The Younger Sister: A Novel, Vol. III. by Hubback, Mrs. (Catherine-Anne Austen)
THE YOUNGER SISTER.
IN THREE VOLUMES.—VOL. III.
LONDON: THOMAS CAUTLEY NEWBY, PUBLISHER 30, WELBECK ST., CAVENDISH SQ.
THE YOUNGER SISTER.
The afternoon passed away, and Margaret, who had been incessantly walking from one window to another, to watch for her lover's curricle, now began to create a new sensation for herself, by a conviction which suddenly seized on her, that some dreadful accident had happened to him. It was towards the end of March, and the lengthened days allowed them plenty of time to dine by daylight, and enjoy a long twilight afterwards; as the evening began to close in, her alarm and tribulation increased; when, at length, her fears were dissipated by seeing the curricle drive up to the door with a most important bustle, followed by a loud and prolonged knock, which instantly brought twenty heads to the neighbouring windows.
Margaret sank on a sofa, and exclaimed in feeble tones,
"He is there—my heart tells me he is there—support me, my dear sisters—support me in this trying hour."
Before any one had time to answer her, his step was heard on the stairs, and recovering as rapidly as she had appeared to lose her strength, she flew to the door and was ready to have thrown herself into his arms on the smallest encouragement. He did not, however, seem to desire her embraces, but coolly held out his hand, and enquired how she was—then, without waiting for an answer, turned and paid a similar compliment to the other ladies. She looked a little disappointed at the want of tenderness her lover displayed, but consoled herself by smoothing down the nap of his hat, which she took from his hand, and stretching out the fingers of his driving gloves—of which she also assumed the care.
At this moment, Robert Watson and Mr. Morgan, who had been sitting over their wine in the dining-parlour, appeared up-stairs, and Robert immediately suggested to Mr. Musgrove that he must want some dinner, to which the latter readily acceded.
Jane and Margaret who appeared to be almost equally interested in the new-comer, both left the room to see after the necessary preparations, and whilst they were gone George Millar came in and persuaded Elizabeth to go home with him, to take tea with his sister and mother-in-law. Robert and his new guest adjourned to the dining-room where the two ladies joined them, and Emma was left to a _tête-à-tête_ with Mr. Morgan.
He had seated himself in a corner, and was looking over the newspaper during all the bustle attending the arrival of Tom Musgrove, and the successive entrances and exits of the several members of the party. But when they were all gone, and Emma was quietly sitting down to work, he threw away the paper and walking across the room drew a chair close to hers and seemed inclined to enter into conversation.
"How happy your sister must be," was his first speech, whilst he fixed his uncommonly penetrating eyes on her face.
"Which sister?" replied Emma, without looking up from her embroidery.
"Both must be happy," replied he; "but at this moment I imagine your sister Margaret's feelings must be the most agreeable; meeting after a prolonged absence must be so delightful. Don't you envy her?"
"I hope not," said Emma, for she was not quite satisfied with his tone and manner; there was something of sarcasm in it which she did not like.
"I did not mean envy in the bad sense," he remarked, as if comprehending her thoughts from her tone; "of that I know you to be incapable; but can you not fancy how pleasant her emotions must be when again enjoying the society of an attached and faithful lover like the gentleman in question?"
"Perhaps I can—but I must be in her situation thoroughly to enter into her feelings," said Emma rather wishing to drop the subject.
"And hitherto you have not been placed in this interesting situation?"
There was something in the tone in which Mr. Morgan made this comment, with his eyes fixed on her countenance, that gave it rather the character of a question than a reply. She felt offended at his manner and tone, and proudly raised her head with a look which seemed to ask what right he had to enquire on that subject. He understood her meaning, but did not seem inclined to take any notice of it, proceeding in the same way to observe,
"They whose hearts are untouched cannot of course understand all the pleasing emotions which the sight of a beloved object raises after a prolonged absence—nor indeed does it require a _prolonged absence_ to give occasion to the emotions I speak of. A month, a fortnight, even a week passed without the intercourse which becomes dear and therefore necessary, is sufficient to raise a variety of pleasing but most overpowering feelings in an affectionate heart."
"Very likely," replied Emma coolly, and then she added immediately an enquiry as to whether he thought the next change of the moon would bring them more settled weather.
He answered that he could not tell, and then added,
"Do you not think your future brother, Mr. Musgrove, is a very charming young man?"
"I have often heard him called so," said Emma; "but you know it is not my business to be charmed with him," smiling a little as she spoke.
"You are most discreet," said he, delighted that she appeared inclined to relax a little from her former gravity; "but to tell you the truth I should _not_ have expected, from what I know, that you _would_ be charmed with him."
"From what you know of _him_ or of _me_?" inquired Emma.
"Of you both, but especially of _you_: it is not for nothing that I have been studying your character, and I am convinced that a man who would attract _you_, Miss Emma, must possess more good qualities than Mr. Musgrove can boast of."
"Perhaps I might be a little difficult to please," replied Emma; "but do you think there is any harm in that?"
"Harm, no!" replied he with enthusiasm; "minds of a common order cannot discriminate between what is good or evil in its tendency; they see only what is evil to their own capacities, and are entirely unaware of the vast difference between the intellects of one man and another. Whilst those who by their own intellectual powers are raised above the common level, take in, at one keen and rapid view, the different mental altitudes of their companions, and appreciating alone the grand and elevated turn from more ordinary minds with indifference, contempt or disgust."
"I hope," said Emma rather doubtingly, "that your description is not intended to apply to me: that is, if I understand you rightly. I should be very sorry to think I am guilty of setting up my understanding as a measure for that of others, or of despising any of my companions as thinking them less clever than myself."
"Indeed I did not mean to accuse you of voluntarily giving way to such feelings—the sensation I meant to depict is as involuntary as your perception of light or colour. A person endowed with a superior understanding could no more help deciding on the different mental capacities of her companions than she could on the beauty or fitness of the patterns of their gowns."
"But the superiority of mental capacities, or our own estimation of them ought not to be the standard by which we should judge of the merits of our fellow-creatures, Mr. Morgan. Surely their moral superiority is a far more important point, and it would be much better to live with a good but ignorant man, than with a wicked one however clever and well-informed."
Mr. Morgan rather curled his lip.
"I doubt whether you will find your maxim work well in every day life, however well it may sound in theory. The practice of mankind is against it universally, and where that is the case it is because the sense of the world leads them to the conclusion which you reject. Look around, and see who has most success in life, the clever, unscrupulous, and if you will the unprincipled man, or the sober, plodding, moral one, without wit or wisdom to prevent his sinking lower than the condition in which he was born."
Emma had not the vanity to suppose that she could be a match for Mr. Morgan in dispute, she was, therefore, contented to let the subject drop. Finding she did not reply, he moved his chair a little closer than before, and said, in a tone of the softest sympathy,
"Are you quite well this evening? dusk as it is, I am struck with your looks, and was so at dinner."
She thanked him, and replied she was pretty well. He did not seem satisfied.
"Are you sure you have no head-ache? there is a languor in your movements, and a heaviness about your eyes, which plainly shows that all is not quite right with you. Confess the truth—does not your head ache?"
She owned it did a little.
"I thought I knew your countenance too well to be misled," said he, complacently—then taking her hand, without the smallest ceremony, in both of his, he felt her pulse, and told her she was nervous and feverish. She smiled, and said she was only a little tired, and that he must not persuade her she was ill; she had not time for that.
"I am certain," replied he, still detaining her hand, which she had made a slight attempt to withdraw, "I am certain, from the tremulous motion of your little fairy-like fingers that you are suffering from over-excitement of mind. You have so much to worry and distress you, so many small privations and never ceasing annoyances, that your nervous temperament is wrought up to too high a pitch. This little hand is looking too white and delicate for health. You must indeed, for your own sake, and for the sake of those that love you, take care of yourself, and do not tax your constitution too far."
"I do not mind what you say, Mr. Morgan," replied Emma, playfully, again attempting to withdraw her hand from a clasp which she felt rather too tender for a doctor. "I know you only speak professionally, and it is your business to persuade those who listen to you that they are ill, that you may have the satisfaction of making them believe you cure them afterwards."
"Fie, fie," replied he, tapping her on the arm, "I did not expect such malice from you, fair Emma!"
She decidedly drew her hand from his, and moved her chair away towards the window, saying, as she did so, in a graver tone,
"Remember _I_ have not placed myself under your power, Mr. Morgan, and you have no business to attempt to mislead me."
The rapidly decreasing light prevented his reading the expression of her countenance; but he felt from her tone and action that _she_ would not endure the small personal liberties in which some of his patients permitted him.
There was a pause, which she broke, by saying,
"My sisters are a long time away, I must go to see for them."
"No, pray stay another moment," cried he, rising too, as she rose. "Allow me one moment more, one other word."
She stopped; and he was silent for a minute, till she said,
"Well, Mr. Morgan, what am I to stop for?"
"Tell me," said he, "why you freeze me with that look and manner—did I offend you with my remarks? is my friendship—the warm interest I feel for you—is it unpleasant—or in what way have I sinned to deserve this sudden check."
She was excessively embarrassed, and mentally determined not to remain in the dusk _tête-à-tête_ with a man again, at least, not with Mr. Morgan: but this resolution, however good for the future, did not help her at the present moment; when she was thus standing before him, and under the unpleasant necessity of either admitting that she was capricious, or allowing that she attached more importance than, perhaps, it deserved to a trifling action on his part. Seeing that she hesitated, he continued—
"I will not press for an answer if it vexes you; and you must own mentally, if not openly, that you judged me harshly. I forgive you, convinced when you know me better, you will not do so again."
He took her hand again, and was just in the act of putting his lips to it, when the door opened suddenly, and several young ladies—whom in the dusk she could hardly distinguish—burst into the room.
"Is that you Margaret?" said one advancing, "that we have caught making love in the dark—no, upon my honour it's Emma Watson and my brother! ha, ha; so you are found out, James?"
"Oh, it's not the first time that Miss Emma Watson has indulged your brother in a _tête-à-tête_" cried a voice, which Emma recognised as belonging to Miss Jenkins, a particular friend of Margaret's, towards whom she felt a strong repugnance. "They have been found _out_ before now—they are very fond of taking long walks together, aren't you, Mr. Morgan—and carrying Janetta, too."
It was too dark for the expression of any one's countenance to be seen, so that the angry look with which Mr. Morgan received this attack, and the confusion and distress which Emma betrayed, were alike invisible; but could he have annihilated the young ladies who thus intruded, including his sister, he would certainly have done it with pleasure. Any answer, on his part, was prevented by the entrance of the party from the dining-room with lights, when a general scene of confusion and chattering followed, which concluded by a general invitation to the young visitors to stay for tea, and have a little fun, to which they readily assented.
Tom Musgrove having eaten and drank soon made himself very agreeable to the whole party, and after the tea and bread and butter were removed, he proposed a game at blind man's buff, or hunt the slipper, to finish the evening. The former was adopted, and a very noisy party it proved. Tom, of course, was the first to be blinded, and, unless he contrived to see out from under the handkerchief, the dexterity with which he avoided catching Margaret, though she perpetually threw herself in his way, was quite wonderful. His first victim was the younger Miss Morgan, a pretty, giggling girl, who laughed so excessively, and twisted about so much, that he had great difficulty in holding her at all, and it was only by clasping his arm very tightly round her waist, that he succeeded in keeping her prisoner. However, he named her rightly, and the handkerchief was secured on her; her brother was the next—apparently he threw himself in her way, whether because he disliked her going through the process of catching and naming Mr. Musgrove was not quite certain. Perhaps he wished himself to succeed her; he certainly was very successful in catching prisoners, but made extraordinary blunders in recognising them; never once hitting on the proper name, and, consequently, having no right to make over the bandage to another. At length, after several attempts, he succeeded in catching Emma herself. She had not been able to avoid joining in the game, though it was not much to her taste; but she took great pains to move about as quietly and keep as much out of the way as possible. His ear, however, was quick at detecting her light footstep, and, unknown to her, he had traced her into a corner, where she was quietly resting, when he succeeded in laying hold of her. As she neither struggled nor laughed, he knew instantly who it was, and whilst he held her hand in his, and made believe, as usual, to feel her features, and ascertain her identity, he whispered, under cover of the noise which some of the other girls were making,
"Do you wish to be blinded, Emma Watson?"
"Certainly not," replied she in the same tone, and he immediately guessed her to be some one else, and with a gentle pressure of her hand he let her go.
Emma was very well pleased to escape, but she felt a half scruple at the manner in which it was done, from the sort of private understanding which Mr. Morgan assumed to exist between them. On turning away too, she caught the malevolent eyes of Miss Jenkins fixed on her, and she could not encounter their look without a feeling of embarrassment. Mr. Morgan soon afterwards caught and rightly named Mrs. Watson herself, who in her turn chased with great vigour but little success her different visitors. The whole affair ended in a complete romp—the table was upset, chairs thrown over, and Emma's gown narrowly escaped from a lighted candle, which the dexterity of Mr. Morgan alone succeeded in averting. It was now judged that they had enjoyed fun enough for one evening, and Emma, wondering much at the taste which could select such an amusement, retired to recover from the fatigue it occasioned. She had never seen anything of the kind before, for the associates of her uncle and aunt were very quiet people, and she had been quite ignorant of the extent to which liveliness might be carried when unchecked by the restraints of good breeding.
It was a very unexpected pleasure to her, to receive the next morning a letter from Miss Osborne, containing an announcement that the day for her wedding was fixed and that it was to be celebrated in about three weeks. She hoped Emma would be able to keep her promise and spend some time with them whilst at Osborne Castle, but she did not assign any particular time as the date of their visit.
Margaret likewise had her share of excitement and pleasure. It appeared that Tom Musgrove had come down with serious intentions of persuading her to marry on the same day as Sir William Gordon and Miss Osborne had fixed on. To be distinguished, and to appear connected with the great, was so completely the object of his life, that he did not like even to fix a day for his own wedding entirely with regard to his own convenience, and now he was determined to make it as important as the reflected grandeur of Miss Osborne and her noble family could do.
The credit of this idea, however, was not entirely due to him; it was suggested originally by Sir William himself. Miss Osborne, who could not feel quite happy or at her ease with regard to his steadiness of purpose, until the ceremony had actually passed, which would make it certain that her testimony would never be required, induced Sir William Gordon to question him as to when he intended to marry, and though he found Tom's ideas rather vague and unsettled on the subject, he had not much difficulty in persuading him of the advantage of fixing on the same day as their own. The notion delighted Mr. Musgrove, and he immediately determined to run down to Croydon and make the proposal at once.
"Well, Margaret," said he, the morning after his arrival, "since it seems we must be married sooner or later, do you see any good in delay?"
Margaret simpered and blushed, and did not know very well which way to look or what to say.
"I say," continued he, "there is no use in wasting time, when the thing must be done—unless, indeed, you have changed your mind."
"Oh dear no, Tom," cried Margaret, "mine is a mind not lightly to be changed—you know that much, I am sure, of me."
"Miss Osborne is to married this day three weeks," observed Tom, "to my friend Sir William Gordon, and he was proposing to me that we should celebrate ours on the same day. I should rather like it, I own, as they are such particular friends of mine, and we are going to the same county. They come down to Osborne Castle for their honey-moon, and we _might_; indeed of course we _should_ be asked up there on our wedding."
"Oh delightful, Tom," cried Margaret, perfectly enchanted at the prospect, and in the rapture of the view, quite overlooking the coolness of her lover's manner, and the total absence of even any pretence of affection. "I should like that of all things, only perhaps I might have some difficulty in getting my wedding things ready in time; to be sure, as I must wear mourning I should not want much just at first, but a gown and hat—what should my gown be, dear Tom?"
"Hang your gown! what do I know about your gown? or what has that got to do with it; but women always make such a confounded fuss about their gowns and their petticoats. I say, will you marry me this day three weeks?—because, if you will not, you may just let it alone, for any thing I care."
"You are always so funny, Tom," said Margaret trying to laugh; "I never know what you will say next. But you do hurry and flurry one so, asking in that sort of off-hand way—upon my word I do not know what to answer—what can I say to him, Jane—is he not odd?"
"For heaven's sake, Mrs. Watson, do try and persuade Margaret to act with a little common sense, if she has such a commodity in her brain," cried Tom, impatiently.
"Really," simpered Mrs. Watson, "you are the most unlover-like lover that ever I saw—if I were you, Margaret, I would tease him unceasingly for these speeches. I would say him nay, and nay, and nay again, before I would give him his own way."
"Oh! I am not so very cruel," said Margaret, "he knows my disposition, and how much he may venture on with me."
"Well, when you have made up your mind, let me know," said he, settling himself in an easy chair, and pretending to drop asleep.
"Upon my word, Margaret," said Mrs. Watson, "he gives himself precious airs—would I submit to such a thing from any man in the world—no, indeed—I would see the whole sex annihilated first, that I would."
"Do not be so dreadfully severe, Mrs. Watson," said Tom, without unclosing his eyes, "Allow me to enjoy my last few days of liberty; when I have taken to myself a wife, where will my domestic freedom be?"
"Impudent fellow," said Mrs. Watson, going up and pretending to pat his cheek; he caught her hand and told her in return, she was his prisoner now, and must pay the penalty of the box on the ear, which she had so deliberately bestowed on him. She giggled exceedingly, and he was insisting on his right, when Robert entered the room and said, in a cool off-hand way:
"I suppose, Margaret, Musgrove has told you he wants to marry this day three weeks, and as I presume, you have no objection, I have resolved to get the settlements in hand immediately. I suppose you have not much to do in the way of preparation, have you?"
"Well, I suppose, as you all come upon me so suddenly, there is nothing for me to do but to submit," said Margaret, "and really, I see no harm in it. Of course you will have the marriage put in the newspapers; it must be sent to 'The Morning Post,' Tom."
"I have no objection," observed the ardent lover.
"Well then, Jane, I suppose I had better be seeing about my gown and wedding clothes—will you come with me and help me choose some dresses, Tom?"
"Not I, by Jove! what do I know about dresses, I tell you!—it's all woman's nonsense, and I will have nothing to do with it. I believe if a woman were dying, her only care would be to secure a handsome shawl—and the idea of a plain funeral would break her heart."
"Don't be so dreadfully severe, Tom," interposed Mrs. Watson again, "you are a naughty, spiteful, ill-tempered satirist, and we must teach you better manners before we have done with you."
"Beyond a question you will soon do that," returned he, "I already feel wonderfully humbled and penitent, from sitting with you for the last hour; and what I shall arrive at, after being your brother for a twelvemonth, can only be guessed at now."
Margaret and Jane soon afterwards set off on the important business of looking for wedding dresses, and purchasing more clothes than she would know what to do with, whilst obliged to wear her deep mourning—a circumstance which was particularly distressing to Margaret—who, whilst anxious to make a very splendid figure in her new establishment, was perpetually checked in her aspirations by the remembrance that she must, for many months, continue to wear black. It was, however, a great delight to her to think that she should be married almost as soon as Penelope, and before Elizabeth; but, since her own good luck was now certain, she felt no particular envy of either of her elder sisters; for, though she could not help seeing that Elizabeth's establishment, house and carriage, would be more expensive and grand than her own, she did not think that she would have given up the independence and idleness of Tom's situation as a gentleman, for the large income and luxuries accompanying the brewer's occupation.
Emma looked on and wondered at Margaret's state of contentment under the indifference and contemptuous treatment which her lover bestowed on her. _She_ would not have borne it for a single hour; but Margaret seemed to feel nothing of it—and her own foolish and caressingly fond ways, were enough to disgust a sensible man altogether.
He did not mean to remain more than a couple of days; and, during that time, Mrs. Watson took care to occupy each evening with a party of young people; a most judicious arrangement, which saved an immense deal of unwilling labour and unnecessary love-making. The Morgans, the Millars, and many others, joined them—and they had country dances and reels enough to tire many indefatigable dancers. Emma continued to refuse to dance; and, as the ladies out-numbered the gentlemen, she was less tempted to break her resolution. In consequence of this, she was, on the second evening, for a good while left quite alone, until Mr. Morgan, declaring himself quite knocked up, took refuge in the corner where she was sitting and engaged her in an agreeable conversation.
They were not discussing any thing very remarkable, but Emma was amused and lively, when she heard Miss Jenkins say, in reply to something:
"Oh! no doubt, Emma Watson finds it quite agreeable to sit out—no great sacrifice there, I fancy! She takes every opportunity of throwing herself in somebody's way!"
It was said so loud that there could be no doubt but that it was intended for them to hear, and from the quick glance round, and the elevation of eyebrows which followed it on his part, it was evident it had not failed of its object. Emma wished she could have stopped the blood which rushed to her face and coloured her cheeks so deeply; but she could neither conceal her feelings nor command her voice sufficiently to finish her sentence, for she felt that Mr. Morgan's eyes were fixed on her with a keen, scrutinizing glance, which seemed to read her thoughts in a moment. When Miss Jenkins was out of hearing, he observed very quietly,
"I think, Miss Emma, you have not been brought up in a country town?"
"No, indeed," said Emma.
"You seem peculiarly unfitted to continue in one, with any comfort or peace of mind," continued he.
"Indeed—I doubt whether I am to take that as a compliment or the reverse," replied Emma smiling a little.
"I never pay compliments," said he, "but if you want to know why I think so, learn that I can see you mind being talked about, dislike gossip and scandal, and have no taste for romping or noise: therefore you are unfitted for a resident in a country town!"
"You are _not_ complimentary to-night, Mr. Morgan; what has put you out of humour with your fellow towns-women?"
"I assure you I feel most amiably disposed towards them all, especially those who by dancing to-night have left me at liberty to converse with you. They are all charming chatterers, and delightful dancers, and equally exquisite, enlightened, eloquent and endearing."
"Your compliments are rather equivocal, Mr. Morgan, I do not know that I should like such problematic praises."
"_You_—you need not be afraid, I should never think of applying such terms to you—did I not begin with observing that you were not brought up in a country town."
"There are some people I have observed," said Emma thoughtfully, "who always hold the society in which they happen to move very cheap, because they have an unfortunate power of vision which enables them alone to see the weak, the ridiculous, the faulty side of things."
"Thank you—do not find fault with my compliments after that speech—I never made one more severe."
"I beg your pardon," replied she colouring deeply. "Perhaps it did sound a little harsh."
"Yes, I am deeply indebted to you for your good opinion—you probably suppose me incapable of appreciating the beautiful and excellent when I meet it, because I am alive to the follies, the littleness, and the absurdities of those amongst whom I am forced to mix—some day I trust you will judge me better."
He understood Emma's character completely—the idea that she had been harsh in her speech, and that he felt hurt by her injustice, was decidedly the most likely thing to produce kindness and conciliatory manners to make it up. He assumed an air and tone of injured innocence which quite touched her, for straightforward and artless herself, she never suspected he was only acting. She wanted him to speak again, but he was determined to leave it to her to make that effort, and he partly drew back and turned his chair slightly away, as if he had not courage again to address her. She renewed the conversation by enquiring whether he had long been resident in the town—the soft tone of her voice immediately drew him back to his former position, and he began to tell her that he had come to Croydon about fifteen years before, that like herself he had lived in his youth in the country, and the only towns he had previously been acquainted with were Oxford and London.
"Like yourself too," continued he, "I came here frank and open-hearted—ready to place the best construction on anything I saw or heard, and believing that the neighbourhood would do as much for me. Experience has taught me a very different lesson; but perhaps nothing but experience will do. With the consciousness of the amount it cost me to buy my knowledge with suffering, I sometimes idly think of saving others by my cautions from a similar expense of feeling, but it is vain—and I do not think I shall make the attempt again."
"And so," said Emma, after a short pause, "you think me ungrateful and self-willed, because I do not like to hear whole-sale depreciation of your fellow-townspeople."
"I certainly will be wiser another time, and keep my opinion to myself," replied he still in a proud and injured tone.
"Well, I do not like to seem ungracious, and if you really wanted to give me advice—your superior age and experience certainly entitle you to form an opinion, and to be listened to with deference. So if you speak for my good, I will attend—but do not be too bitter, or I shall rebel again."
"I only wished to caution you against the spirit of prying curiosity and foolish censoriousness, which seems indigenous amongst the inhabitants of a small town."
"And you thought me likely to fall into a similar error, did you?" enquired she simply.
"You, my dear girl, no indeed; but I thought you likely to be the victim to this spirit, unless you took care and were cautioned against it."
"If I do nothing wrong," said Emma, "nothing blameworthy, how can there be any danger that I shall incur censure? I hope I shall not provoke enmity in any way."
"That will be a vain and illusive hope," replied he earnestly; "there is too much about you to provoke ill-will, for your conduct to be regarded with a friendly eye. Youth and beauty have innumerable enemies in a place like this; your superior education, your acquaintance, I may say intimacy, with those very much above your present associates in rank, your frank and confiding disposition, all expose you to enmity and envy of the most malignant kind."
"You will make me quite unhappy, Mr. Morgan, if you talk in that way. I cannot believe that those I see around me are so very wicked; and why should any one try to injure a portionless orphan like myself."
"Because they are not all possessed of the generous feelings and high principles which form such a charm in that helpless and portionless orphan—and which, when joined to her personal beauty, endow her more richly than the wealthiest of all our townsmen's daughters."
"I cannot help hoping that your warnings are not more sincere than your compliments, and then I shall have the less to fear, Mr. Morgan," replied Emma, smiling.
"I wish you would give me credit for sincerity, Miss Watson; it is disheartening to find myself constantly doubted. I shall give you up in despair. Look beautiful and merry—prove yourself lively and amusing—wear becoming bonnets—pretty gowns—and well-made shoes, and you will soon not have a female friend in the town."
"This _must_ be your prejudice—or you are quizzing me. I cannot believe that bonnets and shoes have anything to do with female friends."
"You will persist in judging every one by yourself, and you cannot set up a more erroneous standard. Do you suppose that _your_ wardrobe will be less commented on than your neighbours. Does Miss Tomson make any one a new bonnet without its being known and abused by all the owner's most intimate friends."
"But you must be wrong," said Emma; "it is impossible that all can be watched over in that way; we do not know a great many people who live here; even my sister does not; and why should I suppose that I am so conspicuous a personage?"
"The inhabitants of the town," said Mr. Morgan, "are divided into many different sets, it is true; they move in different circles, and there is no mixture; but the individuals of each class have their eyes constantly fixed on those above as well as those equal with themselves; the former, that they may imitate their actions; the latter, that they may detect the first symptom of mounting to a higher circle. They have likewise to detect and repress the first encroachment from the ranks beneath them, so that you see each individual has her attention fully occupied in this perpetual watching."
"You must be exaggerating, Mr. Morgan; I trust you are, at least."
"Do you want a proof of the jealousy and exclusive spirit which reigns amongst them? look into the church. There, where men and women ought, if ever, to meet as equals, what do you see?—the aristocratic classes—those who have their carriages and horses to bring them to their Sunday devotions, who have their comfortable and elegant dwellings out of the town, have likewise their comfortable pews for lounging through their prayers—their cushions, their carpets, their footstools, that they may not be too much fatigued by worship—their curtains, too, lest the vulgar gaze should distress their modesty, or intrude on their privacy. Then come the townspeople—the higher classes, those in professions, or, perhaps, in business, on a large scale, like George Millar, or the Greenes. These have their cushions and carpets, but are forced to forego the privacy of curtains, for which they make up by the superior brilliancy of their pew linings, and the elegance of the fringe drapery, which hangs down in front of the galleries. Inferior classes are forced to sit on benches without cushions, whilst the poorest of all may enjoy what comfort they can on the hard open seats in the stone aisle."
Emma looked thoughtful, but did not answer.
"You must admit the truth of my description," continued he; "there is sufficient stuff expended on the galleries of that church to have clothed half the children in the parish school."
"I am sorry that you should have the power of saying such things, Mr. Morgan, or that I cannot contradict them. Have you ever made an effort to procure a reform?"
"Reform, no—do you suppose I should even hint at such plain truths to a native of the town? do you imagine I impart my opinions on the subject indiscriminately? no, indeed—my popularity, such as it is, would be soon blown away were I to venture to contradict all their dearest prejudices. It is a far better plan to tell Miss Jenkins that she looks like an angel in the sky, when sitting in her blue pew, or to hint to old Mrs. Adams, that the crimson moreen gives quite a juvenile glow to her complexion."
"In short," said Emma, gravely, "to encourage people's weaknesses in order to gain their good will."
"Precisely so—it is the only way to live at peace with all the world; at least, the world of Croydon; why should I risk their repose and mine, by voluntarily encountering them on their hobbies. Follow my advice, my dear Miss Watson, and make the best of those you meet with here."
They were interrupted by the conclusion of the dance; and Mr. Morgan thought it best to move away. He left Emma thoughtful and dispirited; and as he watched her from a distance, he was quite satisfied with the general expression of her countenance.
Her next neighbour was Mr. Alfred Freemantle, who threw himself into the chair Mr. Morgan had vacated, and began a series of enquiries as to who Mr. Tom Musgrove might be, and whether it was really true that her sister Margaret was on the point of marriage with him? Emma soon grew tired of his "bald, disjointed chat," and moved away; she was met by Mrs. Turner.
"My dear child," cried she, catching hold of both her arms, "I have been wanting to speak to you this age, but I would not interrupt you whilst you were talking to that pleasant man, Mr Morgan—yes, what a nice man he is, ain't he, dear? Now I did not mean to make you blush; but take care, don't flirt with him too much, because it may mean nothing, you know, there's no saying. But I wanted to tell you how excessively I am delighted with your sister, and how glad I am that she is to marry George. Poor girl, I dare say she is glad of it too; young women like to be married; but then I don't know where you could find a nicer young woman than Elizabeth—or one that would suit my son better. Now, I don't mean that as any reflection upon you, my dear, on the contrary, so never mind what I say."
"I assure you, madam, what you say of my sister gives me sincere pleasure, and I could not, I hope, be so unreasonable as to expect you to regard us in the same light. It is a great happiness when the friends on each side are equally satisfied with any projected marriage."
"Very true, my dear, I agree with what you say; yes, Elizabeth is a charming girl, and much better suited to my son-in-law than you would be perhaps—so we ought to be satisfied on all sides, as you say."
"I am certain she will make a most excellent wife," replied Emma warmly.
"And who do you mean to marry, my dear? Suppose you were to tell me now, I would promise not to tell any one."
"I have not made up my mind yet," said Emma laughing a little; "but I will let you know as soon as I can."
"Don't try for Mr. Morgan, my dear, he will only disappoint you—do not trust him too far; you had better not."
"Mr. Morgan, my dear madam," repeated Emma almost laughing outright, "why he is quite an old man! old enough to be my father I am sure. No, no, I will lay no snares for Mr. Morgan; I am sure if I did the ladies of Croydon would never forgive me."
"I dare say not—but indeed I do not think he deserves you, my dear; I know things of him which I will not tell you; but don't let him make you in love with him."
Emma only smiled at this warning, and the breaking up of the party at the moment prevented her hearing more on the subject from Mrs. Turner.
Tom Musgrove did not stay longer than he had originally proposed, but the next time he came everything was to be ready for the wedding, and Margaret was in such high spirits at the prospect, as plainly showed that she had quite forgotten the unpleasant difficulties which had previously interfered with this happy consummation.
Emma had often wondered that she had heard no more from Lady Fanny Allston. She knew she had been ill, but did not apprehend that her illness was of so serious a nature as necessarily to cause this long delay. But she was at length surprised one day by receiving from her ladyship's housekeeper an abrupt and rather uncivil note, completely breaking off the negotiation. There was something in the tone of the announcement which hurt her exceedingly, and she was in a very uncomfortable frame of mind when she walked out that afternoon with Janetta, for she had lately resumed this custom. She took her little charge into some meadows to look for primroses and violets on the sunny banks, and whilst the child was busy plucking all she could find, Emma herself sat down on the stump of a tree to try and discover the meaning of this communication. She had nothing, however, to guide her conjectures; there was no clue in the note, and she was forced to remain satisfied with the conclusion that her ladyship was capricious and had changed her mind.
Whilst occupied in considering this subject, she was startled by footsteps, and she looked up with a sort of fearful expectation that she should see Mr. Morgan; it was not however the doctor who presented himself, but Mr. Bridge, the clergyman, whom she had formerly met at the Millars'. He took off his hat with a very respectful bow, and addressed her with an air of politeness and courtesy which pleased her exceedingly. After a slight remark on the bright day and the beauty of the scenery, he passed on a few steps, and Emma supposed he was going to leave her; suddenly however he seemed to change his mind, and surprised her by returning to her side. He enquired if she was intending to sit there long, as he feared it must be damp and unsafe.
"I do not perceive any damp, sir," replied she; "and it is so pleasant I am unwilling to think it can be dangerous."
"That is not a rule," he replied smiling a little, and then gravely shaking his head; "many things extremely agreeable are invisibly surrounded with risks and dangers. It is a common-place remark I acknowledge, but one which is as constantly forgotten, as it is frequently enforced. Young people like yourself are particularly apt to slight it—but if you would bear with an old man—"
He paused and regarded her with a look of interest, which she noticed, and finding he hesitated, she ventured to say with warmth and earnestness,
"Pray go on, sir; if you think me in need of caution, I will listen with the attention and reverence which is every way your due."
"I have been interested for you, my dear young lady, not only by your own sweet and ingenuous countenance, your misfortunes and your unprotected situation, but by the representations of my young friend Annie Millar, and I feel that whilst you reside under my pastoral care, I should not be doing my duty were I not to exert myself to save you from inconveniences which you may perhaps be very innocently entailing on yourself."
Emma coloured and felt quite astonished at this address, the purport of which she could not guess, but after a moment's hesitation, she begged Mr. Bridge to proceed without ceremony; if he had any censure to bestow on her, she would listen and feel obliged.
"It is not censure, it is only a caution I wish to give you—I mean with regard to your intimacy with Mr. Morgan: you probably do not know his character, nor is it necessary that you should learn minute particulars; I am sure it will be enough for you to hear that he is not a safe companion for a young woman of your age and appearance."
"I think you must be under some misapprehension," replied Emma surprised; "there is nothing between us which can warrant the appellation of intimacy. He visits my sister-in-law, and as her visitor only I have known him."
"I had hoped," replied Mr. Bridge gravely, "to have met with more candour from you; I am under a very great mistake, if you have not on several occasions met him when walking only with that little girl, and allowed him to walk with you for a long time. Is it not so?"
"That is perfectly true—but the meetings were quite accidental," said Emma.
"So far as you were concerned, I can believe it; but the world will only know that you were seen walking _tête-à-tête_ with a man of known bad principles and immoral conduct; and more than that, he has been found with you in the drawing-room alone, and you have passed many hours in his company when visiting in other houses."
"I was not aware," said Emma, perfectly astonished at the charge; "that my actions could have thus been the subject of comment and inspection; but what you say, though perfectly true in itself, is capable of a very different interpretation—will you listen to my defence?"
"Certainly, my dear child," replied he, pleased at the frank and respectful manner with which she addressed him.
"I met Mr. Morgan at Mr. Millar's, and there I saw him received into the society of respectable women—he visited at my sister-in-law's house, and was, evidently, in her confidence; he proposed to her to procure me a situation as governess to Lady Fanny Allston's little girl, and my brother perfectly approved of the negotiation. It was the interest he took in this plan, which produced the appearance of intimacy which you reprobate; it was to discuss this subject, that he joined me in my walks; but, as I did not like the appearance of clandestine intercourse, I mentioned the occurrence to my brother and sister-in-law; and to avoid him, I refused, for some time, to walk out without some other companion than my niece. Latterly, I have seen less of him; and it is a fortnight or more since we last met out walking. Had I known him to be a man of bad principles, as you say he is, I would never have allowed him to interfere in my affairs—but how could I suspect that, when I found Mrs. Watson treated him with perfect confidence?—and he was evidently courted and caressed by nearly all the women of my acquaintance in Croydon."
"Those who know him best, have most reason to say it is unsafe for you to associate with him; they know of what he is capable, and are most shocked, of course, at your breach of conventional etiquette. I am sorry to say that you are right in your assertion that he is courted and caressed by women in general. In spite of his character, his manners make him popular, and many weak-minded women encourage him in conduct which flatters their vanity, by demonstrating admiration for their mental and personal charms. But those who act thus, are severe judges of others. But tell me, are you really going to Lady Fanny Allston's on his recommendation?"
"No—her ladyship has suddenly—and not very civilly—broken off the negotiation."
"I am glad of it, my dear; it would have been very undesirable that you should go there, throwing yourself completely in the way of that man; it must have been his object. Poor girl; any thing would be better than that."
Emma was silent and thoughtful.
"If you have any resolution and strength of mind," continued he, "I advise you by every means, to shun the neighbourhood of this dangerous man. The struggle may be painful, but depend upon it, it will be less so by far, than the consequences of indulging in your predilection for him."
"I do not think that the danger you apprehend for me, really exists," replied Emma, looking up suddenly.
He shook his head.
"The young are always confident," said he, "but, if you build your hopes on any degree of affection, which Morgan may have manifested, believe me you are building on a quicksand, and you will as surely find yourself deceived as his other victims!"
"You quite misunderstand me," replied Emma, very earnestly; "I would not dare to boast myself more infallible than other young women, but I do not think I shall be put to the proof. I never had an idea, for a moment, that Mr. Morgan entertained towards me any other than such friendly feelings as you do yourself. It seemed to me very kind in him to interest himself for an orphan—but it was a kindness which his age appeared to warrant. For, though not quite so old as yourself, sir, he is old enough to be my father; and I fancied it was with something of a paternal feeling that he regarded me. As to my own sentiments towards him, I certainly felt grateful at first—but latterly, there has been, I own, once or twice, a something in his manner which made me suspicious of his principles, and induced me to shun private intercourse with him. Do I speak in a way to convince you of candour, or do you mistrust my confession, and doubt my word?"
"I think I will venture to trust you—but I must still repeat my warning—take care of yourself, and do not allow him to hurt your reputation. You have enemies in Croydon, my dear."
"I, sir! how is that possible?—and yet, Mr. Morgan hinted the same to me!"
"There, for once, he spoke truth, whatever may have been his motive. But you are watched—whether from simple curiosity, malice or envy, your movements have been traced, and are spitefully commented on. It was in that way, that I heard of your walks with him; and meeting you here, I could not resist warning you. I rather wonder we have seen nothing of him, for I saw him following me as I took this path; perhaps he is waiting till I leave you."
"Would it be too much trouble for you to see me safe home?" said Emma anxiously, "I should be so very much obliged if you would."
Mr. Bridge readily assented; and calling Janetta, they turned towards the town.
At one of the stiles they met the individual in question; he had, apparently, been watching them; but though, perhaps, disappointed at the result of their conference, he came forward with a bow and a smile, the most insinuating, to hand Emma over it. Mr. Bridge observed gaily, that he feared he was grown too old for gallantry, and he must not wonder if such agreeable offices were taken out of his hands by men younger and more alert. The hand which Mr. Morgan held, he seemed unwilling to relinquish, but drew it under his arm with an appearance of considering it his right to support and guide her. At another time she might hardly have noticed this, but with Mr. Bridge's warnings ringing in her ears, she could not permit it to continue. Resolutely she drew away her hand and turned towards the stile to enquire whether the elder gentleman required any assistance. Mr. Morgan fixed his piercing eyes on her with an enquiring look, as if to demand why his attentions were thus repulsed; but he could not catch her eye, and he was forced to content himself with walking quietly by her side.
"I want particularly to speak to you, Miss Watson," said he presently in a low tone, as if wishing to avoid her companion's notice.
"I am quite at liberty to listen to you," replied Emma turning towards him.
"It is on your own affairs," said he as if hesitating, and glancing towards Mr. Bridge; "I do not know how far it might be pleasant for you to have a third person made conversant with them."
"If it relates to the business with Lady Fanny," answered Emma aloud, "I have just been talking the matter over with Mr. Bridge, and he can therefore quite enter into the subject now."
"It does relate to that affair, and I am sorry—exceedingly sorry—that I should be the means of occasioning you any disappointment, but I fear your hopes—I might say _our_ hopes in that quarter are all overthrown."
"I am aware of that, Mr. Morgan," said Emma calmly; "I received a note to that effect this morning, and your intelligence therefore is no shock to me; I feel much obliged for the zeal you have shown in my favour, but on the whole I am as well satisfied that things should be as they are."
"Satisfied!" cried he looking at her. "You cannot really mean that! the loss of such a prospect may be nothing to you, but the reason—that is the evil."
"I had no reason assigned me," replied Emma, "and only concluded that her ladyship had changed her mind, which of course she had full right to do."
Mr. Morgan looked at her with an air as if he would penetrate her brain.
"I am so sorry," said he presently, "so very sorry that I have been the means of leading you into this very unpleasant situation. But for me you would never have met this repulse: I am vexed indeed!"
"Do not take it so much to heart," replied Emma more gaily than she felt, "for after all it is only what any young woman in my situation might expect—a few repulses will serve to teach me humility."
"Aye, if you needed the lesson; but the reason is so very—"
He stopped abruptly.
"What is the reason?" asked Emma. "I told you I knew of none."
"If you really do not, you had better not force me to say it; though you cannot for a moment imagine that I believe there is a word of truth in Lady Fanny's assertion—she must have been so completely misinformed."
"I really should be obliged to you to be explicit," replied Emma earnestly; "you admit that you know the reasons—I must insist on knowing them likewise."
"I am unwilling to pain you, my dear Miss Emma."
"Then you should not have alluded to them at all; you cannot wonder if I now consider myself entitled to learn what these mysterious reasons are."
He drew out his pocket-book and took thence a note, which he placed in her hand, saying,
"If it offends or affronts you, do not blame _me_ for it."
Emma opened and read a short note from Lady Fanny to Mr. Morgan, stating that having heard various very discreditable reports concerning the young person he had named to her, she must beg to decline all further intercourse with her. Emma's cheeks glowed as she read the lines in question; but she said not a word. Quietly she re-folded the note and returned it to Mr. Morgan. He was eagerly watching her, and as he took it from her hand, he detained her fingers one moment, and stooping whispered,
"You cannot think how grieved I am thus to pain you."
"It is quite as well that I should know it," she replied very calmly; and then a silence of some minutes ensued. They had reached the garden gate before any one spoke again: she turned to Mr. Bridge before entering, and whilst holding out her hand to him, said in a low voice, "I am _very_ much obliged to you; may I have a little further conversation with you another day?"
"Certainly, whenever you wish; when can I see you?"
"I should like to see you alone," she replied.
