mr. Soho, and made him magnify the ridicule, till it was apparent even to Lady Clonbrony. He observed the anxiety, lest his mother should expose her own foibles—he was touched by the respectful, earnest kindness—the soft tones of persuasion, with which she addressed his mother—the care not to presume upon her own influence—the good sense, the taste she showed, yet not displaying her superiority—the address, temper, and patience, with which she at last accomplished her purpose, and prevented Lady Clonbrony from doing anything preposterously absurd, or exorbitantly extravagant.
Lord Colambre was actually sorry when the business was ended—when Mr. Soho departed—for Grace Nugent was then silent; and it was necessary to remove his eyes from that countenance, on which he had gazed unobserved. Beautiful and graceful, yet so unconscious was she of her charms, that the eye of admiration could rest upon her without her perceiving it—she seemed so intent upon others as totally to forget herself The whole train of Lord Colambre's thoughts was so completely deranged that, although he was sensible there was something of importance he had to say to his mother, yet, when Mr. Soho's departure left him opportunity to speak, he stood silent, unable to recollect anything but—Grace Nugent.
When Grace Nugent left the room, after some minutes' silence, and some effort, Lord Colambre said to his mother, 'Pray, madam, do you know anything of Sir Terence O'Fay?'
'I!' Said Lady Clonbrony, drawing up her head proudly; 'I know he is a person I cannot endure. He is no friend of mine, I can assure you—nor any such sort of person.'
'I thought it was impossible!' cried Colambre, with exultation.
'I only wish your father, Colambre, could say as much,' added Lady Clonbrony.
Lord Colambre's countenance fell again; and again he was silent for some time.
'Does my father dine at home, ma'am?'
'I suppose not; he seldom dines at home.'
'Perhaps, ma'am, my father may have some cause to be uneasy about—'
'About?' said Lady Clonbrony, in a tone, and with a look of curiosity which convinced her son that she knew nothing of his debts or distresses, if he had any. 'About what?' repeated her ladyship.
Here was no receding, and Lord Colambre never had recourse to artifice.
'About his affairs, I was going to say, madam. But, since you know nothing of any difficulties or embarrassments, I am persuaded that none exist.'
Nay, I CAWNT tell you that, Colambre. There are difficulties for ready money, I confess, when I ask for it, which surprise me often. I know nothing of affairs—ladies of a certain rank seldom do, you know. But, considering your father's estate, and the fortune I brought him,' added her ladyship, proudly, 'I CAWNT conceive it at all. Grace Nugent, indeed, often talks to me of embarrassments and economy; but that, poor thing, is very natural for her, because her fortune is not particularly large, and she has left it all, or almost all, in her uncle and guardian's hands. I know she's often distressed for odd money to lend me, and that makes her anxious.'
'Is not Miss Nugent very much admired, ma'am, in London?'
'Of course—in the company she is in, you know, she has every advantage. And she has a natural family air of fashion—not but what she would have got on much better, if, when she first appeared in Lon'on, she had taken my advice, and wrote herself on her cards Miss de Nogent, which would have taken off the prejudice against the IRICISM of Nugent, you know; and there is a Count de Nogent.'
'I did not know there was any such prejudice, ma'am. There may be among a certain set; but, I should think, not among well-informed, well-bred people.'
'I BIG your PAWDON, Colambre; surely I, that was born in England, an Henglish-woman BAWN! must be well INFAWMED on this PINT, anyway.'
Lord Colambre was respectfully silent.
'Mother,' resumed he, 'I wonder that Miss Nugent is not married!'
'That is her own fau't, entirely; she has refused very good offers—establishments that, I own, I think, as Lady Langdale says, I was to blame to allow her to let pass; but young LEDIES till they are twenty, always think they can do better. Mr. Martingale, of Martingale, proposed for her, but she objected to him on account of he's being on the turf; and Mr. St. Albans' L7000 a year—because—I REELLY forget what—I believe only because she did not like him—and something about principles. Now there is Colonel Heathcock, one of the most fashionable young men you see, always with the Duchess of Torcaster and that set—Heathcock takes a vast deal of notice of her, for him; and yet, I'm persuaded, she would not have him to-morrow, if he came to the PINT, and for no reason, REELLY now, that she can give me, but because she says he's a coxcomb. Grace has a tincture of Irish pride. But, for my part, I rejoice that she is so difficult, for I don't know what I should do without her.'
'Miss Nugent is indeed—very much attached to you, mother, I am convinced,' said Lord Colambre, beginning his sentence with great enthusiasm, and ending it with great sobriety.
'Indeed then, she's a sweet girl, and I am very partial to her, there's the truth,' cried Lady Clonbrony, in an undisguised Irish accent, and with her natural warm manner. But a moment afterwards her features and whole form resumed their constrained stillness and stiffness, and, in her English accent, she continued—
'Before you put my IDEES out of my head, Colambre, I had something to say to you—Oh! I know what it was—we were talking of embarrassments—and I wished to do your father the justice to mention to you that he has been UNCOMMON LIBERAL to me about this gala, and has REELLY given me carte-blanche; and I've a notion—indeed I know—that it is you, Colambre, I am to thank for this.'
'Yes! Did not your father give you any hint?'
'No, ma'am; I have seen my father but for half an hour since I came to town, and in that time he said nothing to me—of his affairs.'
'But what I allude to is more your affair.'
'He did not speak to me of any affairs, ma'am—he spoke only of my horses.'
'Then I suppose my lord leaves it to me to open the matter to you. I have the pleasure to tell you, that we have in view for you—and I think I may say with more than the approbation of all her family—an alliance—'
'Oh! my dear mother! you cannot be serious,' cried Lord Colambre; 'you know I am not of years of discretion yet—I shall not think of marrying these ten years, at least.'
'Why not? Nay, my dear Colambre, don't go, I beg—I am serious, I assure you—and, to convince you of it, I shall tell you candidly, at once, all your father told me: that now you've done with Cambridge, and are come to Lon'on, he agrees with me in wishing that you should make the figure you ought to make, Colambre, as sole heir-apparent to the Clonbrony estate, and all that sort of thing. But, on the other hand, living in Lon'on, and making you the handsome allowance you ought to have, are, both together, more than your father can afford, without inconvenience, he tells me.'
'I assure you, mother, I shall be content—'
'No, no; you must not be content, child, and you must hear me. You must live in a becoming style, and make a proper appearance. I could not present you to my friends here, nor be happy, if you did not, Colambre. Now the way is clear before you: you have birth and title, here is fortune ready made; you will have a noble estate of your own when old Quin dies, and you will not be any encumbrance or inconvenience to your father or anybody. Marrying an heiress accomplishes all this at once; and the young lady is everything we could wish, besides—you will meet again at the gala. Indeed, between ourselves, she is the grand object of the gala; all her friends will come EN MASSE, and one should wish that they should see things in proper style. You have seen the young lady in question, Colambre—Miss Broadhurst. Don't you recollect the young lady I introduced you to last night after the opera?'
'The little, plain girl, covered with diamonds, who was standing beside Miss Nugent?'
'In di'monds, yes. But you won't think her plain when you see more of her—that wears off; I thought her plain, at first—I hope—'
'I hope,' said Lord Colambre, 'that you will not take it unkindly of me, my dear mother, if I tell you, at once, that I have no thoughts of marrying at present—and that I never will marry for money. Marrying an heiress is not even a new way of paying old debts—at all events, it is one to which no distress could persuade me to have recourse; and as I must, if I outlive old Mr. Quin, have an independent fortune, THERE IS NO occasion to purchase one by marriage.'
'There is no distress, that I know of, in the case,' cried Lady Clonbrony. 'Where is your imagination running, Colambre? But merely for your establishment, your independence.'
'Establishment, I want none—independence I do desire, and will preserve. Assure my father, my DEAR MOTHER, that I will not be an expense to him. I will live within the allowance he made me at Cambridge—I will give up half of it—I will do anything for his convenience—but marry for money, that I cannot do.'
'Then, Colambre, you are very disobliging,' said Lady Clonbrony, with an expression of disappointment and displeasure; 'for your father says, if you don't marry Miss Broadhurst, we can't live in Lon'on another winter.'
This said—which, had she been at the moment mistress of herself, she would not have let out—Lady Clonbrony abruptly quitted the room. Her son stood motionless, saying to himself—
'Is this my mother?—How altered!'
The next morning he seized an opportunity of speaking to his father, whom he caught, with difficulty, just when he was going out, as usual, for the day. Lord Colambre, with all the respect due to his father, and with that affectionate manner by which he always knew how to soften the strength of his expressions, made nearly the same declarations of his resolution, by which his mother had been so much surprised and offended. Lord Clonbrony seemed more embarrassed, but not so much displeased. When Lord Colambre adverted, as delicately as he could, to the selfishness of desiring from him the sacrifice of liberty for life, to say nothing of his affections, merely to enable his family to make a splendid figure in London, Lord Clonbrony exclaimed, 'That's all nonsense!—cursed nonsense! That's the way we are obliged to state the thing to your mother, my dear boy, because I might talk her deaf before she would understand or listen to anything else. But, for my own share, I don't care a rush if London was sunk in the salt sea. Little Dublin for my money, as Sir Terence O'Fay says.'
'Who is Sir Terence O'Fay, may I ask, sir?'
'Why, don't you know Terry? Ay, you've been so long at Cambridge, I forgot. And did you never see Terry?'
'I have seen him, sir—I met him yesterday at Mr. Mordicai's, the coachmaker's.'
'Mordicai's!' exclaimed Lord Clonbrony, with a sudden blush, which he endeavoured to hide by taking snuff. 'He is a damned rascal, that Mordicai! I hope you didn't believe a word he said—nobody does that knows him.'
'I am glad, sir, that you seem to know him so well, and to be upon your guard against him,' replied Lord Colambre; 'for, from what I heard of his conversation, when he was not aware who I was, I am convinced he would do you any injury in his power.'
'He shall never have me in his power, I promise him. We shall take care of that. But what did he say?'
Lord Colambre repeated the substance of what Mordicai had said, and Lord Clonbrony reiterated—'Damned rascal!—damned rascal! I'll get out of his hands; I'll have no more to do with him.' But, as he spoke, he exhibited evident symptoms of uneasiness, moving continually, and shifting from leg to leg like a foundered horse.
He could not bring himself positively to deny that he had debts and difficulties; but he would by no means open the state of his affairs to his son—'No father is called upon to do that,' said he to himself; 'none but a fool would do it.'
Lord Colambre, perceiving his father's embarrassment, withdrew his eyes, respectfully refrained from all further inquiries, and simply repeated the assurance he had made to his mother, that he would put his family to no additional expense; and that, if it was necessary, he would willingly give up half his allowance.
'Not at all—not at all, my dear boy,' said his father; 'I would rather cramp myself than that you should be cramped, a thousand times over. But it is all my Lady Clonbrony's nonsense. If people would but, as they ought, stay in their own country, live on their own estates, and kill their own mutton, money need never be wanting.'
For killing their own mutton, Lord Colambre did not see the indispensable necessity; but he rejoiced to hear his father assert that people should reside in their own country.
'Ay,' cried Lord Clonbrony, to strengthen his assertion, as he always thought it necessary to do, by quoting some other person's opinion. 'So Sir Terence O'Fay always says, and that's the reason your mother can't endure poor Terry. You don't know Terry? No, you have only seen him; but, indeed, to see him is to know him; for he is the most off-hand, good fellow in Europe.'
'I don't pretend to know him yet,' said Lord Colambre. 'I am not so presumptuous as to form my opinion at first sight.'
'Oh, curse your modesty!' interrupted Lord Clonbrony; 'you mean, you don't pretend to like him yet; but Terry will make you like him. I defy you not. I'll introduce you to him—him to you, I mean—most warn-hearted, generous dog upon earth—convivial—jovial—with wit and humour enough, in his own way, to split you—split me if he has not. You need not cast down your eyes, Colambre. What's your objection?'
'I have made none, sir; but, if you urge me, I can only say that, if he has all these good qualities, it is to be regretted that he does not look and speak a little more like a gentleman.'
'A gentleman! he is as much a gentleman as any of your formal prigs—not the exact Cambridge cut, maybe. Curse your English education! 'Twas none of my advice. I suppose you mean to take after your mother in the notion that nothing can be good, or genteel, but what's English.'
'Far from it, sir; I assure you, I am as warm a friend to Ireland as your heart could wish. You will have no reason, in that respect at least, nor, I hope, in any other, to curse my English education; and, if my gratitude and affection can avail, you shall never regret the kindness and liberality with which you have, I fear, distressed yourself to afford me the means of becoming all that a British nobleman ought to be.'
'Gad! you distress me now!' said Lord Clonbrony, 'and I didn't expect it, or I wouldn't make a fool of myself this way,' added he, ashamed of his emotion, and whiffling it off. 'You have an Irish heart, that I see, which no education can spoil. But you must like Terry. I'll give you time, as he said to me, when first he taught me to like usquebaugh. Good morning to you!'