"Then I will manage it—depend on me to-morrow."
He then warmly shook hands, patted Janetta's shoulder and walked off, concluding that Mr. Morgan would do so too. But here he was mistaken, that gentleman having no intention of retiring so quickly. He had opened the gate for Emma and stood leaning against it, till she turned and prepared to pass, but then he laid his hand on her arm, and whilst closing the gate upon them both, attempted to draw her a little on one side where a thick screen of filberts concealed them from the house.
"Come here, my dear girl," said he in a tone of familiarity which affronted Emma; "I thought that old humbug was never going to leave us: it's too bad to be beset in that way."
"Have you anything to say to me, Mr. Morgan?" replied Emma in a freezing tone; "because I must beg, if you have no particular reason, that you will not detain me here."
"I beg your pardon—I quite forgot," returned he in a very different tone; "I am taking a liberty which nothing but my interest in you can excuse." He then withdrew his hand from her arm, but still stood in her path. "The fact is, my indignation at the slanderous tongues of our neighbours made me quite forget everything else; do you know the meaning of that note I showed you—the nature of the reports and their originator?"
"I know simply what I read there," returned Emma, "and unless the subject is one of immediate importance, I must decline to discuss _now_ and _here_ the cause of Lady Fanny's determination."
"Well, perhaps you are right, but I hardly expected that my warnings to you the other night would so soon be realised; they have not scrupled to make mischief of our meeting when out walking, and the report has reached Lady Fanny's ears."
"If that is the case, Mr. Morgan," replied Emma, her face flushing with indignation, and her voice almost uncontrollably trembling from emotion, "if you _know_ that to be the case, I wonder that kindness, courtesy, nay, the common feelings of a gentleman, do not prompt you to avoid giving countenance to such reports, by forcing yourself on my privacy, and intruding even here on my home. I command you to let me pass this instant, and I desire that I may not again be disturbed by a similar encounter."
He did not dare dispute her command for a moment, as she stood with her slight and graceful figure drawn up, and her speaking face turned on him in indignation; he drew aside, and with a very low bow allowed her to pass, and follow Janetta, who had trotted up towards the house. He looked after her in an attitude of despair, but it was lost on Emma, who never turned her head, or cast one relenting glance behind, but walked straight into the house. In fact she felt very angry, and her anger increased the more she thought of what had passed: it seemed to her as if he sought to place her in equivocal situations, and rather wished that she might compromise her reputation. Compared with the kindness of Mr. Bridge, his professed friendship and zeal appeared hollow and unsatisfactory; and now that she found she had another friend, she looked her difficulties more firmly in the face, and determined not to endeavour to escape from one set of evils by risking another. Still, when she thought of the words of Mr. Bridge, so sadly corroborated by Mr. Morgan himself, she could not help a sigh and a shudder.
She wished to ask his advice as to what she had better do, but at the same time she tried to form an opinion for herself, and questioned her own mind as to what was her duty on this occasion. To avoid all intercourse with Mr. Morgan, and let the slanders die a natural death from want of food to sustain them, appeared to her the safest course, and she hoped Mr. Bridge would agree with her. She would gladly have left the place had it been possible, but just at present there seemed no chance of an escape. When the time of her promised visit to Osborne Castle arrived, what a happiness it would be! She lay awake many hours that night thinking over all the difficulties in her path, and planning how she could surmount them. One idea weighed most strongly in her mind; it was, would Mr. Howard be at all likely to hear any report concerning her, and would he believe it if he did. She wished she could imagine he would hear of her at all; only from Miss Osborne had she received any news of his proceedings, and she feared that their intercourse was brought to an end for ever. How she might have viewed Mr. Morgan and his attentions but for her previous acquaintance with Mr. Howard, she could not tell, but she mentally compared the two men now, not a little to the disadvantage of the former; and she felt persuaded that she could never care for another, unless she were to meet with one who possessed all the good qualities of Mr. Howard, and was better acquainted with his own mind. For, totally in the dark as to the reason why Mr. Howard had suddenly withdrawn his attentions, and recollecting well the many little signs which had escaped him of a more than ordinary interest, she only concluded that he had, on further acquaintance, found her different from what he wished, and that he had changed his mind and views accordingly. She little knew that at this time he was suffering from a constant, unceasing regret, and dwelling on their past intercourse as the most precious and delightful period of his life.
It was with a heavy head, and a heavier heart, that she went through her daily routine the next morning, hearing Janetta her alphabet, setting her sewing, and reading to her; she had great difficulty in getting through with it, and could hardly fix her thoughts for five minutes on the business on which she was employed. In the course of the morning, Janetta was sent for to the drawing-room, and returned in about ten minutes radiant with joy. Emma, who had lain down on the bed for a few minutes, and was just closing her weary eyes in a doze, was suddenly roused by the news that Mr. Bridge had come to ask Janetta to go to see his garden, and that he was now waiting for them to accompany him home.
Mindful of his promise, he had called on Mrs. Watson, and after observing that he had met her little girl gathering flowers, he begged she might come and see some of the beautiful violets and anemonies in his garden. Mrs. Watson, delighted at the civility to herself, which she discovered in any attention to her child, assented most readily, and Emma had now to rouse herself as well as she could to accompany her young charge.
She felt so totally unequal to any exertion, that even her sense of the kindness manifested by Mr. Bridge, and the interest he shewed in her, was hardly sufficient to produce the energy requisite for the occasion. Her languid movements, and the heavy eyelids immediately caught the attention of the kind old man; but sensible how little sympathy her sufferings would probably excite in the mind of her selfish sister-in-law, he made no comment until they were not only out of the house, but safely hidden amidst the picturesque shrubberies which enclosed the parsonage. Then kindly taking her hand and looking half-smiling, half-sadly in her face, he said:
"I am afraid, poor girl, you have been fretting about what you learnt yesterday, and that you feel it more deeply than you expected to do."
"I have been thinking a great deal about it, I allow," replied Emma, "and more about what Mr. Morgan said yesterday after you left me. But surely you cannot be surprised at my dejection, when you consider the various difficulties which present themselves in my path."
"I cannot help a small suspicion," replied he, with a sort of cunning little smile, but which he speedily checked, "that you feel some regret about Mr. Morgan himself."
"No, you do me injustice; but on such a subject, professions are perfectly useless, and I shall not attempt to make them. To break off my intercourse with him will cost me nothing; but what does really depress and annoy me, is the terrible idea than any slanderous reports should have been circulated concerning that intercourse. He told me the story had reached Lady Fanny Allston, and that it was for _that_ reason she had so abruptly concluded all negotiation with me."
"Very likely; her ladyship is the greatest gossip in existence, and has a regular supply of the town news and scandal, extracted from the butcher and baker, by her own maid, for her own private amusement."
"But if the story has travelled so far, how much farther may it not spread—I shall lose my character altogether, and with it all chance of earning an independent livelihood, and what will become of me?"
Her lip quivered, tears burst from her eyes, and her whole frame was visibly agitated, to such a degree, that Mr. Bridge feared a fit of hysterics would ensue. Emma, however, made a determined effort to conquer her emotion, and after two or three minutes, succeeded so far as to resume an air of calmness, though it was some time before she could speak again.
"My dear girl," said the clergyman, compassionately, "you must not give way to despondency—remember from whence your trials come, and you will become calmer and stronger in the contemplation. You do not seem to me at all to blame in what has passed, and whilst your conscience is clear, you need never despair that your path will be made clear likewise."
"It is not only the present difficulty which weighs on my mind at this moment," replied Emma, trying to speak calmly; "but there are times when all I have lost comes back to my memory, and seems quite to overpower me. My earliest friends lost to me, and with them the happy home where I had enjoyed every indulgence, and every pleasure that affection could procure. Then just as I began to accustom myself to my new home, and learnt to value the affection and society of my only parent, that likewise is torn from me, and whilst I am deprived of parent and fortune, and become dependent on my own exertions, I find myself robbed, I know not how, even of my good name, and my prospects blighted in the most mysterious manner. It seems in vain to struggle against such a complication of evils; what can I expect but to sink into contempt and disgrace?"
"I admit the greatness of the losses you have sustained," said he; "I cannot deny that it may be hard to bear; but you have still some blessings left for which you may be thankful. You possess a healthy constitution, a sound intellect, and a conscience unoppressed by a sense of guilt. You might have lost your heart, as well as your fortune, and that you tell me is not the case."
Emma looked down, and tried to appear quite careless and unconcerned; but she could not feel quite convinced that she did enjoy the degree of heart's ease, which Mr. Bridge seemed to imagine. An image of Mr. Howard flitted across her mind, and she felt that whilst enumerating her peculiar afflictions, she had omitted one which pressed almost as deeply as any. She blushed deeply, and could not raise her eyes; he watched her countenance, and then added, presently—
"What do you mean to do now—have you formed any plan?"
"None at all," replied she; "I feel I cannot—my head is all in confusion, and I can hardly think connectedly."
She pressed her hand on her forehead as she spoke; he saw she was looking extremely ill, and feared her mind was over excited.
"My first wish," she continued, "the first object of my life would be to get away from Croydon, to see no more of those who slander me, or him who causes the slander to circulate. But this I cannot do; whilst I have no other refuge, and whilst Margaret's marriage is approaching, I suppose I must not go. But if I could but leave them all, and have a little peace and quiet—it is sometimes more than I can bear; the perpetual worry, and the incessant anxiety to please without success—and those thoughts that will come back in spite of all that I can do—thoughts of regret for past happiness, and hopeless pining for what I may never see again."
"And you are quite sincere in wishing to leave Croydon, and go where you will see no more of Mr. Morgan? is it no momentary pique that influences you, no hope of being followed, no expectation of producing some great effect by your disappearance."
"I wish I could convince you, Mr. Bridge, that whatever the world of Croydon may impute to me, whatever it may choose to say for me, Mr. Morgan was never an object of any peculiar interest in my eyes, and since they have associated our names to my discredit, he is become positively disagreeable. To shun him altogether is, just now, my first wish."
"Then, perhaps, I may help you there; I will, at least, try—your desolate situation interests me deeply—poor girl—you look terribly worn and flushed—go home, and lie down to rest; try and compose your mind, and hope for better things. But above all, my child, endeavour to subdue a repining spirit, and remember that there is One above, who is the Father of the fatherless, and who has promised never to forsake those who call upon Him faithfully!"
Emma took Janetta home, and weary and worn out, she laid herself down upon her own bed, and there dropped into a heavy slumber. In consequence of her non-appearance at the dinner table, Elizabeth went in search of her, and rousing her up, persuaded her to attempt coming down stairs, though Emma, at first, felt so totally unequal to the exertion, that she declared she could not stir.
"Jane is so very cross to-day," remonstrated Elizabeth; "I am sure I do not know what is the matter with her, but she seems so very angry about something or other, that if you can contrive to come down you will save a great deal of after trouble. Is your head really so very bad; you do look rather ill certainly, but you need not eat, only just try to sit at table."
Slowly and languidly Emma rose from her bed; her head ached so intensely that she could scarcely raise her eyes; an iron band appeared to be compressing her forehead, and seemed every moment to increase in pressure. She tried to arrange her hair, and her dress, disordered by lying on the bed, but felt incapable of the exertion; leaning on Elizabeth's arm, she descended to the dining-parlour, and took her seat at the table. Robert offered to help her to some meat, but Emma declined eating. Jane never condescended to lift her eyes until the table was cleared, and then she sarcastically observed—
"I am extremely sorry, Miss Emma Watson, that there is nothing on my table good enough for you to eat to-day; shall I send over to the pastry-cook's, and see if he has any little delicacies to tempt your fastidious appetite? I am not so unreasonable as to expect a young lady like you to dine on roast mutton and plain pudding."
"I am not very well," replied Emma, "and have no appetite to-day; but it is my own misfortune, not the fault of your dinner, I am sure."
"Upon my word you honor my table with a very pretty costume," eyeing Emma fixedly, "may I ask how long it has been your fashion to have your hair awry in that way, and your gown tumbled—do you come out of your bed, or have you been indulging in an interesting game of romps?"
Robert looked at Emma, and even he was struck with the appearance of suffering; and coupling with it the fact that she had eaten no dinner, and moreover, feeling rather cross with his wife, he began to defend her, desiring Jane not to worry his sister, as it was evident she was very far from well. Mrs. Watson fired up at this. She wondered what people could mean speaking to ladies that way—she was sure they must quite forget who they were addressing—as to what she said to Emma, she wondered what she should be forbidden to say next! Really it was too good, if she might not find fault with a girl like Emma in her own house, and at her own table too! She supposed the next thing she should hear, would be that Emma sat there to find fault with her. Her manners, her dress, her general behaviour would be called into question; if Emma gave her approbation no doubt, she should be right—she only hoped she should not be obliged to adopt the elegant negligence of Miss Emma Watson's present style—it was not to her taste she was afraid she must confess.
"Emma has really a very bad headache," interposed Elizabeth, "and would be much better in bed."
"Then pray, let her to go to bed," cried Jane, tossing her head; "who wants her to sit up? not _I_, I am sure; she may go to bed if she likes; but, if she thinks I am going to call in a doctor for her, she is very much mistaken; I will indulge no such whims and fancies."
Emma gladly availed herself of the permission to retire thus graciously accorded, and Elizabeth accompanied her up-stairs and assisted her to undress; neither would she leave her until summoned down to tea; even then, the temptation of Mr. Millar coming in, could not detain her from Emma's room; she told him how ill her sister was, and she returned to sit by her bedside, and attempt, by cool applications, to allay the burning, throbbing pain in her head, which Emma complained almost drove her mad. But she showed no symptoms of amendment, and towards morning she was in a decided fever. Elizabeth, who had sat up with her all night, now pressed her to consent to see Mr. Morgan—the name made her shudder, and she resolutely refused to do so. She declared she was not _very_ ill—nothing more than her sister's skill could alleviate; but that to see Mr. Morgan would infallibly make her worse. Elizabeth thought this rather odd, but she let her have her own way, and said no more about the doctor. Mrs. Watson began to be frightened, when she found that Emma was really very ill; she too then proposed her seeing the doctor; but with more moderation, though with equal firmness Emma rejected her proposal, as she had done that of Elizabeth.
She only wished to see Mr. Bridge—but she had not energy or courage to request an interview with him; she lay in a kind of half-dreamy state, during the greater part of that day and the next; then Elizabeth thought her worse, and without asking her any more on the subject she went to Robert—and with tears in her eyes, entreated that some advice might be sent for—as otherwise, she felt sure Emma would die. This startled Robert—it would have been so exceedingly unpleasant—it would have interfered sadly with Margaret's marriage—and in several other ways would have greatly inconvenienced himself. Accordingly, he decided at once, that Mr. Morgan should be called in, and so he was. Emma was in too profound a state of stupor to notice him, or to be aware of what was passing beside her bed. She did wake a little at the sound of voices, but she could not guess whose they were; they seemed to her even a great way off—though, in reality, close to her; he might hold her hand now, she could not withdraw it; nay, when he put back the dark hair from her brow, and laid his hand on her temples to count the throbbing of the pulse there—she made no resistance now—she was unconscious of his touch. He was not alarmed about her, though he saw she was really ill—too ill for him to flatter his vanity with the idea that it was affected for the sake of seeing him; but he felt sure she would recover, and greatly consoled Elizabeth by his lively hopes on this subject. Nevertheless, he came to see her twice that evening, and early again the next morning. On neither visit did he find her sufficiently conscious to recognise him—but she gradually began to amend—and on waking from a prolonged slumber on the afternoon of the third day, she was sufficiently restored to the use of her faculties, to enquire of Elizabeth, whether any one had been attending her during the intervening time. Her sister, without circumlocution, told her how often Mr. Morgan had seen her, and added, that he was to come again that evening. Emma appeared excessively discomposed, and asked her if she could not prevent his coming; persisting that she did not want to see any doctor, and that, if she were only left alone, she should soon be well.
Miss Watson, who considered this merely as a fancy belonging to her state of disease, tried to avoid giving her a direct answer, and when she found this would not satisfy her, she endeavoured to persuade Emma of the unreasonable nature of her request, and ended by saying she would see what could be done for her. Of course Mr. Morgan came at the time appointed, end she was obliged to bear it, though the very sight of him threw her into such a state of agitation that his feeling her pulse was perfectly useless and only served to mislead him. He had, however, too much penetration not to discover quickly that his presence caused the feverish symptoms which at first alarmed him; he would gladly have persuaded himself that they indicated partiality, but not even his vanity could so far mislead him. The averted eye, the constrained voice, the cold composed look which wore the expression of her real feelings, told him a very different tale. He felt that he had lost ground in her good opinion, though he could not exactly tell why or how, and still less did he know how to recover it. His visit was short, and his conversation confined entirely to professional subjects, and he took his leave of her with a bow which was intended to express a profound mixture of admiration and respect towards her, mingled with regret, self-reproach, humility and penitence on his part. If any bow could have conveyed so much meaning, it would certainly have been his, and it did undoubtedly express the utmost that a bow could do. Emma drew a long breath when he was gone, and whispered,
"I wish he would never come again."
Elizabeth tried seriously to convince her that she was exceedingly unjust, and pressed her to name any fault she could find with Mr. Morgan, of her own knowledge, not speaking merely from hear-say. Emma's nerves were not in a state to bear argument, and instead of answering she began to cry, and went off in a fit of hysterics which Elizabeth had great difficulty in soothing away.
The next morning Emma requested Elizabeth to procure her a visit from Mr. Bridge; she could not rest longer without an interview, and she now felt strong enough to make her wishes known. She would not allow any reference to be made to Jane, but sent a request, in her own name, that he would call on her, and when this request was complied with, as it speedily was, she sent Elizabeth out of the room that she might have an unreserved conversation with her old friend.
Her first question to him was whether he had as yet done anything towards procuring her removal from Croydon. He believed that she must recover her health before anything could be done with that view. But she so earnestly assured him that she should regain strength with twice the rapidity if he would only let her know what he proposed to do, that he told her to set her mind at ease, as he had already arranged a plan for her comfort. He had a sister, a single lady, residing about fourteen miles from Croydon, and if she liked to go and pass a few weeks with her, she would be sure of retirement and tranquillity with every comfort that could be desired.
Emma was delighted with the idea; she was certain she should like Miss Bridge, and that nothing could be more agreeable than residing in the country quite retired and with only one pleasant companion. There she should continue, she trusted, until Miss Osborne renewed her solicitations for her society, and even after that visit was paid she might return there. She pictured to herself how she would engage in a thousand useful and agreeable occupations, and how she would love the charming old lady on whom she would attend with unremitting zeal. She declared that she felt herself increasing every moment in strength by the contemplation of such a residence, and she trusted that she should soon be out of sight and sound of Mr. Morgan and all the inquisitorial residents of Croydon—how soon should she be able to go?
This Mr. Bridge told her depended entirely on the state of her health; as soon as she could be moved with safety he would take her in his own carriage half of the way, where his sister would meet her and convey her the other half.
"Oh, let it be to-morrow!" cried she; "I am sure I shall be well enough—my strength is greater than you think."
"Well well, we will ask the doctor," replied he.
"Do not ask Mr. Morgan anything about it," said Emma flushing again deeply. "I do not want to have anything to do with him that I can help. I believe it was one thing that made me ill, because they would have him to visit me."
"Come, be reasonable," said he smiling; "if you talk in that way I shall think you light-headed. Now I must leave you; I will see you again to-morrow morning, and if I find you well enough, will send word to my sister at once and settle your plans."
He took leave, and was quitting the room when he met Elizabeth returning, and Emma anxious that her sister should immediately participate in her pleasant prospects, begged him if he could spare a few minutes more to stop and explain their plans. Miss Watson of course was very much pleased at hearing what he had to tell, and immediately saw all the advantages to Emma which such a removal would procure, except the _one_ principal one, which was the secret source of her sister's eagerness to put it in execution. But she had never heard a syllable of the reports which had been so industriously circulated relative to Emma and Mr. Morgan, and was very far from imagining he could in any way, either as an object of love or of hatred, influence her feelings or proceedings. She admitted that it was in every way desirable that Emma should have a peaceful and comfortable home, and the only thing she stipulated for was, that she should return to Croydon as soon as she herself could offer her an equally comfortable abode in her own house. This point Emma did not feel disposed to dispute, though she secretly entered a protest against returning to Croydon for a residence if she could in any way avoid it.
She proved herself right in her anticipations that the relief to her mind would be of essential service to her body; she was so very much better the next morning as to be able to leave her bed-room, and sit up some time in Janetta's nursery, and here she was, with her little niece standing beside her, and no one else in the room, when Mr. Morgan was suddenly ushered in.
She received him with a calm self-possession which astonished herself, and, at the same time, a degree of frigid composure which seemed to imply that the past, both of good and evil, was swept from her mind, that she had to begin again in her acquaintance with him, and meant only to recognise him in future as the doctor, and not the friend. It was in vain that he sat beside her, and in his most winning tones tried to establish confidence between them; she was perfectly calm and composed, but impenetrably grave, yielding to neither tenderness nor gaiety, and he was just rising to go when she made her first suggestive observation, by telling him that she was so much better she should be able to take a drive to-morrow. He assented, of course, if the weather was favorable, and added, that as her sister had no carriage he hoped he might be allowed to take her out in his. With sincere pleasure at being able to decline it, Emma thanked him, assuring him it was quite unnecessary, as Mr. Bridge had promised her his. He looked disappointed; he could not bear that she should have any friends but himself: what would he have felt, had he known the real object of the drive in question.
His departure, which Emma had thought most unnecessarily delayed, left her at liberty to think about Mr. Bridge's promised visit; she had long to wait, he came delighted to see her better, and quite willing to acknowledge that she might be removed the next day. The necessary arrangements he undertook to make; he could send his sister word that she might expect them, and he determined to drive over the whole way himself, and spend one night at her house. He likewise agreed to go and inform her own brother and his wife of what was about to take place, and thereby save Emma all excitement, if the information should happen to be ill received.
Accordingly, in persuance of this plan, he paid Mrs. Watson a visit before leaving the house, and in answer to his gentle tap at the door, received an invitation to enter, which brought him into an extremely untidy and heated parlour. Jane was sitting over the fire with her feet on the fender, her gown turned up over her knees, and her petticoat emitting a strong smell of scorching, which almost overpowered him. She was reading a work of some kind, which she hid behind her when she saw her visitor, whilst she tried to arrange her hair and cap in a rather less slatternly way. Margaret was busy trimming a hat with white satin ribbons, and judging from the shreds of white materials of divers kinds lying beside her, had been deeply engrossed in the dress-making or millinery line. After sitting a few minutes, Mr. Bridge enquired if he could see Mr. Watson, and though his wife was quite certain it was impossible, it so happened that Robert entered at that very time.
"I am so glad to see you," said Mr. Bridge on shaking hands with him, "I wanted to get your leave to carry off your youngest sister."
"What, Emma?" said Robert, "why she's ill I understand."
"She is better to-day," replied he, "but she wants change of air and scene, and I want to get it for her."
"Why, what new fancy of hers is this?" exclaimed Mrs. Watson, "that girl's head is always full of some strange vagary or another; it's only the other day she would not walk out, and now she's wanting to go away, and she keeping her bed and pretending to be ill."
"Where do you want to take her to?" enquired Robert, unheeding his wife's speech.
"Why, my sister wishes for a companion, and I think they would suit each other very well; and it really appears to me that she feels the confinement and application necessary in her present mode of life too much for her."
"My dear Mr. Bridge," cried Mrs. Watson in a fawning tone, "don't you, please, believe that she is a prisoner, or acting under compulsion; I am sure you would have too much regard for me to go and set such a story about—only think what my feelings would be were such a story circulated about my dear husband's sister."
"I did not mean to say anything to hurt your feelings, Mrs. Watson," replied the clergyman coolly, "but you cannot deny that your sister-in-law has been ill, and that at present she is incapable of continuing her labors as governess to your little girl: I do not exaggerate in that statement."
"Oh dear no—but then she never had any great labors to go through; nothing I am sure but what any one might accomplish."
"I am of opinion she has exerted herself too much in every way; and as my sister's house will be very quiet, and they are persuaded they shall suit each other, I really think the best thing she can do will be to go there."
"I don't see that at all," replied Jane rather snappishly, "I cannot spare her; I want her to take charge of Janetta; what am I to do without her?"
"I understood her services in that way were very trifling," interposed Mr. Bridge.
"Just her teaching may be," said she retracting a little, "but then she is accustomed to take care of her all day long, and I cannot spare her from that."
"Not unless you find a substitute," said he.
"But I cannot do that, I do not like to leave her entirely to servants, and unless I mind the child myself what can I do; and I suppose no one would expect _me_ to become a slave to my little girl, and shut myself up in a nursery."
"Then why exact it of her?" suggested Mr. Bridge.
"Because whilst she is living at my husband's expense, I think it only fair that I should profit from her cares in that way; and I consider it always a charity to give young people something to do."
"That may be very true whilst she is here perhaps; but it seems to me a little unreasonable, begging your pardon for saying so, to keep her against her will, and then make her work to cover the expense of staying."
"I am sure I don't know why you should find fault: _I_ have not _time_ to teach my child myself, if I had the health for such an exertion."
"You never seem to have either time or inclination to do anything, Jane:" said the husband, "look at this room—was there ever such an untidy pigsty for a lady to live in; why cannot you take a little trouble and make it look decent."
"You had better arrange it after your own fashion," said she scornfully, "if you do not like mine."
"As to this plan of yours, Mr. Bridge," continued Robert, "I think it a capital one; and the sooner you can take her away the better—when do you mean to go?"
Mrs. Watson was silenced altogether, and Mr. Bridge proceeded to explain the plan of their proceedings as proposed by himself. Robert highly approved of it all, and gave his full consent and approbation to Mr. Bridge with the more zest, because it appeared to annoy his wife. After this it was of course vain for her to make objections; he was completely master of his own house, and Jane knew, from sad experience, that she might produce as much effect by talking to the tables and chairs as to him, when in one of his stubborn fits.
All she could do, therefore, was to be as cross as possible for the rest of the day to those around her, in consequence of which she was left to a _tête-à-tête_ with Margaret, as Elizabeth was upstairs making preparations for Emma's departure, and Robert went out to spend the evening with some bachelor friends.
Punctually the next day, Mr. Bridge drove to the door, and at the same moment Mr. Morgan entered the house. Emma was in the parlour quite ready for her journey, and her eye sparkled with pleasure as she told him that she should not trouble him to call on her again, for she was leaving Croydon for a long time. He looked aghast.—
"Going away," was his exclamation, as he cast an enquiring eye at the trunk which Mr. Bridge's man was preparing to place on the carriage. "This is quite unexpected—may I ask where you are going?"
"It is Mr. Bridge who is taking me away," replied Emma, "and really I can hardly answer as to _where_ we are going. I am wishing to try a change of air, as I do not find Croydon agree with me."
"This is Mr. Bridge's doing then," said he, his face turning pale with an emotion which she did not understand. He felt convinced that his plans had been seen through and counteracted, and entertained, in consequence, anything but a feeling of gratitude towards the agent of his disappointment. At this moment the clergyman entered, and claimed Emma's company, and after an affectionate farewell from Miss Watson, and a formal bow from the doctor, she was hurried away. The other two ladies were out walking, as Jane was determined not to countenance Emma's departure by her presence on the occasion. Emma felt so very much relieved as she lost sight of Croydon, and entered on a country quite new to her, that she fancied she was deriving fresh health and strength from every breath she inhaled. She was, however too weak to bear much conversation, and was content to lie back in peace and silence in a corner of the carriage, quietly reposing on the cushions with which she had been carefully propped, and enjoying the luxury of seeing the varying landscape pass before her eyes, without making any exertion. Mr. Bridge was reading; and in this way the fourteen miles were pleasantly and quickly passed, and in about two hours from leaving Croydon, they stopped at the door of Miss Bridge's residence.
It was a small, old-fashioned house, with a thick screen of shrubs surrounding it, and a few picturesque old Scotch firs standing on the little grass plat which divided the front from the road. The walls were covered with creeping shrubs, and it was evident that the owner loved flowers, for early as it was in the year, the little porch was crowded with showy plants, and odoriferous with the scent of the hyacinth, narcissus and other sweet bulbs. The old lady came out to receive them, and the warmth of her welcome, with the kindness of her manner, quite won Emma's heart at once. She saw that her guest was fatigued, and would not allow her to exert herself in any way; but leading her upstairs, made her rest on the bed, and left her promising to return in a short time. The air of comfort which now surrounded Emma, was truly grateful to her feelings; the airy and well-furnished bed-room, the snowy curtains and drapery round the bed, the comfortable furniture, all seemed to bespeak an attention to her wants, to which she had long been a stranger; and as she lay there thinking over all that was past, and wondering what was to come next, a deep feeling of gratitude stole over her heart for finding herself at last in so peaceful and apparently comfortable a home.
Faithful to her promise, Miss Bridge returned speedily, bringing with her some refreshment, of which she insisted on Emma's partaking; and then desiring her to remain quiet for a couple of hours at least, she returned to her brother, and spent the interval in learning every particular that he could detail relative to her interesting young visitor.
When Emma woke from a refreshing slumber of several hours duration, the first object which met her eyes was the countenance of Miss Bridge bending over her. There was such a look of benevolent interest in that good-tempered face, as would have sufficed to redeem a very plain set of features from the charge of insipidity. But Miss Bridge was very far from plain, and it was evident she must have been eminently handsome. She was extremely thin, and her high features, and dark complexion made her look, perhaps, rather older than she really was, but her eyes which were dark hazel were still bright and lively. Her dress was that of an old woman, the colours grave, and the materials rich, and though not exactly in the reigning fashion of the day, yet sufficiently like it to prevent any appearance of singularity, whilst it was perfectly becoming her age and station. Emma felt sure that she should like her exceedingly, and quite longed to be strong enough to converse with her. She was found so much better as to be permitted to leave her room, and lie for a time on the sofa in the drawing-room, though Miss Bridge still proscribed conversation, and recommended quiet and rest.
Everything that she saw gave her an idea of the comfort of her new home; the well-filled book-shelves especially delighted her; she had enjoyed so little time for reading lately that the sight of such a collection of books was a most welcome prospect, and she anticipated with satisfaction the time when she should be able to exert herself again, and commence the acquisition of the Italian language; as she was extremely anxious to increase her information and accomplishments to the utmost.
The next day the old clergyman took his leave, and telling Emma not to fret about her friends at Croydon, and hoping when he came over next month, he should find her with rosy cheeks and smiles to welcome him, he went off quite satisfied that he had secured a comfortable home for his young friend, and a desirable companion for his old sister.
Nothing could be more peaceful and pleasant to a contented mind than the course of life in which Emma now engaged. She speedily recovered her strength, and was able by early rising to enjoy several hours alone in the morning, which she devoted to study; by this means she was always at liberty to give her whole attention to Miss Bridge so soon as they met in the drawing-room. Their fore-noons were employed in reading and needlework, unless when Miss Bridge was writing letters or settling her household matters. Walking out, or working in the garden occupied the afternoon, and in both these occupations, as soon as Emma was strong enough, she took great delight. The garden was cultivated with uncommon care; Miss Bridge having quite a passion for floriculture, and Emma thought nothing could exceed the beauty of her tulips, anemones and hyacinths, as they gradually unfolded their blossoms. She became extremely interested in the pursuit, and Miss Bridge more than once had to interfere to prevent her over tiring herself by her zealous labours.
The country round their residence was extremely pretty; tracts of old forest land with the huge old trees, survivors of many centuries, formed an agreeable contrast to the agricultural districts interspersed in places; and the steep sides of some of the chalky hills were clothed with hanging beech woods equally picturesque with the green forest glades beneath. To wander over this scenery, botanising amongst the lanes and hedgerows, or visiting the various cottages in the neighbourhood, formed a delightful variety to their labours in the garden. Emma found that next to the clergyman, Miss Bridge was looked up to as the guardian and friend of the poor.
Every wounded limb, or distressing domestic affliction was detailed to her. Her advice was sought equally when the pig died, the baby was born, or the husband was sick. Her medicine-chest was in frequent requisition, but her kitchen and dairy still more so. For one dose of rhubarb which she dispensed, she gave away at least two dinners, and those well acquainted with the poor may judge whether by so doing she was not likely to prevent as much illness as she cured; for by far the greater part of the diseases amongst the labouring classes arise from scanty food and too thin clothing. Of course she was the idol, the oracle of all the villagers, and the more so because there was no squire nor squire's family in the parish to diminish her importance or dim the lustre of her position. In fact she was the sister of the last squire, and since his death, as his eldest son resided on another property, the manor-house had stood empty and deserted. It quite grieved Emma to see it, for the house with its gable-ends and old-fashioned porch was very picturesque; but they derived one advantage from the desolate condition in which it was left, as they had the uncontrolled range of the gardens and pleasure-grounds, which were very extensive. The little church stood within these grounds, and by its situation somewhat reminded her of Osborne Castle. But how different was the Rector. He was an old, formal bachelor, living with an unmarried sister, extremely nervous and shy, and more remarkable for his total disregard to punctuality than any other point. This was peculiarly evident on the Sunday, when the whole congregation were always assembled at least a quarter of an hour before his appearance amongst them. If the day was fine, they did not enter the church but remained strolling up and down the pasture in which it stood, until the minister appeared and led the way into the sacred building. The congregation, which was almost entirely composed of the rural population, presented a very different aspect from that at Croydon; there were few smart bonnets, and the gayest articles of apparel in the church were the scarlet cloaks of the women. The dark and old-fashioned building itself had no ornaments but the hatchments belonging to the Bridge family, and one or two ugly and cumbrous monuments upon the walls, which seemed intended to record that certain individuals had been born and died, though what they did when living was now totally forgotten.
When the service was concluded, the clergyman quitted the pulpit and walked out before all his congregation, who stood up respectfully to let him pass, and then Miss Bridge and Emma, who had their seat in the squire's pew, followed before any one else presumed to stir from their places: there was then a friendly greeting between the Rector and his principal parishioners, after which they took their quiet way homewards, to partake of their early dinner, and return to the afternoon service.
Such was the tenor of Emma's life, whilst she remained with Miss Bridge—the only incident that varied the scene, was a drive over to Croydon one day, in order to attend Margaret's wedding. Emma had recovered her strength so rapidly, that she was perfectly equal to the exertion, and Margaret had sent a pressing invitation not only to her, but to Miss Bridge likewise. It was, therefore, settled that they should go and spend the night at the vicarage, as Robert Watson's house was quite full—with the addition of some cousins of his wife, who were paying a visit. In consequence of this arrangement, she did not see her future brother-in-law that day; but Elizabeth spent the afternoon with them. She saw, with sincere pleasure, how much Emma was improved in looks—she was plumper and fresher—more blooming and bewitching than ever; and so thought Mr. Morgan too—for he likewise, called to see her—and was quite startled with the alteration in her appearance.
"I need not ask you _how_ you are," said he, fixing on her eyes which spoke his admiration as plainly as if he had put it into words; "you are looking _so_ well."
Emma was forced to turn away, for the expression of his face was too openly admiring to be pleasant.
Elizabeth had a long chat with her in private: there was so much to learn about her new way of life, and so much to tell in return, that it seemed as if four and twenty hours instead of two, might have been talked away with ease. There was much to discuss about Margaret's prospects; Elizabeth was very little satisfied with Tom Musgrove, and only wondered that her sister appeared so well pleased as she did. He was careless and cold—almost to insolence—and had, evidently, tried to annoy her in every way he could; flirting with every girl who came in his way, and only shewing that he was not careless to her feelings, by his repeated attempts to wound them. To all this she seemed perfectly indifferent—whether from vanity, she really did _not_ see, or from wilful blindness she _would_ not perceive his meaning, Elizabeth could not tell; but she always continued to preserve a most satisfied air; and when slighted by Tom, sought peace and contentment in the contemplation of her wedding presents and bridal finery; constantly talking as if she enjoyed the unlimited affection of the most amiable and agreeable man in the world.
"And who do you think appeared amongst us last week?" continued Elizabeth, "actually Lord Osborne! Ah! you color and look pleased—and well you may—for I have no doubt Croydon would never have seen his countenance, if he had not thought you still living here!"
"Lord Osborne!" said Emma astonished, "what brought his lordship here—do you know?"
"The ostensible reason, was to bring a present to Margaret from his sister—a very pretty necklace as a wedding present; but the real reason, I have not the smallest doubt was, to see you—and had he not supposed you were still here, the parcel might have come by the coach, for any trouble he would have given himself about it."
"It was very good-natured of Miss Osborne, to remember Margaret in that way," said Emma, "how pleased she must have been."
"Yes, I think she was—it seemed even to put Tom in a better humour with her and every thing—it gave her a sort of consequence."
"What did Lord Osborne say?" enquired Emma, hoping to hear something relative to Mr. Howard.
"Oh! we had a long talk together, and he enquired particularly about you, and where and how you were; and he said he hoped very soon to see you. He talked about expecting you to visit his sister; in short, he seemed to have a great deal to say for himself—and really for _him_, was quite agreeable. To be sure, I do not think him quite so pleasant as George Millar, but every body need not have my taste of course."
"Well, I should like to have seen him—did he say nothing about our friends, Mrs. Willis and her brother—how are they?"
"He said, what I was sorry to hear, that Mr. Howard appeared ill and out of spirits. I wonder what can be the matter with him—do you think he can be in love?"
"I am not in his confidence," said Emma, coloring deeply.
"You will see him, of course," said Elizabeth, "if you go to Osborne Castle—be sure and let me know what you think of him, then; do ascertain if he is in love."
"You had better make observations for yourself, Elizabeth," replied her sister, "how can I judge of a sentiment with which I am unacquainted; wait till you visit Margaret, and you will be able to form your own opinions."
"I do not think I shall ever visit Margaret," replied Elizabeth; "so if I do not see Mr. Howard under any other circumstances, our chance of meeting is but small."
The wedding-day was as bright and sunshiny as any bride could desire. Emma's thoughts wandered from Margaret and her companions to the bridal party in London, who she imagined would be engaged in the same ceremony about the same hour. She knew Mr. Howard was to officiate for her friend, and she tried to picture the scene to herself; then she imagined another group, where Mr. Howard himself should perform the part of bridegroom; and wondered what her own feelings would be if she were the witness of such a spectacle.
She was ashamed of herself when she recalled her mind from this vision, and she tried to think of something more appropriate to the occasion. She joined in the prayers for her sister's happiness, but her heart trembled as she thought of her prospects; however, it was no use foreboding evil—she tried to hope for the best.
Margaret was not satisfied with her two sisters as bridesmaids, but both she and Tom had insisted on having four more from amongst her intimate friends. One of these was the younger Miss Morgan, and as a compliment to her, her brother was invited to be of the party to church. He stood by Emma; but she was unconscious of it, until, when the ceremony was concluded, and there was a general congratulation, and kissing going on, she felt her hand clasped by some one, and on her turning round, he whispered in her ear,—"When shall you stand in your sister's place?"
Before she had time to answer, or even to understand exactly what he had said, her new-made brother came up and claimed the right of kissing her—the double right in fact, both as bridegroom and brother—and when she had submitted to the infliction, she again heard it whispered into her ear:
"_That_ is the only part which I envy Mr. Musgrove."
Emma moved away without looking round again, and took her station by the side of her friend, Miss Bridge, where she felt convinced that Mr. Morgan would not dare to intrude on her. There was something in the change of manner which he had lately assumed to her, most particularly offensive and grating to her feelings.
Another thing she could not avoid remarking was, that some of the young ladies affected to shun her, shrinking away when she approached, and abruptly changing the conversation, as if some mystery were going on between them. This was more particularly evident during the party which succeeded the wedding; when she found herself rather a conspicuous person two or three times, being left alone by those she approached—and on more than one occasion, seeing a group suddenly disperse on her drawing near; she did not comprehend the reason of this, but she felt it particularly disagreeable; and it induced her as soon as she noticed it, to keep close to Miss Bridge, in order to avoid the feeling of solitude in a crowd which was so distressing to her.
The meeting after the wedding was as dull as such affairs usually are, and right glad was Emma when the time for retiring came, and she was able to return to the peaceful vicarage. The next day she again left Croydon, and once more found repose and tranquillity beneath Miss Bridge's hospitable roof.
Much as Emma's thoughts had been dwelling on her acquaintance in London, she little guessed the scene that had really been passing, or the prominent figure which Mr. Howard had made on the occasion.
When the ceremony was performed, the breakfast over, and the new married couple had left the house, Lady Osborne retired to her dressing-room, and thither she sent for Mr. Howard. Without the slightest suspicion as to the real object of her wishes, he obeyed the summons, and found her ladyship alone.
She requested him to be seated, and then looked exceedingly embarrassed, and not a little silly; but after some attempts at conversation, which ended in total failures, she suddenly observed:
"The marriage of my daughter makes a great difference to me, Mr. Howard."
"Of course it must," replied he, rather wondering what would come next.
"I fear I shall find myself very uncomfortable if I continue in the same style of life I have done before; without Miss Osborne I shall be quite lost."
Mr. Howard could not help thinking that he should have supposed few mothers would have felt the change so little. They had never been companions or appeared of any consequence to each other. However he felt it his duty to make some cheering observation, and therefore ventured to suggest that her ladyship should not give way to such desponding thoughts: she might, perhaps, find it less painful than she anticipated.
"You are very kind to try to cheer me in my melancholy situation, but, Mr. Howard, I have always found you so, and I am deeply indebted to you for the many hours of comfort you have at different times procured for me. You have always been my friend."
He did not at all know what to say to this speech, and was therefore silent.
"Do you consider," continued she, "that gratitude is a good foundation for happiness in the married state?"
"It is, no doubt, a good foundation for affection," replied he, "but unless the superstructure is raised, I do not think the foundation will be of much use. It is not sufficient of itself."
"You distress me by your opinion, I had hoped that to secure gratitude was the certain way to produce love."
"I apprehend that your ladyship will find it much more easy to deserve gratitude than to _secure_ it; it is an intractable virtue, and favors which are supposed to have this return as their object, are apt to fail entirely in their purpose."
"I am very sorry you say so, Mr. Howard; I wish I could secure love from the objects of my affection. I fear the case is exactly the reverse."
The gentleman was silent, and a pause ensued between them, which the lady broke.
"What do you think of my daughter's marriage?"
"I think," replied he, "it has every promise of securing them mutual happiness—I hope this as sincerely as I wish it. Sir William is an excellent young man."
"The marriage is not so high a one as what _my_ daughter might have aspired to—she has given up all dreams of ambition—do you not see that?"