Whilst Lady Clonbrony, in consequence of her residence in London, had become more of a fine lady, Lord Clonbrony, since he left Ireland, had become less of a gentleman. Lady Clonbrony, born an Englishwoman, disclaiming and disencumbering herself of all the Irish in town, had, by giving splendid entertainments, at an enormous expense, made her way into a certain set of fashionable company. But Lord Clonbrony, who was somebody in Ireland, who was a great person in Dublin, found himself nobody in England, a mere cipher in London, Looked down upon by the fine people with whom his lady associated, and heartily weary of them, he retreated from them altogether, and sought entertainment and self-complacency in society beneath him—indeed, both in rank and education, but in which he had the satisfaction of feeling himself the first person in company. Of these associates, the first in talents, and in jovial profligacy, was Sir Terence O'Fay—a man of low extraction, who had been knighted by an Irish lord-lieutenant in some convivial frolic. No one could tell a good story, or sing a good song better than Sir Terence; he exaggerated his native brogue, and his natural propensity to blunder, caring little whether the company laughed at him or with him, provided they laughed. 'Live and laugh—laugh and live,' was his motto; and certainly he lived on laughing, as well as many better men can contrive to live on a thousand a year.
Lord Clonbrony brought Sir Terence home with him next day to introduce him to Lord Colambre; and it happened that on this occasion Terence appeared to peculiar disadvantage, because, like many other people, 'Il gatoit l'esprit qu'il avoit en voulant avoir celui qu'il n'avoit pas.'
Having been apprised that Lord Colambre was a fine scholar, fresh from Cambridge, and being conscious of his own deficiencies of literature, instead of trusting to his natural talents, he summoned to his aid, with no small effort, all the scraps of learning he had acquired in early days, and even brought before the company all the gods and goddesses with whom he had formed an acquaintance at school. Though embarrassed by this unusual encumbrance of learning, he endeavoured to make all subservient to his immediate design, of paying his court to Lady Clonbrony, by forwarding the object she had most anxiously in view—the match between her son and Miss Broadhurst.
'And so, Miss Nugent,' said he, not daring, with all his assurance, to address himself directly to Lady Clonbrony—'and so, Miss Nugent, you are going to have great doings, I'm told, and a wonderful grand gala. There's nothing in the wide world equal to being in a good, handsome crowd. No later now than the last ball at the Castle that was before I left Dublin, Miss Nugent—the apartments, owing to the popularity of my lady-lieutenant, was so throng—so throng—that I remember very well, in the doorway, a lady—and a very genteel woman she was too, though a stranger to me—saying to me, "Sir, your finger's in my ear." "I know it, madam," says I, "but I can't take it out till the crowd give me elbow room."
'But it's gala I'm thinking of now. I hear you are to have the golden Venus, my Lady Clonbrony, won't you?'
This freezing monosyllable notwithstanding, Sir Terence pursued his course fluently. 'The golden Venus!—Sure, Miss Nugent, you, that are so quick, can't but know I would apostrophise Miss Broadhurst that is, but that won't be long so, I hope. My Lord Colambre, have you seen much yet of that young lady?'
'Then I hope you won't be long so. I hear great talk now of the Venus of Medicis, and the Venus of this and that, with the Florence Venus, and the sable Venus, and that other Venus, that's washing of her hair, and a hundred other Venuses, some good, some bad. But, be that as it will, my lord, trust a fool—ye may, when he tells you truth—the golden Venus is the only one on earth that can stand, or that will stand, through all ages and temperatures; for gold rules the court, gold rules the camp, and men below, and heaven above.'
'Heaven above! Take care, Terry! Do you know what you're saying?' interrupted Lord Clonbrony.
'Do I? Don't I?' replied Terry. 'Deny, if you please, my lord, that it was for a golden pippin that the three goddesses FIT—and that the HIPPOMENES was about golden apples—and did not Hercules rob a garden for golden apples?—and did not the pious Eneas himself take a golden branch with him, to make himself welcome to his father in hell?' said Sir Terence, winking at Lord Colambre.
'Why, Terry, you know more about books than I should have suspected,' said Lord Clonbrony.
'Nor you would not have suspected me to have such a great acquaintance among the goddesses neither, would you, my lord? But, apropos, before we quit, of what material, think ye, was that same Venus's famous girdle, now, that made roses and lilies so quickly appear? Why, what was it, but a girdle of sterling gold, I'll engage?—for gold is the only true thing for a young man to look after in a wife.'
Sir Terence paused, but no applause ensued.
'Let them talk of Cupids and darts, and the mother of the Loves and Graces. Minerva may sing odes and DYTHAMBRICS, or whatsoever her wisdomship pleases. Let her sing, or let her say she'll never get a husband in this world or the other, without she had a good thumping FORTIN, and then she'd go off like wildfire.'
'No, no, Terry, there you're out; Minerva has too bad a character for learning to be a favourite with gentlemen,' said Lord Clonbrony.
'Tut—Don't tell me!—I'd get her off before you could say Jack Robinson, and thank you too, if she had fifty thousand down, or a thousand a year in land. Would you have a man so d-d nice as to balk when house and land is a-going—a-going—a-going!—because of the encumbrance of a little learning? I never heard that Miss Broadhurst was anything of a learned lady.'
'Miss Broadhurst!' said Grace Nugent; 'how did you get round to Miss Broadhurst?'
'Oh! by the way of Tipperary,' said Lord Colambre.
'I beg your pardon, my lord, it was apropos to a good fortune, which, I hope, will not be out of your way, even if you went by Tipperary. She has, besides L100,000 in the funds, a clear landed property of L10,000 per annum. WELL! SOME PEOPLE TALK OF MORALITY, AND SOME OF RELIGION, BUT GIVE ME A LITTLE SNUG PROPERTY. But, my lord, I've a little business to transact this morning, and must not be idling and indulging myself here.' So, bowing to the ladies, he departed.
'Really, I am glad that man is gone,' said Lady Clonbrony. 'What a relief to one's ears! I am sure I wonder, my lord, how you can bear to carry that strange creature always about with you—so vulgar as he is.'
'He diverts me,' said Lord Clonbrony, 'while many of your correct-mannered fine ladies or gentlemen put me to sleep. What signifies what accent people speak in that have nothing to say—hey, Colambre?'
Lord Colambre, from respect to his father, did not express his opinion, but his aversion to Sir Terence O'Fay was stronger even than his mother's; though Lady Clonbrony's detestation of him was much increased by perceiving that his coarse hints about Miss Broadhurst had operated against her favourite scheme.
The next morning, at breakfast, Lord Clonbrony talked of bringing Sir Terence with him that night to her gala. She absolutely grew pale with horror.
'Good heavens! Lady Langdale, Mrs. Dareville, Lady Pococke, Lady Chatterton, Lady D—, Lady G—, his Grace of V—; what would they think of him? And Miss Broadhurst to see him going about with my Lord Clonbrony!'—It could not be. No; her ladyship made the most solemn and desperate protestation, that she would sooner give up her gala altogether—tie up the knocker—say she was sick—rather be sick, or be dead, than be obliged to have such a creature as Sir Terence O'Fay at her gala.
'Have it your own way, my dear, as you have everything else!' cried Lord Clonbrony, taking up his hat, and preparing to decamp; 'but, take notice, if you won't receive him you need not expect me. So a good morning to you, my Lady Clonbrony. You may find a worse friend in need, yet, than that same Sir Terence O'Fay.'
'I trust I shall never be in need, my lord,' replied her ladyship. 'It would be strange, indeed, if I were, with the fortune I brought.'
'Oh! that fortune of hers!' cried Lord Clonbrony, stopping both his ears as he ran out of the room; 'shall I never hear the end of that fortune, when I've seen the end of it long ago?'
During this matrimonial dialogue, Grace Nugent and Lord Colambre never once looked at each other. Grace was very diligently trying the changes that could be made in the positions of a china-mouse, a cat, a dog, a cup, and a Brahmin, on the mantelpiece; Lord Colambre as diligently reading the newspaper.
'Now, my dear Colambre,' said Lady Clonbrony, 'put down the paper, and listen to me. Let me entreat you not to neglect Miss Broadhurst to-night, as I know that the family come here chiefly on your account.'
'My dear mother, I never can neglect any deserving young lady, and particularly one of your guests; but I shall be careful not to do more than not to neglect, for I never will pretend what I do not feel.'
'But, my dear Colambre, Miss Broadhurst is everything you could wish, except being a beauty.'
'Perhaps, madam,' said Lord Colambre, fixing his eyes on Grace Nugent, 'you think that I can see no farther than a handsome face?'
The unconscious Grace Nugent now made a warm eulogium of Miss Broadhurst's sense, and wit, and independence of character.
'I did not know that Miss Broadhurst was a friend of yours, Miss Nugent?'
'She is, I assure you, a friend of mine; and, as a proof, I will not praise her at this moment. I will go farther still—I will promise that I never will praise her to you till you begin to praise her to me.'
Lord Colambre smiled, and now listened, as if he wished that Grace should go on speaking, even of Miss Broadhurst.
'That's my sweet Grace!' cried Lady Clonbrony. 'Oh! she knows how to manage these men—not one of them can resist her!'
Lord Colambre, for his part, did not deny the truth of this assertion.
'Grace,' added Lady Clonbrony, 'make him promise to do as we would have him.'
'No; promises are dangerous things to ask or to give,' said Grace. 'Men and naughty children never make promises, especially promises to be good, without longing to break them the next minute.'
'Well, at least, child, persuade him, I charge you, to make my gala go off well. That's the first thing we ought to think of now. Ring the bell! And all heads and hands I put in requisition for the gala.'
The opening of her gala, the display of her splendid reception-rooms, the Turkish tent, the Alhambra, the pagoda, formed a proud moment to Lady Clonbrony. Much did she enjoy, and much too naturally, notwithstanding all her efforts to be stiff and stately, much too naturally did she show her enjoyment of the surprise excited in some and affected by others on their first entrance.
One young, very young lady expressed her astonishment so audibly as to attract the notice of all the bystanders. Lady Clonbrony, delighted, seized both her hands, shook them, and laughed heartily; then, as the young lady with her party passed on, her ladyship recovered herself, drew up her head, and said to the company near her—
'Poor thing! I hope I covered her little NAIVETE properly? How NEW she must be!'
Then, with well-practised dignity, and half-subdued self-complacency of aspect, her ladyship went gliding about—most importantly busy, introducing my lady THIS to the sphynx candelabra, and my lady THAT to the Trebisond trellice; placing some delightfully for the perspective of the Alhambra; establishing others quite to her satisfaction on seraglio ottomans; and honouring others with a seat under the statira, canopy. Receiving and answering compliments from successive crowds of select friends, imagining herself the mirror of fashion, and the admiration of the whole world, Lady Clonbrony was, for her hour, as happy certainly as ever woman was in similar circumstances.
Her son looked at her, and wished that this happiness could last. Naturally inclined to sympathy, Lord Colambre reproached himself for not feeling as gay at this instant as the occasion required. But the festive scene, the blazing lights, the 'universal hubbub,' failed to raise his spirits. As a dead weight upon them hung the remembrance of Mordicai's denunciations; and, through the midst of this Eastern magnificence, this unbounded profusion, he thought he saw future domestic misery and ruin to those he loved best in the world.
The only object present on which his eye rested with pleasure was Grace Nugent. Beautiful—in elegant and dignified simplicity—thoughtless of herself—yet with a look of thought, and with an air of melancholy, which accorded exactly with his own feelings, and which he believed to arise from the same reflections that had passed in his own mind.
'Miss Broadhurst, Colambre! all the Broadhursts!' said his mother, wakening him, as she passed by, to receive them as they entered. Miss Broadhurst appeared, plainly dressed—plainly, even to singularity—without any diamonds or ornament.
'Brought Philippa to you, my dear Lady Clonbrony, this figure, rather than not bring her at all,' said puffing Mrs. Broadhurst; 'and had all the difficulty in the world to get her out at all, and now I've promised she shall stay but half an hour. Sore throat—terrible cold she took in the morning. I'll swear for her, she'd not have come for any one but you.'
The young lady did not seem inclined to swear, or even to say this for herself; she stood wonderfully unconcerned and passive, with an expression of humour lurking in her eyes, and about the corners of her mouth; whilst Lady Clonbrony was 'shocked,' and 'gratified,' and 'concerned' and 'flattered' and whilst everybody was hoping, and fearing, and busying themselves about her—'Miss Broadhurst, you'd better sit here!'—'Oh, for Heaven's sake! Miss Broadhurst, not there!' 'Miss Broadhurst, if you'll take my opinion;' and 'Miss Broadhurst, if I may advise—'
'Grace Nugent!' cried Lady Clonbrony—'Miss Broadhurst always listens to you. Do, my dear, persuade Miss Broadhurst to take care of herself, and let us take her to the inner little pagoda, where she can be so warm and so retired—the very thing for an invalid. Colambre! pioneer the way for us, for the crowd's immense.'
Lady Anne and Lady Catharine H—, Lady Langdale's daughters, were at this time leaning on Miss Nugent's arm, and moved along with this party to the inner pagoda. There was to be cards in one room, music in another, dancing in a third, and, in this little room, there were prints and chess-boards, etc.
'Here you will be quite to yourselves,' said Lady Clonbrony; 'let me establish you comfortably in this, which I call my sanctuary—my SNUGGERY—Colambre, that little table!—Miss Broadhurst, you play chess? Colambre, you'll play with Miss Broadhurst—'
'I thank your ladyship,' said Miss Broadhurst, 'but I know nothing of chess, but the moves. Lady Catharine, you will play, and I will look on.'