"Of course Miss Osborne might have married the equal or the superior to her brother in rank," said Mr. Howard, "but she has acted far more wisely, in my opinion, in preferring worth and affection, though not accompanying so splendid an alliance as possibly her friends have expected for her. Sir William has wealth to satisfy a less reasonable woman than Lady Gordon, and if his rank is sufficiently elevated to content her, she can have no more to desire."
"Do not imagine, Mr. Howard, from what I said that I was regretting the difference in rank; on the contrary, I believe most fully that as she was attached to Sir William, Miss Osborne could do nothing better than marry him. Far be it from me to wish any one to sacrifice affection to ambition. Had there been even more difference in their rank, had the descent been decidedly greater—had he been of really plebeian origin, I should not have objected when her affections were fixed."
"I cannot imagine that there was any possibility of such an event; Miss Osborne would never have fixed her affections on an unsuitable object, as any one decidedly beneath her would have been."
"Do you then consider it unsuitable, where love directs, to step out of one's own sphere to follow its dictates?"
"I am decidedly averse to unequal marriages—even when the husband is the superior, if the inequality is very great I am inclined to think it does not tend to promote happiness: but when their positions are reversed, and the man, instead of elevating his wife, drags her down to a level beneath that where she had previously moved, it can hardly fail to produce some degree of domestic discomfort."
"Alas, I am grieved that your opinion should be so contrary to my favorite theories; I can imagine nothing more delightful than for a woman to sacrifice station and rank, to forego an elevated position, and to lay down her wealth at the feet of some man distinguished only by his wit and worth; to have the proud happiness of securing thus his eternal gratitude."
"I think a man must be very selfish and self-confident, who could venture to ask such a sacrifice from any woman. I could not."
"But I am supposing that the sacrifice is voluntary, proposed, planned, and arranged entirely by herself—women have been capable of this—what should you say to it?"
"I cannot tell what I should say, for I cannot imagine myself in such a situation. Your ladyship takes pleasure in arranging little romances, but such circumstances are unlikely to occur in real life."
"And why? what do you suppose is the reason why, in this prosaic world, we are governed only by titles—empty sounds, not to be compared to the sterling merits of virtue and learning? Mr. Howard, I prefer a man of sense, learning, and modesty to all the coxcombs who ever wore a coronet or paraded a title."
"Your ladyship is quite right," replied he, beginning to get a little uncomfortable at the looks of his companion, and rather anxious to put a stop to the conference.
"And if that man were too modest to be sensible of the preference, if he could not venture, on his own account, to break through the barriers which difference of station had placed between us, should he be shocked if, despising etiquette, and throwing aside the restraints of pride and reserve, I were to venture to express those feelings in all their native warmth and openness?"
He was silent, and Lady Osborne continued for some moments in profound thought likewise, looking down at the carpet and playing with her rings: at length she raised her head, and said,
"I think you understand my meaning, Mr. Howard. Of the nature of my feelings I am sure you must have been long aware. Do you not see to what this conversation tends?"
He appeared excessively embarrassed, and could not, for some minutes, arrange his ideas sufficiently to know what to say. At length he stammered out—
"Your ladyship does me too much honour, if I rightly understand your meaning—but perhaps—I should be sorry to misinterpret it—and really you must excuse me—perhaps I had better withdraw."
"No, Mr. Howard, do not go with a half explanation which can only lead to mistakes. Tell me what you really suppose I meant; why should you hesitate to express—"
"Seriously," replied he, trying to smile,
"I for a moment imagined that your ladyship meant to apply to me what you had just been saying, and I feared you were going to tell me of some friend who would make the sacrifices you so eloquently described. Sacrifices which I felt would be far beyond my deserts."
"And supposing I did say so—supposing there were a woman of rank and wealth, and influence, who would devote them all to you—what would you say?"
"I would say, that though excessively obliged to her, my love was not to be the purchase of either wealth or influence."
"I know you are entitled to hold worldly advantages as cheap as any one; but remember, my dear friend, all the worth of such a sacrifice—think of the warmth of an affection which could trample on ceremony and brave opinion. And think on the consequences which might accrue to you from this. Even you may well pause, before preferring mediocrity to opulence, and obscurity to rank and eminence.
"These advantages would not greatly weigh with me were they attainable—but you forget my profession forbids ambition, and removes the means of advancement."
—"No, you forget the gradations which exist in that career—do you treat as nothing the certainty of promotion—of rising to be a dignitary of the church—a dean—a bishop, perhaps—becoming at once a member of the Upper House? Has ambition no charms—no hold upon your mind?"
"My ambition would never prompt me to wish to rise through my wife—I could not submit to that."
"Hard-hearted, cruel man!—and has love, ardent love, no charms for you?—it is true I cannot offer you the first bloom of youth, but have I no traces of former beauty—no charm which can influence you or soften your heart—has not the uncontrollable though melancholy love which actuates me—has that no power over your affections?"
She paused, and Mr. Howard hesitated a moment how to answer, then firmly but respectfully replied,
"If I understand your ladyship aright, and I think I cannot now misunderstand, you pay me the highest compliment, but one which is quite undeserved by me. Highly as I feel honoured, however, I cannot change my feelings, or alter the sentiments which I have already expressed. My mind was made known to you, before yours was to me, and to vary now from what I then said might well cause you to doubt my sincerity, and could give no satisfaction to your ladyship."
He stopped abruptly; he wanted to say something indicative of gratitude and respect; but the disgust which he felt at her proceedings, prevented the words coming naturally. She, the mother of a married daughter and a grown up son, to be making proposals to a man so much her junior in age, and in every way unsuited for her—really, he could not command the expressions which, perhaps, politeness and a sense of the compliment paid him required. He rose and appeared about to leave her, but she rose likewise, and said with a look which betrayed indignation struggling with other feelings:
"No, do not leave me thus—reflect before you thus madly throw away the advantages I offer you—consider the enmity you provoke—calculate the depth of my wrath and the extent of my power. Refuse me, and there is no effort to injure you which I will not practise to revenge myself—you shall bitterly rue this day, if you affront me thus!"
"I cannot vary from my answer; your ladyship may excite my gratitude by your kindness but neither my love nor my fears are to be raised by promises or menaces. On this subject I must be, apparently, ungrateful; but when the temporary delusion which now influences you has passed away, you will, doubtless, rejoice that I am firm to-day. I must leave you."
"Leave me, then; and let me never see that insidious face again, ungrateful monster; to throw my benefits from you—to reject my advances. Is my condescension to be thus rewarded? But I debase myself by talking to you—leave me—begone!—and take only my enmity with you as your portion."
The lady seemed struggling with vehement emotions, which almost choked her; and knowing she was occasionally attacked with dangerous fits, Mr. Howard hesitated about leaving her alone. By a gesture of her hand, however, she repulsed his offer to approach her; he therefore, slowly withdrew, and his mind was relieved of anxiety for her by seeing her maid enter the room before he had descended the stairs. He then hurried away, and tried, by walking very quickly through the most retired paths in Kensington Gardens, to soothe his feelings and tranquillize his mind.
Had there been no Emma Watson in the world, or had she been, as he feared she would soon be, married to Lord Osborne, he must still have refused the proposal which had just been made to him. It never could have presented itself as a temptation to his mind. But under present circumstances, with a heart full of her memory, all the more precious, the more dwelt on, because he feared she would never be more to him, it was more than impossible, it was entirely repulsive. If he must love her in vain, as he told himself he should, that was no reason he should marry another; and if she were to become Lady Osborne as he feared, her mother-in-law would be the last person he would be tempted to accept. Step-father to _her_ husband—oh, impossible! rather would he remove a thousand miles than voluntarily bring himself into contact with that charming girl in that relationship. If he could not have her, he would remain single for her and for his sister's sake, and his nephew should hold the place of son to him. These were his resolutions, and a further determination to avoid all intercourse at present with the dowager was the only other idea which could find any resting place in his troubled brain. He returned the next day to his Vicarage, and there, with his sister, his garden and his parochial duties, he sought alike to forget the pleasures and the pains of the past.
A month of tranquillity and peace of mind, passed in the society of Miss Bridge, was sufficient to restore Emma Watson to all her former health and more than her former beauty. When Lady Gordon wrote to remind her of the promised visit, she was almost sorry to go. Yet her heart would flutter a little at the notion of again visiting Osborne Castle—of being again in the vicinity of Mr. Howard, of seeing, hearing, meeting him again. It was very foolish to care so much about it—extremely so when he had so completely shown his own indifference, and yet she could not help feeling a good deal at the idea of meeting.
She called it curiosity to see how he was looking, when she admitted that thoughts of him had anything to do with it; but more often she persisted that it was affection for Lady Gordon, or a wish to see her old neighbourhood, or to visit Osborne Castle in the summer. In short, she found a hundred surprisingly good reasons why she should wish to go to Osborne Castle, any one of which would have been sufficient had it only been true, but as they were mostly imaginary, she never felt quite deceived about them in her own mind. This was provoking, as she would have liked, had she been able, to convince herself that she no longer took any interest in Mr. Howard. She had, however, a right to remember his sister with regard, and she readily owned to herself that she should be extremely glad to renew her acquaintance with Mrs. Willis. She hoped to see Margaret again, and judge of the comparative happiness of her married life. Yet she looked back with regret to the four past weeks and reckoned them as some of the happiest she had ever known. Elizabeth had spent part of the time with her, and she had enjoyed herself so very much.
The more she had known of Miss Bridge, the better she had liked her, and the parting was accompanied with mutual regrets and hopes of meeting again.
It was June when she returned to Osborne Castle—June with its deep blue skies—its sunny days—its delicious twilight; June with its garlands of roses scenting the air, and its odoriferous hay-fields. The weather was such as any lover of nature must revel in—delicious summer weather—fit for strolling in the shade or sitting under trees, making believe to read, whilst you were really watching the birds flitting among the bushes, or the bees humming in the flowers—weather for enjoying life in perfect listlessness and idleness—when scarcely any occupation could be followed up beyond arranging a _bouquet_ or reading a novel. So thought and so declared the young bride when her husband pressed her to engage in any serious pursuit; she enjoyed the pleasure of teasing him by her refusals perhaps rather more than she ought to have done, but she never teased him very far now; she knew what he would bear, and ventured not to go beyond it.
"I am glad Emma Watson is coming today," said she, as she threw herself on a seat in the flower-garden; "you will have something else to look at then besides me, and I shall quite enjoy the change."
"Are you sure of that, Rosa?" said he doubtfully.
"Why you have not the impertinence to suppose that I value your incessant attentions," said she; "can you not imagine how tired I am of being the sole object of your love. Emma Watson shall listen to the grave books you so much love, shall talk of history or painting with you, shall sit as your model, and leave me in my beloved indolence."
"May I enquire if you suppose you are teasing or pleasing me by this arrangement, Rosa—is it to satisfy me or yourself?"
"Oh, don't ask troublesome questions; I hate investigations as to meanings and motives—all I want is to be left alone, and not asked to ride or walk when I had rather lie on a sofa in quiet."
"Shall I leave you now then, my dear little wife?" enquired he smilingly, and offering to go as he spoke. "I have a letter to write now, and you can stay here in solitude."
He returned to the Castle, she remained musing where he left her, and thus it happened that when Emma was announced, she found the young baronet alone in their morning sitting-room. He laid down his pen and advanced to meet her with great cordiality, desiring a message to be sent to summon his lady.
After expressing the pleasure it gave him to see her again, he observed:
"Who would have thought, Miss Watson, when we last met, that I should be receiving you in this castle; did you prognosticate such an event?"
"Not precisely," replied Emma, "so far as concerned myself; but as relating to Miss Osborne—I mean Lady Gordon—any one must have foreseen it."
"I assure you, when such things are foreseen, Miss Watson, it most frequently happens that they never come to pass. I have repeatedly seen instances of this kind." He spoke with an arch smile, and a faint idea passed through her mind that she was in his thoughts at the moment; an idea which might, perhaps, have embarrassed her more had it not been swallowed up—annihilated entirely by a more powerful sensation, as the door opened and Lady Gordon entered with Mr. Howard.
It was fortunate that the enquiries of the former—her expressions of pleasure, and her caresses, were an excuse for Emma's not immediately turning to the gentleman—had they been obliged to speak at once, it is probable their dialogue would have been peculiar—interesting but unconnected—as the man said of Johnson's dictionary. As it was, they both had time to collect their thoughts—and when they did turn, were able to go through their interview with tolerable calmness; but Emma had the advantage—as ladies frequently have where circumstances require a ready tact and presence of mind. Indeed, they did not start on fair ground—since she had only one set of sensations to contend with and conceal—he had more—for, besides the emotion which the sight of her occasioned him, he had the double evil of being convinced it was contrary to the requisitions of honour, to feel any extraordinary pleasure in her company. Had not Lord Osborne made him his confidant relative to his attachment, or had Howard boldly owned to his lordship at the time, that he entertained similar views, all would have been right, and he might openly have expressed the interest which he now was compelled carefully to smother. His address was cold and formal—the very contrast to his feelings—and extremely ill done likewise; Emma, chilled by the reception so different to what she had ventured to expect, began to fear her own manners had been too openly indicative of pleasure at the sight of him; and determined to correct this error she almost immediately followed Lady Gordon, who had sauntered towards the conservatory.
"Come here," said the young hostess, linking her arm in Emma's, "let us leave the gentlemen to discuss the parish politics together. Mr. Howard came on business, and Sir William dearly loves meddling with it. Now, you must tell me all the news of Croydon. Have you no scandal to enliven me?—with whom has the lawyer quarrelled? or to whom has the apothecary been making love."
Emma colored and laughed a little. Lady Gordon smilingly watched her.
"To you, I suppose, by your blushes, Miss Watson; well, that gives me a higher idea of _his_ taste, than I have been accustomed to form of country-town doctors. How many lovers have you to boast of? Beginning with Lord Osborne, and ending with this nameless son of Esculapius?—tell me all.
"Indeed, I have no such honors to boast," replied Emma, "no one has sought me, and probably no one ever will:" this was followed by a little sigh.
"Nay, do not be so desponding—a little chill is nothing," cried Lady Gordon, "but I am not going to pry into your secrets. This conservatory has given us enough of trouble in that way already. By the way, you will, of course, like to go over and call on your sister, Mrs. Musgrove—when will it suit you?"
"To-morrow, if you please," replied Emma, gratefully; Lady Gordon promised that the means of conveyance should be at her service, and they proceeded to discuss other topics.
She insisted on detaining Mr. Howard to spend the afternoon and to dine with them—pleading, as a reason, the absence of his sister, who was away on a visit; and when this point was carried and settled, she led them out into the flower garden again, and loitered away the rest of the intervening time, amidst the perfume of summer flowers, and the flickering lights and shadows of the alcoves, and their gay creeping plants. It was the day and place for love making; who could resist the fascinating influence of sweet scents, sunshine, murmuring fountains and soft summer airs? Not Mr. Howard, certainly! Gradually his frozen manner melted away—his purposes of reserve were forgotten, and he became once more the Mr. Howard of Emma's first acquaintance, pleasant and gay—sensible and agreeable.
Lady Gordon left them several times together, whilst she occupied herself with her flowers or her tame pheasants; and each successive time of her absence, there was less check and constraint in his manner; and when, at last, she totally disappeared, and they were left without other witnesses in that delightful spot, than the silent trees, or the trickling waters, his reserve had disappeared altogether, and she could converse with him as in former times.
"Have you enjoyed your visit at Croydon, Miss Watson," enquired he, presently.
She looked surprised at the question.
"Enjoyed it," she repeated—then, after a momentary hesitation added, "I wonder you can apply such a term to circumstances connected with so much that is—that must be most painful."
He was exceedingly vexed with himself for the question, and attempted to make some excuse for the inadvertence.
"It is unnecessary." she replied, with a something almost of bitterness in her tone, "I had no right to expect that the memory of our misfortune would remain, when we ourselves were removed from sight. _I_ ought rather to apologise for answering your question so uncivilly."
"No, no, indeed," cried he eagerly, "I cannot admit that—but indeed, Miss Watson, you do me injustice, and the same to all your former friends in that last speech. We cannot cease to regret the misfortune—the Providential dispensation, which in removing your excellent father from among us, robbed us likewise of you and your sisters."
"My dear father," said Emma involuntarily, her eyes filling with tears—she turned away her head.
"It was of course a terrible wound to you," said he softly, and stepping up quite close to her, "but not one which you need despair of time's healing; _your_ good sense, _your_ principles must assist you to view the occurrence in its true light. It must not sadden your whole life, or rob you of all pleasure."
"True—but there are other sorrows connected with it—" she stopped abruptly, then went on again, "however I have no right to complain. I have still _some_ friends left—my loss of fortune has not entailed the loss of _all_ those whom I reckoned amongst my friends; though an event of that kind is a good touch-stone for new and untried friendships."
"Can you imagine," cried he eagerly, "that such a circumstance can make the shadow of a difference to any one worth knowing. It is, I own, too, too common—but surely _you_ have not met with such instances."
She shook her head and looked half reproachfully at him: in her own heart, she had felt inclined to charge him with this feeling.
"I should have thought," continued he warmly, "you would have said—at least you would have found it like the words of the old song, that—
"Friends in all the old you meet, And brothers in the young."
"I believe it is not usual," replied she trying to speak playfully, "to attach much value to an old song—we may consider that as a poetical fiction."
He looked very earnestly at her and said:
"You fancy friends have deserted you, owing to a change in your prospects—do not—allow me to advise you—do not give way to such feelings—they will not make you happy."
"They do not make me _un_happy, I assure you," said she with spirit; "the value I place on such fluctuating friendships is low indeed."
"In one single instance, perhaps, it may be so—but you had better not dwell on such ideas; they will create eventually a habit of mind which must tend to produce secret irritation and uneasiness. The allowing yourself to think it—much more expressing that thought _can_ do you no good, and each repetition deepens the impression!"
He spoke so gently, with such a low, earnest tone, she could not resist or for a moment longer indulge her half-formed suspicions relative to him and his sister. Whether he had guessed her feelings she could not tell; his eyes were fixed on her with too much of interest to allow her to attempt reading the whole of their meaning. She never liked him so well as when thus, and with justice, reproving her.
"I dare say you are right," said she meekly, "I will try to repress such feelings—indeed I am ashamed I ever gave them utterance—and here too, where I have been so very kindly welcomed!"
"And I am to imagine then," continued he, "that Croydon offers few attractions to you—a country town is not usually agreeable except to those who love gossip, of which I do not suspect you; but you must have found some compensations."
"It was a great pleasure to look forward to Elizabeth being so comfortably settled," replied Emma, "I like my future brother very much, and am pleased with his family. I have no doubt of _her_ happiness—and the style of life will not be irksome to her—but I love the country, and country pursuits, and was right glad to exchange the noisy streets of Croydon for the delightful groves of Burton—its meadows and green-lanes."
"You have not then been the whole time at Croydon?"
She explained—he had certainly been in a state of complete darkness as to her movements lately; and she really felt a momentary mortification that he should have been contented to remain in such profound ignorance. Yet she also rejoiced that he had never heard anything relative to the course of events which had occasioned her so much pain at Croydon, and driven her from the place. He knew nothing of Mr. Morgan.
How much longer they would have been content to loiter in that pleasant flower-garden cannot now be known, but they were only induced to leave it by the sound of the gong, which summoned them to the Castle to prepare for dinner. The hour which they had thus enjoyed had been one of the pleasantest to Emma which she could recollect, and the witchery of it to Howard himself would have been quite unrivalled, had his conscience been easy on reflection, with regard to Lord Osborne's plans and hopes. He tormented himself with the idea that it was unjust to his friend to take advantage of his absence; yet a flattering hope dwelt in his heart, that _she_ had shown no reluctance to the interview; nay, if his wishes did not deceive and mislead him, there was a glance in her averted eye, and a rich mantling of colour over her cheek once or twice, which spoke anything but aversion.
And if so—if he really had been so fortunate as to inspire her with a partiality so delightful, was he not privileged—more than privileged—bound in honour to her to prove himself deserving of such feelings, and capable of appreciating them. This conviction gave him a degree of confidence and animation quite different from the manners he had exhibited when they had previously met at Osborne Castle, and Emma found him as pleasant as in the earlier stage of their acquaintance.
"Are you still partial to early walks, Miss Watson," enquired Sir William in the course of the evening, "or is it only in frosty winter mornings that you indulge in such a recreation."
"Ah, I had a very pleasant ramble that morning," said Emma, "at least till the rain came and spoilt it all."
"A very mortifying way of concluding," said Sir William, laughing, "for I came with the rain. I wish you had not put in that reservation."
"I am not so ungrateful as to include you and the rain in the same condemnation," replied she, "you were of great assistance in my distresses."
"But if you wish to indulge in the same amusement now, you will have abundance of time, as Lady Gordon is by no means so precipitate in her habits of rising and performing her morning toilette, as to compel her guests to abridge their walks before breakfast. Perhaps as a compliment to you, and by making very great speed she may contrive to complete her labours in that way by ten or eleven o'clock."
"Well, I do not pretend to deny it," said Lady Gordon, "I am excessively indolent, and dearly love the pleasure of doing nothing. But Sir William is always anxious to make me out much worse than I am."
"But you have not answered my question as to your intentions for to-morrow, Miss Watson, and I have a great wish to know whether you are proposing an excursion; because I think it would be much more agreeable if we can contrive to walk together, and if I know at what time you intend to start, I will take care to be in the way."
"Is he serious, Lady Gordon?" enquired Emma.
"It is a most uncommon event if he is so, I assure you," replied the young wife, "and, indeed, I would not take upon myself to assert such a thing of him at any time—"
"Do not believe all the scandal my lady there will say of me," returned Sir William, "but just say at once that you will walk to-morrow morning, and that you will be particularly happy if I and Mr. Howard will join you."
Emma blushed deeply, and hardly knew what to answer, but Lady Gordon saved her the trouble of replying, by exclaiming at the presumption and self-conceit of her husband, declaring that he had completely reversed the proper order of things, and that he deserved a decided negative from Emma, for having expected her to profess such extraordinary satisfaction at his company.
Emma made believe to consider the proposal entirely as a joke, but somehow, without knowing exactly how, it was settled that the proposed excursion should take place, and that Mr. Howard was to meet them at a particular spot, from whence they were to ascend the hill behind the Castle to enjoy the prospect bathed in a morning's sunshine. Lady Gordon privately gave her husband many injunctions not to interfere with the lovers, and whilst keeping near enough to take away all appearance of impropriety, to be sure and give them plenty of time for quiet intercourse. In return for her consideration, he only laughed at her, and accused her of a great inclination to intrigue, assuring her she had much better leave such affairs to take their chance.
The walk, however, took place as was planned, and was exceedingly enjoyed by all three, though Mr. Howard did not take that occasion of declaring his passion: indeed he would have had some difficulty in finding an opportunity, as Sir William did not follow Lady Gordon's suggestions of leaving them together.
Mindful of her promise, Lady Gordon sent her guest over the next morning to pay her first visit to Mrs. Tom Musgrove. It was with rather a feeling of doubt and hesitation that Emma ventured to her sister's house; anxious as she was to see her and judge for herself, and curious to observe the manners which Tom Musgrove adopted as a married man, she could not help some internal misgivings as to the result of her investigations.
She had never seen the house before, and though she had been previously warned of the fact that it had no beauty to recommend it, she was not exactly prepared for the bare, unsheltered situation, and the extreme unsightliness of the building itself. Tom had always spent too much money on his horses and their habitation, to have any to spare for beautifying his house during the days of his bachelorship and he was far too angry at the constraint put upon him in his marriage, to feel any inclination to exert himself for the reception of his bride. She had therefore no additions for her accommodation, no gay flower-garden, not even any new furniture to boast of, and her glory must consist alone in the fact of her new name, and her security from living and dying an old maid.
Most people would have thought that security dearly purchased, but if such were Margaret's thoughts, she had not as yet given utterance to them.
Emma found her lying on a sofa, and in spite of her very gay dress, and an extremely becoming cap, evidently out of spirits and cross, yet wanting to excite her sister's envy of her situation.
"Well, Emma," said she, sharply, "I am glad you have come over to see me, though I must say I think your friend, Lady Gordon, since she is such a great friend of yours, might have paid me the compliment of calling with you."
"She thought it would be pleasanter if we met first without her," said Emma, cheerfully, "but she desired me to express the pleasure it would give her to see you and Mr. Musgrove at Osborne Castle any day you would name!"
Somewhat mollified by this unexpected attention, Margaret smiled slightly, then again relapsing into her usual pettish air, she observed,
"I think you might say something about the house and drawing-room—what do you think of it?"
Emma was exceedingly puzzled what to answer, as it was difficult for her to combine sincerity with anything agreeable; but after looking round for a minute she was able to observe that the room was of a pretty shape, and had a pleasant aspect.
"It wants new furnishing sadly," continued Margaret, pleased with her sister's praise; "but Tom is so stingy of money, I am sure I do not know when I am to do it. Would not pale blue damask satin curtains look lovely here—with a gold fringe or something of the sort?"
"Rather expensive, I should suppose," replied Emma; "and perhaps something plainer would be more in character with the rest of the house and furniture."
"I don't see that at all," retorted Margaret; "do you suppose I do not know how to furnish a house—of course I should have everything to correspond. I have a little common sense, I believe, whatever some people may choose to think of it. At home indeed I was always considered as nothing, but as a married woman I am of some importance, I believe!"
"It was not your taste that I doubted," replied Emma, and then stopped, afraid lest she should only make bad worse by anything she might venture to say.
"I should like to know what you _did_ doubt then," said Margaret scornfully. "Perhaps you thought we could not afford it; but there I assure you you are quite mistaken—Tom's is a very ample income, and he can as well afford me luxuries as Sir William Gordon himself."
"I am very glad to hear it," replied Emma composedly.
Margaret thought a little, and then enquired how Elizabeth was going on.
Emma's account was very satisfactory, or at least would have been so to any one really concerned in Miss Watson's welfare; but Margaret would probably have felt better pleased had there been some drawback or disadvantage to relate concerning her; being not altogether so well satisfied with her own lot, as to make her quite equal to bearing the prosperity of her sister.
"And so she is really going to marry that man, in spite of his brewery; well, I wish she had more pride—proper pride; I must say I think a clergyman's daughter might have looked higher—and she should consider _my_ feelings a little. I should have been ashamed to marry any one not a gentleman by birth and situation!"
"We have not all the same feelings," replied Emma willing to propitiate; "and I do not wonder at her liking Mr. Millar, he is so excellent a man."
"You think so, I dare say," said Margaret scornfully; "but a girl like you has seen far too little of the world to be any judge of what men are or ought to be. There is nothing so deceptive as their manners in company—_I_, who must be allowed to have more power of judging, and indeed in every respect to be your superior, never saw anything remarkable in Mr. Millar: a certain coarseness and grossness—a something which irresistibly reminded one of a cask of double X, was much his most distinguishing characteristic."
"I never observed it, and indeed Margaret I think you do him injustice," said Emma with spirit; "I am sure he has nothing coarse about him, either in mind or person."
"I think it is very unbecoming in you to set up your opinion in opposition to me. I have had far more experience, and my position as a matron places me in a much more competent situation for judging of men and manners."
Emma did not again attempt to contradict her, and Margaret, pleased with her supposed victory, enquired with some good nature and more vanity, if her sister would like to see her jewel-box. Emma, aware that she wished to exhibit it, good-naturedly expressed pleasure at the proposal, and was in consequence immediately desired to ring the bell to summon her maid to fetch it.
With much self-complacency, and a considerable wish to make her sister envious, all the new trinkets were exhibited by the happy possessor, and amongst many which owed all their value to being perfectly modern and just in fashion, were some few ornaments which would have been valued anywhere for their intrinsic worth, although antique in their setting, and differing decidedly from the style of ornament then in vogue.
"Those belonged to Tom's mother," observed Margaret, rather contemptuously pushing aside the trinkets in question; "I believe the stones are rather good, and if they were only new set, I should like them very well, but they are monstrous old things now, set as they have been."
Before Emma had time to reply or to express any opinion at all on the subject of the trinkets, the door was violently thrown open, and with a sound which indicated that he was luxuriating in very easy slippers, Tom Musgrove entered the room.
"I say Margery, girl," he began in a loud voice, but stopped on seeing his sister-in-law. "Hey, Emma Watson! why I did not know you were here! By Jove! I am glad to see you."
He advanced towards her, and not satisfied with taking the hand which she extended to him, he saluted her on the cheek with considerable warmth, and detaining her hand, he stared her in the face with a look of admiration which was quite offensive to her.
"Upon my word, Emma, you are looking more lovely than ever, blooming and fresh. I need not ask _how_ you are—those bright eyes and roses speak volumes. I am glad to see you, indeed I am."
"Thank you," said Emma, turning away her head and struggling to release the hand which he retained with a most decided grasp; "I am glad to see you and Margaret looking so well."
"Oh! Margery there—yes, I dare say, she is well enough—but, as for me, I am sure it must be something miraculous, if I am any thing remarkable in that way"—he glanced at his wife and shrugged his shoulders with an air that excited disgust, not pity, in Emma.
"And so you are come to enliven us, Emma,—that's monstrous good of you, 'pon my honor. I hope you are going to stay here some time."
"You are very kind," replied she, "but I am staying with Lady Gordon, and only came over here for a short visit to Margaret."
"So there, you see," cried Mrs. Musgrove, "_my_ relations are as much noticed at the castle as you are; so you need not plume yourself so much on that head, Tom!"
"I do not wonder that Sir William likes to have a pretty girl to stay with him," replied Tom, again staring at Emma, who coloured highly with indignation at his impertinence. "Ah! ha! how you blush," added he, coming close to her and attempting to pinch her cheek, which she, however, avoided. "Why, how monstrous coy you are," exclaimed he, "what! are you afraid of me?—fie, fie—you are my sister, and should have no naughty ideas in your head."
"I will trouble you, Tom, to leave my sister alone; I do not approve of your taking personal liberties with her; be so good as to treat her with the respect which is due to a relative of mine," exclaimed Margaret, half rising from her sofa to speak with greater energy.
"Ha! ha! so you are jealous Margery," said Tom, throwing himself on a seat beside Emma, and rolling about with laughter, "that's a good joke 'pon my soul—a capital joke, indeed—to be sure, considering all things—it's natural enough; but really, I cannot help laughing at it—indeed, I cannot, though I beg your pardon, Emma, for doing so."
Emma looked most immoveably grave, and would not give him the smallest encouragement in his hilarity, whilst Margaret muttered quite audibly:
"What a fool you do make of yourself, to be sure."
"So you are exhibiting your necklace box again," observed he, sarcastically, as he caught a glimpse of the case beside her. "Upon my honor, I do not believe there is another woman so vain of her trinkets between this and Berwick—you are always shewing them to every body."
"Well, and what if I am? I suppose I may if I like—it does nobody any harm that ever I heard of," retorted Margaret, quite angry. "I see no more wonder in a woman's shewing her jewels, than in a man exhibiting his horses, dogs, and guns. I have known instances of that peculiarity in some of my acquaintances, quite as well deserving of ridicule, as my sister's wishing to see my ornaments could be."
"I dare say, the horses and the dogs were much better worth looking at than your trumpery;" replied he, "why, the only things in your assortment worth any thing, are the topaz set which belonged to my mother; all the rest is mere rubbish."
"What those frightful old things! upon my honor, Tom, I am ashamed of wearing such monstrous, heavy, old-fashioned articles—but having once belonged to your mother, of course they must be wonderfully precious."
Emma here interposed to deliver Lady Gordon's message, and to request them to name a day for accepting it. A debate ensued as to the most convenient day on which to fix, which presently branched off into a violent dispute as to whether the invitation in question was intended as a compliment to Tom or his wife; each maintaining the opinion, that the honour of the invitation was all due to themselves.
At length, however, Emma contrived to persuade them to settle the point in question; and two days from that time, was fixed on for the dinner visit, and soon after this point was arranged, Emma took her leave.
Much as she was grieved by what she had witnessed, she could not be surprised at it, when she considered the circumstances under which the union had been formed. Tom was reckless and unkind; Margaret peevish and fretful, without energy of character to make the best of her situation, or strength of mind to bear with patience the evils in which she had involved herself. No doubt, if Tom had loved her, she would have been fond of him, and any sensation beyond her own selfish feelings, would have done her good; but forced into the marriage against his will, love, or any thing resembling it, was not to be expected from him; in consequence, her own partiality could not survive his indifference; and there was a mutual spirit of ill-will cultivated between them, which boded ill for their future peace.
Emma reflected on all this as she drove home, from her very unsatisfactory visit, and was only roused from these unpleasant considerations, by finding the carriage stopped suddenly soon after entering the park. On looking up, she perceived Sir William and Lady Gordon, who enquired if she would like a stroll before dinner, instead of returning at once to the castle. She assented with pleasure, and quitting the carriage, they took a pleasant path through a plantation, the thick shade of which made walking agreeable even in the afternoon of a June day.
"Suppose we go and invade Mr. Howard," said Lady Gordon, "this path leads down to the vicarage—let us see what sort of a housekeeper he makes, without his sister to manage for him!"
"Always running after Mr. Howard, Rosa," said Sir William. "Upon my word, I shall be jealous soon: yesterday flirting in the flower-garden—to-day visiting at the vicarage; if things go on in this way, I will take you away from Osborne Castle very soon."
"Yes, _you_ have reason to be jealous, have you not? when men leave off pleasing their wives themselves, they always dislike that any one else should do it for them"—replied Lady Gordon smiling saucily. "You know you are always thwarting me yourself, and naturally wish to keep me from more agreeable society, lest I should draw disadvantageous comparisons."
"But the comparisons are not fairly drawn under such circumstances," suggested Emma, "for Mr. Howard's way of treating Lady Gordon can be no rule for his probable way of tyrannising over some future Mrs. Howard."
"Of course not," replied Sir William, "but I observe, Miss Watson, you take it for granted that he _will_ tyrannise over a wife when he has one; is that your opinion of men in general, or only of Mr. Howard in particular?"
"Of men in general, no doubt," interposed Lady Gordon: "Miss Watson has lived too long in the world not already to have discovered the obvious truth, that all men are tyrants when they have the opportunity, the only difference being, that some are hypocrites likewise, and conceal their disposition until their victim is in their power, whilst others, like yourself William, make no secret of it at all."
"I am glad you acquit me of hypocrisy at least, Rosa; it has always been my wish to be distinguished for sincerity and openness, I never indulged in intrigues or meddled in manœuvres, or sought for stratagems to carry out my wishes."
He accompanied this speech with a peculiar smile which made his lady colour slightly, as she well knew to what he alluded; she did not reply, and they walked on some time in silence.
At length Emma observed that it was a remarkably pretty walk which they were pursuing. Lady Gordon told her that they were indebted for the idea and plan of it to Mr. Howard; he had superintended the execution of some other improvements which Lady Osborne had effected, but this one had originated entirely with him. It was the pleasantest road from the vicarage to the village, and was so well made and drained as to be almost always dry although so much sheltered. The idea that he had planned it, did not at all diminish the interest with which Emma regarded the road they were discussing; and her eyes sought the glimpses of distant landscape seen between the trees, with pleasure materially heightened by the recollection that it was to his taste she was indebted for the gratification.
This sort of secret satisfaction was brought suddenly to a close, by finding herself quite unexpectedly at a little wicket gate opening upon his garden. She had not been aware the house was so near; but the nature, not the source of her pleasure, was changed; it still was connected with him, and the beauty of his garden quite enchanted her. When she had previously seen it in the winter, she had felt certain it must be charming, but now it proved to surpass every expectation she had formed; and she was internally convinced that a love of gardening, and a taste for the beauties of nature, were sure signs of an amiable and domestic disposition in a man, which promised fair for the happiness of those connected with him.
They found him hard at work constructing some new trellis work for the luxuriant creepers which adorned his entrance; his coat off, and his arms partly bare for the greater convenience of his labours.
"We have taken you by storm, to-day," said Lady Gordon, smilingly holding out her hand to him, "I like to see your zeal for your house."
"Really," said he, holding up his hand, "these fingers of mine are not at all fit to touch a lady's glove; when we assume the occupation of carpenters, we ought to expect to be treated accordingly."
"And when we intrude on you at such irregular hours, we ought to be thankful for any welcome we can get," replied Lady Gordon.
"Indeed, I take it most kind and friendly of you to come," answered he, his eyes directed with unequivocal satisfaction towards Emma. "My garden is better worth seeing _now_, than when you were last here," added he, approaching her.
"It is lovely," replied Emma, honestly speaking her mind, "what beautiful roses. I do not think I ever saw such a display of blossoms."
"I am glad _you_ admire it," said he, in a low voice, "though, after the conservatories and flower gardens of the castle, I am afraid it must look rather poor."
"I would not make unjust comparisons," replied Emma, "but I think you need not dread it if I were inclined to do so. It is not grandeur or extent which always carries the greatest charm."
"And would you apply that sentiment to _more_ than a garden?" asked he, very earnestly, fixing on her eyes which unmistakeably declared his anxiety to hear her answer.
He was not, however, destined to be so speedily gratified as he had hoped; for, quite unconscious that he was interrupting any peculiarly interesting conversation, Sir William turned round to enquire the name of some new shrub that struck his eye at the moment.
Recollecting himself after replying to the baronet's question, he invited them to enter the house to rest; but this Lady Gordon declined, declaring that she preferred a swelling bank of turf, under a tree, to any sofa that ever was constructed. The ladies therefore sat down here, and begging to be excused for one minute, Mr. Howard disappeared, going, as Sir William guessed, to wash his hands and put on a coat, that he might look smart and fit for company. Lady Gordon laughed at the idea of a clergyman making himself smart, or of Mr. Howard treating her as company; but Sir William was proved to be partly right, since it was evident on his return that he had been employing part of his absence in the way that had been suggested; but to dress himself had not been his sole object, for he re-appeared with a basket of magnificent strawberries in his hand, which on a warm afternoon in summer had a peculiarly inviting appearance.
Lady Gordon accepted them eagerly, declaring that she knew his strawberries were always far better than any the Castle gardens ever produced. As to Emma, she was certain she never tasted any so excellent in her life, nor was she ever before pressed to eat with so winning a smile or so persuasive a tone of voice.
"I wonder you take so much pains to beautify this place, when you are almost certain of being soon removed from it," said Lady Gordon.
"The occupation is in itself a pleasure," replied he, "which more than repays me for the exertion, and after your brother's liberality in making the house and garden as comfortable as possible, it would be very bad if I could not do my share in keeping it so, even if I am not to remain as possessor; but I by no means anticipate a change with the certainty which you seem to do."
"I have no doubt in the least that the moment Carsdeane is vacant, my brother will offer you the living, and as the rector is very old and infirm it seems hardly possible that it can be long first."
Mr. Howard was silent for a few minutes, and when he spoke, it was on another subject; but not with the gaiety with which he had before conversed; in fact, he was secretly meditating on the extreme desirableness of quitting his present vicarage, if ever Lady Osborne came to reside again in the neighbourhood. Nothing could be much more unpleasant than a meeting between them, and he longed to learn from her daughter whether there was any chance of such a catastrophe; but as yet he had not found courage to enquire, fearing her penetration might have led her to guess the past events, or her mother's indiscretion might have made her acquainted with them.
"Mr. Howard," said Lady Gordon soon afterwards, "you are under an engagement to Miss Watson, to give her another lecture on the paintings in the Castle gallery."
"I remember hoping for that pleasure," said he; "but I could hardly have flattered myself that Miss Watson would remember it for such a length of time."
"Indeed I do though," replied Emma; "I have a very good memory for promises which are likely to afford me pleasure, and if I did not fear encroaching too much on your time and patience, should certainly claim that one."
"And I assure you I have no wish to shrink from my promise; but any time you will name I will be at your service," said he with a look of lively pleasure, "excepting to-morrow, when I am particularly engaged."
"There is no desperate hurry, I dare say," interposed Sir William; "you can postpone your engagement without material inconvenience, I should think, for a day or two, after waiting nearly six months."
"Oh yes, Miss Watson is come to pay us a long visit," added Lady Gordon; "so you may easily settle on the day and hour at some future meeting."
"Any time will do for me," said Emma quietly.
"And are you really going out for the whole day to-morrow?" enquired Lady Gordon.
"Then we will come down and rifle his strawberry-beds—shall we not Miss Watson?" continued she.
"I protest that will be most unfair," exclaimed he; "since I give you willingly all I have, and only request, in return, the pleasure of your society."
"That is so pretty a speech I can do no less than say in reply, that we shall be most happy whenever Mr. Howard will indulge us with the honour of his company: come whenever you can—the day after to-morrow Mr. and Mrs. Musgrove dine with us, will you meet them?"
He accepted with pleasure, though perhaps he would have preferred their absence to their company.
After loitering away a couple of hours on his lawn, Lady Gordon rose to take her leave, and even then she pressed him so earnestly to accompany them up the hill, to assist Miss Watson, who she was certain was fatigued by her long walk, that he could not have refused had it been an unpleasant task she was imposing on him, instead of the thing which he liked best in the world, and was really wishing to do.
The encouragement which he received from Lady Osborne herself was so obvious, that had his suit depended only on her, he would have felt neither fear nor hesitation as to the result; but as the wishes and tastes of another person were to be consulted, and there seemed far more doubt as to the direction which those took, he still debated whether or not he should venture to put his influence to the proof, and rest all his hopes on a single effort.
He accompanied them home, but Emma denied that she was tired, and would not accept the assistance of his arm, because she misinterpreted the hesitation with which it was offered, fancying it was done unwillingly, and solely in compliance with her friend's directions. This discouraged him; he did not recover from the disappointment, and in consequence would not enter the Castle, but persisted in returning to spend a solitary evening at the vicarage. There Emma's smile and Emma's voice perpetually recurred to his fancy, and he occupied himself, whilst finishing the work which they had interrupted, in recalling every word which she had said, and the exact look which had accompanied each speech.
The next morning at breakfast, one letter amongst many which Lady Gordon received, appeared to excite considerable surprise, and some other sensation nearly allied to discontent. She read it over, and then threw it down before her husband, with an exclamation:
"Only see there!"
"Why, what is it that clouds your brow so, Rosa?" replied he, looking at the letter without touching it, or interrupting himself in the process of dissecting a cold fowl.
"Just look at that letter;" said she, "have you no curiosity?" she added, seeing he did not take it up.