Miss Broadhurst drew her seat to the fire; Lady Catharine sat down to play with Lord Colambre; Lady Clonbrony withdrew, again recommending Miss Broadhurst to Grace Nugent's care. After some commonplace conversation, Lady Anne H—-, looking at the company in the adjoining apartment, asked her sister how old Miss Somebody was, who passed by. This led to reflections upon the comparative age and youthful appearance of several of their acquaintance, and upon the care with which mothers concealed the age of their daughters. Glances passed between Lady Catharine and Lady Anne.
'For my part,' said Miss Broadhurst, 'my mother would 'labour that point of secrecy in vain for me; for I am willing to tell my age, even if my face did not tell it for me, to all whom it may concern. I am past three-and-twenty—shall be four-and-twenty the 5th of next July.'
'Three-and-twenty! Bless me! I thought you were not twenty!' cried Lady Anne.
'Four-and-twenty next July!—impossible!' cried Lady Catharine.
'Very possible,' said Miss Broadhurst, quite unconcerned.
'Now, Lord Colambre, would you believe it? Can you believe it?' asked Lady Catharine.
'Yes, he can,' said Miss Broadhurst. 'Don't you see that he believes it as firmly as you and I do? Why should you force his lordship to pay a compliment contrary to his better judgment, or to extort a smile from him under false pretences? I am sure he sees that you, ladies, and I trust he perceives that I, do not think the worse of him for this.'
Lord Colambre smiled now without any false pretence; and, relieved at once from all apprehension of her joining in his mother's views, or of her expecting particular attention from him, he became at ease with Miss Broadhurst, shelved a desire to converse with her, and listened eagerly to what she said. He recollected that Grace Nugent had told him that this young lady had no common character; and, neglecting his move at chess, he looked up at Grace as much as to say, 'DRAW HER OUT, pray.'
But Grace was too good a friend to comply with that request; she left Miss Broadhurst to unfold her own character.
'It is your move, my lord,' said Lady Catharine.
'I beg your ladyship's pardon—'
'Are not these rooms beautiful, Miss Broadhurst?' said Lady Catharine, determined, if possible, to turn the conversation into a commonplace, safe channel; for she had just felt, what most of Miss Broadhurst's acquaintance had in their turn felt, that she had an odd way of startling people, by setting their own secret little motives suddenly before them, 'Are not these rooms beautiful?'
The beauty of the rooms would have answered Lady Catharine's purpose for some time, had not Lady Anne imprudently brought the conversation back again to Miss Broadhurst.
'Do you know, Miss Broadhurst,' said she, 'that if I had fifty sore throats, I could not have refrained from my diamonds on this GALA night; and such diamonds as you have! Now, really, I could not believe you to be the same person we saw blazing at the opera the other night!'
'Really! could not you, Lady Anne? That is the very thing that entertains me. I only wish that I could lay aside my fortune sometimes, as well as my diamonds, and see how few people would know me then. Might not I, Grace, by the golden rule, which, next to practice, is the best rule in the world, calculate and answer that question?'
'I am persuaded,' said Lord Colambre, 'that Miss Broadhurst has friends on whom the experiment would make no difference.'
'I am convinced of it,' said Miss Broadhurst; 'and that is what makes me tolerably happy, though I have the misfortune to be an heiress.'
'That is the oddest speech,' said Lady Anne. 'Now I should so like to be a great heiress, and to have, like you, such thousands and thousands at command.'
'And what can the thousands upon thousands do for me? Hearts, you know, Lady Anne, are to be won only by radiant eyes. Bought hearts your ladyship certainly would not recommend. They're such poor things—no wear at all. Turn them which way you will, you can make nothing of them.'
'You've tried then, have you?' said Lady Catharine.
'To my cost. Very nearly taken in by them half a dozen times; for they are brought to me by dozens; and they are so made up for sale, and the people do so swear to you that it's real, real love, and it looks so like it; and, if you stoop to examine it, you hear it pressed upon you by such elegant oaths—By all that's lovely!—By all my hopes of happiness!—By your own charming self! Why, what can one do but look like a fool, and believe; for these men, at the time, all look so like gentlemen, that one cannot bring oneself flatly to tell them that they are cheats and swindlers, that they are perjuring their precious souls. Besides, to call a lover a perjured creature is to encourage him. He would have a right to complain if you went back after that.'
'Oh dear! what a move was there!' cried Lady Catharine. 'Miss Broadhurst is so entertaining to-night, notwithstanding her sore throat, that one can positively attend to nothing else. And she talks of love and lovers too with such CONNAISSANCE DE FAIT—counts her lovers by dozens, tied up in true-lovers' knots!'
'Lovers!—no, no! Did I say lovers?—suitors I should have said. There's nothing less like a lover, a true lover, than a suitor, as all the world knows, ever since the days of Penelope. Dozens!—never had a lover in my life! And fear, with much reason, I never shall have one to my mind.'
'My lord, you've given up the game,' cried Lady Catharine; 'but you make no battle.'
'It would be so vain to combat against your ladyship,' said Lord Colambre, rising, and bowing politely to Lady Catharine, but turning the next instant to converse with Miss Broadhurst.
But when I talked of liking to be an heiress,' said Lady Anne, 'I was not thinking of lovers.'
'Certainly. One is not always thinking of lovers, you know,' added Lady Catharine.
'Not always,' replied Miss Broadhurst. 'Well, lovers out of the question on all sides, what would your ladyship buy with the thousands upon thousands?'
'Oh, everything, if I were you,' said Lady Anne.
'Rank, to begin with,' said Lady Catharine.
'Still my old objection—bought rank is but a shabby thing.'
'But there is so little difference made between bought and hereditary rank in these days,' said Lady Catharine.
'I see a great deal still,' said Miss Broadhurst; 'so much, that I would never buy a title.'
'A title without birth, to be sure,' said Lady Anne, 'would not be so well worth buying; and as birth certainly is not to be bought—'
'And even birth, were it to be bought, I would not buy,' said Miss Broadhurst, 'unless I could be sure to have with it all the politeness, all the noble sentiments, all the magnanimity—in short, all that should grace and dignify high birth.'
'Admirable!' said Lord Colambre. Grace Nugent smiled.
'Lord Colambre, will you have the goodness to put my mother in mind I must go away?'
'I am bound to obey, but I am very sorry for it,' said his lordship.
'Are we to have any dancing to-night, I wonder?' said Lady Catharine. 'Miss Nugent, I am afraid we have made Miss Broadhurst talk so much, in spite of her hoarseness, that Lady Clonbrony will be quite angry with us. And here she comes!'
My Lady Clonbrony came to hope, to beg, that Miss Broadhurst would not think of running away; but Miss Broadhurst could not be prevailed upon to stay. Lady Clonbrony was delighted to see that her son assisted Grace Nugent most carefully in SHAWLING Miss Broadhurst; his lordship conducted her to her carriage, and his mother drew many happy auguries from the gallantry of his manner, and from the young lady's having stayed three-quarters, instead of half an hour—a circumstance which Lady Catharine did not fail to remark.
The dancing, which, under various pretences, Lady Clonbrony had delayed till Lord Colambre was at liberty, began immediately after Miss Broadhurst's departure; and the chalked mosaic pavement of the Alhambra was, in a few minutes, effaced by the dancers' feet. How transient are all human joys, especially those of vanity! Even on this long meditated, this long desired, this gala night, Lady Clonbrony found her triumph incomplete—inadequate to her expectations. For the first hour all had been compliment, success, and smiles; presently came the BUTS, and the hesitated objections, and the 'damning with faint praise.' All THAT could be borne. Everybody has his taste—and one person's taste is as good as another's; and while she had Mr. Soho to cite, Lady Clonbrony thought she might be well satisfied. But she could not be satisfied with Colonel Heathcock, who, dressed in black, had stretched his 'fashionable length of limb' under the statira canopy upon the snow-white swan-down couch. When, after having monopolised attention, and been the subject of much bad wit, about black swans and rare birds, and swans being geese and geese being swans, the colonel condescended to rise, and, as Mrs. Dareville said, to vacate his couch, that couch was no longer white—the black impression of the colonel remained on the sullied snow.
'Eh, now! really didn't recollect I was in black,' was all the apology he made. Lady Clonbrony was particularly vexed that the appearance of the statira, canopy should be spoiled before the effect had been seen by Lady Pococke, and Lady Chatterton, and Lady G—, Lady P—, and the Duke of V—, and a party of superlative fashionables, who had promised TO LOOK IN UPON HER, but who, late as it was, had not yet arrived. They came in at last. But Lady Clonbrony had no reason to regret for their sake the statira couch. It would have been lost upon them, as was everything else which she had prepared with so much pains and cost to excite their admiration, They came resolute not to admire. Skilled in the art of making others unhappy, they just looked round with an air of apathy. 'Ah! you've had Soho!—Soho has done wonders for you here! Vastly well!—Vastly well!—Soho's very clever in his way!'
Others of great importance came in, full of some slight accident that had happened to themselves, or their horses, or their carriages; and, with privileged selfishness, engrossed the attention of all within their sphere of conversation. Well, Lady Clonbrony got over all this, and got over the history of a letter about a chimney that was on fire, a week ago, at the Duke of V's old house, in Brecknockshire. In gratitude for the smiling patience with which she listened to him, his Grace of V—fixed his glass to look at the Alhambra, and had just pronounced it to be 'Well!—very well!' when the Dowager Lady Chatterton made a terrible discovery—a discovery that filled Lady Clonbrony with astonishment and indignation—Mr. Soho had played her false! What was her mortification when the dowager assured her that these identical Alhambra hangings had not only been shown by Mr. Soho to the Duchess of Torcaster, but that her grace had had the refusal of them, and had actually rejected them, in consequence of Sir Horace Grant the great traveller's objecting to some of the proportions of the pillars. Soho had engaged to make a new set, vastly improved, by Sir Horace's suggestions, for her Grace of Torcaster.
Now Lady Chatterton was the greatest talker extant; and she went shout the rooms telling everybody of her acquaintance—and she was acquainted with everybody—how shamefully Soho had imposed upon poor Lady Clonbrony, protesting she could not forgive the man. 'For,' said she,'though the Duchess of Torcaster has been his constant customer for ages, and his patroness, and all that, yet this does not excuse him and Lady Clonbrony's being a stranger, and from Ireland, makes the thing worse.' From Ireland!—that was the unkindest cut of all but there was no remedy.
In vain poor Lady Clonbrony followed the dowager about the rooms, to correct this mistake, and to represent, in justice to Mr. Soho, though he had used her so ill, that he knew she was an Englishwoman, The dowager was deaf, and no whisper could reach her ear. And when Lady Clonbrony was obliged to bawl an explanation in her car, the dowager only repeated—
'In justice to Mr. Soho!—No, no; he has not done you justice, my dear Lady Clonbrony! and I'll expose him to everybody. Englishwoman—no, no, no!—Soho could not take you for an Englishwoman!'
All who secretly envied or ridiculed Lady Clonbrony enjoyed this scene. The Alhambra hangings, which had been, In one short hour before, the admiration of the world, were now regarded by every eye with contempt, as CAST hangings, and every tongue was busy declaiming against Mr. Soho; everybody declared that, from the first, the want of proportion had 'struck them, but that they would not mention it till others found it out.'
People usually revenge themselves for having admired too much, by afterwards despising and depreciating without mercy—in all great assemblies the perception of ridicule is quickly caught, and quickly too revealed. Lady Clonbrony, even in her own house, on her gala night, became an object of ridicule—decently masked, indeed, under the appearance of condolence with her ladyship, and of indignation against 'that abominable Mr. Soho!'
Lady Langdale, who was now, for reasons of her own, upon her good behaviour, did penance, as she said, for her former imprudence, by abstaining even from whispered sarcasms. She looked on with penitential gravity, said nothing herself, and endeavoured to keep Mrs. Dareville in order; but that was no easy task. Mrs. Dareville had no daughters, had nothing to gain from the acquaintance of my Lady Clonbrony; and, conscious that her ladyship would bear a vast deal from her presence, rather than forego the honour of her sanction, Mrs. Dareville, without any motives of interest, or good-nature of sufficient power to restrain her talent and habit of ridicule, free from hope or fear, gave full scope to all the malice of mockery, and all the insolence of fashion. Her slings and arrows, numerous as they were and outrageous, were directed against such petty objects, and the mischief was so quick, in its aim and its operation, that, felt but not seen, it is scarcely possible to register the hits, or to describe the nature of the wounds.
Some hits sufficiently palpable, however, were recorded for the advantage of posterity. When Lady Clonbrony led her to look at the Chinese pagoda, the lady paused, with her foot on the threshold, as if afraid to enter this porcelain Elysium, as she called it—Fool's Paradise, she would have said; and, by her hesitation, and by the half-pronounced word, suggested the idea—'None but belles without petticoats can enter here,' said she, drawing her clothes tight round her; 'fortunately, I have but two, and Lady Langdale has but one.' Prevailed upon to venture in, she walked on with prodigious care and trepidation, affecting to be alarmed at the crowd of strange forms and monsters by which she was surrounded.
'Not a creature here that I ever saw before in nature! Well, now I may boast I've been in a real Chinese pagoda!'
'Why yes, everything is appropriate here, I flatter myself,' said Lady Clonbrony.
'And how good of you, my dear Lady Clonbrony, in defiance of bulls and blunders, to allow us a comfortable English fireplace and plenty of Newcastle coal, in China!—And a white marble—no! white velvet hearthrug, painted with beautiful flowers—oh, the delicate, the USEFUL thing!'