"Oh yes, a great deal of curiosity—but no time to spare, and I know that if I wait a little, you will tell me all without the trouble of looking at it."
"Provoking man," said Lady Gordon, "I declare I will not tell you a word, as a punishment for such incorrigible laziness and impertinence."
"I see by the address it is from your brother, my love," replied the husband, glancing again at the letter, "what does he say to provoke you, and put you so out of temper?"
"I will not tell you a word. I assure you."
"Is he going to be married?"
"Look in the letter and you will have no occasion to ask me."
"Miss Watson, suppose you were to take it, and oblige me by reading it out; you have done your breakfast, and I am still busy with mine."
"No, indeed, I quite agree with Lady Gordon in thinking it very indolent not to read it for yourself, and shall certainly not countenance it at all."
"I see you are in a conspiracy against me, and that is very unfair when there are two ladies to one man," replied he laughing.
"I am just going to make you even as to numbers at least," returned Emma, "for I am about to leave the room."
She did so, and Sir William immediately taking up the letter, read it through quietly and returned it to his wife.
"Well," said she, "what do you think of that?"
"First, that it is rather extraordinary your brother's proposal of a visit should cause you such annoyance; and secondly, that you should think it necessary to make this visit a secret."
"You are always more struck with my feelings than anything else: I believe if the Castle were to tumble on us, you would be only occupied in observing how I bore it."
"That is only because you are the most interesting object in the world to me: surely you would not quarrel with me for that, Rosa?"
She looked evidently gratified, yet still pretended to pout a little, then enquired:
"But why would you not look at the letter when I asked you?"
"Because _I_ always feel myself _de trop_ when _I_ form the third, where the other two have letters for mutual inspection: if you wish me to read your letters, and do not choose to make Miss Watson acquainted with their contents, pray wait another time till she is out of the room. You see you have driven her away now."
"I certainly wished to talk to you about this, I am so annoyed at Osborne's coming now!"
"And I cannot imagine why!"
"Because I believe it to be only for the sake of Emma Watson, that he has so suddenly resolved to come down here."
"And you I suppose, Rosa, wish it to be for your own sake instead?"
"Nonsense; how can you suppose anything of the sort?"
"Then what am I to understand is the cause of your discontent, Rosa?" enquired her husband, looking rather surprised.
"I do not wish him to care for Emma in that sort of way at all. She is a very nice girl, and I should like to have her for a friend always, but I do not desire her for a sister; she is not Osborne's equal, and I should regret the connection."
"So should I, I confess, not for your brother's sake, but hers. He could hardly do a better thing for himself; she is his superior in everything but worldly position, and were there the least chance of his persuading her to accept him, I should think him a very lucky fellow. But I do not think there is; and therefore you need not be alarmed for him, nor I for her."
"And why should you be concerned for her at such a prospect—it would be a very good marriage for her," said Lady Gordon.
"I do not think unequal connexions desirable at all—and were she _your_ brother's wife, she would be too far removed from the man who is to be her eldest sister's husband. If I understand rightly, the other is to marry a wealthy brewer at Croydon—a very good match for her, but not a desirable connection for Osborne; Emma would either grow ashamed of her own family and their station, or she would be pained by being obliged to neglect them in some degree. But she will never accept Osborne!"
"I cannot wish the temptation thrown in her way—I should be by no means sure of the result," said Lady Gordon.
"You cannot prevent it however," replied Sir William, "if Osborne has any such thoughts in his head—he is his own master, and cannot be kept away from her. The mischief is of your own doing too—for you had her here in the winter—and, if I recollect rightly, encouraged the acquaintance."
"That was entirely for Mr. Howard's sake," said she, "It never occurred to me that Osborne would notice her."
"I cannot see why you should have intermeddled between them at all," was his reply. "Mr. Howard would have gone on very well alone."
Lady Gordon did not choose to mention her principal motive, so she only replied—
"Well, it is too late for such reflections now to be of any use, so tell me what I had better do, and I will try and obey you."
"Do nothing at all then, love; depend upon it, any opposition will only make your brother more decidedly bent on his own way, which you have no means of preventing him from following. Let him come, and trust to the evident partiality of your friend, Howard, as the safeguard of your brother."
Lady Gordon had speedily the opportunity of exercising the forbearance which her husband advised; as, punctual to his promise, her brother arrived that afternoon. The two young ladies were sitting together when he walked into the room; and she bore, with as much composure as she could, the evident warmth and eagerness with which he paid his compliments to Emma. He seated himself by her side, and after looking intently at her for a minute in the way for which he had been formerly remarkable, exclaimed with great energy:
"Upon my honour, Miss Watson, for all it's so very long since we met, you are looking uncommonly well and blooming!"
Emma felt excessively tempted to ask him whether he had expected she would have pined at his absence, or grown old in the last six months. She did not, however, because she thought he would not understand her, as he had never appeared at all ready to comprehend a jest.
"Croydon must have agreed famously with you," he continued, "I was there once, and had a great inclination to ride over and pay you a visit at Burton; but not knowing the people you were with I felt awkward, and did not like to do it; it is such a horrid thing going entirely amongst strangers."
"I am much honoured by your lordship thinking of me at all; but I should say you were quite right in not coming there; we should have been overpowered by the sudden apparition of a man of your rank."
"I dare say _you_ created a great sensation in Croydon, did you not?"
"Not that I am aware of, my lord; I never wished to be conspicuous, and I trust, I did not do any thing whilst there, to excite observation amongst my acquaintance."
"You must have done one thing, which you could not help, at any time," replied he, in a very low voice, as if ashamed of himself. "You must have looked pretty; they must all have noticed that."
Emma met Lady Gordon's eyes fixed on her at this moment with an expression which it was impossible to misunderstand; it spoke so plainly of anxiety and mistrust. It did no good, however, for it only made her uncomfortable, and was totally unnoticed by him. He never was an adept at understanding looks—and, at this moment, all his senses were engrossed by his attention to Emma.
Not knowing precisely what to say next, he began to admire her work, a constant resource with young men who are anxious to talk, and rather barren of subjects; but this did not endure very long, and when he could find nothing more to say on this topic, he suddenly started a brilliant idea by enquiring if the ladies did not intend to go out. Emma appealed to Lady Gordon, who declared at first, she was too lazy to stir; but her brother pressed his proposition so very warmly, alternately suggesting riding, driving, or walking, that at last she yielded the point, and consented to allow him to drive them out.
Then followed a long discussion as to the vehicle to be chosen, which terminated in favour of an Irish car—a very favorite mode of conveyance of Lady Gordon's, and one which was by no means disagreeable to him, as he would be quite able to talk to Emma as much as he felt inclined.
The drive which they proposed to take was a very pretty one—through a country partaking of the nature of a forest—and Emma was at first, highly delighted with it. But an accident, which occurred when near the conclusion of their expedition, materially diminished the pleasure of the whole party. In stepping from the seat, in order to ascend a small eminence which commanded a beautiful view, Emma placed her foot on a rolling pebble, which giving way under her, twisted her ankle so severely as to incapacitate her entirely from walking, and occasion her very considerable pain. The concern of her friends on the occasion, was proportionate to their regard for her, and quite in character with their different dispositions. Lady Gordon expressed her sorrow in words—her brother confined his chiefly to looks. They returned home immediately; and Emma was, with the assistance of Sir William, who joined them at the castle porch, conveyed into the mansion and carried up-stairs. It was very painful at first, and she told her friend she could not join their party in the evening; but Lady Gordon expressed so much regret at this, that Emma consented to make an effort, as there was no necessity for ascending or descending stairs, their usual sitting room being on the same floor with her apartments.
Accordingly she spent the evening on a couch near to which Lord Osborne stationed himself, in order to enjoy a good view of her face. It was evident that his love for her had not made him more lively, or more talkative, and to judge from his manners that evening, he had not made much progress in politeness. He allowed all the little offices of civility to be performed by Sir William, never offering to hand her a cup of coffee, nor seeing when it was empty, and requiring removal; never noticing when her reel of silk dropped on the ground, or discovering if her embroidery frame was raised at the proper angle. His total neglect of all this, together with the little conversation he ever attempted to carry on, and the general reserve of his manner, entirely prevented Emma from entertaining the idea, that he was her serious admirer. Had she really supposed it, her manners might have been different, but as it was, she felt as much at ease with him, as with his brother-in-law, and treated him with equal frankness.
She never had thought him particularly agreeable, and it did not enter her head that he would wish to make himself so, for otherwise, he would probably have behaved very differently; at least so she concluded, when she contrasted his manner with that of some others of her acquaintance.
The sprain of her ankle occasioned her great pain all the evening, as Sir William guessed from the paleness of her cheeks, and the shade round her mouth at times; but she did all she could to conceal it, and chatted with him and Lady Gordon as long as they remained together.
But she never felt more relieved than when at his suggestion, the proposal for retiring was made early, in order to relieve her, for she had borne as much as she could in silence, and really felt once or twice on the point of fainting.
Lady Gordon took the most judicious step she could, for she summoned to her assistance the old house-keeper, who being peculiarly great in doctoring sprains, and all such accidental maladies, soon produced some remedy for the pain Emma was suffering. But it was evident it would be some days before she would be able to walk at all, and she very much regretted this deprivation, during the beautiful weather they were then enjoying.
In the forenoon of the following day, as she was reclining on a couch near the open window, engaged in drawing a group of flowers for Lady Gordon's portfolio, Mr. Howard entered the room. As her hostess happened to have left the room a few minutes before, he found Emma, to his great astonishment, _tête-à-tête_ with Lord Osborne. He had no idea that the young nobleman was then in the country, and not the least expectation of meeting at that moment with one whom he could not avoid considering as a dangerous rival. His quick eye did not fail to perceive too, that some of the flowers in the vase before Emma were of precisely the same kind as the sprig in Lord Osborne's coat, and he came to the not unnatural conclusion, that they had been given to him by herself. He felt quite disconcerted at the circumstance, and he always had an uncomfortable sense of self-reproach, when he remembered that he had left his lordship in ignorance of his own wishes, at the time that he received his confidence. He now hesitated whether to enter the room or not, but Lord Osborne advanced to meet him with considerable pleasure, and effectually prevented his withdrawal. He was compelled to shake hands, when at the moment he felt so very unamiably disposed towards his former pupil, that he was far more inclined to turn his back upon him.
"Very glad indeed to see you, Mr. Howard," said the other, "I dare say you are a little surprised to see _me_ here; but I could not help coming. You see we have got _her_ back again, aren't you glad?" glancing at the sofa where Emma was lying.
She too held out her hand to him, and her cheeks crimsoned at seeing him again; but as she never suspected his jealousy, not supposing there was any occasion for it, she felt rather hurt at the coldness of his address, and the hurried way in which he greeted her.
Lord Osborne eyed them both, and though not in general gifted with much penetration, his love seemed, at least on this occasion, to have made him sharp-sighted, as the idea suddenly entered his mind that there was danger to his suit in the visits of his former tutor. He sat down in silence, determined to observe them closely, and not to disturb his powers of judging, he resolved to keep a profound silence.
The consequence of these various feelings was a peculiarly awkward silence, and Emma, angry with the lover she cared for, on account of his variable manners which perpetually perplexed and disappointed her, was almost determined not to open her lips to him.
At length he spoke.
"I called intending to enquire if you were disposed to fulfil the engagement we talked of the other day Miss Watson, about the picture-gallery; but perhaps I need not ask _now_—you probably are not disposed for the exertion."
"It is indeed quite out of my power this morning," replied Emma; "and I wish I could name a time when it would be possible to have the pleasure."
"It is only dependent on yourself—but if you have more agreeable engagements, of course it is natural you should defer this one. Whenever you wish it, will you let we know?"
"Do you suppose it to be a more agreeable engagement lying prisoner here?" replied Emma smiling; "our tastes must differ more than I had fancied they would if you do so."
"You did not use to be indolent, I know," replied he; "but no doubt it is far more like modern fashionable manners to pass the day on a sofa than in active pursuits."
"Now do not be satirical, Mr. Howard," said she in a lively tone; "I never was, and I hope I never shall be converted into a fashionable fine lady, and my lying on the sofa has nothing to do with indolence or inclination."
"Indeed!" he replied, with a provoking air of incredulity.
"Yes, indeed and indeed—I assure you it is a downright punishment to me, only alleviated by the kindness of my friends in trying to amuse me."
Mr. Howard glanced at Lord Osborne, as if he attributed the friendship and the amusement alike to him.
"No, you are wrong there—I dare say his lordship is afraid I should be spoilt if I had too much indulgence, so he contents himself with disarranging my flowers and contradicting my opinions: I really must trouble you, my lord, for the bud you stole," she added turning to him; "I cannot do without it."
"And I cannot possibly let you have it," replied he abruptly; "it's gone, I shall not tell you where."
"Now is not that too provoking!" cried Emma; "with all his conservatories and gardens at command, to envy me my single sprig which Sir William took so much trouble in procuring me. I had a particular value for it on his account, and having sketched it into this group: I must have it, or the whole will be spoilt."
"Will you promise me the drawing, if I give it back to you?" asked he.
"No indeed—it is for your sister. Mr. Howard, will you not take my part? I am exposed, without the power of resisting, to his depredations; he knows I cannot move from this sofa."
"But do tell me what is the matter?" enquired Mr. Howard seriously; "have you really met with an accident?"
"Only a sprain which incapacitates me from moving," she answered.
"I am exceedingly grieved to hear it," he said with looks of real concern. "I had been thinking only of want of inclination, not want of power, when you declined moving."
"You see in that instance then you misunderstood me, perhaps you do so in others likewise," she replied; an equivocal speech which threw Howard into a fit of abstraction for several minutes whilst pondering on her meaning. Recovering himself he began to enquire the particulars of the accident, which she detailed to him, ending her account with desiring him to deduce some moral from the history.
"Perhaps you would not like the moral I should draw," he replied with a smile; "it might not be flattering or agreeable."
"I dare say, it would not be flattering, Mr. Howard; I should not expect it from you—suppose we all make a moral to the tale, and see if we can think alike. Come, my lord, let us have yours."
"Give me time to think then," said he—for, in spite of his resolution in favor of silence, he could not help yielding to her smiles.
"Five minutes by the watch on the chimney-piece, and in good time—here come Sir William and Lady Gordon to give their opinion of our sentiments."
"I am quite ready to give mine at once," returned Sir William, who heard only the last speech, as he entered through the window from the terrace:
"I have no doubt that yours, Miss Watson, are very severe—Osborne's romantic—and Howard's common place. Will that do?"
"Not at all—you shall be no judge in the matter, since you make up your mind before you hear the cause," cried Emma, "Lady Gordon shall be umpire, and if you like to produce a moral, do so."
"What is it all about?" enquired Lady Gordon, "I must understand before I decide."
"Not the least necessary, my dear Rosa," said her husband, "and quite out of character; women always decide first—and understanding, if it comes at all, is quite a secondary consideration with them."
"A pretty speech to make," exclaimed Emma, "when he himself just now answered without understanding at all."
"I knew you would be severe," replied Sir William to Emma, "but I was, I assure you, only trying to bring down my conduct to the level of my companions."
"Shall we not turn him out of the room?" cried his wife, "he is intolerable to-day!"
"Oh no! take no notice of him," said Emma, with spirit, "I do not mind a word he says!"
"You—all of you talk so much," exclaimed Lord Osborne, "that it is impossible for me to settle my thoughts—but I think I have made my moral now—shall I say it?"
"By all means, my lord," said Emma.
"We are all grave attention," observed Sir William.
"Well, I think ladies should take great care not to make false steps—because, if they do, they will not be able to stand by themselves afterwards."
"Bravo, Osborne!" cried his sister, "but rather severe on my friend."
"And you, Mr. Howard," she continued, "will you favour us with your opinion?"
"Mine is, that Miss Watson should, in future, avoid any great haste in climbing to eminent situations, lest she be the loser in the attempt."
Emma colored slightly at the earnest glance which accompanied the low, emphatic tone of his speech, but laughed it off by observing:
"Yes, my nature is so ambitious, I need that counsel."
"And now, Miss Watson," cried Lord Osborne, eagerly; "it's your turn."
"Well, the moral I draw is, when I am in a comfortable position again, to take care and not lose it in searching for some imaginary advantage—the moral of 'The substance and the shadow.'"
"And mine," exclaimed Sir William, "you must hear mine—it is, that a young lady's strength of limb is probably less than her strength of will; and I have always observed it to be easier for her to twist her ankle, than to give up her own way."
"And mine," exclaimed Lady Gordon, "My dear Miss Watson, my moral is, that you should never invite men to comment on your conduct, for they are sure to draw false conclusions and make ill-natured remarks."
"It is the more hard, as your brother was the origin of my misfortune," observed Emma, "but for his persuasion, I should have sat still."
"Just like the precious sex, my dear friend," replied Lady Gordon, "lead you into a scrape, and then be the first to blame you for being there."
"All married women talk in that way," observed Sir William, "they make a point of abusing men on all occasions; I never could quite make out the reason."
"It is the very natural result of experience, my love," said his wife.
"I sometimes think it is to prevent other women marrying," continued he, "lest their offices, as chaperones, should be uncalled for; and sometimes, I think it is merely to contradict themselves—which all women are so fond of doing—for having paid a man the compliment of marrying him, it becomes necessary to thwart him afterwards, lest he be too proud."
"Miss Watson, have you air enough here," said Lord Osborne, coming up to her sofa; "do let me push you out on the terrace—it would be so pleasant now the sun is off."
Lady Gordon seconded the proposal, and called on Mr. Howard to assist her brother. He did so; and then, distressed to find that the young lord of the castle took his station closer than ever to her side, he tore himself away from the whole party and went to shut himself up at home till the evening.
Emma felt quite provoked at the pertinacity with which Lord Osborne kept at her elbow; she had hoped that he would have found it tedious to remain all day tranquil—but his patience was more enduring than she had given him credit for. He even seemed to improve in spirits and began talking more than before.
"Nice fellow, that Howard—is not he?" was his first observation, when the gentleman in question quitted them.
"Yes, very," replied Emma, not knowing precisely what else to say, and wondering what would come next.
"He has a prodigious deal to say for himself, which makes him a favorite," continued the animated peer, "I wish I could talk so, don't you?"
"I do not think he talked much to-day," replied Emma, "if he did, I did not hear it at least."
"Perhaps you do not care to have men such very great talkers—do you? I never heard your opinion about that."
"I really believe I have none, my lord," answered Emma, "I never made up mind as to how much a man or woman should talk to make themselves agreeable—some men I know, talk too much."
"Meaning me, Miss Watson?" cried Sir William.
"The too much, must depend on the quality likewise—if they happen to be very silly or very dull, a few sentences are enough to tire one," added Emma, "whereas a lively, clever man, may talk for an hour without being wearisome."
"That is a comforting speech," exclaimed Sir William, "Osborne, we will take out our watches next time we begin a conversation with Miss Watson. Lively, clever men—the description just suits us—_we_ may talk precisely sixty minutes."
Lord Osborne looked grave, as he suspected his brother-in-law was laughing at him, and Emma was silent, being unwilling to annoy him.—It had been settled that the Musgroves were to come over early in the afternoon, that they might spend some time with their sister; and in spite of his usual predilection for late hours and unpunctuality, Tom was rendered too proud and happy by the invitation to feel at all disposed to delay the honor. Soon after luncheon they arrived; Margaret adorned in all her wedding finery, delighted at such an opportunity of showing it off. Her new bonnet and pelisse were decidedly more fashionable, according to the Lady's Magazine, than anything Lady Gordon herself could produce; and she was not a little surprised, as well as half-affronted, at the simplicity of dress which her hostess had adopted.
On discovering the circumstance that Emma was confined to the sofa, she would not rest till she had heard the whole history of the accident, and then she uttered this sisterly observation:
"Good gracious! how excessively awkward and careless of you, Emma; how could you be so stupid? well I am glad it is not me, as of all things I hate a sprain—to go waddling about like an old goose—it's too absurd really."
"I don't see anything absurd in it," said Lord Osborne sturdily, "it's very unfortunate and very vexatious to us, and I dare say very painful to her, but there's nothing absurd in it."
"I did not mean absurd precisely," retracted Margaret, who would never dream of contradicting a peer of the realm, "I only meant it was very ridiculous."
Lord Osborne did not condescend to answer any more, but rose and walked whistling away.
Meantime, Tom was trying to be excessively gallant and agreeable to Lady Gordon, who, never particularly prepossessed in his favor, seemed now unusually cold and ungracious. In fact she could not quite forgive the danger she had been in of being called into court, and naturally looking on him as the cause, she felt a considerable degree of repugnance towards him.
His obsequiousness and flatteries did him no service; she would not be accessible to any compliments of his, and to the most elaborate praises, returned him the coldest answers.
"Where is your charming friend Miss Carr now?" enquired he at length, "I should rejoice to meet her again, though my position is altered since I last had that felicity. I hope she has not forgotten me!"
"I cannot possibly answer for that, but I have no idea that your change of position will at all affect her; but she will soon remember you if she does not at first."
"She was a delightful girl," observed he again, "so truly lady-like and lively; a combination one does not often meet with."
"She has high spirits," replied Lady Gordon.
"High spirits are charming things—so captivating."
"I think them very apt to be tiresome," observed she.
"High spirits united to good sense and abilities, form a very charming character," observed Sir William, "but unbalanced by these, they are apt to be overpowering. However, I should acquit Miss Carr of them altogether; she tried to be lively with all her might, but it was rather heavy work."
"I heard she was in this neighbourhood," returned Tom, "is that true?"
"I believe so," said Lady Gordon, "and I rather expect her here soon."
"Who is that you are talking of, Tom?" cried his wife in a sharp voice, "who is this charming woman?"
"Nobody you know," replied he carelessly.
"My friend Miss Carr," said Lady Gordon, shocked at the rudeness of the gentleman's reply, "perhaps you remember seeing her with me formerly."
"Oh dear yes, I remember her very well. Tom used to admire her very much, he often talked about her beautiful complexion," was Margaret's answer, "_Fanny Carr_ he used to speak of a great deal, he thought she admired him!"
Tom bit his lips, and looked anything but gratified at his wife's observation, who exceedingly enjoyed his vexation, and triumphed in having so amply revenged herself for his rude reply.
"It is very provoking of you to be laid up lame there," she continued presently to Emma, "I should like to see the grounds of the Castle; I am always so unfortunate on such occasions: nobody meets with so many disappointments as me."
"No doubt Emma did it to provoke you," observed Tom with a sneer.
"I shall be very happy to show you over the grounds myself," interrupted Lady Gordon, convinced that anything would be better than the altercation going on between the husband and wife, which must be equally disagreeable to Emma as herself.
Margaret accepted the proposition very joyfully, and the two ladies left the room together, as Sir William saw no necessity for accompanying them.
"I suppose you enjoy yourself famously here, Emma," observed Tom, coming close up to her sofa.
"Yes, when I have not a sprained ankle," replied she.
"And even when you have, your spirits are so good, you seem to enjoy yourself still," observed Lord Osborne, who had returned from the terrace when Margaret left the room.
"But it makes her of consequence, and all young ladies like that," answered her brother-in-law. "I am sure Margaret is always affecting to be ill for no other purpose, and reproaching me because I do not believe it."
"I do not think your wife at all like her sister," observed Lord Osborne, coolly.
"I wish to heaven she were in any respect," cried Tom, "but I had no such good luck. However, I suppose I must bear my yoke."
Nobody answered, and after a little while Mr. Musgrove continued,
"One comfort of being married is, that I can flirt now without danger with any girl I choose, there is no risk now of being compelled to marry any more."
"You consider that a privilege of married men," said Sir William, enquiringly.
"Certainly, for on my honour, they need some compensation; I recommend you to marry, my lord, as indeed the privilege is a great comfort!"
"When I marry I shall leave off flirting," said Lord Osborne, decidedly, "out of compliment to my wife."
"Tantamount to an assertion you will never marry, Osborne," said Sir William, "for I never knew you flirt yet."
"How does your stable go on, my lord?" enquired Tom, "I should like to see it."
"You are welcome to go and see it if you please, so long as you don't drag me there; I am not inclined for an excursion to the stables at present."
Tom whistled and walked away, Lord Osborne drew nearer to Emma, and said,
"I hope you don't like him—do you?"
"He is my brother-in-law," replied Emma, "you forget that."
"I think _he_ does," retorted Lord Osborne, "but one is not obliged to like one's brother-in-law, I suppose."
"I hope you mean nothing personal or disrespectful by that observation," exclaimed Sir William.
"No, on my honour, I forgot about you, Gordon," said he, "but I should think it quite enough if the husband likes his wife without its being at all necessary that the mother and sisters, and brother-in-law, should all like her too."
"Not necessary, certainly, but altogether desirable, and certainly conducive to domestic felicity."
"If my sister does not like my wife she must keep at a distance from her," said Lord Osborne, positively, "and then her feelings will be of no consequence—Don't you agree with me, Miss Watson?"
"Not exactly, my lord; I should not in practice, certainly—I do not think I would marry into a family where I was altogether unwelcome!"
"I am sorry for it," said Lord Osborne, very softly, and then looking remarkably conscious and awkward, he walked away.
"His theories sound more unprincipled than his practice would be, I suspect," observed Sir William, looking after him, and glancing at Emma, "I doubt whether he would really bear a quarrel with his sister with such indifference."
"I dare say not," said Emma, without at all suspecting she had any share in his feelings, or interest in his proceedings. "Young men often assert far more than they would like to realise, and I do not think worse of him than of many of his neighbours. I dare say he likes his own way—"
"He is very determined in following out his own opinions, I assure you," he replied, "but what I meant was, that though from impulse he _might_ act in opposition to the wishes of his family, he would certainly repent it, as every body does sooner or later."
"Very likely, so for his sake I hope he will not try!" replied Emma, very unconcernedly.
"Shall I go on reading to you, Miss Watson," enquired Sir William, "or is there anything you want."
Emma replied that she should prefer reading to herself, and Sir William, having supplied her with the volumes she desired, left her in solitude.
Thus she remained until she was interrupted by the entrance of Mr. Howard, who looked something between pleased and frightened at finding her alone. She told him where the others were gone, so far as she knew herself, but he seemed perfectly satisfied to take her assertions on trust, evincing no desire at all to follow them. He said it was very warm out of doors, that her room was exceedingly comfortable, and that he hoped she would make no objection to his remaining in her company.
She, as may easily be supposed, had no wish to oppose him, and a long and amicable conversation followed relative to the books she had been reading. They agreed in admiring the authors in question, and then in praising Sir William Gordon, who had recommended them. Mr. Howard declared him to be, in his opinion, a very superior young man, calculated to raise the character and improve the mind of his wife; he had the power, and the will, to guide her right, and it was probable that their domestic happiness would continue and increase.
Emma earnestly hoped it would; there was a great deal to love and value in Lady Gordon, and hers was a character which would certainly, with judicious management, be greatly improved.
"I like her," said Mr. Howard, "for her freedom from pride of birth; and considering what lessons she received from her mother that shows very great independence of character."
"Her friendship for me is one proof of that," observed Emma, "she has been invariably kind to me, and I have no claim to equality with her."
"Not in rank or fortune," replied he, "but allow me to say, in habits, tastes, and education, you are completely her equal, and she feels it so; her admiration and regard for you are so perfectly natural, that I can allow her no credit for that part of her conduct."
"I think I shall give you no credit, Mr. Howard, if you indulge in such a very complimentary strain," replied Emma smiling; "though I suppose you think something due to me to make up for your severe reflections on my ambitious projects."
"Your ambitious projects!" repeated he surprised.
"Yes; no later than this morning you warned me not to climb too high, lest I should fall irretrievably; you see I remember your lessons, though you may affect a short memory on the occasion."
"I wish I could consider it as a proof that you are not offended at my boldness," said he drawing his chair closer to her; "I really wished afterwards to apologise for my words, I feared you would think me so impertinent. You were not angry?"
"Not the least in the world—why should I be?" was her answer, gaily smiling. "Indeed I did not believe you were serious; you may laugh at my vanity, but I did not feel guilty of ambition."
"And if you were, _I_ had no right, no title, no claim to correct you," said he looking very earnestly at her.
"The right of a friend and well-wisher, Mr. Howard," replied she looking down with a heightened colour—she never could meet his eyes when they had that peculiar expression in them. "I trust I may consider _you_ in that light at least."
"You have not a sincerer well-wisher in the world," he replied with emphasis, and then stopped abruptly.
To break the pause which appeared to her to be awkward, she observed,
"You did not tell me where your sister is, Mr. Howard—or else I have forgotten: where is it?"
"In North Wales, not far from Denbigh. I am going shortly to fetch her home."
"I think you are always going somewhere; ever since I knew you, you have been perpetually offering to go away. Do you ever put it in practice."
"Sometimes—you will find I shall in this instance. I must go to fetch Clara, the only question is when?"
"And does that depend on Mrs. Willis' wishes, or your caprice."
"A little on both, if you mean by caprice the power of absenting myself from the duties of my station," replied he.
"I wish I had met Mrs. Willis," said Emma; "pray make haste and fetch her, for if I leave the country without our meeting now, it is impossible to say when, if ever, I shall see her again."
"Are you going quite away then?" enquired he with concern. "I thought your home was at Croydon."
"It is impossible to say where my home may be—not Croydon certainly—perhaps I may _never_ have another. I must in future be content to dwell amongst strangers, and dare not talk of home. I am wishing for a situation as governess."
A slight shade of melancholy replaced the usually gay expression of her countenance as she said this, but she did not raise her eyes to read the many conflicting feelings which were depicted in his countenance as he listened to her low and feeble voice. He could not command words to express his sentiments, or indeed feel at all sure us to what he ought to express at the moment; and she added, after a short pause,
"I have one prospect of a home, though an uncertain one at present; my brother—I mean my youngest brother—urges me to go and live with him the moment he can obtain a living for us both in his profession. But it must be quite uncertain when that will be."
He was still silent, hesitating whether or not he should at that moment offer her one other home more settled and more permanent. He hesitated, and the opportunity was lost. Footsteps were heard approaching; the high, shrill voice of Margaret sounded in the conservatory. In a low and hurried tone he spoke, clasping her hand in his;
"Dearest Miss Watson, I feel for you! If I had only time I would prove it!"
There _was_ no time for more, but with a gentle pressure which made the blood thrill from her hands up to her heart, he rose and quitted her abruptly, escaping just quickly enough through one window to avoid being seen, as Lady Gordon and Mrs. Musgrove entered at another.
Emma remained in a state of feeling which she would have found it exceedingly difficult to describe, such was the confusion in her mind at the moment. Her most prominent idea was, however, disappointment that he had said so little. She really believed he loved her—at least that he intended her to suppose it; but why not speak more plainly, or why speak at all? It would be so very hard to meet him after what had passed, in the same way as formerly; and yet, how could she avoid it? There seemed no possibility, however, of his doing anything but explaining himself the very first opportunity—surely he could not hesitate longer, and all would then be right.
But with these contradictory notions in her mind, and the agitation to which they gave rise evident in her face, it was impossible for her manners to be sufficiently composed, not to attract her friend's notice. Lady Gordon thought she was in pain, and accused her of having been attempting to move; which she attributed to the fact of Sir William having gone out and left her alone; Emma defended both Sir William and herself as well as she could, forcing herself to speak cheerfully, and denying all accession of pain or efforts at improper exertion.
Margaret, throwing herself on an easy chair, declared that she was perfectly exhausted by the heat and the fatigue of their walk, and she quite wondered how Lady Gordon could bear so much exertion.
"But I really believe that I am more delicate and sooner tired than any woman in the world. I have never been accustomed to hard work."
Lady Gordon did not trouble herself to assert that neither had she, but quietly observed that she was sorry Mrs. Musgrove had tired herself.
"Do you see much of your brother, Lady Gordon?" enquired Margaret.
"Yes, when he is with me," she answered.
"I hope he is pleasanter than mine, then," observed Margaret, "or else it must be a prodigious bore."
"I dare say, they are not alike," said Lady Gordon, who was existing in a state of incessant surprise at the conversation of Margaret.
"I _do_ so wish my brothers had no profession—it would be so nice if they had nothing to do—like gentlemen—Tom's being a complete gentleman is very lucky, I should not have liked to have been a doctor's wife or an attorney's. Should you, Lady Gordon?"
"Really, it was an event which I never took into contemplation," replied she, "I know so few doctors, or attorneys either, that I cannot pretend to judge."
"I wish somebody would marry Emma," continued her amiable sister. "I am quite afraid she is doomed to be an old maid—one of a family must be they say; and as Pen is married, and Elizabeth will soon be, it must be Emma's fate. I am quite sorry for her."
"I am exceedingly obliged to you for your concern, Margaret," replied Emma, laughing; "but I trust, even if such a catastrophe is to occur, I shall bear it with philosophy. So pray, do not make yourself unhappy about my future. I shall not."
"All young ladies talk in that way," observed Tom Musgrove, who entered the room unperceived, whilst his wife was speaking. "No girl ever owns wishing to be married, though we know very well that they are all longing for husbands—and most are ready to take any means to secure one!"
"I am gratified that you include us _all_ in the same condemnation, Mr. Musgrove," said Lady Gordon, haughtily, "your very flattering opinion of us, is equally creditable to your fancy and your feeling of propriety."
"Of course, I did not mean to include _you_," answered Tom, gallantly, "I _could_ not, for I never thought of you as a woman, but as an angel."
Lady Gordon did not condescend to answer—she was not to be propitiated by his flattery, and was more likely to be affronted at his presuming to offer it at all.
Mr. Howard having, by this time, recovered sufficient composure to return to the company, re-appeared from the conservatory, where he had been calming his feelings amidst roses and heliotropes, and soon afterwards the other two gentlemen joined the party. Mr. Howard, himself, did not venture near Emma; but, after paying his compliments to Mrs. Musgrove, retreated to a window and seemed to be occupied with a newspaper. Though the two ladies subsequently retired to their toilet preparatory to dinner, there was no further _tête-à-tête_ between him and Emma, as the other gentlemen continued in the room till dinner time.
Emma, of course, could not join in that meal; and did not, therefore, hear the comments which Mr. Howard's absence of mind drew on him. Mrs. Musgrove laughed outright—even Lady Gordon smiled, and Tom Musgrove openly accused him of being decidedly in love. Sir William came to his rescue, and parried the attacks of Tom for a time; but after the ladies withdrew, Tom commenced again, and tormented him unmercifully on the subject—declaring that he had long seen his attachment to Emma Watson—and without scruple, held out himself as an example of the risk of indulging in little harmless flirtations, by which one was unknowingly drawn into the meshes of hopeless matrimony.
Mr. Howard was quite affronted; and answered indignantly, that whatever his feelings towards Miss Emma Watson might be, he thought of her with far too much respect, to allow her name to be used slightingly by any one, and that he should, least of all, expect from her brother-in-law insinuations so derogatory to her character.
Sir William again interfered, and requested the subject to be dropped; he could not allow unfriendly feelings between his guests—and he had no doubt but that Mr. Musgrove had been misunderstood, if he could be supposed to speak unhandsomely of so amiable a young woman as Miss Watson, and one, who was, at the very time, Lady Gordon's visitor.
"I defy any one to prove a word derogatory to Emma Watson," cried Lord Osborne, his eyes flashing with most unusual animation; "In my house, and as my sister's guest, her name must and shall be treated with respect."
"Upon my honor I did not mean any reflection upon her," exclaimed Tom, quite taken by surprise by the spirit he had raised, "it is the last thing I dreamt of to offend you, my lord."
"Very well," cried Sir William, "that is sufficient, let the subject drop."
And so it did for the present, but what passed had made a deep impression on Lord Osborne, whose fears of Mr. Howard as a rival were all confirmed by this discussion. He could not rest without some explanation on this subject, and accordingly drew him into the garden after dinner, and there whilst pacing up and down the terrace, told him he had something very particular to say to him.
Howard's heart told him what was coming, and he resolved to summon his courage and speak openly on this occasion.
"You know, Howard," said the young peer in a tone between remonstrance and complaint, "I never made any secret to you of my wishes and hopes with regard to Emma Watson—you have long known that nothing but circumstances prevented my addressing her and asking her hand."
"I know it, my Lord," replied Howard.
"Well then, I must say I look upon it as neither kind nor honorable of you to cut me out, or at least try to do so, for until _she_ convinces me, I will not believe you have quite succeeded. But you should not have used me so, when I had been quite open with you."
His companion was embarrassed; for the total absence of self-confidence, which formed a prominent part of his character, made it very hard for him to publish his love whilst his prospects were uncertain.
"Tell me," continued Lord Osborne with some warmth, "do you not yourself love Emma Watson? Have you not sought to supplant me?"
"I will not deny that I do love her,—but I trust the acknowledgement will be safe with you—I own I love her—have loved her long—did love her well when you told me your own views, my Lord, and in fact have loved her ever since our first meeting in the assembly rooms."
"And why was I not told of this when I mentioned my plans to you—why allow me to form false hopes, whilst you were undermining the ground on which I stood?"
"You are unjust to me, my Lord, you speak as if I had tried to injure you, or prejudice her against you. Had _I_ not a right to love her—have I not a right to win her if I can? Though I _am_ but a poor parson and you are a peer, surely _she_ is the only one to decide whether my addresses may not be acceptable to her. I have never attempted to thwart your success, nor have I ever made Emma a declaration of my own attachment. But I have as good a right to do so as yourself."
"I did not mean to call your rights in question at all, Mr. Howard; what I quarrel with is, your want of openness in not letting me know that I had a rival in you. Had you done so, I should have had no cause to complain."
"I own I was sorry afterwards that I did not speak openly, my lord, on that occasion, but my uncertainty as to _her_ feelings prevented me!"
"Then you are _now_ convinced of success?" observed Lord Osborne gloomily.
"By no means; you have forced a confession from me, which under other circumstances I would not have made; but I am very far indeed from confidence on the subject. She has never heard me declare my feelings."
"I am glad of it—well then I really think, Howard, the best thing you can do is to take yourself off for a few days, and leave the field clear for me. Now do, there's a good fellow, and I shall be eternally obliged to you."
"You ask a great deal," replied Howard gravely.
"Not so very much, because, you see, if I am accepted it proves that you would be refused, and just saves you the trouble altogether; and if I am refused I will let you know, and you can come in directly and follow up your chase. Do you agree to it?"
"I must have a little time to think of that proposal, my lord," replied Howard, hesitating and unwilling to assent.
"Till to-morrow morning, I cannot give you longer, let me know what you settle on to-morrow, and I shall arrange my plans. Do you know my mother talks of coming down here?"
"I had not heard of it; when does her ladyship think of doing so?"
"Very soon; I think the good old soul has taken it into that precious head of hers to suspect what I am about, and in her horror of a misalliance, she is coming down in hopes of stopping me altogether. By Jove it would be a good joke to get it all settled before her appearance."
"Do you think Emma Watson will consent to be your wife, if she supposes, her ladyship, your mother, objects?"
"That's the worst of it—I am afraid she may have some scruples, but I mean to try my luck at all events. There's another thing too, to be considered, Fanny Carr is coming here—that eternal talker, Fanny Carr, and it would save me an immense deal of trouble with her if I could give myself out as an engaged man. She would not talk half so much."
"You really think that would make a difference," said Mr. Howard, trying to smile, but not very successfully.
"I have no doubt of it at all, and the blessing of being freed in some degree from the trouble of answering her is more than I could tell. That girl would talk the hind leg off a horse in no time."
Howard deliberated. He felt perfectly convinced that Emma never would marry from ambition or mercenary motives, but he was not quite sure what degree of influence the young peer might have over her heart. The idea of meeting Lady Osborne again was excessively disagreeable, and as he was really under the necessity of going to fetch his sister home, he thought perhaps he might as well go at once, and allow Lord Osborne a fair field. Then if the event were consonant to his own wishes he might return with a safe conscience. But the question arose, what would Emma herself think of it; in what light would she consider his quitting her thus suddenly, after the betrayal of feeling which he that very afternoon had made? Would she not think him the most capricious, the most changeable of mortals—might she not be justly affronted with him, indignant at his vacillation—might she not suspect him of trifling with her feelings—might she not think herself extremely ill-used—could he bear to forfeit the esteem which she had sometimes shown for him. No, Lord Osborne asked too much, he thought only of himself, and expected to rule Howard now, in an affair of consequence like this, in the same way as he had formerly done, when the question solely regarded what part of the river they should fish, or which copse they should go through with their guns. It was impossible, he could not, and he ought not to yield, and he determined that he would not. These thoughts occupying his mind, he was exceedingly silent during the whole evening, hardly venturing to trust his voice beyond a monosyllable, and never raising his eyes except by stealth to that part of the room where Emma sat.
The evening passed very much as might be expected amongst such a party—Margaret talked a great deal, and her husband took every opportunity of contradicting her assertions, and turning her opinions into ridicule. Lady Gordon gave up all attempts at keeping the peace as perfectly hopeless, and Sir William sat by Emma and entertained her with his conversation, whilst his brother-in-law was quite as silent as his rival. At length, to the great relief of the whole party, the Musgroves' carriage was announced, and they took their leave, and Emma, ashamed, agitated, fatigued, and worried, left the party immediately afterwards, for the silence and peace of her own apartments.
She was ashamed and mortified that the Gordons should have seen the want of concord, and the absence of courtesy between her sister and her husband—it was much worse than she had expected. Tom seemed to think no civility even was due, and Margaret set no bounds to her peevishness; but all this anxiety was merged in her considerations as to Mr. Howard's conduct and feelings. She could not comprehend him, and she understood herself only too well.
His last words to her might in themselves mean nothing, but there was a tone and a look which accompanied them which gave them a deep, and, to her, most important meaning. Her hand still seemed to feel the thrilling pressure of his fingers, and she could hardly believe that after this he could longer leave her in doubt as to his wishes.
Whether it was the agitation of mind which these reflections occasioned, or solely owing to the pain which for two days she had been suffering, she could hardly tell, but the next morning she found herself so feverish and unwell as to be quite unable to leave her room. She felt this the more because she thus, as she fancied, lost the interview with Mr. Howard which she had been promising herself, and until she found all chance of it gone, she had not known how very much she was depending on it.
In the meantime a scene which she little dreamt of was enacted at the vicarage. Early in the morning, Lord Osborne, impatient for the decision which he fully expected would be in his favour, hurried to secure an interview with Mr. Howard. Great was his surprise when he met with a firm refusal from this gentleman to accede to his proposal. He would not absent himself from Emma at this time; he would not forego the chances of success in his suit; no voluntary act on his part should cause her to doubt his sincerity, or suppose him indifferent to her. Lord Osborne was thwarted in a way which he little expected, and he had so seldom met with opposition before, that he knew not how to brook it on this occasion. He was quite silent, but with gloomy look, and long strides, he paced up and down the little drawing-room, uncertain what to do or say next, or how to express his indignation.
Circumstances, however, befriended him in an unexpected way; whilst he was giving way to his irritation by heavy steps and bent brows, and his host was heartily wishing the unpleasant interview terminated, the post arrived, and a letter was brought to Mr. Howard which speedily engrossed all his attention. It was from his sister, and written in great distress—her little boy was dangerously ill, and she urged her brother to come to her, as from a variety of circumstances she stood in need of his protection and advice. She was in lodgings, and the mistress of the house, a hard-hearted and parsimonious woman, took advantage of the difficulties in which she was placed, and not only imposed on her in every possible way, but refused her the assistance of which she stood in need in the present extremity.
Deeply grieved at this detail of the sufferings undergone by the sister on whom he doted, he felt not a moment's hesitation as to his determination. To fly to comfort and defend her must be his first wish, and let the consequences be what they might, all must give way before such an appeal.
With emotion scarcely to be repressed, he turned to Lord Osborne and said,
"Providence, my lord, has decided against me, and your request must now be acceded to as an imperative duty on my part. My sister requires my presence, and if I can arrange my affairs to-day I shall leave by the night mail for Wales."
Lord Osborne's irrepressible pleasure was a certain proof how deeply he had taken this affair to heart, and how little he cared for the feelings of others, except as they thwarted or fell in with his own. He greatly commended Howard for determining to go immediately, and would have been quite as ready to commend Mrs. Willis for wanting him. He was zealous in obviating any possible difficulty about the performance of the Sunday duty, and only demurred to the absolute necessity which Howard alleged of going up to the Castle to see and take leave of the ladies.
But here his arguments were met with entire unconcern; Mr. Howard was determined himself to explain the reason of his conduct, and not trust that office to another. Perhaps he flattered himself that his friend Lady Gordon would considerately allow him an interview with Emma untroubled by witnesses, when he might have an opportunity of setting his own wishes in a clearer light than he had hitherto had courage to do. But if he nourished such ideas, they were of course doomed to an entire disappointment, for on arriving at the well known sitting-room, he learnt, with infinite concern, that Emma was completely invalided.
"Quite unwell, and unfit for any exertion," Lady Gordon pronounced her to be, and with so much fever about her that if the evening did not find her better, medical advice must certainly be sent for. Sorrowfully, therefore, he was compelled to take his leave, only cheered by the assurance that Lady Gordon sympathised much in his anxieties, and that Emma would certainly do the same whenever she could be allowed to learn them.
The certainty that she would learn the real reason that hurried him away was his greatest consolation, and in that case she must forgive, and would probably pity him. He went—and Lord Osborne, relieved from the immediate dread of such a rival, instantaneously resolved to defer his own declaration until some indefinite and distant period, there being not the least occasion to hurry, since any day previous to Howard's return would be early enough for him.
Emma's indisposition lasted several days, and was probably rather increased than otherwise by the information which her attendant gave her, that Mr. Howard was gone to Wales, for no one knew how long. She had no one to whom she could communicate her feelings, and the disappointment was all the more deeply felt from being dwelt on in secret. Lady Gordon possibly guessed her sensations, but was too considerate to show it if she did, except perhaps by an increased kindness of manner. She saw no one else of course except the apothecary, who was by no means an entertaining man, and would bear no comparison with her former acquaintance, Mr. Morgan. It was quite true what Lord Osborne had mentioned, that his mother had talked of coming down to the Castle; she, however, changed her mind and remained at Richmond instead; but Miss Carr arrived on a visit, during the time of Emma's retirement in her own room, and she once more commenced a series of attacks upon the young peer's affections, which though extremely detrimental to his peace of mind, did not at all produce the effect which she intended. Miss Carr began strongly to suspect that some unseen obstacle must neutralize her efforts, and form a bar to her progress. She could not believe he would be so impenetrable to her charms if there were no other affection to shield his heart. She asked questions, considered, watched, and came to the conclusion that Emma Watson, whose presence she had learnt with surprise, was the individual who cast a malignant spell around her intended victim, which enabled him to elude her best devices.
She never for a moment imagined that Emma herself could be insensible or regardless of his admiration; what was a prize of such value to Miss Carr, must be a still greater object to Miss Watson, and doubtless she was internally triumphing in her superior attraction and success. No doubt, indeed, but this sprained ankle was a part of her plan; all devised to make herself of importance, and excite his sympathy. Something must be done to counteract such deep-laid schemes, and that immediately too, or all exertion would be too late; but yet it must be cautiously entered on, or she might only hurt her own cause.
Fortunately for her plans, she was possessed of a very unexpected means of assailing Emma. She had been staying at Lady Fanny Allston's, her ladyship being her cousin, at the time when the negotiation was carried on for the situation of governess, and had learnt the exact reason why it had been so abruptly terminated. The scandal which had thrown a shade over Emma's name at Croydon, would, on reaching her ears have been passed as a thing deserving neither attention nor memory, but for the incipient jealousy which even then she felt against her rival.
This had fixed it in her memory; and now she was determined to bring it forward in such a way as to make it tell with best advantage in her own favor. She made no comment when she heard that Emma was in the house; and bore, without remark and apparent philosophy, the regrets of the whole party at her absence—only secretly resolving to watch Lord Osborne well on her re-appearance, and ascertain the state of his feelings from his looks and actions.
The return of Emma Watson to their usual party was hailed with great satisfaction by the family. She looked a shade paler than usual, but otherwise, well and animated—for she had, on her convalescence, learnt from her friend the exact reason of Mr. Howard's absence; and satisfied that it was inevitable, and no desertion of her from choice or caprice, she felt only uneasy for Mrs. Willis, not on her own account.
Sir William and his wife spoke their pleasure aloud; Lord Osborne only looked his in public, but he seated himself next her at breakfast, and was extremely attentive in supplying her plate with what he thought best.
Miss Carr being late, missed the rencounter—and by the same means, forfeited the seat at breakfast, which she had always, hitherto, appropriated to herself. This vexed her; and when, on entering the room, she saw Emma, she did not speak, but went coolly round the table and seated herself precisely opposite.
"Fanny," said Lady Gordon, "I believe you are acquainted with my _friend_, Miss Watson—you met her here before."
Fanny bowed haughtily, which was the only answer she would, at first, condescend to return; but after a moment's consideration, she said with something like a sneer:
"Though it is some time since we met, Miss Watson, you will be surprised to learn I have heard a great deal about you in the last three months."
Emma did look rather surprised, more, perhaps, at the tone in which this was said, than by the fact; she did not know what she had done to give rise to such a look of scorn or contempt. The next words enlightened her.
"Lady Fanny Allston is my relative—perhaps you did not know that, and I was there last April."
Emma felt a little confused at the many recollections which were connected with that name—visions of Mr. Morgan and country-town gossip—unpleasant sensations and unkind relations, flitted across her mind—but she looked up after a moment, and conscious that she had been clear of blame in that transaction, and not quite believing all Mr. Morgan had said on the subject, she replied:
"Then, there was much probability at one time, of our meeting. I suppose you know what passed between her ladyship and me?"
"Indeed I do," replied Miss Carr, fixing her large, blue eyes on her with a malicious look; "and all about a certain Mr. Morgan too—what a pleasant man he can be. I do not wonder at his misleading girls in that way. Ah! you need not blush so—upon my word, I think _you_ were almost excusable in your situation. I dare say, I might have been tempted to do the same."
Lord Osborne's eyes were turned from his plate of broiled ham to Emma's face, with an earnest expression, which Miss Carr did not fail to notice. There was awakened jealousy, and surprise, and something of displeasure in his countenance as he looked at her—but who was the object of the displeasure, she was not quite certain; she almost thought it was herself.
Lady Gordon looked up likewise.
"Why, my dear Fanny," said she, "I fancy you have got hold of some country-town gossip; I wonder you are not ashamed to repeat it."
"I certainly should disdain country-town gossip," repeated she, "what I was alluding to, was an event which nearly concerned Lady Fanny, and which no doubt, Miss Watson perfectly comprehends."
"I beg your pardon," said Emma, "but indeed, I do no such thing. If you allude to the fact of my employing Mr. Morgan as a means of communicating with your relative, I have no idea any one could blame me for such a proceeding, it seems so natural and straightforward."
"I was not thinking of your employing Mr. Morgan as a _negotiator_," replied Miss Carr with emphasis, "it was very _friendly_ of him, no doubt, to interest himself in your concerns; single men are often _friendly_ to young ladies."
"And so are married men too, I trust," cried Sir William, "at least I am; and, therefore, I recommend you young ladies, both of you, to postpone your unintelligible discussion on unknown topics, until such time as having no witnesses, you may be able to converse in plain English, without figure of speech, or oratorical hieroglyphics."
Emma looked gratefully at Sir William for his interference; he was always ready to stand her friend. Lord Osborne continued to look thoughtfully and uneasily at her, between the intervals of replenishing his mouth, or whilst stirring his coffee, but Emma felt not the slightest concern about his feeling jealousy or any other emotion; he was extremely welcome to fancy that she was desperately in love with Mr. Morgan or any other man in Croydon—especially, as in that case, he would probably make some relaxation in his devotion to her.
As her ankle was not yet sufficiently strong for walking, Lady Gordon proposed her taking a drive after luncheon in the pony phaeton, and until that time, prescribed perfect rest on the sofa. This Emma acquiesced in the more readily, as the post had brought her some peculiarly pleasant letters. One was from Elizabeth, detailing many interesting particulars relative to the preparations for her marriage, and some amusing anecdotes from the Croydon circle, the other was still more calculated to please and excite her. It was from Sam, and contained the agreeable information that a very good situation had presented itself. It was to Penelope that he was indebted for the offer. Since her marriage, she had been anxious to persuade her husband to give up his practice, or at least to take a partner in his business, and now she had the satisfaction of making an offer to Sam on such very advantageous terms, that he could not hesitate a moment about accepting them. He was to remove to Chichester next month, and though at first he was to live in his brother-in-law's house, if the scheme answered, he was subsequently to have a house of his own, and then he looked forward with delight to the idea that Emma could come and reside with him. The prospect of this gave her courage and strength to support all the disagreeable innuendoes which Miss Carr might throw out, and even to bear with Lord Osborne's presence and Mr. Howard's absence. Settled at Chichester, it was not likely that the former of these gentlemen would follow her for the purpose of looking at her, or that the latter, if he wished to see her again, would have any difficulty in tracing her steps. How happy she should be in her brother's little _ménage_, even if she were never to see anything more of those whom she had known whilst at Winston or Osborne Castle. She could fancy it all to herself, and in her joyous answer, she drew a lively picture of the pleasure she intended they should have together.
Tired of the anxieties attending an attachment which had not progressed very happily, she felt as if it would be delightful to settle for life with her brother, and forswear all other and deeper affection. If she could only make sure that he would never marry, it would be all perfect; so she wrote to him, and her letter made Sam smile with pleasure when he read it, and proved the best restorative after a toilsome day in the heat of the summer, during a particularly unhealthy season.
"William, as I am going to drive with Emma, you must really ride out with Fanny Carr," said Lady Gordon to her husband, before luncheon that morning. "She will expect something of the sort."
"Why can you not take her with you, my love?" enquired he.
"She is so very cross to-day, I do not know what is the matter with her," replied the lady, "and really I cannot undertake her, or we shall certainly quarrel."
"And so she is to be put off upon me, is she Rosa? I am much obliged truly."
"Oh yes, because you are so good tempered, you will be certain to bear with her petulance, so do not refuse me," said the young wife with a look of entreaty, which her husband could not resist.
"Very well, I am resigned, pray let Miss Carr know the felicity that awaits her; but I hope you will ask your brother to accompany us."
"I am sure neither Fanny nor I should make any objection to that; but I do not think you will easily persuade him; he is shyer of her than ever, and seems quite to detest her."
"I do not wonder at it, any man would dislike a girl who made such a desperate attack on him; I am sure I should for one; I always liked you because you were so capricious and cross; sometimes unkind, and always careless towards me."
"You loved me purely out of contradiction I have no doubt, and to hear your account, we must both have been particularly amiable characters; but so long as you ride to-day with Fanny Carr, I shall be satisfied."
"And shall I obtain from her all the particulars about which she was indulging in such edifying hints at breakfast—shall I enquire into the particulars relative to Lady Fanny and Mr. Morgan?"
"I dare say they would not repay the trouble," replied Lady Gordon, "Fanny rather likes to say ill-natured things; I do not attach much credit to her stories in general."
"Upon my word, Rosa, considering she is your very particular friend, I think you speak very freely of her; I wonder whether you discuss my character with equal candour and openness."
"Yours—of course, why should you doubt it—but I think if there is anything to explain, Emma will probably explain it herself—she is so particularly open and straight-forward."
"She is so, indeed; one of the most amiable young women I know; don't be jealous, Rosa, but I like her very much."
Lady Gordon did not seem much troubled by jealousy, and so the affair was settled.
Miss Carr was very well pleased when she learnt what arrangement had been made, and only required to make her perfectly happy to be secure of Lord Osborne's company, as she had a most charming new riding hat, with a lovely plume, which she was certain would make her look bewitching, and place her beyond competition with Emma. Instead, however, of offering to accompany her, his lordship began quarrelling with his sister about the arrangement she had projected. Why was not Miss Watson to ride?—he was certain it would be much better for her than being cooped up in a pony phaeton, where she would have no room for her feet. In the saddle, as it was the right ankle which had been sprained, she would have so much freedom, and he was certain she would enjoy it extremely. Emma, however, protested against this arrangement; another day she would be glad to try a ride, but not this morning; she was too weak, quite unequal to such an exertion. Lord Osborne submitted, but said not a word of himself accompanying Miss Carr; who, therefore, considered it a settled thing. Accordingly, her new hat was arranged in the most becoming style—her long ringlets drawn out to float on her shoulders, and her dainty figure set off to the utmost by her tight fitting riding habit. But all in vain; Sir William was the only cavalier who appeared to wait on her, and he being a married man, was no good at all. She was very sulky, and Sir William had no other pleasure in his ride, than such as he could derive for himself from air and exercise on a beautiful day.
Emma and Lady Gordon fared much better; the fresh air, after confinement to one room, was delicious to the former; and, as her pleasure kept her nearly silent, her companion was not troubled to make herself agreeable either. They drove along, engrossed each by her own thoughts; Emma's wandering down along each sunny glade or green alley in the forest, revelling in the glorious pictures which presented themselves of ancient trees, and groups of deer, sunshine and flickering shadows, deep pools sleeping under precipitous banks tufted with fern and ivy, and crowned with feathery copse wood.
The scenery of Comus seemed exemplified, and she almost expected to see some mysterious forms gliding under the shadows of the forest trees. Lady Gordon's feelings were much more mundane, and more immediately connected with the interests of life. She was reflecting on the visibly growing attachment of her brother, and wondering what would be the result of it. At length she spoke.
"What shall I give you for your thoughts, Miss Watson? I am anxious, I own, to know the subject of them."
"I am thinking," said she, "what a lovely wood this would be to rehearse Comus in; on such an afternoon as this—would it not be effective?"
"What a good idea!" cried Lady Gordon, all animation at the proposal; "I should like it of all things! Suppose we try?"
"With your present company?" enquired Emma.
"Yes; we should have quite enough—should we not? You shall be the lady, and Fanny, Sabrina; I, the Spirit—Sir William, Comus, and Osborne—let me see, we should want one other man. I suppose Mr. Howard would take a part?"
"Mr. Howard? oh, no! I should think not. I am sure he would not like it!"
"Well, well; any one could do the brother's part. I think it would be exquisite. I am quite delighted with the idea."
"Did you ever act, Lady Gordon?" enquired Emma.
"Never at all; but I am sure it must be delightful. I wonder whether Sir William would make any objection?"
"There would be some difficulties in the way," observed Emma.
"So much the better; difficulties to overcome give one spirits. Here we would have our theatre,"—stopping the carriage and looking round. "A marquee or something of the sort, and seats raised in a semi-circle—it would be quite delightful, such a _fête champêtre_. I am certain we could manage it; and the novelty of the thing would give it great _éclat_."
"But, Lady Gordon, if you talk in that way you will frighten me; I am certain I could not act before an audience—I never tried any thing of the sort, except in the most quiet way; amongst cousins and intimate friends, with nobody to look on, but my uncle and aunt, and one or two old people, whom we were not afraid of. We did it only for own amusement, without thinking of being looked at or producing an effect; acting for the entertainment of a circle of people, must be such a very different thing from acting for one's pleasure."
"Very different, indeed; and I should think much more agreeable; what would be the good of fine acting, if there was nobody to see it, and none on whom it could produce any effect."
"But acting in itself, is so very amusing, like dancing—one does not dance to be looked at, but for one's satisfaction; and it was the same with me in the only acting I ever attempted. I forgot every thing but my part."
"I dare say, you acted very well," said Lady Gordon.
"I liked it exceedingly," replied Emma.
"I cannot give up my plan, however;" continued Lady Gordon, "you have put it into my head, but you will not find it easy to put it out again."
Just, at this moment, a turn of the road they were pursuing, brought Lord Osborne immediately before them, leisurely sauntering along on his horse.
He quickened his pace of course, on perceiving the carriage, and was beside them immediately; with a look of pleasure which was not lost upon his sister, who was always watching his address to Emma.
"So, I have had the good luck to meet you at last," exclaimed he, "I was dreadfully afraid I should come upon the other couple, instead of you, Rosa; and Fanny Carr looked so cross because I would not ride with her. I do not think I shall face her again for a month. I wish girls would learn to govern their tempers; they cannot always expect all the men to be scampering at their heels, just when they want it."
"You used her extremely ill, I must say, in running away from her as you have done, and riding alone after all. I wonder you are not ashamed of it," said his sister reproachfully.
"I did not run away from her; I waited till she was gone, and did not make up my mind until then, whether I would ride or walk," was his reply.
His sister then began, in the warmth of her present feelings, trying to interest him in the plan they had been talking of when he joined them. He did not know what Comus was, and as to acting out in a wood, he was certain it would be much more convenient, agreeable, and altogether safer to have the play in the house. He had no objection to acting at all, if he could do it, but he did not think he could—however, he would try.
Emma was not present when Lady Gordon made known her wishes on the subject of acting to her husband; but in the dusk of the evening, as she was sitting in the conservatory, she became aware, by a conversation she had with Sir William Gordon, that the request had been made. He came to her, and placing himself on a low stool at her feet, he began by telling her, in an under tone,
"I wish you had not put that idea into Rosa's head, Miss Watson, about acting: I don't like it at all."
"I am exceedingly sorry then," replied Emma; "but no doubt Lady Gordon will readily give it up if you wish it."
"I hate to contradict her," said the husband; "ever since she has taken to doing as I wish when I ask, I cannot bear to thwart her at all."
"You seem to regret her complaisance, Sir William; would you prefer having to reproach and quarrel with her?"
"I feel much more inclined to reproach and quarrel with you, Miss Watson. I begin to think you are a dangerous companion for my wife. Who would have expected such a wild scheme from you?"
"Really I hardly know what to say to your reproaches, because perhaps you may think I am trying to throw the blame from myself; but my idea and Lady Gordon's plans were so totally different, that they hardly seem as if they had the same origin. It was quite a vague notion on my part, suggested by the beauty of the forest scenery, and certainly neither comprehending company nor marquees, publicity nor expense."
"You do not suppose, my dear Miss Watson, that I meant seriously to blame you!" said Sir William half rising at her tone. "Rosa explained to me all about it in reality. But now she has set her heart upon the thing, I do not know what to do. She will never see any difficulties in the way of her wishes, and her enthusiasm is the most difficult thing in the world to resist. If she put herself in a passion about it, I should mind opposing her a great deal less. What do you recommend, Miss Watson?"
"Don't ask me," said Emma; "I should probably advise something wild and unheard of—such as either letting her have her own way, or putting a decided negative on the whole affair at once."
"I believe I must do that. It is so very unreasonable a plan; in this country picnics and _fête-champêtres_ for ladies and gentlemen are almost quite certain to end in rain, spoilt bonnets, wet feet, and bad colds; besides, I do not approve of her acting, or yours, or any lady's, and shall certainly not countenance it with my assistance. But Rosa did wish it so very much, I am sure I shall not have the courage to refuse her."
"You do injustice to your own strength of mind and firmness of purpose, Sir William," said Emma laughingly; "you can be as positive and decided as any one, when you please, though you take so much credit to yourself for your amiable softness."
"And you recommend me to enforce my authority?"
"And you expect me to give an opinion between man and wife—one which would make you both my enemies; I am not quite so wild as that!"
"Did you see Osborne out riding to-day? I presume he went off with you, as he would not come with us."
"He overtook us," said Emma, "and rode a little way with us; what a pretty horse he rides."
"He wants you to mount that—shall you have courage or strength to-morrow?"
Emma rather demurred.
"It is very gentle, you need not be afraid, I know it well; but you need not do it if you do not like. Have you been used to horse exercise?"
"A year or two ago I rode a great deal; but I have not made up my mind about accepting his offer yet, even if he makes it."
"Have you not?" said Sir William quickly; "you had better, for it will certainly come, and it will be most convenient to know your own mind on the subject."
"Then I shall take the night to think of of it, and be ready by the morning; give me your advice, Sir William—which do you recommend, aye or no?"
"The affirmative, certainly; it will give me great pleasure to see you added to our party, and to enjoy so much of your society."
"How long have you been studying such extremely complimentary speeches?" laughed Emma; "but however, I cannot wait here for you to explain to me, as really it is time to return to the drawing-room."
"Let me assist you," exclaimed Sir William placing her hand under his arm; "you are hardly yet strong enough to walk quite alone, I am sure."
"I must say, Rosa," said Miss Carr, to her friend the next day, "that I think you are the most complaisant of wives—much more than I should be."
"I am glad you approve of me, Fanny. What particular good quality has excited your admiration to-day?"
"The calmness with which you look on and witness the flirtation of your husband with that pretty Emma Watson. I wonder you like it," said Miss Carr, balancing her eye-glass on her chain between her two hands as she spoke.
"You give me more credit than I deserve a great deal, Fanny; I see nothing of the sort, and, therefore, my complaisance and calmness are not tried."
"Why surely with half an eye any one may see how much they are together—you cannot deny it."
"No, or that you are likewise a great deal with him," said Lady Gordon, calmly.
"Or how much she talks to him," persisted Fanny.
"Not more than you do, I think," retorted her friend.
"Were you aware of the long interview they had last night in the dark in the conservatory? She was sitting in the corner, and he almost leaning on her lap."
"I am glad you put in the _almost_, it makes an important difference, Fanny."
"Do you know what they were talking of, Rosa?"
"No, do you?"
"A great deal of it was complaints of you, he was saying he could not manage you, and she was giving him advice on the subject. Then they said a great deal more about another subject, which I shall just tell you. You are of course aware that she intends to marry your brother."
"No, indeed, I am no such thing."
"Well, she does, I assure you, I heard them coolly canvassing the subject, he was recommending her to make up her mind as Osborne would certainly make her an offer, and he said it would be inconvenient to be in doubt when the proposal was made."
"I am sure you must have very much misunderstood, Fanny, for I cannot believe Sir William, or Miss Watson either, were discussing any such subject. Nor can I at all comprehend how you came to learn all that you detail to me—were they talking before you?"
"No, not exactly—they were in the conservatory, and so was I, but very likely they did not see me."
"I wonder you remained there then as a listener to their conversation," said Lady Gordon, with an air of cool disdain.
"How could I suppose that your husband and your friend had any secrets to discuss, I am sure such an idea never entered my head; and you take it so coolly, I really quite admire you, Rosa."
"I do not see anything to agitate myself about, Fanny, unless you could persuade me to distrust my husband, a thing which I should conclude can be no more in your wish than it is in your power."
"I would not say anything if I did not know that Emma Watson to be a dangerous flirt, one who is artful and unscrupulous, and who made herself so conspicuous at Croydon that she was obliged to leave the place."
"How can you talk in that way, Fanny, I am positively ashamed of you," exclaimed Lady Gordon, quite indignantly.
"I assure you, upon my word, I am saying nothing but the most positive truth," asseverated Miss Carr, "I dare say she never told you anything about it, but I heard it all when I was at Lady Allston's, and can tell you the whole history about it."
"I really have no wish to hear country-town gossip," replied Lady Gordon.
Whilst she was speaking Lord Osborne entered the room, and hearing her last words, exclaimed,
"Ah, pray let us have it, Miss Carr: it would be a pity to defraud a young lady of an opportunity of repeating a bit of scandal."
"I think it only fair to tell you, Rosa," continued Miss Carr, "fair to you, and equally so to your friend, if it gives her the opportunity of explaining away the evil surmises set afloat about her."
"Oh, it's about Emma Watson you are gossiping," observed Lord Osborne turning away; and taking up a newspaper, he threw himself into a chair, and concealing his face behind the folio pages, he added, "Pray go on, and do not mind me."
"Well," said Miss Carr, "you know I dare say Miss Emma was left without a farthing of her own, and quite dependent on her brother, who is a shabby attorney at Croydon: this did not suit her—the wife was cross and mean, like most attorneys' wives I suppose, and Emma is what is called very high-spirited; and as they could not agree it was settled that Emma should go as governess some where. Lady Fanny was just parting with hers, and who should be recommended to her but my old acquaintance Emma Watson; I remembered the name directly; was it not odd?"
"Yes, rather," replied Lady Gordon, "because I know you seldom remember what does not concern you. I cannot comprehend how all this history became fixed in your mind, for really it seems of so little interest to any but Emma's friends. I knew much of it before."
"It amused me so much, to think of the girl whom I remembered flirting at Osborne Castle, making her appearance in a new character. But who do you think recommended her; my cousin's doctor, Mr. Morgan!"
Here Lord Osborne's newspaper rustled very much as he changed the position of his elbows, and Fanny looked round. His face was still invisible, so she had nothing to do but continue her narrative.
"Now you must know my cousin is in delicate health, nervous and excitable, and of course, like all such ladies, takes the English substitute for a _cavalier-servante_, namely a doctor. _Her_ doctor, this Mr. Morgan, is reckoned a very clever man, and so I think he must be, for all ladies he attends, old and young, are, from half in love, to the greatest extreme of the tender passion. I believe his character is not quite _sans tache et sans reproche_, which decidedly renders him a more interesting object; and his manners are so exceedingly devoted and tender, that really I felt inclined to fall ill, that I might be attended by him. He proposed Emma Watson as governess, recommended her highly, and carried on the negotiation very successfully, when somehow or other, my cousin took alarm about the extraordinary interest of his manner, and having discovered that Emma was reckoned handsome, began to think it would not do. However, as she is very kind and candid, she would not condemn her without some enquiry; she has some inferior acquaintance in the town—I used to wonder why she kept them up—some old young ladies, great gossips; but I have found out now the use of them: when she wants a cook, or a nurse, or a governess, or a tiresome piece of work done, or a charitable collection made in her name, she turns over all the trouble to these Miss Jenkins or some such name, (one cannot recollect their plebeian denominations,) and they are only too proud and happy to fuss about for dear Lady Fanny, who in return invites them sometimes to tea, and asks her governess to meet them. Well, these amiable and obliging virgins were quite scandalized that the dear Lady Fanny should have been so nearly led into a grievous scrape by hiring the said Emma Watson, who besides sundry other offences, had been guilty of carrying on a very discreditable acquaintance with this very Mr. Morgan. Clandestine meetings, and private conversations in dark rooms, long walks in solitary lanes, and all that sort of thing. Now he is certainly not a man to be trusted in any other capacity than a doctor—nobody has a word to say against him in that particular—but certainly not the man to be safe in a _tête-à-tête_ with a girl he admired—at least so far as her character was concerned; and Lady Fanny, quite scandalized, settled the matter at once by an instant rupture of the negotiation. I dare say," added the narrator laughing, "she did not want a rival so near her own person."
"And that is your narrative, is it?" said Lady Gordon; "it seems to me to reflect much more discredit on your cousin than on my friend."
"Upon my word, Rosa, you are rather free in your remarks on my relatives," exclaimed Fanny very indignantly.
"I beg your pardon; _I_ have not complained of what you have been saying of my friend and guest."
"But what is there remarkable in Lady Fanny's proceedings to strike you with wonder? I think it was quite natural; setting aside any jealousy of Emma, she was surely right not to bring into her house, as governess to her daughter, a girl who had anything like a slur on her character."
"Excuse my saying that if Lady Fanny did not object to employing the man in question as a physician, she had no right to take umbrage if another permitted him as a companion."
"But I understood there was something quite improper in the way in which she commenced and carried on the acquaintance—quite clandestine and against her sister's known opinion. In fact, the whole affair was so shocking that no one would speak to Emma at Croydon, and she was obliged to leave the town in disgrace. In short, her reputation there was completely _mise en pièce_."
"I am perfectly persuaded," replied Lady Gordon, "that you have been exceedingly deceived in this affair. As to believing Emma Watson guilty of anything deserving censure, I cannot until it is proved."
"I should have thought my authority good enough," said Miss Carr.
"You speak only on hear-say evidence, Fanny: you heard from Lady Fanny what was told her by certain professed gossips, who must either have been acting as spies themselves, or have been the collectors and bearers of the slanders of other individuals. No, there is no authority for your assertions—no testimony which would stand in a court of justice."
"You are determined neither to see nor understand, Rosa, or you could not talk in that, way," retorted Fanny quite angrily.
"We shall never agree, so we had better not discuss the subject further," replied Lady Gordon, "suppose we go to luncheon."
The riding party had again been under discussion, and it was decided that they should all five take an excursion on horse-back, Emma being to mount the quiet and gentle animal so strongly recommended by Sir William Gordon.
Just as they were starting, their party was joined by another young man, a neighbour, who was coming to pay a morning visit, and whom Lady Gordon invited to accompany them. Whether for the sake of a fresh object, or in hopes of pique by contrast, or from some other cause unknown, Miss Carr fastened on him as a victim, and wherever the width of the road required a division, they two kept side by side. This was a peculiarly agreeable arrangement to the others, as allowing of two conversations deeply interesting to some of the parties at least. Lady Gordon wanted to have a private conference with her husband, on the subject which Miss Carr had been discussing, and she took this opportunity of belonging to a party of six to commence it. She told him everything straight-forward, from the accusation of a flirtation with him, down to the asserted loss of character. Sir William heard her gravely, and with fixed attention, without interrupting her eloquent narrative by a remark or a question. She concluded her story before he opened his lips, and then turning full towards her, he enquired:
"Well, and have you determined to turn her out of the house?"
"I really feel much inclined to do so, I assure you, the attempt to make dissension between us is so unpardonable."
"You should first be quite convinced that the attempt has been made," said Sir William very coolly.
"My dear William, what else can you call her accusation that Emma flirted with you? She could not make me jealous, but it was most ill-natured of her to say so; for were the scandal to come to Emma's ears, it would of course make her very uncomfortable."
"I beg your pardon, Rosa," replied her husband with a smile, "we were speaking of different individuals; you, I presume, understood my question as applying to Miss Carr, whilst I really referred to Miss Watson, and I own your answer rather surprised me."
"So it well might. Could you suppose me capable of resenting to Emma what Fanny might say. I thought you would have known me better. I shall take no notice of all the Croydon scandal, except by being kinder to poor Emma, and as to yourself, I must beg you will do so too. Talk to her, walk with her as much as you like, I am not afraid for either of you."
Sir William's eyes expressed far more than his brief answer seemed to convey, she could read their language, and therefore—"Thank you, I hope we shall neither of us abuse your confidence!"—was quite satisfactory to her.
In the meantime Lord Osborne was compelling Emma to undergo a catechism, the purpose of which she could not comprehend. He began by enquiring where she had been staying previous to her visit to his sister, made himself quite master of the connection of Miss Bridge with Croydon, and ascertained that Mr. Bridge was a friend of hers. He then informed himself whether she had any relatives still in the town, learnt with evident satisfaction that her eldest sister, whom he remembered, was still there, and also that her brother was settled in the place. Emma even told him that her sister was speedily to be married to a very respectable brewer in the town, quite heedless whether such a piece of information was likely to invalidate her claims on his regard. He seemed exceedingly well pleased with the result of his investigation, but no explanation followed as to the object of all his enquiries. As she thought one was certainly her due, she at length took the step of asking to what all these questions tended, if she might make so bold as to demand it.
He hesitated a good deal, and then said flatly he should not tell her, so it was no use her asking him; at least now, though she would very likely know it by and bye; he then added in a confidential tone, that he was going to leave home for a short time; but that he hoped in a few days to return to her with pleasure. She could not compliment him by pretending to be sorry at his departure, as she really cared very little about it; but she enquired, by way of making some kind of answer, whether his sister was acquainted with his plans. He told her she was not yet, but that he intended to tell her the first opportunity, as he had not yet had time to tell her, his project had been so suddenly formed; it originated solely in some news he had heard that morning.
Emma was too indifferent about him, to feel any curiosity as to the reason of his journey or its object—for she little suspected that it nearly concerned herself; the fact being that, in consequence of the scandal that Fanny Carr had repeated in the morning, he had resolved to go over to Croydon and exert himself to trace and confute, what he was certain were only base calumnies, and when he had succeeded in triumphantly proving her innocence, he meant to lay at her feet his title and his fortune. He was perfectly delighted at the prospect of proving his devotion to her by this piece of knight-errantry,—which, he flattered himself, would render him quite irresistible in her eyes; indeed, he had serious thoughts, if the original fabricator of these lies was a man, of challenging him—a step which he firmly believed would not fail to secure the heart of any woman, for whom the duel was fought.
His ideas on this subject were rather derived from the old-fashioned novels, where the hero invariably fights at least three duels, to clear the character of his lady-love.
Very soon after imparting this information to Emma, there came a division in the party; Lady Gordon having persuaded her husband to change places with her brother for several reasons. One of the motives that actuated her, was a wish to converse with Lord Osborne on the reports relative to Emma, and learn what he thought of Miss Carr's stories. But she rather wished likewise to separate him from Emma—with whom she thought he had been enjoying too long a _tête-à-tête_; and she was, moreover, determined to prove the entire absence of all jealousy as a wife, notwithstanding the insinuations of her friend.
Emma was always pleased with Sir William's company and conversation, and enjoyed this part of her ride much more than the first. She had the pleasant conviction in her mind that Sir William liked her; a feeling which made their intercourse very agreeable—and, as to the scandal which Miss Carr had tried to insinuate on that subject—she was so perfectly ignorant of it, that it never occurred to her that an exception to their being together could possibly be taken.
All Lady Gordon's eloquence and persuasive powers—seconded by the strongest curiosity, failed to draw from her brother an acknowledgement of his purpose in leaving home, or a definite opinion as to his belief, or otherwise, in Miss Carr's stories. On this subject, indeed, he was particularly impracticable, only exclaiming—
"Pshaw! don't ask me, Rosa, about any thing she says—you know I never listen to her."
One thing which greatly excited her curiosity, was the manner of her brother's journey; she had questioned him as to how he intended to travel, and he only told her to guess. In vain she attempted to do so. His carriages were all enumerated in vain—his horses, his servants, were not to accompany him; she concluded that he must be going on foot, and the object of his journey became more mysterious than ever.
He piqued himself on his discretion, and was delighted to torment her, until she was obliged to own herself fairly puzzled, and then he told her to console her—"Time would show."
In fact Lord Osborne left the Castle the next morning in a gig, with a single attendant, who only accompanied him a couple of miles, and then returned home, leaving his lordship and his portmanteau at a small road-side public house. Further than this, nothing was to be extracted by the most adroit questioning of Lady Gordon's woman, who well knew how curious her mistress was on the subject. But although his expedition was a secret to his relatives and friends, it is none to the reader, and we shall, therefore, without ceremony leave him at the public-house in question, until the stage-coach through Croydon passed, and picking him up transported him the rest of the journey.
The party left at the Castle, was too ill-suited to be particularly agreeable, and Sir William now and then privately complained to his wife of the dead weight which Miss Carr was in society where there were no young men present. She had so little conversation besides scandal, and so little occupation of any kind, that Sir William was extremely weary of her. She sometimes played a little on the harp, but she never did that with perseverance, or anything else at all. Her father had never allowed her to learn any species of needle-work, which in some shape or other forms the universal occupation and resource of women, because, he said, there were so many unfortunates who were compelled to earn their bread in that way, that it was unfair to take it out of their hands. With no taste for anything but the lightest species of literature, a novel was her only quiet resource, and in the country it was difficult in those days to procure a sufficient supply of new novels. Lady Gordon could only listen patiently to her husband's complaints; she did not know when Fanny and her foibles would remove; nor could she at all foretell when Lord Osborne and her spirits would return, though pretty well aware that they would re-appear together.
The only resource she could suggest was arranging a small party for a dance or some such amusement, as she had never said another word about the acting, which at one time had so occupied her mind. This would give her friend something to think of and amuse herself with, as she might arrange a new dress for the occasion; nay, if Lady Gordon could only unite a daylight and an evening party in one, she might have the happiness of preparing two dresses at least.
The prospect of such a pleasure revived Miss Carr, and she awoke to a full sense of the responsibilities of life, when so important a thing as a _fête_ was in progress. Of what nature should it be, was the question, and one which occasioned as much amusement as could be hoped from the actual party. They had a great many different plans in their heads; fancy dresses—historical characters—costumes from the old family portraits in the picture-gallery, were all discussed with much warmth and animation. But every one of these proposals had so many objections attached to it. The difficulty of getting other individuals to enter into their views, and the impossibility of those unaccustomed to such scenes entering into them at all, were all suggested as impediments by Sir William, who had no fancy for any of their plans, and it ended in a much more simple arrangement. A collation in a _marquée_, in some romantic part of the park, bands of music stationed in favorable situations, to entertain them whilst eating; and the beauties of the glen, the echo, and the waterfall within a distance favorable for a walk, to amuse them afterwards. Then there might be the return to the Castle in the evening, and a dance afterwards, which would finish the day's pleasure, and afford a proper proportion of fatigue to all.
To settle on a picturesque costume for this occasion, became now the pre-eminent object of Fanny Carr's thoughts. Emma herself was under no uneasiness on that point, as Lady Gordon had taken the occasion to present her with a suitable and elegant dress, on the plea of making some compensation for the awkwardness of her brother on the occasion of the last ball at Osborne Castle.
Lord Osborne's return was delayed from day to day, by his finding more difficulty in his undertaking than he had expected; but as the course of his pursuit led him to London, he wrote from thence to his sister and gave her reason to expect to see him again before the _fête_ day arrived. This was a relief to Miss Carr's mind, for although desirous of universal admiration, she was peculiarly anxious for his special attention and regard.
Fortunately for her she was gratified; as she was sitting in Lady Gordon's dressing-room the day preceding that for universal happiness, busily engaged in twining a delicate wreath to deck her hair on the festive night, Lord Osborne marched into the room, and suddenly laid down before her a packet of papers, which he was carrying in his hand. She gave a great jump and a little scream, exclaimed at his abrupt entrance, and enquired playfully if he meant to frighten her out of her senses. He replied quietly:
"Not in the least, but he knew there was no danger of that, as her nerves were sufficiently strong to bear a much greater shock."
But what in the world were those papers he had placed before her? what was she to do with them?
He told her to read them and they would gratify her exceedingly.
"What on earth are they?" said she, unfolding the packet—"'Testimonials—Miss Emma Watson—Rev. John Bridge—Barbara Bridge—Lucy Jenkins—Eliza Lamb—'good heavens! what is the meaning of all this, my lord—are you trying to make a fool of me?"
"No, Miss Carr, I am only trying to prevent your making a fool of yourself," answered he with perfect self-possession.
"I really am excessively obliged to you. I did not know I was in danger of such a catastrophe, or that I was likely to be indebted in that respect to your lordship's deep intellect, and brilliant genius. Pray may I ask the meaning of all this, for really at present my folly is too profound to allow me to reach the pinnacle of comprehension."
"You remember, Miss Carr," said Lord Osborne gravely, "those slanderous tales against Miss Watson, which you were pleased to repeat the day before I left this place."
"Yes, I remember saying something which indeed I am certain could be proved to a fraction. If you think I repeat things without a foundation, you are very much mistaken indeed. I assure you I am excessively careful of what I say, and never dream of giving circulation to unfounded reports, or—"
"I am excessively glad to hear it—I hope you never will—I listened to you then without speaking, I must beg you will do so now to me. Feeling perfectly sure, as I did, that your tale was untrue; I have been to Croydon—and, without troubling you with a long detail of the trouble I have taken, I shall just make a short story of it at once, by saying that the result is, that Emma Watson's character is perfectly clear."
"I am sure then, my lord, that Emma Watson herself must be excessively obliged to you; but really, excuse me for asking what is all this to me!"
"It's no use your attempting to deny it, Miss Carr, it convicts you at once of the very unpleasant and disagreeable fault of repeating slanderous reports. I hope it will serve as a warning to you to prevent such wickedness again."
"Upon my word, my lord, your Quixotism surpasses all ordinary bounds—do tell me what you will do next? Riding about the country one day to exculpate a girl who can be nothing to you, beyond a common acquaintance, and then sitting down to preach lectures to me, without fee or reward for it; I do not know how sufficiently to honour such exemplary greatness of mind."
"You are welcome to your wit and your eloquence, Miss Carr; I have neither wish nor pretension to equal you in the flow of words; but you cannot, even if you take the most round about form of expression possible, deny that you have been quite wrong in the whole affair."
"I am amazingly flattered by the extremely complimentary turn which your conversation takes, Lord Osborne. You seem to have benefitted by the superior style of society with which you must have associated at Croydon; really, your sister will hardly know you again. May I venture to enquire whether you have confided to the fair Emma—the heroic devotion and the extraordinary exertions to which she has inspired you?"
Lord Osborne, who was looking over the packet of papers which Miss Carr had tossed contemptuously back on the table, neither answered nor looked up; and the sudden entrance of Lady Gordon, prevented any further acrimony on the part of the young lady—who, as soon as she recovered her temper, became very sorry that she had spoken as she did, whilst under the influence of vexation and shame.