Vexed by the emphasis on the word USEFUL, Lady Clonbrony endeavoured to turn off the attention of the company. 'Lady Langdale, your ladyship's a judge of china—this vase is an unique, I am told.'
'I am told,' interrupted Mrs. Dareville, 'this is the very vase in which B—, the nabob's father, who was, you know, a China captain, smuggled his dear little Chinese wife and all her fortune out of Canton—positively, actually put the lid on, packed her up, and sent her off on shipboard!—True! true! upon my veracity! I'll tell you my authority!'
With this story Mrs. Dareville drew all attention from the jar, to Lady Clonbrony's infinite mortification.
Lady Langdale at length turned to look at a vast range of china jars.
'Ali Baba and the forty thieves!' exclaimed Mrs. Dareville; 'I hope you have boiling oil ready!'
Lady Clonbrony was obliged to laugh, and to vow that Mrs. Dareville was uncommon pleasant to-night. 'But now,' said her ladyship, 'let me take you on to the Turkish tent.'
Having with great difficulty got the malicious wit out of the pagoda and into the Turkish tent, Lady Clonbrony began to breathe more freely; for here she thought she was upon safe ground: 'Everything, I flatter myself' said she, 'is correct and appropriate, and quite picturesque.' The company, dispersed in happy groups, or reposing on seraglio ottomans, drinking lemonade and sherbet beautiful Fatimas admiring, or being admired—'Everything here quite correct, appropriate, and picturesque,' repeated Mrs. Dareville.
This lady's powers as a mimic were extraordinary, and she found them irresistible. Hitherto she had imitated Lady Clonbrony's air and accent only behind her back; but, bolder grown, she now ventured, in spite of Lady Langdale's warning pinches, to mimic her kind hostess before her face, and to her face. Now, whenever Lady Clonbrony saw anything that struck her fancy in the dress of her fashionable friends, she had a way of hanging her head aside, and saying, with a peculiar sentimental drawl—
'How pretty!—how elegant! Now that quite suits my TEESTE! This phrase, precisely in the same accent, and with the head set to the same angle of affectation, Mrs. Dareville had the assurance to address to her ladyship, apropos to something which she pretended to admire in Lady Clonbrony's COSTUME—a costume which, excessively fashionable in each of its parts, was, all together, so extraordinarily unbecoming as to be fit for a print-shop. The perception of this, added to the effect of Mrs. Dareville's mimicry, was almost too much for Lady Langdale; she could not possibly have stood it, but for the appearance of Miss Nugent at this instant behind Lady Clonbrony. Grace gave one glance of indignation which seemed suddenly to strike Mrs. Dareville. Silence for a moment ensued, and afterwards the tone of the conversation was changed.
'Salisbury!—explain this to me,' said a lady, drawing Mr. Salisbury aside. 'If you are in the secret, do explain this to me; for unless I had seen it, I could not have believed it. Nay, though I have seen it, I do not believe it. How was that daring spirit laid? By what spell?'
'By the spell which superior minds always cast on inferior spirits.'
'Very fine,' said the lady, laughing, 'but as old as the days of Leonora de Galigai, quoted a million times. Now tell me something new and to the purpose, and better suited to modern days.'
'Well, then, since you will not allow me to talk of superior minds in the present days, let me ask you if you have never observed that a wit, once conquered in company by a wit of a higher order, is thenceforward in complete subjection to the conqueror, whenever and wherever they meet.'
'You would not persuade me that yonder gentle-looking could ever be a match for the veteran Mrs. Dareville? She may have the wit, but has she the courage?'
'Yes; no one has more courage, more civil courage, where her own dignity, or the interests of her friends are concerned. I will tell you an instance or two to-morrow.'
'To-morrow!—To-night!—tell it me now.'
'Not a safe place.'
'The safest in the world, in such a crowd as this. Follow my example. Take a glass of orgeat—sip from time to time, thus—speak low, looking innocent all the while straight forward, or now and then up at the lamps—keep on in an even tone—use no names—and you may tell anything.'
'Well, then, when Miss Nugent first came to London, Lady Langdale—'
'Two names already—did not I warn ye?'
'But how can I make myself intelligible?'
'Initials—can't you use—or genealogy? What stops you?
'It is only Lord Colambre, a very safe person, I have a notion, when the eulogium is of Grace Nugent.'
Lord Colambre, who had now performed his arduous duties as a dancer, and had disembarrassed himself of all his partners, came into the Turkish tent just at this moment to refresh himself, and just in time to hear Mr. Salisbury's anecdotes.
'Now go on.'
'Lady Langdale, you know, sets an inordinate value upon her curtsies in public, and she used to treat Miss Nugent, as her ladyship treats many other people, sometimes noticing, and sometimes pretending not to know her, according to the company she happened to be with. One day they met in some fine company—Lady Langdale looked as if she was afraid of committing herself by a curtsy. Miss Nugent waited for a good opportunity; and, when all the world was silent, leant forward, and called to Lady Langdale, as if she had something to communicate of the greatest consequence, skreening her whisper with her hand, as in an aside on the stage,—'Lady Langdale, you may curtsy to me now—nobody is looking.'
'The retort courteous!' said Lord Colambre—'the only retort for a woman.'
'And her ladyship deserved it so well. But Mrs. Dareville, what happened about her?'
'Mrs. Dareville, you remember, some years ago, went to Ireland with some lady-lieutenant to whom she was related. There she was most hospitably received by Lord and Lady Clonbrony—went to their country house—was as intimate with Lady Clonbrony and with Miss Nugent as possible—stayed at Clonbrony Castle for a month; and yet, when Lady Clonbrony came to London, never took the least notice of her. At last, meeting at the house of a common friend, Mrs. Dareville could not avoid recognising her ladyship; but, even then, did it in the least civil manner and most cursory style possible. 'Ho! Lady Clonbrony!—didn't know you were in England!—When did you come?—How long shall you stay in town!—Hope, before you leave England, your Ladyship and Miss Nugent will give us a day?' A DAY!—Lady Clonbrony was so astonished by this impudence of ingratitude, that she hesitated how to TAKE IT; but Miss Nugent, quite coolly, and with a smile, answered, 'A DAY!—certainly—to you, who gave us a month!'
'Admirable! Now comprehend perfectly why Mrs. Dareville declines insulting Miss Nugent's friends in her presence.'
Lord Colambre said nothing, but thought much. 'How I wish my mother,' thought he, 'had some of Grace Nugent's proper pride! She would not then waste her fortune, spirits, health, and life, in courting such people as these.'
He had not seen—he could not have borne to have beheld—the manner in which his mother had been treated by some of her guests; but he observed that she now looked harassed and vexed; and he was provoked and mortified by hearing her begging and beseeching some of these saucy leaders of the ton to oblige her, to do her the favour, to do her the honour, to stay to supper. It was just ready—actually announced. 'No, they would not—they could not; they were obliged to run away—engaged to the Duchess of Torcaster.'