Lady Gordon appeared very glad to see her brother; though she declared she had always felt certain that he would return in time for her _fête_—she always had such good luck at her _fête_. Her astonishment was extreme when she learnt the end and object of his journey; and she certainly felt, besides astonishment, a considerable portion of secret annoyance, that he should have been sufficiently under the influence of partiality for Emma, to be roused to such an exertion. She, who knew him well, was aware how very strong must have been the feeling of interest which could incite him to undertake and carry through a task repulsive to all his former habits and tastes. It marked a very decided love indeed; and Rosa lamented the existence of such a partiality, even whilst rejoicing that its results were so favorable to the reputation of her friend. But, on the whole, she was growing more reasonable than formerly—like all women who love their husbands, she was adopting her husband's opinions, and beginning to think that Emma would be no disgrace to the peerage, were she ever to become a member of it; but that her brother's chance of winning her being small, his affection would not be conducive to his happiness. The astonishing degree of warmth he had manifested on the present occasion, shewed the state of his mind; but as for Emma herself, if she had read her feelings rightly, they were in favor of another object. Lord Osborne detailed to his sister the whole history of his exertions. He had gone to Croydon quite incognito—had established himself very quietly at the principal inn, and after bespeaking a dinner, walked down to call on the Vicar. To him he had detailed his object, and asked his advice, giving, as a reason for the interference of an unconnected individual like himself, the peculiar intimacy which existed between his sister and the young lady in question. Mr. Bridge had entered most kindly and warmly into his views, had pointed out the course he thought best, and made Robert Watson and his wife own that Emma had remonstrated against being exposed to meeting Mr. Morgan out walking, and that she had made no secret of the occurrence. It was not without great difficulty and adroit arguments that he had brought Jane to acknowledge the truth on this subject; only by representations of the necessity of clearing her own character, which she could do, by admitting, as Mr. Bridge knew was the case, that she had yielded to her sister's persuasions, and in consequence of them had abstained from sending Emma out with her little girl.
Having thus cleared Emma from the imputation of there being anything clandestine or intentional in her meetings with the doctor, a fact which the eldest Miss Watson could also corroborate, his next step was to see Lady Fanny Allston and learn from her who had been her authority for the slander to which she had yielded. Her ladyship was in town, but Lord Osborne, not to be baffled by such a circumstance, set off after her, and without waste of time presented himself in her drawing-room in London.
On his first application her ladyship denied all recollection of the circumstance, there were so many young women who applied for the situation of governess to Miss Allston, that she could not be expected to remember any of them after the lapse of so long a time as three or four months. But he was not to be so put off, and took so much trouble to remind her of the circumstances, that she was at last forced to admit that she could recal something about it. When in consequence he pressed for her authorities on the occasion, she laughed excessively at his heroic exertions in a cause which could not concern him in the least. What possible motive could he have she observed, for interesting himself in a girl whose state and circumstances were so obscure. A girl who was forced to go out as governess, what could he know about her—what ought he to know about her—a mere country-parson's daughter, without fortune or connections, it was ridiculous of him to be tearing about the country to vindicate her from a little country-gossip. His lordship must excuse her laughing at him for his knight errantry, but what mattered it whether the said Emma Watson had flirted with the doctor of Croydon or not, or who had said that she had, if she had not.
It appeared as if Lord Osborne's character had been totally changed under the influence of Emma's charms, or the excitement of his pursuit; indeed he owned to his sister it was as animating as a fox-chase, and that he enjoyed hunting up scandal-mongers excessively. Lady Fanny's ridicule, from which formerly he might have shrunk, could not now move him from his object. He answered her quietly, that the character of every individual was of value to them, and the more so in proportion to the less of wealth or importance they had. Her ladyship might, without scruple, forfeit her reputation for integrity, honour and justice, if she chose, by refusing what he asked, and thus robbing Miss Watson; and that the world, seeing she _was_ Lady Fanny still, might consider it no great matter; but the case was very different with his sister's friend, who as Lady Fanny justly observed, had neither friends, rank nor fortune to gloss over the calumny, or support her through right and wrong, and who it was possible might depend on her character for her subsistence. But seeing that she _was_ his sister's friend, and at this moment her guest, he was determined to see justice done to her, both for her own and his sister's sake; he therefore called on Lady Fanny, if she did not wish to be considered the fabricator of the false report herself, to acknowledge who was the author of it—for false it certainly was, as he had other means of proving.
After some attempts at prevarication, she at length owned that she had learnt the circumstances from Miss Jenkins, and she even at last produced and gave up to him the identical letter to herself which contained the whole tale, with a variety of circumstances which it was evident to any unprejudiced observer must have been entirely invention, as no one could have been witness to them, by the writer's own showing.
Armed with this document, Lord Osborne had returned to Croydon and laid the paper before Mr. Bridge. That gentleman, delighted at having reduced the accusations to a form so easily combated, had agreed that they should go together, and compel Miss Jenkins to retract her assertions.
They had called on her, and at first met only with impertinence and prevarication. She did not know who Lord Osborne was, and would not allow his right, or that of Mr. Bridge, to question her conduct. Supposing his lordship to be only one of Emma's relations, and as such deserving no particular consideration or courtesy, she did not scruple to behave with the insolence and neglect with which underbred people consider themselves entitled to treat their inferiors. Of course her confusion was extreme when she found, to her astonishment, that it was a baron whom she had scornfully answered, and whom she had scarcely condescended to ask to seat himself.
She fell, on this discovery, into a prodigious fit of agitation and flutter, protested that she was perfectly ashamed of herself—quite shocked his lordship should have been treated so—would not his lordship move nearer the fire—would he not take a more comfortable chair. She hoped his lordship would not refuse a glass of wine or a little cake; was he quite sure that he did not sit in a draft—the corner of the sofa and a foot-stool would be much better for him. Lord Osborne very positively, and rather abruptly, declined all her attentions, declaring that he wished for nothing better than his present situation, nor desired anything else from Miss Jenkins than the fulfilment of the particular object of their visit—the declaration what authority she had for her assertions regarding Emma Watson.
She now attempted to deny that she had ever said anything at all injurious to Miss Emma Watson's character; it was quite impossible that she should—she had the highest regard for the young lady in question, and must have for any one whom she knew to be the intimate friend of Lady Gordon, and about whom his lordship was so kind as to interest himself. She never could have been guilty of any unjust reflections on such a person, and it must be an entire mistake of Lady Fanny Allston's if she imagined anything to the contrary.
With the greatest self-possession Lord Osborne listened to her assertions, and then producing the letter and laying it before her, said he was exceedingly concerned to be compelled to disprove the assertions of a lady, but really her present words were so contrary to her former opinions as recorded on that paper, that he must beg to revive her memory on the subject. Would she be so kind as to look over the accusations which that letter brought against Miss Watson, and let them know how much of it was false, and what part, if any, was true; and how she became possessed of the knowledge which she had there set down.
Miss Jenkins looked a little confused on seeing her own writing brought to witness against her, but not nearly so much so, as she had done when she found she had allowed a peer of the realm to seat himself so near the door. However, she set herself to work resolutely to deny all she had written; she could not imagine how she had ever made such assertions, she could recollect nothing about it; it was most strange, most extraordinary, most wonderful, most incomprehensible that she should have written such things, she could not believe it possible: she even seemed to expect that they would be so complaisant as to disbelieve it likewise. Miss Lamb had been with her when she wrote the letter, it must have been on her authority that she had made these extraordinary statements. In short she was perfectly ready to contradict them entirely now, and to sign any statement which Lord Osborne would please to suggest; such was her respect for Miss Emma Watson, she was sure she could never speak of her in terms too high.
With great satisfaction, but unutterable contempt, Lord Osborne compelled her to retract every particular which she had formerly stated, and after agreeing that one copy of her present deposition should be sent to Lady Fanny Allston, they decided to continue their investigation by a reference to Miss Lamb, who was accused of being her fellow-conspirator on the past occasion.
Miss Lamb was a very different person from Miss Jenkins; cold and repulsive in her manners, and sparing of her words, she hardly deigned even to justify herself. She did condescend, however, so far as to say, that she had had nothing at all to do in the most distant degree with the affair in question, either by word or deed; though on being cross-questioned she admitted she had seen the letter which Miss Jenkins had sent to Lady Fanny; she had indeed been sitting by whilst it was in the course of composition; but she denied entirely having assisted her companion in any way, excepting in spelling and grammar, points in which she sarcastically observed her friend occasionally needed help. As to her requiring assistance or suggestion beyond her own imagination, where anything ill-natured was in question, that was quite unnecessary as everybody acquainted with Miss Jenkins's taste for gossip must be aware. She had such a superfluity of invention on all such matters as could be equalled by few ladies in Croydon. She, Miss Lamb, knew she had watched Emma closely, and discovered that Mr. Morgan had joined her occasionally when out walking, and this was quite enough to form the foundation of any little scandalous romance which she thought might look well, or be agreeable and amusing to Lady Fanny. For her own part, she knew no harm at all of Emma Watson, and she hoped that after this statement she should have no further trouble in the matter, as she was going out, and did not wish to be detained.
Thus their interview terminated; and Lord Osborne perfectly satisfied with his success so far, having shown the declarations of these two young ladies to Mr. Watson, and his wife, once more repaired to London, to learn what Lady Fanny thought of the paper he had sent her.
Her ladyship this time was ill-used and hysterical, sobbing over the depravity of human nature, which had led Miss Jenkins wickedly to invent such tales, and thereby greatly to deceive and incommode her ladyship; preventing her obtaining a desirable governess to her great inconvenience, and exposing her moreover to much trouble, anxiety, and other evils, endangering her reputation for veracity, and threatening to place her in a ridiculous position.
Lord Osborne could not help perceiving the absurdity and selfishness of her lamentations, but he let her go on as she would, so long as she agreed to sign an admission that she had been misled. He would not, however, make her the promise which she requested from him, that he would use his influence with this very charming young person to undertake the situation from which she had previously been so scornfully repulsed; he gravely observed he did not think it was any business of his, and that he could not interfere in her private arrangements. Lady Fanny, smitten with a vehement desire to become the patroness of the slandered Emma, determined, she said, to write and renew her proposals. He made no objection, though perfectly determined that proposals from himself, and of a different nature should if possible precede hers.
This resolution of his own he did not detail to his sister, nor did he communicate another circumstance which had occurred, namely that he had, whilst in London, sought an interview with his mother, whom he found deeply engrossed in a flirtation with a young colonel of the guards. He did not like the young fellow's appearance at all, nor the air of being at home which he assumed, but on his taking leave a still more unpleasant scene had occurred. His mother had enquired if Howard were still at the Castle, and on her son mentioning where he was, but adding that he hoped soon to remove him to a better living, her ladyship had broken out into the most violent opposition to this plan.
Lord Osborne had just learnt that the incumbent of another living, to which he had the right of presentation, a very old man, was in a state of health, which would in all probability speedily terminate in death, and he was perfectly determined to give it, immediately it fell vacant, to his former tutor. He felt that in every respect this would be a most desirable circumstance, and had not the present incumbent so opportunely fallen sick, he should certainly have attempted to negotiate some other exchange which would have promised a speedy removal. Why Lady Osborne should so resolutely set herself against it, he could not imagine; her feelings towards Howard he could not understand, unless in case of a suspicion which occurred to him proving correct, that the clergyman had refused the baron's widow. She who used to be so friendly and favourable to him, now indulged in feelings apparently of hatred and enmity. She evidently wished to injure him, wished to hinder any improvement in his circumstances, wished to prejudice her son against him. He thought his mother hardly in her senses on this subject, so extremely bitter and unreasonable her sentiments appeared. Her indignation passed all bounds when she found him perfectly unpersuadable on this point. His object in wishing to remove Mr. Howard was quite as potent as hers in wishing to torment him, and his obstinacy in following his own opinion at least as great; there was therefore no chance of their coming to any agreement, and they parted on very bad terms.
Now when his tale was done, he was ready to sit and listen to his sister's plans and designs for to-morrow, ready to encourage her with hopes of a fine day, and still more ready to anticipate much intercourse with Emma Watson. He determined to seize some opportunity during the approaching fête to make known his sentiments, and ask her hand. His courage felt quite high: he had been so successful in this undertaking at Croydon that he began to think he must have quite a winning way with women, and thoughts, complimentary to himself, which had never before entered his brain, began now to bud and grow, and rapidly increase within him.
The morning opened in a way as promising to Lady Gordon's plans as could be desired; bright and serene; a gentle air, not strong enough to wave the flag upon the Castle turrets, rustled amongst the forest trees; a deep blue sky, a cloudless sun, and the mist upon distant objects which accompanies heat in this country, all promised everything most charming.
The whole party were in high spirits, and when, after their breakfast, the ladies had put the finishing stroke to their toilettes, any unprejudiced observer must have admitted that they all three looked very captivating in their several ways.
Lady Gordon anxious to be on the appointed spot previous to the arrival of any of the guests, soon started from the Castle, and the two young ladies accompanied her.
The scene which had been chosen looked very lovely certainly, and the marquees and trees in its vicinity, festooned with flowers, and ornamented in many dainty devices, had a most tasteful air; but Emma could not help thinking that the forest glade in its natural state would have been more taste picturesque, and to her far more enchanting, than with the gay flags and ornaments which now decked it. She thought of the ages which had passed over those lordly trees; the generations of fair faces, which had perhaps strolled beneath them; the histories of happy or of broken hearts, which, could they but be known, would read so many a moral lesson to herself. They looked so very old, those huge spreading trees, with their giant trunks and wide extending branches; she quite felt respect for such stability and strength. Their boughs had probably waved
"O'er manhood's noble head, O'er youth's bright locks, and beauty's flowery crown."
and now another generation was to meet beneath them, and how many gay, thoughtless hearts, would they this day shade.
They had not been long enough there for Miss Carr to be very tired of waiting, nor for Emma to be at all anxious for a change of scene, when the company began to arrive, and she had other amusement and occupation. It was a very large assembly, and every one came prepared to enjoy themselves, convinced that what Lady Gordon did must be wittiest and most fashionable, if not
"Wisest, discreetest, virtuousest, best."
The band played, the sun shone, the green trees waved in the breeze, the silks and muslins fluttered, fair checks reddened, bright eyes glanced, sweet lips smiled, fairy forms flitted about, everything was elegant, lively, agreeable—any thing but pastoral, not at all in the fashion of an old French print of a Louis Quartorze fête champêtre. There were no mock shepherdesses, with powdered heads and crooks in their hands; no badly supported and out of character costumes; people came to act no part but that of lively, and if they could be, lovely English ladies, in the most fashionable gowns, meeting well-bred, well-dressed, well-intentioned English gentlemen. There were smiles, and flattery, and flirtations, and a little affectation, and some small share of folly; but on the whole, it was an extremely elegant and well-satisfied party, and every one was ready to tell every one else how excessively pleasant it was, and how much more they preferred these delightful, unformal parties, to the more usual, but less exciting, in-door assemblies.
To those who loved good eating and drinking, it could not fail of being an agreeable re-union, for "the feast provided, combined," the newspapers said on the occasion, "every delicacy of the season, which an out door repast would admit of, in profusion, and the hospitable and liberal-minded hosts were truly delighted to press on their nowise reluctant guests, the choicest viands and the most refreshing products of the vineyards."
In reallity, there was a great deal of pleasure afforded on the occasion, and if there were some dissatisfied minds, it may be concluded that they were those, who under no circumstances were likely to be pleased.
Among the discontented was Margaret Musgrove, who came over with a friend, in that friend's carriage, her husband driving the brother of this lady, as he preferred anything to accompanying his wife. After their arrival, he attached himself to this friend, and carried on with her a very tender flirtation. Mrs. Harding Russell was a fine, dashing woman, who very much enjoyed a flirtation with her friend's husband, and was delighted to make herself conspicuous, and the wife uncomfortable. Margaret would not have minded, had the brother been inclined to assist her in paying her husband off—but this was not the case, he was a man's companion, not a woman's, and never troubled himself to flirt at all. Margaret for some time formed a very inharmonious third to the otherwise lively duet which was performing between Tom and Mrs. Harding Russell, whose company made her perfectly miserable; but at length she succeeded in securing as a companion one of her former acquaintances, who though he had long ago ceased to care for Margaret Watson, had no objection, _faute de mieux_, to make himself agreeable to Mrs. Tom Musgrove.
When the greatest portion of the visitors was assembled, at a given signal, the sides of the largest marquee were opened, and every one was invited to the collation. Amidst the throng and pressure of this occasion, Emma found herself within a a short distance of her brother-in-law and his friend, and an unavoidable hearer of their conversation. Mr. Corbet was enquiring—
"What has come over Lord Osborne to make him such a different fellow from what he used to be? Why when I was here before, he was a fine, dashing lad, quite ready to join in any sort of sensible fun; and now he seems all taken up with women and girls. I remember when he would have scorned to join in such trumpery nonsense as this; but when I proposed just now that we should slip away to have a cigar and a little brandy and water, hot and comfortable, he told me he must attend to his sister's guests. Such a precious notion, 'pon my soul, I could not help laughing to think of a fellow like him turned into a lady's companion; a pretty thing indeed. If I were a peer of the realm, catch me troubling my head about any sisters or mother of mine."
"'Pon my honour, I think," said Tom, "it's a monstrous pity he _is_ so altered, for I am sure he's not the same person to me that he was; I really think it is all for the sake of my sister-in-law, that pretty girl who is here now, you noticed her I dare say."
"Not I, I never look after pretty girls of that class—those I can have nothing to say to; there's an uncommon pretty girl at the lodge-gate, who stared at me as I came in, I noticed her there, and winked at her as hard as I could; and I intend to notice her again before I've done with her; but what are other pretty girls to me—not my sort, eh Tom?"
Tom laughed so much, Emma did not hear what followed, but it ended with a proposal that when they had had enough grub, they should adjourn to the lodge to look after the rustic beauty.
By this time Emma had been borne by the throng into the interior, and unluckily the place she found for herself, was close to Mrs. Harding Russell and her brother-in-law. She did not expect much pleasure from this vicinity, and could not, therefore, complain of disappointment, as well as disagreeables during this part of the entertainment.
Mrs. Harding Russell for some minutes would not turn her head towards Tom, and when he claimed her attention, she turned towards him with a scornful smile and exclaimed:
"Oh, you are come, are you? I hope you did not hurry yourself on _my_ account, Mr. Musgrove. I should be sorry if you had put yourself to any inconvenience."
"Indeed I have though. I have been making frantic exertions, and trodden on at least a dozen toes to secure a place near you, convinced you would enjoy nothing unless I were here to help you."
"Upon my word, a very pretty speech—just like a man though—quite what one might expect from the vain sex. Pray do not take a seat, which I have no doubt must be very disagreeable to you. I dare say somebody else would change places with you: the young fellow talking to your wife—Baker—Butcher—Barber—what's his name—I shall call him, he would do just as well—he could hardly say less civil things."
"What did I say, anything rude? do you not know you were to take my speeches by contraries—did we not agree so—it is so much safer: but you know your power—your delight in tormenting me—caprice is so charming in women—and _you_ know how to make it positively bewitching."
"Really I have not the slightest wish to bewitch you, nor can I believe that I do so—I have no power over any one, least of all you—I who have no charms, no graces—oh, no indeed, I do not expect civility, much less attention from men."
"Fie, you slander yourself and me, and the whole race of men in such assertions; you no charms—no graces—I should like to know where they are to be seen, that is all, if you do not exhibit them. I am sure Mr. Harding Russell would not say so, happy man!"
"What do _you_ know of Mr. Harding Russell?" enquired the lady turning abruptly round to him.
"Nothing at all, except that like Roy's,
"His age is three times mine"—
shall I go on?"
"Say what you please, it is better to be an old man's pet than a young man's slave," retorted she.
"Possibly, but you may reverse that saying—a young man would infallibly become your slave, fairest."
The rest of the conversation need not be detailed, it was too common-place, and trivial to deserve further notice; every one has heard two under-bred and over-pretending individuals making fools of themselves and each other, by their compliments and self-flatteries.
Very much rejoiced was Emma when the conclusion of the banquet at last allowed her the relief of a change of neighbours and conversation. As she was looking about for some one whom she could join, standing back a little to allow the tide of finery and flutter to roll past, she suddenly found Lord Osborne at her side.
"How came you to go all wrong, Miss Watson, at dinner?" enquired he abruptly.
"I, my lord—how!" was her answer, rather puzzled.
"Getting down quite with the wrong set—you belonged to us, and had no business at all with Mrs. Harding Russell, or women of that kind; I looked for you, but you had given me the slip."
"Oh, is that all?" replied she, "I was really afraid I had committed some glaring crime, from your lordship's reproaches, but if it was only sitting near the wrong persons, I assure you I have done penance enough already for that—I cannot say that I thought them very pleasant."
"I am glad of it," he replied with much animation, "you would have been very different from what I fancied, if you had found any pleasure in Mrs. Harding Russell."
Emma made no answer, and he immediately afterwards proposed her joining Lady Gordon, to which she assented. They found, on joining the circle round the hostess, that she was proposing for them a ramble through the prettiest parts of the park, to see the waterfall and the fairy fountain, and hear the echo, which was famous in the glen; there were a number of young people round her, and they seemed just in a humour for such an expedition. Some were to take carriages, some to go on foot, and amongst this latter group were included Emma and also Miss Carr, who seemed suddenly seized with a very decided partiality for Miss Watson, which grew particularly strong whenever Lord Osborne approached.
Quite uninvited she linked her arm in Emma's, and would be her inseparable companion in the walk. It was very pretty scenery through which they had to pass, and the lively party with their gay dresses gave it quite a novel effect. There was nothing like connected conversation carried on, only lively remarks, and quick repartees, with quaint observations from Sir William Gordon, who formed one of the party, and matter-of-fact assertions from his brother-in-law, who was, however, remarkably talkative for him.
In passing through one portion of the park under a sunny bank, they startled some of the harmless speckled snakes which writhed themselves away in haste, but not without causing much alarm and trepidation on the part of some of the young ladies, who protested they had a natural horror of such reptiles. This led the conversation into a new train, a long discussion on natural antipathies, when all the young ladies were called on by Sir William to declare what were their pet antipathies, presuming that they all cherished some such amiable weakness. He in return was immediately assaulted by an accusation of thinking ill of young women—entertaining satirical ideas about them, and making ill-natured speeches to them; which of course he denied, and the dispute which this accusation brought on lasted till they reached the fairy fountain.
Seated by the side of the spring was a brilliant, dark-eyed, beauty of a gipsy, who seemed to be waiting their approach.
"Here's a part of the masque for which I was not prepared," cried Sir William; "I wonder whether my wife sent this woman here."
Then advancing, he enquired what she wanted.
"I am waiting," she exclaimed with a smile, "to meet you all—not you, Sir William," putting him back with her hand. "It is not you I wish to see, but the young lord. Stand forth, Lord Osborne."
"Holloa! what now," cried he advancing—but another gentleman put him back, and placing himself before the gipsy enquired why she called him forth.
"I never called _you_, Arthur Brooke—who named your name?—keep in your proper place, and be not hurried to assume that of others." Then rising, she pointed to the spring and exclaimed, "Are you all come to drink at the fairy spring? How will you do it—where are your glasses or your pitchers?"
It was perfectly true they had all come to drink, but had forgotten or neglected to bring any vessel with which to draw the water. After looking at them for a moment, with triumph she exclaimed,
"You must then condescend to be beholden to the gipsy for your draught—see here," and she produced, as she spoke, a small silver cup: "Lord Osborne, take this cup and fill it for your guests."
Lord Osborne advanced and prepared to obey her. Sir William stopped him by suggesting perhaps it was a magic cup which might work them harm and woe.
"Scoffer!" said the woman. "It is a magic cup. Carry that cup steadily to your lips, full to the brim, without losing a drop, and it betides you success in your life's undertakings."
"Who will try the omen?" cried Lord Osborne. "For whom shall I dip?"
"Not me! not me!" exclaimed several of the young ladies addressed.
"Let me try first for myself," he said, and stooping filled the little goblet to the brim, raising it steadily and carefully.
"A toast," cried Sir William, "you must not drink without a toast."
"Success to our secret wishes," said he, and drained the cup to the bottom. "Will none follow my example," added he: then again filling the cup, he presented it to Emma; she took it and drank a part, then deliberately poured the remainder on the ground. The gipsy's eyes flashed.
"You defy me," she said, "dark-haired girl—but ere the sun stands again where it now does, your heart will be as heavy as your curls—your hopes as dark as your eyes—tremble—for the approaching news—you, who have dared to disregard my cautions."
"Whatever ill news may be in store for me," said Emma firmly, looking up; "it will come quite irrespective of the water I just poured upon the ground. I do not fear _you_. I have seen you before."
"Yes, we have met before; and I remember kindness with gratitude, and I grieve that young hearts should break—but it must be so—triumph and success to his lordship—but tinged with regret and sorrow—for he has drank from the gipsy's cup. Who will have their fortunes told."
"I don't believe a word of it," said Lord Osborne, "How should she know?"
"It is well to disbelieve, no doubt; but see now, you come to the fairy well for water; but, without my help, you would have come in vain. So it is with the future. You wish to draw knowledge from the dark bottomless well of destiny; you may seek in vain, unless you condescend to borrow of gipsy lore. Have courage and face the future."
"Oh! do not let us have any thing to do with her," cried one young lady.
"I am not afraid, I will have my fortune told," said Miss Carr, advancing; "tell me, if you can, what will be my fate?"
"No," replied the young woman, turning away, "I dare not predict for you—but one thing I foresee—disappointment and sorrow to you all—bright hopes faded—joyous faces clouded—smiles changed to tears for some, and the gayest hours cut short with grief and dismay. Farewell!"
She fled down the glen as she spoke, and a turn of the path hid her from sight. A something of fear and chill fell on the whole party. Sir William was the first to break the silence.
"Who is she, Miss Watson? she claims you as an acquaintance—where did you ever see her?"
Emma told him that it was a long time ago—before last Christmas—when out walking with one of her sisters. She did not explain that it was during that well-remembered walk, when she had met Mr. Howard for the first time after the ball, and he had accompanied them home. This young woman had followed them on that occasion, and Emma had persuaded Elizabeth to give her some relief from the kitchen, as she seemed almost famishing. Having been struck by her beauty, Emma had instantly recollected her.
The waterfall and the echo, combined with meeting those who had gone there in carriages, and detailing the adventure of the gipsy girl to them, sufficed to restore most of the spirits which had been damped by her predictions—and there was a great deal of merriment going on around her—but Emma remarked that Sir William looked particularly thoughtful and quite unlike his usual self.
"Are you brooding over the threatenings of the girl," enquired she, coming to his side, "you look so uncommonly grave, I really think they must have made an impression on you."
"I own they have," replied he.
"Oh! Sir William," exclaimed she, "I did not expect such superstition from you. I am surprised."
"Are you," said he, looking fixedly at her; "do you not know that those people seldom prophesy without some foundation to go on? They are quick at guessing feelings and wishes, and combining them with past and passing events; and extremely quick at learning any kind of news and turning it to their own advantage. Their knowledge in this way is astonishing; and I certainly feel afraid lest it may prove too true,—that something to us unknown, has occurred to grieve us."
"You almost frighten me, Sir William," replied Emma, turning pale. "Your attaching such consequence to words which appeared to me spoken at random, seems quite like a reproach to me for treating them so lightly."
"Perhaps her predictions, after all, may be the worst things that we shall hear," added Sir William, trying to shake off his gravity; "and they will be quite fulfilled, if I make you so pale. You are tired—take my arm!"
She could not deny it; and was glad to accept a seat in one of the carriages to return to the Castle: whither the most delicate of the guests now agreed to turn their steps, to rest and refresh themselves after their exertions, previous to the ball at night.
Emma was content to lie down quietly in her own room, for her ankle was not strong, and she had taxed it so severely, that she felt dancing would be out of the question for her that night; she was rather sorry, for she really liked dancing; but she felt that prudence required the sacrifice, lest she should be lame for a much longer period.
How the rest of the afternoon was spent by the guests, she could not tell, except that the sounds of music and merriment were often borne through her open windows, and came apparently from the lawns or the terrace.
Refreshed by a couple of hours' peace and solitude, she repaired, about seven o'clock to Lady Gordon's dressing-room, and found her busy with her toilette. Her own dress and appearance received due commendation both from her friend and her friend's bower woman. It being the gift of the one, and the work of the other, it was no wonder perhaps that they thought it looked well. The attendant observed:
"It was quite a pleasure to make gowns for Miss Watson, she became them so completely: the work was never thrown away on her."
Perhaps the speaker had an eye to some future situation as waiting-woman to the young Lady Osborne, for his Lordship's devotion was quite evident to the inmates of the still-room, as it was then called; and Miss Watson was honoured accordingly. Whilst she was there, Sir William came in likewise, and chatted in a way, which drew from Emma the observation that he had quite recovered his spirits; his wife did not hear the remark, and taking advantage of the occupation which at that moment engrossed her, to speak without her notice, he begged Emma not to allude to it before _her_ again. Of course Emma was quite ready to comply, but she thought it strange that he should attach so much importance to the circumstance.
They all went to the grand reception rooms together: they were already gay with parties impatient for the continuance of their pleasures. When the dancing commenced, Emma withdrew into the conservatory, which was cool and refreshing, for the ball-room was already heated by the company and the lights. Here she walked in solitude for some time; her friends were all dancing, Lady Gordon, her brother, her husband, and Miss Carr, so there was no one to interrupt her reverie, or disturb her meditations.
But at length, by the cessation of the music, she learnt that the long country dance had finished, and soon afterwards, couples and groups sought the same refreshment as herself. She sat down in a moon-lighted corner, where amongst the flowers and shrubs, and by the soft and subdued light, her white crape gown showed like the sculptured drapery of some marble statue, and here she was still suffered to remain in peace, though the conservatory echoed to merry voices, and the light laugh and sparkling sally of wit, sounded above the trickling of the silvery fountain.
Presently, the music recalled all the dancers to the ball-room, and she was again in solitude, but not now for long: a heavy step approached, and just as she was rising from her seat, Lord Osborne joined her.
"Now do sit down again," said he, "but how completely you have hidden yourself; I began to despair of finding you—ain't you going to dance?"
She told him her reason for declining it, at which he expressed concern, but immediately added:—
"However, perhaps on the whole, it is as well, for I wanted particularly to talk to you, without being overheard: can you listen to me now?"
She acceded, with some surprise at the request; he leaned against the wall by her side, and began.
"Do you know my journey the other day was all on your account?"
"Indeed," she exclaimed, in some surprise.
"Yes, I will tell you why, only don't interrupt me till I have done, that puts me out; Miss Carr, whom you know I do not like, but perhaps you do not know I do not believe, would say such ill-natured things about you and Lady Fanny Allston, and her reason for not taking you as governess, none of which I believed, so you need not look angry, that I determined to go to her Ladyship, and make her contradict them. What do you think of that?"
"You really went to Lady Fanny on that subject," exclaimed Emma, "may I ask what authority you had for interfering in my affairs?"
"The authority, Miss Watson, the right which every man has to protect a woman who is slandered and defenceless. Miss Carr had slandered _you_ to my sister, in my hearing; she referred to her cousin as her authority, I compelled her cousin to acknowledge the sources of the calumny, and having traced it to a contemptible and envious Miss Jenkins, I forced her to eat her words, and retract every aspersion she had cast on the character of one whom I always believed blameless. Are you now angry with me Miss Watson?" his voice softened at the last words, his energy fled, and he looked again like himself.
"I cannot tell what I feel," said she hesitating, "Tell me what Lady Fanny says now of me!"
"That she is convinced that she was misled by vile calumniators, and that she wished me to use any influence I possessed with you to renew her former negotiation."
"Which you promised to do," said she, "and so you tell me this?"
There was a tone of playfulness in her voice which reassured him.
"You are not angry with me?" said he enquiringly.
"I think not; it depends partly on your motive, but on the whole I am inclined to forgive you."
"A hundred thanks, but if you do forgive me—give me your hand!"
She extended one finger towards him, saying with a smile her whole hand was too much at once: but he did not listen to her words; her hand was caught and pressed in his, and raised to his lips before she could release it from the unexpected thraldom. Then mustering all his courage and becoming eloquent under an emotion which makes many an eloquent man silent, he added,
"It was for your hand I did it, to earn a claim on that, that I travelled and met strangers, and wrangled with and coaxed them. It was because I could not bear a blot on your fair fame—you whom I love so very much: dear Emma—you who are so kind, so good-natured, will you not love me!"
"Lord Osborne," said she with profound gravity, "cease I beg; this species of conversation becomes neither your station nor mine. If I own myself obliged by your exertions for my sake, do not annul the obligation by words which never should have been spoken. Let me go!"
But he stood before her, and would not let her pass; whilst saying in a low, deep voice,
"You must misunderstand me, Miss Watson, or you would not speak thus. Have I not as much right as any one, to love what is fair and excellent—if I am plain and awkward myself, can that make my love an insult—and you—are you not deserving to be loved, worshipped, idolised by every man who comes near you. Have you not everything that I want—everything that would grace a far higher title, a much larger fortune than mine. But because I have none of these things is that any reason I should not admire, and love them, or offer my coronet to one who would so well become it. It is yours if you will but accept it; hand, fortune, title, everything—do give me an answer."
But before Emma could find voice to answer, or arrange her ideas, they were startled by a scream from the ball-room—the music stopped completely, and a sudden stillness for a moment prevailed, seeming awful by the contrast to what preceded: then came a murmur, like a hundred whispers in one, which seemed to gather and increase.
Emma had started up at the scream, and now stood suspended, with a beating heart and unsteady breath.
"What can be the matter," said he, "shall I go and see—sit down, do not alarm yourself."
She really was obliged to seat herself, for she could not stand; he went a few steps, where he was met by Sir William.
"For Heaven's sake Osborne come here and send off all these people, your sister is in a fit, and I am almost as bad from horror."
"What in the world is the matter," cried he, struck by the agitated tone and look of his brother-in-law.
"A report has been brought from Wales that Howard is dead," said Sir William, "killed by a fall from a horse amongst the mountains, and Rosa heard it suddenly—and I am afraid—"
"Killed—Howard—dead—good Heavens," instinctively he was turning to the spot where Emma sat, but Sir William impatiently seized his arm and hurried him away unconscious that she was near.
She was left alone to her feelings, and how the next half hour passed she never knew. She could neither think nor move; to feel was too much, for a confused murmur rang in her ears; a sound of suppressed voices, and hurried footsteps, and rolling wheels, and then all seemed still again. How long she sat there she could not calculate, horror-struck and immoveable, she seemed unconscious of everything but the one thought that he was _dead_. And so suddenly, so awfully—it could not be!—and yet it must be true; she shivered with horror, and then she seemed again to become insensible to everything, closing her eyes to the gay lights and gaudy flowers which appeared to mock her when she gazed at them.
She was just beginning to recover, but still unable to move, when she heard Sir William's voice enquiring,
"Where is Emma—Osborne, have you seen her? she was not in the ball-room."
"She was with me in the conservatory," replied his companion.
"Good heavens, then she must have heard it all," cried Sir William, then hurrying forward as he caught a glimpse of her white gown, he gazed with anxious enquiry at her.
Her bloodless cheek, and her whole air, at once betrayed her knowledge of what had passed; but making a violent effort to conquer emotions which were almost choking her, she attempted to rise and come forward. She had hardly strength for the exertion, she trembled so violently, but still the effort did her good. Sir William looked at her compassionately, and drawing her hand under his arm without a word, led her away. Lord Osborne followed with a look of deep dismay in his face, and an air of indescribable dejection over his whole figure.
"Can I be of any use to Lady Gordon?" enquired Emma, forcing slowly, one by one, from her parched and trembling lips, the words which she could scarcely articulate.
"Lady Gordon is tolerably composed, and gone to bed," replied he, "let me recommend the same course to you. I am shocked to think you should have been left so long uncared for. You seem quite exhausted and worn out."
Emma gladly complied with his recommendation, and tried to sleep, but that was vain. Images of horror of every kind filled her mind the moment she attempted it, and she was glad at length to rise and throw open the window to breathe the fresh air.
The moon, which was still high in the sky, was beginning to grow pale before the increasing light in the east; the air was calm, the wind merely a gentle breathing: now and then was heard the chirp of the early birds in the neighbouring trees, but as yet the busy tenants of the rookery near the castle were still. The cry of the deer in the park, the lowing of cattle at a still greater distance, the murmur of the stream in the valley came distinctly on the ear, during the profound hush which preceded the dawn.
Everything looked so fair and calm, and happy—could it be that misery and disappointment, and suffering, were for ever lurking under all! How gay had been the commencement of yesterday; how sad the close! Such was worldly pleasure—such it must be—such it ought to be. Happiness was fled from her for ever; she could not expect to meet it again. A calm, dull future spread before her, uncheered by love, or home, or hope. Her affections blighted in their first spring, were for ever destroyed, and if she could learn resignation that was the utmost she could look forward to.
She burst into tears, went back to her bed, cried herself to sleep, and did not wake till a late hour the following day.
Of course she was looking wretchedly pale and miserable when she descended the next day. So conscious was she of this that she longed to remain in her own room, but feared that it might have even a more suspicious appearance than her pale cheeks. She was relieved on entering the sitting room to find only Sir William, Lord Osborne having breakfasted and gone out. He was looking sad and grave, but replied to her anxious enquiries, that his wife was better, but not well enough to leave her room yet. He regarded her with a compassionate expression, and said,
"You too are suffering from the events of yesterday—no wonder; such a blow coming after so much excitement and fatigue."
Her lip quivered, and she could not answer.
"Miss Watson," added he, "the gipsy must have known of this before we met her. She must have alluded to this shocking event."
Emma made an effort, and succeeded in articulating,
Then after a pause, she ventured to enquire,
"How did the report reach you?"
It had been brought, it appeared, by one of the guests, whose cousin or brother, or some such friend, had just arrived from Wales, and learnt it before leaving Denbighshire. It had been accidentally mentioned by this gentleman in Lady Gordon's hearing; and she being at the time in a nervous, irritable state from fatigue, excitement, and the heat of the ball-room, had been seized with a violent fit of hysteria at the information, which had broken up the dancing and compelled her to quit the company.
"And my abruptness I fear overpowered you, Miss Watson," added Sir William, "I had no idea that you were there when I met Osborne, and spoke with the conviction that I was distressing no nerves weaker than his."
"But even Lord Osborne must feel such a shock," said Emma.
"Oh yes he feels it very much, but it is not his way to be overpowered by his feeling. None who had known Howard could help feeling it—so sudden an event—and quitting us quite well only a few days before—what his poor sister must have felt!"
Sir William paused, for Emma had walked away to hide her tears and smother her sobs at the window. The entrance of Miss Carr at the moment, well-dressed, and cheerful looking as usual, tended greatly to compose Emma's spirits, but quite overpowered Sir William.
He escaped instantly out of the room. Miss Carr came up to Emma.
"How miserably uncomfortable everything seems to-day. I cannot imagine why the death of this man—even supposing he is dead—should derange everybody here to such a degree. A thing which happened too some hundreds of miles away, Rosa in bed, and neither Sir William, nor Osborne visible. Don't you think it's too bad?"
"I dare say Lady Gordon will soon recover," replied Emma, "but I cannot wonder if she is indisposed considering everything—the heat, the fatigue, and all the excitement of yesterday."
"Have you breakfasted, Miss Watson?" enquired Miss Carr.
Emma replied she had not.
"Then come with me, and let us get some," said she, passing her hand under Emma's arm. "There is no reason that we should fast, I suppose; for, though Mr. Howard's death is very shocking, I confess it does not take away the appetite quite."
Emma thought it would be the easiest way to consent, and they went accordingly. On entering the breakfast-room, which they had entirely to themselves, they found that, owing probably to the confusion in the household, the letters, by that morning's post, had been laid on the table there, and no one had seen them. Miss Carr immediately began looking them over, and presently exclaimed:
"Here are two—three for you Miss Watson. I wonder there are none for me!"
Emma received them, and glanced at their exteriors to see whether she should open them there. One she saw was from Miss Bridge—one from Elizabeth—and thinking that the occupation of reading them would prevent her hearing Miss Carr's chatter, she broke the seal of the latter, and began to peruse it.
It gave her a lively account of Lord Osborne's visit, and contained many hints as to the object of his journey and the motive for it, which suddenly re-called to Emma's mind the fact, which until that moment, had absolutely escaped her memory—his proposal to herself—a proposal to which he had, as yet, received no answer. It seemed hard and cruel to keep the poor young man in suspense, which would end in disappointment—for she could not hesitate a moment, as to her answer. Under no circumstances could she ever accept him, or persuade herself to think him an agreeable man. But the meditation on his love, and her intentions with regard to it, forced another consideration upon her, what else should she do with reference to him. Would he leave the house, or should she, or could they go on as before with any comfort to herself. It would be very disagreeable to have to continue in daily intercourse with a rejected lover, unless, indeed, he were much more magnanimous than the rest of his sex; for, with men in general, it appears, no insult can be deeper, no injury more severe, than a woman differing from their estimation of themselves, and doubting the fact of their making a suitable and agreeable husband. This is so unpardonable an offence, that there are few men who would acknowledge having met with such a rebuff, or if they do, it is in the well-known language of the "Laird o' Cockpen."
Emma flattered herself, on consideration, that she should not suffer from any pique on his part, as when her unalterable resolution was once known to him, there would be nothing to prevent his immediately removing himself and his disappointment to some other scene.
After dreaming over these things for some time, she took up the other letters and rose to go. Casting her eye, as she did so, on the post-mark and address of the third, which, hitherto, she had not noticed, she was startled by perceiving that it came from North Wales—and, if her senses did not deceive her, it was Mr. Howard's handwriting.
The small remains of presence of mind which this discovery left her, was just sufficient to check the exclamation rising to her lips; and the impulse of her feelings prompting her to seek solitude and fresh air—she rushed out on the terrace, down the flight of steps into Lady Gordon's flower garden; and there, secluding herself under a wide spreading bay tree, she endeavoured to recover sufficient breath and composure to examine the letter. With trembling fingers, beating heart, and tearful eyes, she broke the seal, and after hurriedly glancing at the date and signature, laid it down on her knees, and resting her head on her arm, burst into a fit of crying, which she tried vainly to control.
And was the hand which had penned those lines never to clasp hers again! Did the heart which dictated them—did it beat no more! Had the declaration of his love been delayed until the acknowledgment of her own could never gratify his ears! Why, oh! why was this! Why had he suppressed his feelings! Why had he left her! Why had he tortured her thus!
She caught up the letter—covered it with kisses—and then through her blinding tears attempted to read it. It contained a short and simple statement of his love, and an offer of his hand; if she could consent to be a poor man's wife, he would do his utmost to make her happy.
But it was all too late now; by the date it was evident that the letter had been written nearly a fortnight ago, and the tardiness of the post-office arrangements had alone prevented his receiving a reply. And he had, perhaps, been blaming her for silence and proud disdain—perhaps with the mixed quick-sightedness and blindness of love, he had been alike jealous of Lord Osborne's passion, and alarmed lest she were influenced in his lordship's favor. He might have been attributing her silence to this cause, and perished blaming her for coquetry, coldness, or ambition. Could she but have told him of her feelings—but now he would never know them.
It was a very great relief to her to give unrestrained course to her tears—there was no occasion now to repress them. She need not fear harsh constructions, nor shrink from animadversions on her feelings. She had a _right_ to grieve. She had lost a declared lover, one too whose passion she had returned—and who would blame her now for pale cheeks and tearful eyes?
She did not think this with such distinctness as to put it into words, but she felt it deeply, and it was a strange comfort to her.
After the letter had been read many times, every word weighed and examined, and the reason which dictated his choice of each expression guessed at; after even the address had been accurately surveyed, and either anxiety or love discovered in every curve or stroke of the pen, it was carefully folded and placed in her bosom, there to remain for ever; for never could the feelings with which she regarded its writer change; never could she love another, or listen to another suit. Her lot in life was fixed for ever, and perpetual celibacy for his sake was not too great a compliment to the memory of one so dearly loved, so sadly lost.
After composing her feelings, smoothing her hair, and cooling her face at the fountain close by, she ventured to return to the Castle, with the intention, if she were permitted, of seeing Lady Gordon, though she had not yet decided upon telling her how deeply her feelings were involved in the melancholy past. Her friend was in the morning room when she returned to it, lying on a sofa, and on Emma's entrance there was a general expression of wonder as to where she had been for so long a time from the three who were sitting there. Her only answer of course was that she did not know she _had_ been long away: she had been sitting in the flower-garden.
"I wonder you like to sit there," said Miss Carr; "I always am stung by gnats if I venture on such a thing."
She then turned herself sleepily on the sofa and dozed again.
Sir William, after an earnest look at Emma's countenance, withdrew his eyes, and was apparently occupied with a newspaper, whilst Emma drawing her embroidery frame close to Lady Gordon's sofa, sat down with apparent industry to her work, with the satisfactory consciousness that every time she drew a long breath, her precious letter was more closely pressed to her swelling heart.
The long silence which ensued was only broken by Sir William at last throwing down the paper, and proposing to his wife a walk or a drive—anything for change of air and scene. She agreed to the drive, and he went to hurry the phæton, she to arrange her dress. Miss Carr begged to accompany them, and could not be refused, though they did not particularly desire her society; and thus Emma was left alone to indulge in sad recollections and tender reveries, which were, however, speedily cut short by the entrance of Lord Osborne.
It was natural that, having seen the others go out without Emma, he should calculate on finding her alone, and equally so that he should be exceedingly anxious for an interview, as his question was still unanswered, his hand unaccepted, his future happiness as yet uncertain.
She looked up with an air of consciousness on his approach, which encouraged him to advance, and draw a seat by her side. He tried to take her hand, but the attempt was made with so much hesitation and awkwardness that she was not even sure whether he intended it; no repulse was requisite, the simple not encouraging it was enough to prevent so daring an act of gallantry. In fact, he had lost the courage which on the previous night had distinguished him; the warmth and animation were gone—he was again himself, labouring under rather more than his usual awkwardness of manner, and quite overpowered by his various sensations. To have expressed all his feelings would have been impossible even for an eloquent man—his love was so mingled with jealousy, his hope with doubt, and his satisfaction with regret.
He sat looking at her for some minutes in silence, which Emma thought particularly disagreeable, until at length she concluded that he expected her to commence the conversation, and looking up with as steady a voice as she could command, she enquired whether he had received any further intelligence from Wales.
"No!" he replied, abruptly, but the question roused him to exertion, and he added,
"You cannot imagine, however much I may think of the unlucky event, that I came here to talk about _that_ to you. I am come to ask, to entreat, to claim an answer to my question last night: for every man has a right to an answer to such a question!"
He paused, and she tried to speak; it was at first with difficulty she could utter a syllable: but her courage rose as she proceeded, and she was able to finish with firmness.
"Lord Osborne, I cannot deny your claim to an answer, but I regret that I should be under the necessity of paining you by that answer; I cannot accept the offer you have made me, but I shall always remember your good opinion, and liberality of sentiment, with gratitude."
"I did not ask for gratitude," replied he reproachfully, "what good will that do me? Besides I do not see that I deserve it."
"You have judged me kindly, my lord; you have given me credit for rectitude, nay you have exerted yourself to prove it, when others might have thought and acted very differently."
"Yes; I dare say—some who did not know you as well, might have judged you harshly, but Emma, dear, beautiful Emma, I knew you could not be wrong. I have loved you so dearly, and I never loved any woman before, it is very hard you will not like me in return."
"I cannot, my lord," said she, her eyes filling with tears, "I have no love to bestow on any one, my heart is—" she stopped abruptly.
He looked very fixedly at her, and then said,
"You _did_ love Howard."
She raised her eyes proudly for a moment, but there was nothing of impertinence in his look or tone, nothing which need offend her; and moved by her feelings at the moment she exclaimed,
"Yes I _did_ love him—how can I listen to your suit?"
He looked down intently, and taking up one of her embroidery needles thrust it backwards and forwards through the corner of her work, for some minutes, with an energy which ended in breaking the needle itself—then again addressing her he said in a feeling tone.
"Poor fellow, he did not live to know that, I am sorry for him!"
There was something in the manner of this very unexpected admission which quite overpowered Emma's heroism; it was so different from what she had expected; she covered her face and burst into tears.
He sat looking at her, then said, "Don't Miss Watson, pray don't cry—it makes me so very uncomfortable; but indeed I do pity our poor friend, and the more so because loving you so very much myself, I feel what he has lost; and I am so sorry for you too; you must have felt it—the shock of his death I mean."
Emma's sobs quite prevented her speaking, but she struggled to suppress her tears, and presently succeeded in mastering her agitation.
"Did you know he loved you?" asked Lord Osborne suddenly.
"I did, but not till this very morning," answered she, hardly conscious of what she was saying.
He was again silent for a good while, but ended with saying firmly,
"With such feelings, I cannot expect you to listen to my suit, and will not torment you with it. Remember you have not a sincerer friend in the world than myself, or one who would do more to prove his good opinion. And I do not say it merely to be thanked—as I mean to shew you whenever I can."
He took her hand this time, and pressed it, looked at it as he held it for a moment, and then as she drew it away, he rose and left the room.
She was quite surprised at the way in which the interview had terminated; he had shewn so much good feeling, so much less of selfishness than she had been in the habit of mentally attributing to him; there was no indignation, no wounded pride, no pique or resentment at her refusal; it was almost as if he had thought more of her disappointment than of his own, and regarded her feelings as of more consequence than his attachment. Her opinion of him had never been so high as when she thus declined his proposals: she felt that with a suitable wife, one who could value his good qualities, improve his tastes, and really love him, he might in time turn out a very estimable character.
If he were but as fortunate in his selection of a partner, as his sister had been, there was every probability of his equalling her in domestic happiness. She did not regret her own decision, but she regretted that he should have been so unfortunate as to love where no return could be given; if he had but chosen one whose heart was disengaged;—but as for herself, _she_ was not the woman who could really make him happy; she had not the energy and decision of character requisite for his wife; she did not wish to govern, and she felt that she could only be happy, in proportion as she respected as well as loved her husband; unless she could trust his judgment and lean on him, she felt convinced she should despise him and be miserable.
When the family met at dinner, Lord Osborne was there, and she had not the slightest hint as to his probable departure; but there was nothing in his conduct or manners to create unpleasant feelings, or reveal the past to lookers on. There was but little said in their small circle that evening; the shock had been too recent to be yet so soon rallied from. Lady Gordon had been so very much attached to Mr. Howard; from her girlhood he had been her peculiar admiration, and her standard of excellence as a clergyman: the only wonder was that this attachment had continued on both sides so entirely platonic; that considering their opportunities of intercourse there had never been any approach to love. But so it was—whether there was too much pride on both sides, or whether her heart had been unknowingly engrossed by Sir William Gordon, she could not have told, but certainly, though they had talked and jested, quarrelled and been reproved, agreed and differed for the last four years, they had never passed the temperate zone of friendship, and her sorrow at his death was expressed fully, unreservedly, bitterly, without exciting the shadow of jealousy in her husband's mind. Indeed he fully sympathised in her feelings for he had loved and highly valued Howard, whom he had known intimately at College, before he became the young lord's tutor.
Fanny Carr was the only member of the party who seemed quite unaffected by what had occurred, but she was out of temper about something which concerned herself, and was fortunately silent.
Emma went to her friend's dressing-room the next morning by particular desire to breakfast quietly with her, whilst Sir William was sent down to do the honours of the house to Miss Carr and his brother-in-law.
"I want to talk to you, my dear friend," said Lady Gordon, "but I hardly know how to begin—about this shocking affair—poor, dear Mr. Howard, is it not sad?"
Emma's eyes filled with tears, and she could not answer.
"I thought so," said Lady Gordon, earnestly gazing at her face, "I knew your heart—you have, of us all, the most reason to regret his death."
Emma continued silent, for she had no voice to speak.
"You are not angry with me for the suggestion," continued Rosa, taking her hand, "I would not offend or vex you, but I cannot help expressing my interest in your feelings. It was so natural that you should return his affection."
"You knew of his love then," sobbed Emma.
"I could not help seeing what was so very evident, but you, doubtless, were better informed on the subject?" replied Lady Gordon, with some curiosity.
Emma controlled her feelings enough to give her a sensible account of the letter which she had received the morning previous; that precious letter which had doubled her sorrow, and made her feel her misfortune so much more deeply.
"How very sad," cried Lady Gordon, "and that was really the first you heard of his attachment—the first declaration you had from him; it must have broken your heart. I can imagine in some degree what you have felt. Had he been alive what answer would you have returned?"
"What answer?" exclaimed Emma, "how can you ask, Lady Gordon—you _know_ what I should have said; that his love was dearer to me than all the wealth of the country, or the honors of the peerage!"
"Poor girl—you will never recover from such a shock."
"Never, never—I can never love another, or cease to regret the one I have so sadly lost. Time can only increase my regret. But we must not think only of ourselves, what must his sister have felt—dear Lady Gordon, think of her; how I wish I were near her, to love and comfort her."
"Poor thing," sighed Lady Gordon, "yes I do pity her. She was very fond of him, and she can never have another brother."
Just at this moment a gentle tap was heard at the door; Lady Gordon gave her permission to enter; and the opening door displayed to their astonished eyes, Howard himself.
Yes, there he was, to all appearance perfectly well,—the man whom they had been mourning over as dead, stood before them in flesh and blood, with no other difference from his usual air, than that he looked rather flushed with exercise, and somewhat surprised at his reception.
"Mr. Howard!" gasped Lady Gordon, scarcely believing her senses.
Emma was speechless with twenty different feelings.
"I fear I am an unwelcome visitor," said he, amazed at his reception; "shall I withdraw?"
Before either of the ladies could reply, Sir William precipitately entered the room; he had apparently been in the act of dressing, for he made his appearance without a coat, and unmindful of where he was, he rushed up to Howard, and actually embracing him in the excitement of his joy, exclaimed:
"My dear fellow, twenty millions of welcomes to you, how came you here—we never thought to see you again!"
Lady Gordon too, had risen, and clasping both his hands in hers, she exclaimed:
"Oh, how I rejoice to see you alive—you cannot think how we all grieved when we heard you were dead!"
It was now Howard's turn to look bewildered: he turned from the husband to the wife in uncontrollable amazement, and said:
"May I ask what is the meaning of all this—are you performing a comedy or acting a charade!"
"Why I suppose," said Sir William, recovering himself a little, "we do all seem rather frantic to you, since you must be alike ignorant of our anxieties and the relief your presence has occasioned. The fact is, we heard you were dead!"
"Indeed!" exclaimed Howard.
"Take care, or Mr. Howard will begin to believe it too, and that will frighten him," said Rosa, laughing almost hysterically.
"But do tell me what you thought was the matter with me," said Howard impatiently.
"We heard you had fallen and been killed amongst the rocks," said Sir William, "and we were very unhappy about it. I assure you, you have been wept by bright eyes, and fair cheeks have turned pale at the news of your death. There is not a man in the whole county has been more talked of than you; the news of your melancholy death reached us in the gayest moment of a _fête_, sent Lady Gordon into fits, and all the company out of the house, broke up the dance, interrupted six tender flirtations and three rubbers at whist, in short, caused more unhappiness, disappointment, and dismay, than an ordinary individual would reasonably expect to excite either living or dying."
"Really it is a very uncommon fate for a man to hear the lamentations occasioned by his death, and if what you say is not exaggerated, Sir William, I ought to be greatly flattered," replied Howard smiling, but at the same time looking round the room to see what was become of the one face, whose expression he was most anxious to read. But Emma was gone; she had left the room without a word of congratulatory greeting, or a single expression of interest.
"I cannot think how you can jest about so serious an affair, William," said his wife reproachfully, "you did not jest, however, whilst you believed it; he is not quite without feeling, Mr. Howard."
"And did you honor me with tears, Lady Gordon?" said the young clergyman, taking her hand with an irrepressible feeling of gratification. "That was a thing almost worth dying for."
"Come, come," said Sir William interposing, "do not be making love to Rosa before my face; though she did cry, hers were not the only tears shed on the occasion, nor the most flattering to you."
"Who else wept for me?" enquired he with something more than curiosity.
"Your old housekeeper, and your gardener's daughter," replied Lady Gordon maliciously.
"Abominable conceit—who else do you expect to hear of?" exclaimed she, "I declare all men are alike, if you give the smallest encouragement to their good opinion of themselves, they set no bounds to their presumptuous expectations. I shall tell you no more. Find out for yourself who feels any interest in your fate."
"Miss Carr expressed great sensibility on the occasion," interrupted Sir William, "I was dancing with her at the time the news arrived, and she said:
"'Dear me, how very shocking—poor young man.'"
"Thank you," replied Howard with a glow of satisfaction, "you have told me quite enough to satisfy a much less modest man than I am. I have heard sufficient. But I think I know how the report arose. I _was_ left behind at a riding party, as the girth of my saddle broke, and I stopped at a country shop to get it repaired. I dare say in the imperfect Welsh which was all we could muster of the country's language, there was some confusion made between a broken girth and a broken neck, which gave rise to the distressing intelligence."
"That may be very possible," replied Lady Gordon, "but I shall never in future believe any report of your misfortunes again, and if you want me to grieve again for you, you must break your neck in good earnest."
"Excuse me, but I have no wish to cause you any concern, Lady Gordon, or to put your feelings to such a test."
"By the bye, when did you arrive, Howard?" enquired the baronet.
"About two hours ago; and I own I was rather surprised to find my house shut up, and nobody at home; but if my servants thought me dead, it was all very natural."
"No doubt they will tell you they were afraid of remaining lest you should walk again," observed Sir William.
"As I do not know when they will return," continued he, "and I do not wish to break into my house, I must throw myself on your hospitality for to-day, if you will receive a poor wanderer."
Of course he was made extremely welcome by his friends, and invited to remain as long as was convenient. It was very pleasant to be so kindly received; but there was another voice he was longing to hear welcome him, another hand he wished to press, another smile to bless his eyes. As soon as he could he left Lady Gordon, and went to look for Emma. In the breakfast-room, the library, the conservatory, the flower-garden he sought her, but in vain; in fact she had shut herself into her own room, to give utterance, in grateful thanks, to the emotions which swelled her heart; emotions far too powerful for words.
At the moment she could not have encountered him with anything like a due and decorous dignity; had she seen him, she must have been guilty of expressing too warmly her interest in his welfare: it would not do to flatter him with a knowledge how very glad she was at his having safely returned; for he was but a man, and as such, liable of course to all the foibles of mankind: the vanity, the triumph, the selfish gratification which such a dangerous knowledge would create. She thought very well of him certainly, but the temptation to conceit might be too strong, and she might have to rue the day if she placed such confidence in him.
No, she would not see him till her feelings were in better order, and more under her own control.
Such was her resolution as she sought the shelter of her dressing-room; it did not occur to her, that he might consider he had a claim on her attention, and a right to demand an interview with her; a claim and a right which no man very much in love could be expected to forego.
Having been quite unsuccessful in his search for her, he took a very plain and straight-forward course to obtain what he wished, going to Lady Gordon for assistance.
"Will you be my friend," said he, appealing to her with a look of great concern, "my friend in a very important matter."
"Have I ever been otherwise, why should you ask?" replied she.
"Then procure me an interview with Emma—I cannot find her any where, and I cannot exist longer in suspense. Dear Lady Gordon, do pray have pity on me!"
"Yes!" replied she, affecting to look very grave, "I have pity on you; and since you wish so much for an interview, I will try and procure one, that is if Emma is not absolutely bent on refusing to hear you. But are you prepared—can you stand the shock which awaits you?"
"Good Heavens! what do you mean, Lady Gordon?" cried he, catching her hand in his with an accent of alarm.
"Why, what do you expect?" said she, withdrawing her hand, "but that she will refuse you; what else can you anticipate?"
"Refuse me, why—do not torment me—I am _not_ afraid—" he added, trying to smile.
"Upon my word, a very modest speech!" exclaimed she, "so you feel no alarm—tranquil self-confidence possesses your soul. Emma will be intensely gratified!"
"Dear Lady Gordon—" said he, pleadingly; but she would not listen.
"So I am to call Miss Watson down to you, persuading her to come with an assurance, that you feel so confident of what her answer will be that you entertain no anxiety, no alarm. Is that what I am to say?"
"Say anything you please, Lady Gordon," exclaimed he, in desperation, "only procure me the sight of Miss Watson, and the opportunity to speak to her."
"Very well, go to the library, and I will bring her there."
He anxiously hastened to the rendezvous she appointed; she crossed the gallery to her friend's dressing-room.
On obtaining admission, she found Emma had been lying on the sofa in a darkened room; she sat down by her, and affectionately kissing her forehead and cheek, she said,
"I am come to congratulate you, my dear Miss Watson, that our imaginary tragedy has proved an entire fable—Mr. Howard is quite well, and all the loss on the occasion is that of a very pleasant dance, which I had intended should be very much enjoyed."
"It seems so strange and incomprehensible," observed Emma, putting back the ringlets from her forehead, "I could hardly believe my eyes, or credit my senses, and as to speaking, that was out of the question. I hope you did not think me very rude if you noticed me, but the only thing I could do, was to run away."
"But now you have recovered your self-possession, and the use of your speech, I hope you do not mean to seclude yourself here all day; pray come and join us all. You had better."
"Perhaps I had," said Emma, "I will come with you in a moment; just let me smooth my hair first."
"It is very nice I assure you, but I will wait as long as you please."
Miss Carr and Sir William were in the sitting-room; but Lady Gordon did not stop there; to the great relief of Emma, who dreaded the remarks of the young lady, they walked into the conservatory, through it, and entered from the other end the library window.
Lord Osborne and Mr. Howard were there together, but the former instantly took flight at their approach. Lady Gordon still keeping Emma's hand under her own arm, led her up to Mr. Howard, and said,
"I have brought my friend to congratulate the dead-alive, Mr. Howard; she was wishing to say civil speeches to you like the rest of us, but as I have done my duty in that way, and a twice told tale is tedious, I shall leave you, to go after my brother."
As Emma had held out her hand to the gentleman, she could not follow Lady Gordon in her flight, though looking exceedingly inclined to do so; for he held her with a gentle pressure, and would not let her go. His eyes were so earnestly bent upon hers, that she dared not look up after the one glance she had given him; and she stood, her slender fingers trembling in his grasp, longing to speak, but wanting courage to break the silence.
"I am glad Miss Watson is not to be the only one from whom I hear no word of welcome," said he gently. "If you knew how very grateful I should feel for one sentence of kindness—even one look which evinced interest, could you refuse me?"
"I assure you, Mr. Howard," said she, determined no longer to stand silently blushing like a criminal before him; "I assure you it was not want of interest, or kindly feeling towards you, which kept me silent."
"Thank you—you were glad to see me again?"
"Indeed I was."
"And you guess—you must know and feel why I hurried home?"
"No, indeed," but the words were accompanied by so very deep a blush, that they looked exceedingly like a falsehood.
"There was a letter, which I wrote, but to which I received no answer, which hurried my movements—do you now know what I mean?"
"I believe I do," she uttered in desperation finding he seemed determined she should answer him.
"And though you would not write, you will condescend now to answer that letter by word of mouth," taking her hand in both of his; "I am sure you are too generous wilfully to torment me—and if you had known how much pain your silence gave me, you would not have allowed it to last so long."
"Mr. Howard," said Emma, looking up, but making no attempt to withdraw her hand; "I only received that letter yesterday morning; and as I then thought you were dead—you cannot imagine the pain which the receipt of it occasioned _me_."
She spoke hurriedly, without considering the full value of her words; but _he_ saw the implied meaning—where was the man ever blind to such a compliment. The speech he made on the occasion, was a great deal too rapturous and lover-like to bear transcribing, indeed, when lovers' speeches really come from the heart, they would seldom be sufficiently intelligible to interest general readers. There is so much understood by the pressure of the hands—so much explained by the language of the eyes—and so much made up by other signs well-known to the initiated, but unnecessary to detail to those who have never gone through such an ordeal, that in most cases it seems probable an accurate relation in words would be the most tiresome, the most incomprehensible, the most ridiculous thing in the world to those not taking a principal part in it.
Where the heart takes but a small share in the proceedings, indeed, fine speeches may be made, but where the affections are engaged, the meaning can be perfectly understood without them.
The result of his speech, and Emma's answer, was much more favorable to his happiness, than the reply which she had made the previous day to a similar question from Lord Osborne. She acknowledged that she loved him, and that the dread of being poor, or the desire of being great, would not prevent her promising to become his wife.
When the first effervescence of his joy had subsided, and he was able to speak in a calm and reasonable manner, and consider what was best to be done, he urged her to come out with him into the park, as the first step to securing her company perfectly undisturbed—for, in the library, they were constantly exposed to be interrupted. Here she tried to obtain from him some rational account as to why he had tantalised her so long by deferring an explanation—which, for any thing she could see to the contrary, might just as well, or better, have been made long before. Since he professed he had loved her even before she went to Croydon, why did he take no steps to tell her so; or why, since he ended in writing, did he not write to her there? Was it necessary to go as far as North Wales to find courage for such an epistle.
He told her it was doubt and want of courage kept him silent—then he contradicted himself and said it was really jealousy of Lord Osborne. He had believed the young baron loved her.
So he might, perhaps, was Emma's reply—but what had that to do with it; to make the admiration dangerous, it was necessary that she should return his affection, "and surely, you never suspected me of that?" said she.
"How could I tell? Might you not naturally be dazzled with the idea of a coronet; why, should I have interfered with your advantage or advancement?"
"As if it would be to my advantage to marry a man like Lord Osborne," replied Emma. "I do not wish to say anything derogatory to your friends, or to Lady Gordon's brother, but indeed I think you might have given me credit for rather a different taste at least. I have no wish either to flatter you too much; but I fancy, whether better or worse, _our_ tastes are more consonant than mine and Lord Osborne's."
"But, my dearest Emma, did he not love you?"
"What right have you to ask me any such questions, Mr. Howard? so long as I assure you, I did not love him, that ought to be sufficient for you—let his feelings remain a secret."
"There should be no secrets between us, Emma."
"Very well—but there shall be between Lord Osborne and me."
"For shame, Emma, I shall certainly forbid anything of the kind."
"Set me the example of sincerity and openness then, tell me to how many ladies you have made love—how many hopeless and inextinguishable flames you have nourished, and how many hearts you have found obdurate to your finest speeches."
Mr. Howard protested he had never loved any other woman, never sought any other hand than hers, and never made fine speeches to any one. With all his eloquence and ability he was not able to extract from her the fact, that she had refused Lord Osborne. She had two motives for her silence; a feeling of delicacy towards her rejected suitor, and a decided determination not to flatter Howard's vanity by such a mark of her preference. She thought it quite enough for him to know himself accepted without learning, at least at present, how many she had refused for his sake.
Lady Gordon, and her husband, learnt with sincere pleasure, that a happy understanding had been established between Emma and her lover; they both hinted that the disappointment to Lord Osborne would not be lasting, and that the attachment would on the whole have done him good. He had improved so much during its progress, had become so sociable and civilised by his affection, that he seemed a different person; and whilst rejoicing at the change, they trusted he would not relapse under the effects of his want of success, but would prove himself worthy of his place in society, and his position in the world.
As to the young man himself, he felt his disappointment most acutely, but it did not make him more selfish than he had been. On the contrary it seemed to give rise to a magnanimity of sentiment which could hardly have been expected from him.
Two days after the engagement it was found he went down to see Howard at the vicarage immediately after the post had come in. That morning he had received an announcement of the death of the old rector before mentioned. He now hastened to offer the living to Howard, delighted to have it in his power thus to improve his circumstances.
"Howard," said he, "I have learnt by this letter that the living of Carsdean is vacant. I am glad of it—as I am sure it will make you much more comfortable. Will you accept it?"
"My dear lord," said he, with much emotion, "you are too kind to me: I am ashamed to accept such a benefit, when I have robbed you of what you so much desired."
"Do not speak of that," said the other, "she took her choice, and no doubt chose wisely; I always _felt_ you were beloved, Howard, even whilst I was fool enough to flatter myself with success: but I am not angry either with her or you, and since I cannot make her happy myself, I am glad I can help you to do so. This living was always meant for you—but coming as it does just now, it gives me very great pleasure."
"I knew you were generous," replied Howard, "and I can feel how much satisfaction the power of obliging must confer."
"Make her happy, Howard, and when I can, I will come and see you, but it is best at first that we should be apart. You accept my wedding gift!"
"A noble one, like the heart which dictates it, and a welcome one indeed since it removes the only obstacle to my marriage," replied Howard.
"Howard, you are a lucky man; I would have given half my income to have had the power of persuading her to accept the other half. You know, I dare say, that she refused me?"
"Did not Emma tell you? She _did_ refuse me, and I loved her the better for it, for it was entirely for _your_ sake; but as I thought you were dead then I did not take it so much to heart, because I trusted to time and perseverance when my rival was removed."
"And when I came back and destroyed your dream, how you must have hated me! I wonder you could shake hands as you did, and say you were glad to see me."
"Howard," said Lord Osborne with much agitation, "if I thought you were serious in what you say, I would never speak to you again; I _know_ you only say it to torment me, but is that generous when you are the winning party?"
"I beg your pardon," said Howard holding out his hand; and no more was said on the subject.
"What a pity it is," said Emma Watson to Howard when he was joyfully detailing to her his happy prospects, and Lord Osborne's generosity, "what a pity it is that Lord Osborne's manners are so inferior to his mind. With so much good feeling and generosity of sentiment, it is unfortunate that he should have so little engaging in his appearance and address."
"I do not think so at all, Emma, for if his manners had been such as you admire, and calculated to set off his good qualities, you would certainly have been lost to me."
"What abominable conceit!" cried Emma; "you really take credit to yourself, do you, for such very captivating manners yourself, since you think that those alone are the passports to my good opinion."
"I did not mean to say that; I trust my other good qualities are so remarkable that you have, in their favour, overlooked any little deficiencies which might otherwise strike you in my manners."
"Modest, truly! What is the income of the living which his lordship presents to you?"
"About a thousand a year, I believe, and a very pretty country and pleasant neighbourhood. I have been there, and always thought I should like it so very much."
"I am quite sorry to leave this pretty place though," said Emma looking at the Vicarage near which they were wandering; "I am sure the other cannot have so pleasant a garden, nor so pleasant a little drawing-room. Those were happy days when we were snowed up there."
They then went off into a long series of reminiscences and explanations through which it would be useless, were it possible, to follow them.
Emma spent one very happy week at the Castle after her engagement; which was not the less agreeable to every one concerned because both Lord Osborne and Miss Carr left it. He quitted his house immediately after the conversation above recorded; and she then decided that her visit had been long enough to such dreadfully dull people as Rosa and her husband were become: so she took leave of her dear friends and returned, unsuccessful, home.
At the end of a week, Mr. Howard found it necessary to go too; there was business connected with his new living which must be attended to, and unwillingly he tore himself away.
Mrs. Willis still continued in Wales, for though Charles was better, and indeed daily gaining strength, the physicians had so strongly recommended sea air for the re-establishment of his health, that his mother had decided on spending the summer on the sea-coast there.
Howard's departure proved, however, only the prelude to Emma's return to Croydon. Elizabeth's marriage was fast approaching, and she pressed to see Emma again before that event. The idea of again becoming an inmate of Robert's house was so very repulsive to Emma that she demurred from that reason alone, and she was much more inclined to accede to Miss Bridge's repeated invitations to return to Burton. But this Elizabeth urged would be doing no good at all; fourteen miles would as effectually preclude daily meetings as forty, and would be only tantalizing instead of comfortable. The affair was at length arranged through the intervention of Mr. Bridge, who invited both his sister and her young friend to take up their residence for a time in his Vicarage at Croydon. And so it was settled at last, and after a hundred kind words and caresses from Lady Gordon, and the most cordial good wishes from her husband, Emma left the Castle, travelling, be it recorded, in one of Sir William's carriages half the way, where she was to be met by Miss Bridge's chariot, to convey her the latter half of the journey.
With no accident and no adventure she reached Croydon, and of course received a far warmer welcome than when she had formerly made the same journey.
Elizabeth was waiting to receive her—her face was seen through the flowers in the drawing-room window, and she reached the entrance door, and ran down the steps to open the carriage before the fat, well-powdered footman had time to put on his livery coat. She led her sister into the house, and in the passage pushed back the bonnet and the dark curls from her cheeks, to see if she was as pretty as ever. Then, before leading her into the drawing-room, she paused again to make her guess who she would find there.
Emma suggested Mr. and Miss Bridge.
"You little goose," replied Elizabeth, "as if I should have thought it worth while to make you guess that!"
Then throwing open the door she ushered her in, and in another moment Emma was clasped in the arms of her dear brother Sam. This was a very unexpected pleasure—she had hoped to see him certainly, but never for a moment anticipated meeting him so soon. It was the joint kindness of Miss Bridge and Elizabeth; the one well remembering the affectionate terms in which Emma always spoke of her brother had been suggesting the possibility of his coming, and the other eager to carry out the plan had persuaded George Millar to ask him to his house for the week preceding the wedding. He had arrived that very afternoon, and after an introduction to his future brother, had accompanied Elizabeth to meet Emma.
Emma had much to communicate to Sam; besides her own prospects she had matters which must be interesting to him as concerning himself. A farewell visit which she had paid to the Edwards had brought another engagement to her knowledge. Mary Edwards was soon to be married to Captain Hunter. She found them _tête-à-tête_ in the parlour when she entered, and appearances were so very suspicious, that even without the direct information which Mrs. Edwards subsequently whispered to her, she would have concluded her brother's cause to be lost.
Mrs. Edwards appeared on the whole better reconciled to the match than Emma, from her early recollections, would have supposed. Perhaps she had discouraged Mary's partiality for the Captain, from a doubt of his sincerity, which was now removed; or perhaps finding herself in the minority, she had given up her previous objections, because it was no use to persist in them; whatever were her feelings, she had received Emma's congratulations with a good grace, and Emma hoped there was no ill-will implied in the message of compliments which she charged her to deliver to their old acquaintance Mr. Sam Watson.
All this she had to communicate to Sam, who listened with philosophy, and whistled _sotto voce_ instead of an answer. Certainly the part which piqued him most was Mrs. Edwards' message; for some time indeed he had almost despaired of Mary's affection, but he could not bear that the mother who had never been his friend, should suppose he cared at all about it.
There seemed nothing wanting to complete the felicity of the happy party assembled at the Rectory of Croydon. Perhaps indeed Mr. Howard would not have been flattered had he supposed this the case; but so it really was; Emma had parted from him so recently that she hardly felt the want of his society yet, and the satisfaction of knowing herself beloved was at present sufficient for her repose of mind. The agitations and anxieties of suspense were over, and were followed by a calmness and peace of mind which seemed all that she could require. She had now as much to hear as to tell, for Sam had been to Chichester, and seen Penelope and her husband, had arranged the plan for his future establishment, and his prospects were of a very bright character. Could he only have commanded a couple of thousand pounds, besides what he possessed, there would have been no difficulty at all in stepping into a comfortable house and flourishing business. As it was, the prospects which Penelope promised him should be realized in a short time, were sufficient to raise his mind and ease his spirits.
The next morning Emma had a succession of visitors. Miss Millar was among the first and gayest of the number. She came up with Sam immediately after breakfast, to spend a long day, and expressed great satisfaction at seeing her again.
"You cannot think how dreadfully dull I have been," said she, "almost ever since you went away. George being in love is the stupidest thing in the world. Formerly when he had done with his business, and escaped from his offices he used to be glad of my society and would read or walk when I wanted him, but now all that is quite changed, and if I do get a speech from him once in a week I am taught to consider it a great favour. Upon my word it is a sad disease."
"They say it is infectious," said Emma, laughing.
"Oh I trust not," cried Annie quite seriously, "I hope I shall escape the infection, I have such a horror of the whole thing. I beg the pardon of all such of the present company who may be engaged, but I think that people in love are very ridiculous."
"Can you always discern at the first glance when they have the disease," enquired Miss Bridge good-humouredly.
"Yes I think I can—but happily it leaves no marks, and when it is passed, people may be as amiable as before. But it's a sad thing that young people should be so constantly exposed to the danger. I hope you will keep clear Emma, in spite of the atmosphere to which you have removed."
"Is it worse than when I was here two months ago?" enquired Emma, secretly smiling at her young friend's remarks.
"We shall soon see," replied Annie; "if there were any one to fall in love with here, I am certain you would be in a dangerous position."
"Well, why should you except me?" said Mr. Bridge, "here I am a bachelor, why may I not aspire to be considered as a dangerous individual?"
"You, my dear Mr. Bridge—because you are engaged to me; you know you long ago promised to marry me yourself," replied Annie.
"I am flattered at your remembering our engagement, young lady, but I am astonished that you are left so long to me without competition; I think you must be something like Beatrice."
"No, I never had lovers to mock," said she, "except Mr. Alfred Fremantle, and he is the facsimile of Sir John Suckling's constant lover, or rather he resembles him in constancy, but has none of his wit to express it. What is it he says—
"I have been in love three days, And shall be three days more."
"I cannot remember the words exactly, but it is something to that effect."
Sam turned round from the window, and repeated the lines to which Annie alluded. She looked astonished.
"How came you to know them?" said she.
"I read them amongst his poems," was his answer.
"I thought you were a surgeon, Mr. Samuel Watson," said she still in amazement, "and though never doubting that you knew a great deal of anatomy and such things, did not expect you would be acquainted with love poetry."
"And is it to want of taste or want of time, Miss Millar, that you would attribute my imaginary ignorance?"
"I do not wish to offend you, but certainly I had expected a surgeon's tastes to be different; and I should have referred a case of dislocation or fracture to you, with much more faith than a failure of memory."
"You thought I could mend your finger better than a broken verse, and that though I might make you whole, I should make a line halt—was that it?"
"I believe it was, and my amazement is so great, I do not know when I shall recover," replied she saucily.
"I know you always had a strong prejudice against the medical profession," said Mr. Bridge smiling, "you considered one specimen the type of the whole class."
"I am delighted to hear it," exclaimed Sam, "I like of all things to meet with prejudiced people, one has such a pleasure in disputing with them; good, strong prejudices are delightful things, they are so constantly changing their color and complexion; for I have often observed a strong dislike converted into a decided approbation, whilst the owner is unaware of the change, and gravely assures you he never alters his mind."
"That must be a man's prejudice, Mr. Watson," said Annie, "women are much more consistent. I have hated doctors, surgeons and apothecaries ever since I was five years old, and Mr. Morgan gave me some _bon-bons_ which made me sick. I have always distrusted them since that."
"I am not at all surprised," said Sam, with much gravity; "such an offence was unpardonable, and well deserves to be visited on the whole of the medical profession by your unchanging and unmitigated contempt. After this we cannot allow your dislike to be called a prejudice!"
"Is your brother always as impertinent to every young woman as he is to me?" enquired Annie, turning to Emma, "he seems determined to quarrel with me—has he naturally a bad temper?"
"Really I do not know," replied Emma, "I have seen so little of him, and never with any other young ladies; do you imagine want of temper a necessary accompaniment to his profession?"
"Oh no, I am not quite so bad as that," said she laughing, "doctors ought to be particularly bland and insinuating, able to make all the bitter realities they inflict on one, pass easily under the sweetening cover of a smile and honied words."
They were interrupted by the arrival of other visitors. Emma having just arrived from a prolonged visit to Lady Gordon at Osborne Castle, was likely to become a very popular character at Croydon; there was so much virtue comprised in the friendship of a baronet's wife, and as it was whispered, the admiration of her brother; for accounts of his visit to Croydon had been whispered abroad, and such an act could only be attributed to one motive. All her former acquaintance looked on her as a baroness elect, and all began to find out what a very charming girl they had always thought her. They would not for the world neglect calling on that sweet, amiable Emma Watson. They were so delighted to see her back again; they were so eager that she should make a long stay amongst them all. Croydon would be so gay with all that was going on. The three Miss Watsons had been such a very great addition, it had never been like itself since they came.
Amongst her visitors were her sister-in-law and niece. Emma was really glad to see the little girl, who clung to her and begged her to come back again very soon, as she had no one to teach her now so nicely as she had been used to do.
"My dear Emma," cried Jane, "how delighted I am to see you again, and so blooming as you are looking; upon my word, I really begin to see what Mr. Morgan once said of our likeness. I hope you left your kind friends at the Castle well—charming young man Lord Osborne; nothing of hauteur or pride about him. He seemed quite at home with me—but, to be sure, when people have lived in the same sort of society, they acquire a sort of ease towards each other. I cannot make out that he knew my uncle, Sir Thomas, but he reminded me very much of some of the young men that I used to see at his house."
Here she paused, and Emma, thinking some sort of remark necessary, and yet not having the least idea what she was expected to reply to, only ventured to enquire for her brother.
"Mr. Watson? oh, he is well enough, I believe! I have not seen him this morning, however, for he breakfasted early with Elizabeth; I believe, if he can, he will come and see you some day, but indeed, Emma, you must come to us. We have plenty of room, and should you have any friends coming, we could easily accommodate them too. I would not mind putting myself to any inconvenience for your sake, my dear."
"I am sure I feel much obliged, but at present I mast decline your offers," said Emma, trying to speak with warmth.
"Oh, no, not at all, I assure you, you could expect nothing less from us; _we_, you know, are your nearest relations, and under certain circumstances, _we_ may naturally be expected to show our approbation and patronage; every young woman has a claim on her own family; so you will certainly come back to us."
"Indeed I must decline Jane," said Emma firmly, "at least, for the present."
"And indeed, dear, I will not take a refusal, so I shall certainly get a room ready for you, and another shall be prepared for a friend whenever it is needed. Did you leave Lord Osborne at the Castle, did you say?"
Emma replied in the negative of course.
"Really, for so young a man," continued Mrs. Watson, "his air and manner were remarkable; so exceedingly high-bred and aristocratic. I have seldom seen manners which delighted me more, I assure you. Don't blush so, my dear," added she, making believe to whisper; "nobody here knows anything about him, except you and me."
"Then allow me to suggest that, as a reason for dropping the subject," said Emma, "and recurring to some one more generally interesting."
"La, my dear," laughed Jane, "it looks very suspicious, your not choosing to talk of him. However, if you don't like it, I will say no more—I would not vex you for the world, my dear sister—what a sweet pretty gown that is you have on; Lady Gordon's choice, beyond a doubt."
"No, indeed," replied Emma, smiling, "but I dare say Miss Bridge remembers choosing it for me, whilst we were at Burton."
"What sort of bonnets are most in fashion, Emma?" asked Jane, "Elizabeth's wedding bonnet is, to my taste, vastly ugly; not that I pretend to be a judge at all,—though I used to be thought to have some taste—but I dare say, she was quite right not to take my advice; one must not expect to be always judged candidly—every one cannot see one's merits; so I am not surprised—how are heads worn now?"
Emma tried to recall and describe some of the bonnets she had seen at Lady Gordon's _fête_, but Mrs. Watson pronounced her description unsatisfactory, wished she had been there to see it, and wondered Margaret had never thought of asking her over for that day. She might have done it so easily, Jane was sure, and considering how very kind Jane had been to Margaret, and how large a share Robert had had in bringing about her marriage, she thought it was the least she could have done, to shew her gratitude and mark her sense of former favors.
Emma tried to excuse Margaret, but fortunately, before she had wasted much eloquence in that way, Jane perceived it was time to withdraw.
No sooner was she out of the room than Sam returned from the window where he had ensconced himself during her visit, and exclaimed:
"Really, I hope it is not very wicked, but that woman puts me more out of patience than all the rest of the world of Croydon put together."
"The rest of the world of Croydon is infinitely obliged to you," said Annie Millar, walking up to him; "allow me, sir, as its representative, to make you a grateful curtsey on the occasion. You can bear with us all better than with your sister-in-law?"
She made him a saucy curtsey as she spoke, looking exceedingly pretty as she did so.
"You ought to be ashamed of yourself for such a speech, Sam," said Emma, at the same moment; "I am sure she meant to be kind."
"Yes, but who did she mean to be kind to, Emma? was it to Emma Watson or some imaginary future baroness," replied Sam.
"Why should I enquire into motives, or attribute a bad ones? She might have been just the same if Lord Osborne had never existed."
"I do not believe it," persisted he.
"Your brother wants to see how violent prejudices become him," said Annie Millar, "do not argue with him—he does not deserve it."
"Miss Millar is angry with me for the implied reflection on Croydon," said he, "but I knew she had not been brought up here, and never thought of her as belonging to the place."
"And what do you know of Croydon, to give you so dark an opinion of its inhabitants?" enquired she, "I do not think we slander, or court here worse than in other places."
"I have heard a great deal about you all, from my two sisters," replied he; "Emma especially, gave me lively pictures of your proceedings. I was well acquainted with you and your irreconcileable prejudices against unfortunate surgeons several months ago.
"Oh! you used to correspond with Emma, did you?" said she.