'Lord Colambre, what is the matter?' said Miss Nugent, going up to him, as he stood aloof and indignant: 'Don't look so like a chafed lion; others may perhaps read your countenance as well as I do.'
'None can read my mind so well,' replied he. 'Oh, my dear Grace!'
'Supper!—supper!' cried she; 'your duty to your neighbour, your hand to your partner.'
Lady Catharine, as they went downstairs to supper, observed that Miss Nugent had not been dancing, that she had kept quite in the background all night-quite in the shade.
'Those,' said Lord Colambre, 'who are contented in the 'shade are the best able to bear the light; and I am not surprised that one so interesting in the background should not desire to be the foremost figure in a piece.'
The supper room, fitted up at great expense, with scenery to imitate Vauxhall, opened into a superb greenhouse, lighted with coloured lamps, a band of music at a distance—every delicacy, every luxury that could gratify the senses, appeared in profusion. The company ate and drank—enjoyed themselves—went away—and laughed at their hostess. Some, indeed, who thought they had been neglected, were in too bad humour to laugh, but abused her in sober earnest; for Lady Clonbrony had offended half, nay, three-quarters of her guests, by what they termed her exclusive attention to those very leaders of the ton, from whom she had suffered so much, and who had made it obvious to all that they thought they did her too much honour in appearing at her gala. So ended the gala for which she had lavished such sums; for which she had laboured so indefatigably; and from which she had expected such triumph.
'Colambre, bid the musicians stop; they are playing to empty benches,' said Lady Clonbrony. 'Grace, my dear, will you see that these lamps are safely put out? I am so tired, so WORN OUT, I must go to bed; and I am sure I have caught cold too! What a NERVOUS BUSINESS it is to manage these things! I wonder how one gets through it, or WHY one does it!'
Lady Clonbrony was taken ill the day after her gala; she had caught cold by standing, when much overheated, in a violent draught of wind, paying her parting compliments to the Duke of V—, who thought her a bore, and wished her in heaven all the time for keeping his horses standing. Her ladyship's illness was severe and long; she was confined to her room for some weeks by a rheumatic fever, and an inflammation in her eyes. Every day, when Lord Colambre went to see his mother, he found Miss Nugent in her apartment, and every hour he found fresh reason to admire this charming girl. The affectionate tenderness, the indefatigable patience, the strong attachment she showed for her aunt, actually raised Lady Clonbrony in her son's opinion. He was persuaded she must surely have some good or great qualities, or she could not have excited such strong affection. A few foibles out of the question, such as her love of fine people, her affectation of being English, and other affectations too tedious to mention, Lady Clonbrony was really a good woman, had good principles, moral and religious, and, selfishness not immediately interfering, she was good-natured; and though her soul and attention were so completely absorbed in the duties of acquaintanceship that she did not know it, she really had affections—they were concentrated upon a few near relations. She was extremely fond and extremely proud of her son. Next to her son, she was fonder of her niece than of any other creature. She had received Grace Nugent into her family when she was left an orphan, and deserted by some of her other relations. She had bred her up, and had treated her with constant kindness. This kindness and these obligations had raised the warmest gratitude in Miss Nugent's heart; and it was the strong principle of gratitude which rendered her capable of endurance and exertions seemingly far above her strength. This young lady was not of a robust appearance, though she now underwent extraordinary fatigue. Her aunt could scarcely bear that she should leave her for a moment: she could not close her eyes unless Grace sat up with her many hours every night. Night after night she bore this fatigue; and yet, with little sleep or rest, she preserved her health, at least supported her spirits; and every morning, when Lord Colambre came into his mother's room, he saw Miss Nugent look as blooming as if she had enjoyed the most refreshing sleep. The bloom was, as he observed, not permanent; it came and went, with every emotion of her feeling heart; and he soon learned to fancy her almost as handsome when she was pale as when she had a colour. He had thought her beautiful when he beheld her in all the radiance of light, and with all the advantages of dress at the gala, but he found her infinitely more lovely and interesting now, when he saw her in a sick-room—a half-darkened chamber—where often he could but just discern her form, or distinguish her, except by her graceful motion as she passed, or when, but for a moment, a window-curtain drawn aside let the sun shine upon her face, or on the unadorned ringlets of her hair.
Much must be allowed for an inflammation in the eyes, and something for a rheumatic fever; yet it may seem strange that Lady Clonbrony should be so blind and deaf as neither to see nor hear all this time; that, having lived so long in the world, it should never occur to her that it was rather imprudent to have a young lady, not eighteen, nursing her—and such a young lady!—when her son, not one-and-twenty—and such a son!—came to visit her daily. But, so it was. Lady Clonbrony knew nothing of love—she had read of it, indeed, in novels, which sometimes for fashion's sake she had looked at, and over which she had been obliged to doze; but this was only love in books—love in real life she had never met with—in the life she led, how should she? She had heard of its making young people, and old people even, do foolish things; but those were foolish people; and if they were worse than foolish, why it was shocking, and nobody visited them. But Lady Clonbrony had not, for her own part, the slightest, notion how people could be brought to this pass, nor how anybody out of Bedlam could prefer to a good house, a decent equipage, and a proper establishment, what is called love in a cottage. As to Colambre, she had too good an opinion of his understanding—to say nothing of his duty to his family, his pride, his rank, and his being her son—to let such an idea cross her imagination. As to her niece; in the first place, she was her niece, and first cousins should never marry, because they form no new connexions to strengthen the family interest, or raise its consequence. This doctrine her ladyship had repeated for years so often and so dogmatically, that she conceived it to be incontrovertible, and of as full force as any law of the land, or as any moral or religious obligation. She would as soon have suspected her niece of an intention of stealing her diamond necklace as of purloining Colambre's heart, or marrying this heir of the house of Clonbrony.
Miss Nugent was so well apprised, and so thoroughly convinced of all this, that she never for one moment allowed herself to think of Lord Colambre as a lover. Duty, honour, and gratitude—gratitude, the strong feeling and principle of her mind—forbade it; she had so prepared and habituated herself to consider him as a person with whom she could not possibly be united that, with perfect ease and simplicity, she behaved towards him exactly as if he was her brother—not in the equivocating sentimental romance style in which ladies talk of treating men as their brothers, whom they are all the time secretly thinking of and endeavouring to please as lovers—not using this phrase as a convenient pretence, a safe mode of securing herself from suspicion or scandal, and of enjoying the advantages of confidence and the intimacy of friendship, till the propitious moment, when it should be time to declare or avow THE SECRET OF THE HEART. No; this young lady was quite above all double-dealing; she had no mental reservation—no metaphysical subtleties—but, with plain, unsophisticated morality, in good faith and simple truth, acted as she professed, thought what she said, and was that which she seemed to be.