"To be sure I did; would not you write to your brother, Miss Millar?"
"Perhaps I might—but I do not think he would read it if I did—especially if I crossed the letter! George is not fond of letters!"
"But you like them yourself?"
"Oh yes! I should like to have seen Emma's to you. I am sure they would have been very interesting—does she not write very clever letters?"
"_I_ used to think them interesting and clever—but, perhaps, that was because I am only a surgeon, and could not be expected to have either taste or judgment," replied he, with mock humility.
"Oh, but I think you might have both on _that_ subject—your admiring Emma's letters is decidedly a proof of it."
"Even though I am a surgeon?"
"Yes, even though you are a surgeon."
"And though you have never seen any of those letters, the liking which secures your approbation?"
"Ah! you are too clever for me—you want to make me contradict myself, or something of that sort—but I will not argue with you, and then you cannot prove me wrong."
"You need not say you _will_ not—you _cannot_ argue; no woman can, they can only feel, and express those feelings."
"And taking the converse of your proposition, Mr. Samuel Watson, I presume that men surpass us so much in argument, because they have _no_ feelings. Am I to infer that?"
"We have them, but we guide them, not they us. It is exactly the reverse with you, and you never see more than one side of a question," replied he, in the most straightforward manner possible.
"Yes; you have some feelings very apparent," replied she, "contempt for women is evidently a prominent one."
"Contempt, Miss Millar! no indeed, you do me injustice, if you think so—but, perhaps, you imagine that a part of my profession?"
"I certainly think it one that hardens all the feelings," said she turning away and thus putting a stop to the conversation. It had been settled that the whole vicarage party were to dine at the Millars' that afternoon, and it now became time for those who did not belong to it, to return home to prepare for dinner. Elizabeth Watson, her brother, and Miss Millar accordingly set off together. Elizabeth taking Sam's arm, and Annie walking on her other side; they made the passage with scarcely a syllable passing between them; and as the Millars' house was nearer the vicarage than the residence of the Robert Watsons, Annie left them at the door of her house.
"What do you think of Annie Millar?" cried Elizabeth eagerly, as she and her brother proceeded together. "Is she not charming?"
"Yes, she is a very fine girl," replied he quietly.
"Oh, Sam," continued Elizabeth, "I do so wish you would like her; I have always thought she was exactly suited to you. She will have twenty thousand pounds of her own, and I am sure she is much better worth liking than Mary Edwards."
Elizabeth, in her open-hearted zeal for Sam's welfare, never for a moment reflected that she was taking the most probable way to prejudice him against her, since there is nothing which in general has more influence that way than a sister's praises; whilst the surest means to interest a man's favor for any young woman, is to abuse or find fault with her. True to his feelings as a man, Sam of course replied:
"If you reckon her merits by her pounds, I dare say she is, but I do not see otherwise in what she surpasses Mary Edwards."
Fortunately they had just arrived at the termination of their walk, and Sam having seen his sister safely deposited in the house, returned alone to George Millar's residence.
The evening was a very merry one, for the whole party was well assorted and in good spirits, in spite, as Annie observed, of the tremendous event hanging over some of them. But it was not Elizabeth's nature to be very pensive; positive evils did not make her sad, it was not likely then that what she firmly believed to be a positive good, would weigh heavily on her spirits. She was perfectly satisfied with her future prospects, and could look forward without any trembling emotion to her approaching fate. After dinner, when the ladies had returned to the drawing-room, Elizabeth, who was burning with anxiety to make known the fact of Emma's engagement, began enquiring of Annie, if she thought her sister changed since her visit to Osborne Castle. Miss Millar declared she was looking better, plumper, gayer, prettier than ever; but in no other respect was she altered.
"Then you do not suspect her of having fallen in love?" enquired Miss Watson laughingly.
"I see no trace of it," said the other, examining Emma from head to foot with a grave air, taking a candle from the chimney-piece to throw more light on her countenance. "I see no symptoms at all, pray do not attempt to raise such unfounded imputations against her, Elizabeth; your insinuations disgrace you!"
"Nay then, in my own justification I must inform you, Annie,—shall I tell, Emma—or do you blush to own the truth?" enquired Miss Watson with a significant smile.
"Not that she is engaged to that Lord Osborne!" cried Annie, starting back with horror, "you are not going to confirm the rumour which Miss Jenkins and Mrs. Watson so industriously circulate, and that brought Miss Morgan and Miss Fenton to call on her to-day. This can never be."
"My dear Annie," said Emma smiling quietly, "_that_ Lord Osborne, as you call him, is a very estimable young man, and would make any woman who liked him very happy I have no doubt."
"Indeed! well I hope he will, if you are going to marry him," said Annie with a mournful countenance and expression, that made Elizabeth laugh out-right, "but in that case, when you are Lady Osborne, we shall never see you again."
"I dare say not," replied Emma, "but, believe me, I never intend to be Lady Osborne, so your alarm is unfounded."
"And you are not engaged to him, and you are free—oh, how glad I am—I was sure you could not be," cried Annie quite rapturously.
Emma looked at Elizabeth and said,
"Finish the story, as you began it."
"Well then, Annie, I am sorry to lower your opinion of my sister, but as the fact must come sooner or later to your knowledge, and you seem now tolerably prepared to receive it, I have to make to you the distressing announcement that Emma is in reality engaged to be married, though not to Lord Osborne, who is not the only man in the world I assure you."
"Emma engaged to be married," said Annie with a desponding look, "then _I_ have no hope; the next thing I shall hear, is that my hand is disposed of; we shall none of us escape it. Dear Miss Bridge, how did you manage?"
"I would not recommend you to wish for my fate, my dear, I had a bitter disappointment," replied the old lady with extraordinary placidity.
"My dear madam," said Annie respectfully, and taking her hand as she spoke, "I beg your pardon a thousand times, but I assure you I did not know that, or I would not have jested on the subject."
"My dear child, the thing is too long passed to hurt my feelings now," said Miss Bridge smoothing down Annie's glossy hair as she inclined her head towards her; "but I do not think you would wish to buy my present peace of mind by undergoing all I have felt and suffered."
A pause ensued, which Mrs. Turner was the first to break.
"Well Elizabeth, do tell us what is the name of your sister's young man—who is he and what is he? I am longing to know all about it."
Elizabeth told them all she knew, and when she added that Lord Osborne had recently given him a valuable living, Emma enquired whether she was not right in saying that Lord Osborne was an estimable young man.
"What, because he has livings to dispose of?" said Annie. "I suppose he could not help that."
Emma was silent, but Elizabeth exclaimed,
"Oh! but you must understand that Lord Osborne was in love with her, and therefore, as he could not marry her himself, it was very generous of him to give his rival an income to enable _him_ to do so."
"Elizabeth!" said Emma reproachfully.
"Emma tries to make a mystery of it," continued her sister; "I cannot get her to own that Lord Osborne proposed to her; but I am sure if he did not, it was because she accepted Mr. Howard before he had time to do so."
The gentlemen at this juncture returned to the drawing-room, for neither of the three seemed disposed to prefer the bottle to the ladies, and Annie sat down to prepare tea. Sam approached the table, which was a little removed from the others, and tendered his assistance if necessary. She did not accept or decline his offer, but looked a little confused; he could not decide whether she was angry or vexed, and stood quietly by considering her countenance, and aiding her whenever she required more water from the elegant silver kettle which swung over a spirit-lamp in the place of our modern urn.
At length, when the others seemed engrossed with their tea and conversation, she raised her head and said, with a little embarrassment,
"I certainly owe you some apology, Mr. Watson, for the incivility of my last speech to you this afternoon. I am quite shocked to think I should have been so rude."
"Indeed, Miss Millar, I was not affronted, for I had known your opinion before, and I thought the apologies were rather due from me, since, though quite unintentionally, I had given you the idea that I entertained a contempt for women. I did not deserve that accusation, but my expressions must have been wrong, if they awoke such an idea."
Annie could not help feeling that even a surgeon might look very handsome, and that _his_ tone and manner might convey the conviction of his perfect sincerity: she liked him, in spite of his profession.
"Seriously, Mr. Watson, I should never accuse you of anything of the sort," returned she after a moment's reflection; "so I suppose we may pass an amnesty for past offences, and declare a truce for the present."
"Let it be a treaty of peace," said he playfully; "permanent peace."
"No," she replied shaking her head; "that would be promising too much. I shall be certain to quarrel with you again, and it does not do to break treaties. Do you know I was never, as a child, so much inclined to be naughty as when I had just promised to be very good. Let us content ourselves with a four hours' truce, renewable or not at the end of that time."
"Be it so," replied he laughing, "if you think that the safest proceeding or the most agreeable. So you were a naughty girl, were you, at school?"
"Oh, always in a scrape—the torment of my governess," said she laughing at the recollection. "They used gravely to shake their heads, and say they did not know what would become of me; I should never be good for anything; so idle—so rebellious—so mischievous—so saucy—and withal so merry and happy—I always got my own way with them all."
"And what did you learn at school, may I ask?"
"First to play at battledore and shuttle-cock, and repeat 'I love my love with an A,' &c.—then to dance—I liked that—then to do cross-stitch, tent and marking—I worked a magnificent sampler, which I will show you some day. Then I learnt my letters and to read, because they promised me some fairy tales if I would try. The next accomplishment I acquired was to do a sum in the rule of three, for which I was rewarded with 'Sir Charles Grandison,' in seven volumes. I do not know that I learnt anything else, except the way to govern all my companions, coax my superiors—oh, and write a letter."
"Well, I think it must have been a very good school, and if ever I have daughters they shall be sent there too. I admire the system exceedingly."
"Yes, I think it was a very good school," replied Annie; "to be sure, I learnt nothing worth knowing, and a great deal which I had better have let alone: one sees a prodigious deal of meanness, and manœuvring, and artful conduct when thirty or forty girls are assembled together; but I suppose it is all right, since it has gone on for so many generations, and I do not know that women are worse than they used to be before they ever pretended to learn. We do not expect to rival Lady Jane Grey, or Queen Elizabeth, or the daughters of Evelyn, and I dare say if we did, we should only be disliked and ridiculed. No doubt it is quite right that women should be idle and frivolous; it keeps us in our right places in the world."
She spoke with something in her tone between jest and bitterness, to which Sam hardly knew how to answer.
"I protest against your giving the conversation such a turn; it is breaking our truce," said he, "you must either speak in complete jest, or serious earnest. I shall be getting into a scrape again with you, if I answer now, for I do not know which you mean."
"Let it pass for a jest then, lest you should think me seriously discontented with my position in society," replied she, "and in the meantime, give me Miss Bridge's teacup to replenish!"
"She is an odd girl," thought he, "I wonder in what light she looks upon me!"
"After all, for a surgeon, he really is pleasant," thought she, "it is a pity he has such a bad profession, I am quite sorry for him."
It was with these feelings that they sat down to cards; after which, of course, they had no more private conversation until the company had left the house.
The week that preceded Elizabeth's wedding, seemed extremely short to the whole of the parties immediately concerned; every day was occupied with some excursion for their amusement, and every evening was passed at the house of some friendly acquaintance, who would not be refused the pleasure of their company. Nobody, at this epoch, was more popular than the future Mrs. George Millar; since her neighbours could not prevent her marriage, they were determined to extract as much pleasure from the occurrence as possible. For this end they gave a number of tea-parties to welcome her brother and say good-bye to her sisters, and learn as much as they could of the future plans and prospects of each. The handsome Mr. Samuel Watson, with his lively manners, promising prospects, and probable disengaged heart, was really a most interesting object; and since Emma was supposed to be engaged, and there was no further ground for her exciting jealousy, she was allowed, on all hands, to be uncommonly handsome and agreeable too. Nothing, therefore, was omitted, which could express their favourable opinion of the whole family, or their anxiety to be on good terms with them all.
It was no particular misery to Jane that, whilst every one else was pressing for their company, there was not one day left disengaged for her. She liked a great better to be invited to meet them, as she was every evening: for, unless she could quite outshine all her neighbours in the elegance of her entertainment, she preferred giving none at all; and as it happened that Robert was in a stingy mood, she had, with difficulty, extracted from him sufficient money to buy the very handsome gown and bonnet in which she was to appear at the wedding.
At all these parties where, of course, the Millars regularly met the Watsons, Sam still contrived to be a great deal with Annie,—but the most favourable opportunities for intercourse, were during their long rambles in the country. Then he was always her cavalier, and they quarrelled and laughed together without interruption. Her spirits seemed as inexhaustible as her strength; she could both walk and talk for miles without mental or bodily exhaustion, and often tired out all her companions except Sam.
It was no wonder then, when he paid her the compliment of untiring attention, and unvarying amusement, that she should, in her turn, find him a most delightful companion, infinitely more agreeable than any one she had ever known. No more was heard about his profession—she forgot it entirely, and only considered him in the light of a very pleasant acquaintance.
It was natural that, during some of their many engagements, Emma should again meet Mr. Morgan; and equally natural that she should feel some embarrassing recollections at doing so. A bow was all that their situation, at the first moment of meeting, allowed to pass between them; but, when by a movement amongst her neighbours, a vacant seat, and the power of reaching it allowed him, he did not hesitate to avail himself of the opportunity, and place himself by her side.
There was nothing of restraint or embarrassment in his manner—no appearance of consciousness or shame; he did not know, perhaps, how much their joint names had been made the subject of gossip and scandal—she thought so for a moment, but then, from what she remembered, she knew he must have been aware of it; then she felt angry at his impudence; but finally, she concluded that, after all, he was taking the wisest course; and that to converse quietly, as if nothing had passed to raise an unpleasant feeling, would be, on the whole, the conduct least calculated to excite attention.
Calm and polite as she was, he was sensible of a difference in her manners from past days, and he did not indulge a hope of regaining her confidence; but it wounded his vanity to suppose that she, amongst all the women of his acquaintance, beheld him with calm dislike; whilst he could not even to himself deny her superiority over the many whose approbation or admiration constantly followed his footsteps.
If he could not regain her friendship he wanted at least to excite some emotion in her mind, and call up one of her former smiles so full of brightness and feeling. With the tact which gave him half his popularity, he hit upon the subject most likely to awaken kind sentiments in her heart; he began praising her brother. The introduction had given him so much pleasure, he was, he would not say astonished, but certainly most agreeably surprised to find Mr. Samuel Watson so very superior a young man. There was no likeness to Mr. Watson—no—he could not compliment his good friend, Robert, by saying that there was; seldom had he seen two brothers more dissimilar; but her younger brother's manners were so good—such a young man must make his way in the world, must be a favourite; there was every probability of his success; nay, there was certainty of it: there was intelligence and spirit in his eye, which promised nobly. Then he enquired minutely into his prospects; entered with the warmth of a friend into the plan for his establishing himself at Chichester, and gave several hints for his benefit.
Emma, in spite of her aversion to the speaker, and her determination that nothing should make her admit even the semblance of mutual friendship in their future intercourse, found herself speaking with unintentional warmth and animation. She checked herself immediately, and a shade of vexation passed over her countenance; which was not lost on her companion. Accustomed to study the minds and inclinations of his various patients, his quickness at reading all the little marks of feeling evinced in their countenances, enabled him pretty well to appreciate the state of her mind; but when he proceeded on the same subject, in hopes of once more inducing her to express her feelings, he was extremely vexed to find that, after making him some short and trivial reply, she rose and walked away.
This movement marked a decided aversion on her part which piqued him deeply, and for which he was not prepared. He remained in his seat, spoke to no one else, and occupied himself, whilst he continued in the room, in considering whether he no longer had any chance of regaining his influence with her.
He knew pretty well all that had passed, and all that had been whispered about their former intimacy; but he thought that since all that had been set in a favourable point of view, and her character perfectly cleared, she need not now have been so cold and distant to him. If, as was whispered, she was engaged to some one else, there was no reason for shunning him, unless, and the thought actually thrilled his mind with delight, unless she had really preferred him, and now feared to trust herself in his power. This would account for all her conduct; her flight to Burton—her engagement itself, and her present shrinking from him—all might be traced to the same source. His vanity was excited to the highest pitch, as he thought of this interpretation, and he could believe her quite capable of such strength of mind, and firmness of purpose. Other women when they had liked him, had thrown themselves in his way, but it was perfectly consonant with what he supposed her character to be, that she should follow a precisely opposite course of conduct.
If this were the case he felt sure he might regain his former influence by a little dexterous management, and as a first step towards it, he resolved to cultivate the friendship of her youngest brother. Had he known that he was perfectly excluded from her regard by the double barrier of a very ill opinion of himself, and a warm attachment to Mr. Howard, he might have spared himself the trouble of the attempt.
Towards the end of the week a sort of gipsy party had been arranged to form an expedition to a pretty park in the neighbourhood, which from the absence of the owner was a frequent resort on such occasions. Mr. Morgan was not originally asked to join it; but knowing what was going on, he presented himself at the door of George Millar's house just before the company started, and his expressions of regret at not having time to see more of Sam speedily produced a very hearty invitation from Mrs. Turner, the chaperone of the party, to accompany them; for, as she observed, "on such occasions the more the merrier."
It was a very large party without him. Mrs. Turner and the two Millars, four Watsons, for Jane was of the party, with Alfred Freemantle as her escort, since her husband would not leave the office, two cousins of hers, young ladies who had arrived the day before to grace Elizabeth's wedding, Miss Bridge, and some young ladies, natives of the town: in short they numbered fourteen without Mr. Morgan, but as ladies were in the majority he was heartily welcomed by several of the party at least, if not by those particular individuals whose favour he most desired.
How the whole of the party were disposed of in different vehicles, need not now be particularised; there was variety at least in their equipages, and the power of choice in arranging themselves. Sam was the charioteer of an "inside Irish car," which of course amongst its passengers numbered Annie Millar, and likewise Emma Watson; Mrs. Robert Watson; two young cousins, completed this party, and apparently made any addition impossible; but one of the girls, not liking to be entitled to only a fifth part of the attention of any gentleman, suddenly abdicated her seat in favour of Mr. Morgan, that she might enjoy the place of third in a gig, under the escort of Alfred Freemantle. Nothing could have been more consonant to his wishes, than this sudden piece of good luck which thus befell Mr. Morgan: his gaiety was quite remarkable, but his judgment and tact, were still more so. For he devoted himself at first to please the stranger, and do the honors of the country to her; he was bent on making himself agreeable, but it was in the most open and unsuspicious way. There was nothing of tenderness or sentiment in his manners, nothing approaching to flirtation in his address to Miss Hall, and to the others it was as perfectly correct, as if dictated by Lord Chesterfield himself.
Annie, indeed, was too much engrossed by the driver to notice the intruder; she had no attention to bestow on any one else; and had not the horse been particularly quiet and sagacious, and the road remarkably smooth and straight, it is by no means unlikely that their drive might have terminated abruptly under some hedge, so much more was Sam himself occupied with the lady behind, than the road in front of him. Neither Miss Hall nor Emma, however, made any complaint of his coachmanship; for Emma, being opposite to Annie, enjoyed the full benefit of her lively remarks; and whilst her neighbour confined his attention to his _vis-à-vis_, the proximity to him, in which she unexpectedly found herself, did not discompose her at all, nor did she feel any impatience for the termination of so agreeable a drive.
When they alighted in the park, which was the termination of their drive, they found most of the company assembled before them, and separated into groups strolling about on the borders of the artificial lake, a sail on which was one of their projected pleasures. In consequence of this, these five were left together to entertain each other, until the arrival of the whole party enabled them to arrange their plans for the day's amusement. The point of rendezvous was an ornamental boat-house, standing at one angle of the lake, embowered in fir trees, and commanding a pretty view of the opposite banks, which were high and woody. Miss Hall was, what was then more rare than now, a sketching young lady: and her pencils were speedily produced. But she could not bear inspection whilst taking her views, and unceremoniously desired the other four to walk away.
It was a proof of Sam's great good-nature to Emma, that he continued with her, and declined the tempting opportunity of securing a comfortable walk with Annie Millar, that he might not leave his sister with no other companion than Mr. Morgan. Perhaps Miss Millar might not entirely appreciate this self-sacrifice on his part, or possibly might not thank him for it, so much as Emma; certainly Mr. Morgan, who had calculated on a different line of conduct, judging from the evident admiration which Sam had previously testified for Annie, was very much disappointed at it. He took care to keep close to Emma's side, ready to improve any opportunity that might present itself; and thus they wandered about, without thinking much of where they were going, or paying much attention to the really pretty scenery around them. The consequence of this was, that they lost their place in the boat, for being quite out of sight and hearing when it was ready, their companions did not wait for them; and the intended sail had so entirely escaped the memory of the quartet, that the first thing which recalled it to their memory, was the sight of the boat, which caught their eyes just us they gained the summit of an eminence commanding a view of the whole sheet of water at their feet.
Sam expressed a hope that Miss Millar was not vexed at this incident. Annie protested that for herself she did not care about it, but she should be very sorry indeed, if she had beguiled Emma from sharing in any pleasure she would have enjoyed.
Emma, on her side, was of opinion that they were much more comfortable as they were; the boat seemed very much crowded, and she thought to be squeezed in such a way that they could not move, nor even turn their heads to contemplate the scenery, was not half so pleasant as sitting on the green bank where they were resting so comfortably.
"In parties of this sort," said Mr. Morgan, "all depends on the company; an uncongenial companion will spoil everything—even the finest landscape in the world."
"Very true," replied Annie, quickly; "but how can one help that? One can not say to a disagreeable person, 'Go away—you annoy and distress me!' One can only smile politely and suffer internally."
"You, I dare say, can smile whilst annoyed," observed Sam, "but I never can; whether I am happy or miserable, I show it immediately."
"Do you indeed," replied she, "I am sorry to hear that; I had been hoping that the gloomy look and air of despondency with which you have treated us, were your habitual manners, and might not really indicate the state of intense suffering to which I suppose I must now attribute them."
"I am certain my looks have expressed my feelings accurately," replied he sturdily.
"Very well, I shall set my imagination to work to invent some romantic cause for the dejection of spirits which you display. You are, probably, repenting over some lost patient, whose end you hastened by your surgical arts."
"I do not think you ought to jest on such subjects," replied he, gravely; then, as she turned her head towards him with an expression of surprise, he added, "Excuse my liberty of speech. I quite forgot who I was speaking to."
She was silent and looked down, so that her bonnet concealed her countenance. He viewed her uneasily, and wanted to know whether she was affronted—or from what other reason she maintained this silence. Mr. Morgan saw all this; he could not read Annie's feelings exactly, but he felt convinced that, had they, at that moment, been without witnesses, some very tender scene would have ensued.
He now took up the conversation by observing, how much more beautiful the landscape would be in two months' time, when the tints of autumn gave a little variety to the scenery. The dull, heavy green of summer, he declared, reminded him always of mourning; it was so sombre.
He appealed to Emma, and she was compelled to reply. She had nothing to urge against his preference for the autumnal tints—except, that their proximity to winter gave them sadness, which, in themselves, they did not merit.
"The sadness of autumn is, however, compensated by the hopes of returning spring; we can bear to part with the verdure, which we know will be restored in fresh beauty. In that respect, how superior is inanimate nature, and our feeling of love for it, to human friendship, or regard, or esteem."
"I do not see that," said Emma.
"Who can tell when a faded friendship shall be renewed, or when a withered hope shall again look flourishing and verdant. The blast of winter is certain to pass away, and its consequences vanish with it—but the fatal breath of enmity—the chilling effects of whispered malevolence—the poison of calumny—tell me Miss Watson, of a cure for these, if you can."
"I know of none, save patience and a good conscience," replied Emma.
"Yes, patience—one needs that, indeed, to bear what I alluded to—when one sees the face which used to meet one with a smile, averted gravely—the hand once freely extended, now drawn back—the kindly words, once gushing out from the friendly heart, like water from a copious fountain, exchanged for the slow and measured accents which freeze the heart, as they drop out one by one; when one sees all this," he continued, lowering his voice, but speaking with impressive energy; "and knows it to be the cold deadness of feeling produced by the ill-will of others—the blighting words of malice—what can one hope—to what spring shall one look forward? when may one expect the young feelings of friendship to bud again?"
"Depend upon it they will, unless there is something more than unkind breath to check them. To pursue your allegory, Mr. Morgan, if the plant of friendship wither irretrievably, it must be because there is something wrong at the root, otherwise, it is certain once more to revive."
"I believe," said he, after a momentary pause, "my feelings are deeper and more permanent, than those of most people."
"Yours Mr. Morgan!" interposed Annie, amazed, "I had no idea you were troubled with any thing of the sort—when did you first find out that you had any feelings?"
"Have I ever given you cause to doubt it," enquired he, significantly.
"Why, to own the truth, though we have been so long acquainted," said she, "I cannot say that I ever undertook to investigate the nature or extent of your feelings on any subject. I had a sort of general idea that you had some; but of what quality I should have been very much puzzled to say, except that I certainly should _not_ have thought of constancy as your particular _forte_. However, I am willing to plead total ignorance on the subject. Ignorance for which I alone am to blame, arising from indifference and inattention."
"You need hardly remind me of that, Miss Millar," retorted he with mock humility, "I am quite aware that I am too entirely an object of indifference to you, for my feelings to be considered worth a moment's attention."
He walked away, as he spoke, to a short distance, and seemed occupied in viewing the landscape from the brow of the hill on which he stood, his features expressing an appearance of wounded feelings struggling with pride.
"You have hurt him, Annie," whispered Emma, "you are too severe."
"At least he wants to make us believe so," replied she softly, "but it's all seeming—seeming—there is nothing real about that man."
"Now I rather like him," said Sam, "he seems so kind and friendly towards me, I am quite indebted to him for the interest which he has taken in my prospects, and the useful hints which he has given me."
"Did he recommend you to marry, Sam?" enquired Emma.
"I did not consult him on the subject, it is a point on which I should neither ask nor take advice."
"Bravo, Mr. Watson—a most spirited determination. It is a point of so little consequence indeed, and one in which your own experience must be so calculated to guide you, that no doubt your intention to reject all advice, is most judicious and praise-worthy."
"Are you of opinion that I am incompetent to act for myself in such a case?" enquired he.
"I shall tell you as I did Mr. Morgan just now, I am ignorant and indifferent on that subject—and now _you_ can go and walk on the other side of the hill—or if you think it will look more picturesque, by the side of yonder angry gentleman."
"No, Miss Millar, your ignorance, and indifference shall not drive me from you; I would rather try to enlighten the one and overcome the other."
This, though whispered softly, seemed to overpower her; she coloured deeply; rose from the bank where they were sitting, and walked away to the side of an adjoining thicket, where she employed herself in trying to gather some brier roses from the hedge. Sam watched her for some minutes, then perceiving that in stretching forward to grasp a blossom, her veil had become entangled in a thorny shrub, he started up, and in a moment was at her side to aid and release her.
Emma did not like to follow them, thinking she should be in the way, and expecting that a few minutes would bring them back. In the mean time Mr. Morgan looked round, and seeing her alone joined her. He still affected to look hurt and sad, and Emma generously gave him credit for more feeling than he deserved.
"That volatile girl—" said he, and then stopped.
"You must not mind what she says," suggested Emma kindly, "I am certain she sometimes speaks without thinking, but never from malice or ill will, even when she seems severe."
"She does not surprise me," replied he; "I am used to her ways, and there is no change in _her_; she is always the same, it is vacillations of friendship, variations of good opinion which I confess astonish and pain me. And yet why should they—after all, the human mind is so liable to error, so prone to seek misconstructions, so inclined to change and variation, that nothing of the kind ought to surprise me."
She was determined to be silent, and occupied herself in wishing for the return of her brother and Annie, who had strayed farther than she had expected, and were now out of sight.
He was disappointed at her silence, and changed the subject into an enquiry as to whether she should make a long stay at Croydon. She told him she was only to remain until her sister's marriage, which would, as he knew, very shortly occur.
"And then," said he, "may I ask where you are going—do you return to Osborne Castle?"
"Certainly not," replied she decisively, "I do not think I am likely to go there at all. Sir William and Lady Gordon have taken a house in the neighbourhood of his own property, and if I visit them, it will be there."
"Then where will be your home?"
"At Burton, with Miss Bridge, for the present I believe."
"I trust _you_, with your talents and accomplishments, your taste and your sensibility, are not doomed to pass your life as the companion of an elderly lady, buried in an obscure country village, unknown and unadmired."
"There might be many worse positions in life, more disagreeable companions, and more trying situations, Mr. Morgan," replied Emma with warmth.
"Forgive me if my interest for you has led me to express my feelings in an unauthorised way. _I_ cannot entirely forget the past, nor consign to oblivion all that I once flatter myself was felt between us."
She could not exactly tell what to answer him, for she really hardly knew what construction to place upon his words. He paused for a moment and then resumed.
"Rumour was wrong then, when it asserted that there were ties in contemplation, which would bind you closely to Osborne Castle—that, in short, the young lord, doing justice to the merits which would grace a higher rank, had sought to make you his wife."
"I am not engaged to Lord Osborne, if that is what you mean," said Emma calmly.
"I had thought it strange indeed if a young man so unformed, so bearish, so almost brutal, had known how to value, much more to win, a jewel so bright and excellent."
"I must beg, Mr. Morgan, if you mention Lord Osborne's name at all, it may be in terms such as I may listen to without offence. Pray remember that I am under obligations to that family, for which it would be a bad return to hear, without remonstrance, such aspersions cast on the head of it. But I must confess I see no reason why either they or myself should form the subject of your interrogatories. You have no claim either past or present, which can make these enquiries anything short of impertinent, and I must beg they may cease entirely."
She then walked a few steps to see if she could obtain any view of her brother and friend, for whose return she felt anxious. Nothing, however, was to be seen of them, and as she paused, her companion was again at her side.
"How unfortunate I am," said he in a low tone, "it is constantly my fate to offend those for whom I feel the deepest interest, and to be misunderstood on every occasion where my sentiments are concerned. Interest, friendship, zeal, constantly carry me beyond the bounds proscribed by cold custom and formality, and I am repulsed in a way which all but annihilates me. At this moment _you_ are angry with me; have I sinned unpardonably?"
"I am not _angry_" said Emma, drily, "but I must beg that all personal subjects of conversation may be dropped; we have neither sentiments nor interests in common, and on all topics connected with feeling I must impose a total silence."
"Unfeeling, cruel girl," cried he, then seeing that she resolutely walked away in the direction of the boat-house, where she concluded the party must be now assembled, he followed her steps in haste, and placing himself by her side, he continued in a low but emphatic tone,
"Emma Watson, why should you scorn my offers of friendship, and my professions of regard? Why should you shun me as if I were some dangerous enemy? Do you mistrust my word; or am I responsible for the silly gossiping of idle women? Did I not warn you against it?—why then visit it on me? Or have I personally offended you?—what have I done?—you will not speak—you try to elude me—nay, but you _shall_ hear me; you _shall_ answer me by heaven!—Who has wronged me in your opinion?"
"Mr. Morgan, let go my hand—is _this_ honourable?—is this manly to attempt to obtain an answer to impertinent enquiries by compulsion?—Let go my hand—I tell you I will neither hear nor answer you!"
"Emma, I was wrong—" said he, softening his voice, but instead of releasing her hand, clasping it in both of his, "I ought to know you better—I understand your heart and feelings—"
"You do no such thing, sir,—or you would not detain me here, or compel me to listen to such language. Let me go—I command you."
"Emma, your heart is no longer your own—am I not right?—you _love_!"
"And if I do—what concern is that of yours?" retorted she.
"Of _mine_, it is everything in the world to me—you love _me_—deny it if you can."
"Insolence!" exclaimed Emma, "unmanly insolence."
"No, it is not insolence, Emma, you look beautiful in scorn, but you need not scorn _me_; I am your equal in birth and education—aye! and in taste and mental qualities too—and happily possessed of the fortune which _you_ want. And I love you, and tender all to you. You have done what no other woman ever did—for your sake I would even stoop to the yoke of matrimony; so great is my love and admiration for you. Now have I said enough—now you may venture to confess the feelings long treasured in your heart—the love which I have long read in your downcast eye, and averted smile—maiden modesty need no more compel you to silence—speak, _my_ Emma—bless me with the words I am longing, panting to hear."
He advanced one step nearer as he spoke, and seemed about to pass his arm round her waist, but Emma availed herself of the movement to snatch her hand from his, and stepping back, whilst she cast on him a look of withering scorn, she replied,
"Yes, you _have_ said enough, Mr. Morgan, to warrant _my_ speaking plainly—and I _will_ speak—from what extraordinary perversion of reasoning, you have persuaded yourself I loved _you_ I cannot tell, but I trust you will believe me once for all—when I say _my_ feelings are entirely the reverse of yours—and when I add—I _love_ and am _engaged_ to another."
Mr. Morgan stepped back in his turn with an air in which disbelief and bitter mortification struggled, with an attempt at indifference and contempt.
"Engaged—impossible—Emma, you are deceiving me—it is a downright falsehood!" exclaimed he.
"I must beg you to leave me," said she, haughtily. "I am not accustomed to associate with those who accuse me of falsehood—I can find my way alone."
She had continued to walk on from the moment she had declared her engagement, and she flattered herself she must be approaching the boat-house, but as they had reached the low ground, and were making their way amidst thickets intersected with narrow paths, they could not see the building.
"And it is for this," he exclaimed, presently, "that I stooped to ask your hand—that I humbled myself as I never before did to woman, to be scorned and rejected—false-hearted girl—true type of your weak and vacillating sex—leading me to believe you preferred me, that you might spurn me from you with disdain!" he approached one step nearer as he spoke, and his face wore a look of malignity which absolutely frightened Emma—he saw it.
"No, you need not shrink from me—I am not so mad as to do you harm; you are safe under the protection of the laws. I would not risk my freedom for all the girls in Surrey. But I must speak my feelings—"
He had no time, however, to say more, for hurried footsteps were heard behind them, and in another moment Sam was beside his sister.
"My dearest Emma, I beg ten thousand pardons, but I was so sorry that I left you—I assure you I had no intention of doing so—only—only—Annie Millar persuaded me; but the moment we met some one whom she could join, I ran back for you, and found you were gone—I am very sorry. You are not angry with me?"
"No," said Emma softly; "but I am very glad you are come, dear Sam."
He felt her hand tremble under his arm, and looking in her face, perceived she was very pale.
"You have walked too far, dear Emma," said he affectionately; "you wanted my arm—how sorry I am. Why did not Morgan support you?"
He looked round, but the gentleman in question had taken another path and was out of sight. Emma tried to speak, but instead of articulating words, she only burst into tears, and astonished Sam by appearing on the verge of a fit of hysterics.
He had too much sense to press for an explanation, but contented himself with making her sit down, removing her bonnet and gloves, and supporting her till she was calm again.
He then begged for some explanation of her emotion: she said she was foolish: he admitted that was possible, but only if she refused him all reasons for her conduct. She promised to be more explicit some other time if he would only now give her back her bonnet, allow her to make herself tidy, and rejoin the party.
These very reasonable requests could not be refused, and they returned to the boat-house together, just as another division of their party entered it likewise; consequently their appearance without Mr. Morgan created no surprise or remark.
He returned a short time after, quite calm and happy in appearance, and nothing on either side transpired to attract the attention of the company, or give rise to the smallest surmise that anything unusual had occurred. It was some comfort to have to deal with so complete an actor, one who would betray nothing undesirable, by word or deed.
After dinner Sam again drew Emma aside and would not be satisfied till he had, by close questioning, extorted from her everything that had passed. Nothing less than the exact words, so far as she could remember them, would do for him; he supposed things twenty times worse than the truth, unless she could assert, on her honour, the exact state of the facts. She was quite miserable at telling him, because she could not get him to own what he thought, or promise to take no further notice of the circumstance. Instead of giving her the assurance she required, he sometimes laughed and put her off with an evasive answer, sometimes frowned and resolutely closed his lips—sometimes told her to go away for a foolish girl, and not meddle with what did not concern her.
She was certain he meditated more than he would own, and her fears made her apprehend that any demand for explanation or apology from Mr. Morgan, would produce a quarrel which must end in a challenge. With wretched feelings she returned to the party.
Here they found a rather noisy scene. Alfred Freemantle and Mr. Morgan, having both elevated their spirits by the great quantity of bad wine which they had imbibed at dinner, were trying to induce some of the young ladies to accompany them in the boat, which was lying near the shore. The two Miss Halls and Mrs. Robert Watson, were carrying on a half-romping opposition to this plan, but evidently intending to yield their consent after a proper opposition.
Alfred Freemantle accused them of being cowards, which the three ladies of course denied.
"Come, then," cried Mr. Morgan, catching her hand and dragging Mrs. Watson down the bank. "Come and shew that you trust me!"
George Millar turned to Sam, and said softly,
"Morgan is half drunk—can you not prevent your sister going with him."
"I have no influence with either," said Sam, coolly, "perhaps you could dissuade her better than I!"
George followed her, and drawing her back, whispered something in her ear, which was not communicated to the others, but which seemed to have some effect upon her. She paused a moment, and then returning to the others said,
"I think you are right, George Millar, it will not agree with me so soon after dinner. I shall not go."
"And if you do not, Jane," said Miss Hall, "I am sure neither my sister nor I shall venture—it would be quite improper without a chaperone."
"I think you are very wise," observed Miss Bridge, quietly.
"I know what it is," cried Alfred, "you think we cannot manage the boat, but you are quite mistaken, as you shall see. I am not drunk, though you think we are; we will go without you!"
As he said these words he sprang on board after Mr. Morgan, who was already there, and they pushed off from the shore, and rowed a little way. Presently two of the other young ladies called to them to enquire where they were going.
Mr. Morgan replied that they were going to land on a little island opposite to smoke a cigar—would they come?
The girls acceded to the proposition; and, contrary to the advice of the whole party, persisted in their determination. The boat returned to take them on board, and no sooner where they seated, than Alfred amused himself by making the boat roll in the water, in order to frighten them. Had they sat still, there would have been no danger—but in their alarm they both started up, and catching hold of him at the same moment, they all three fell heavily against the gun-wale and upset the boat at once.
A loud scream from the party on shore was, of course, the first effort of their sympathy. The two other gentlemen simultaneously rushed into the water, and without much difficulty, succeeded in rescuing the two ladies—for the accident had happened so close to the shore, that it was not out of their depth. Alfred Freemantle likewise rose, and scrambled towards the bank, up which he crept a deplorable object.
The young women of course, excited the greatest sympathy, and none but Emma, at the first moment, remembered that there had been a fourth person in the boat. But she had kept her eyes on the place where he had sunk, and saw, with horror, that there was no trace of him—he did not reappear.
"Mr. Morgan," she exclaimed, "what has become of him?"
Every one turned at the name, from the dripping objects round which they had been crowding—ejaculations on every side were heard.
"True, Morgan! he has sunk—he is drowning! good heavens! can you do nothing? Call for help! run for the boatmen!" and twenty other exclamations.
"Watson, we must look for him," said George.
Sam's coat was off before he had done speaking.
"But we must be cautious," continued Millar, "he may be sunk in a hole, or entangled in the weeds—the bottom is very foul."
"Where did he sink," cried Sam, "did any one see."
Emma pointed out, as well as she could, the spot where he had disappeared, and watched, with breathless anxiety, whilst the two swam round and round, and dived again and again. His hat was floating on the water at a little distance; but no sign or trace of him appeared. One of the party had summoned the boatmen, who, after much delay brought drags and hooks, and having succeeded in righting the boat, they did their utmost to discover the missing man; but they did not seem to have much expectation of success; they said they knew it was a dangerous part of the bank; that there was a deep hole just thereabouts, into which the gentleman had probably sunk, and that many years ago, a similar accident having happened, had occasioned the former owner of the place, to forbid boating there at all. But his son had, for some years, allowed it, though they should not wonder if he were to shut it up now from the public.
Their conjectures on the subject might have lasted a long time before any one interrupted them, for the whole party were too horror-stricken to speak. The dripping and the dry alike stood together in motionless excitement, or intense anxiety, watching the result of their efforts. It seemed impossible, that one but lately so full of life and spirit, one of themselves—one who had for so long a time belonged to them, could have thus suddenly disappeared without warning, and have left no vestige behind. It was too horrible—to perish before their eyes, and from so trivial a cause. For many minutes, the extremity of their feeling was shown by their total silence; then, when the conviction was forced on them, that he was really lost, hysterical sobs and screams were heard, especially from the two girls, who had been the immediate cause of the accident, and who, shocked at their own share of the misfortune, shivering with cold, convulsed with horror, and in every way overcome, now demanded the attention of such of the party, as had any sense or self-possession left.
Fortunately the carriages were at this moment announced, and the only possible thing to do, as they were far from all assistance, was for the sufferers to be wrapped in such cloaks as could be found amongst them, and conveyed back to Croydon as speedily as possible.
Neither George nor Sam would consent to leave the place, whilst a shadow of a hope remained that the body might be recovered, but they insisted that their sisters should return home at once, as they proposed, when all was over, if the search was unsuccessful, to walk to a public-house on the outskirts of the Park, and dry themselves there, before returning to Croydon. Emma had the presence of mind to propose that a carriage and a supply of dry clothes should be despatched there to meet them, by the first of the party that arrived at home.
Under the escort of Miss Bridge's manservant, instead of Sam, Elizabeth, Emma, Annie, and Miss Hall, returned in the vehicle which had borne them so gaily and light-hearted to the Park. But little conversation passed, and the few words which were said, had no reference to the fatal event; it was too recent and too shocking to speak of. To Emma, indeed, after what had so lately passed between them, the circumstance seemed beyond description or imagination terrible. The angry feelings with which they had parted, the malevolence he had expressed, and the evident state of half-intoxication, to which he had perhaps resorted to drown his disappointed feelings, and conceal his chagrin and mortification, all seemed to rise up, as if to reproach her conscience. Why had she been so scornful and so bitter; perhaps, had she answered more mildly, had she shown less contempt and more compassion, he might still have been alive, all this might not have happened. It appeared like a horrid dream altogether, their angry dispute—Sam's indignation, and her fears for him, and finally, Mr. Morgan's sudden disappearance, all had passed so rapidly, that she could scarcely feel it a reality.
One thing she was resolved—she would never join a large, mixed pleasure-party again; it was impossible that real satisfaction could be found in such society, and so far as her experience went, they seemed always nothing but preludes to some heavy misfortune. It was a relief to her to find herself once more at home in the Rectory at Croydon, alone in her apartment, able to think without distraction, rest without interruption, and cry without observation.
She was so completely worn out, that to sit down and indulge in a very hearty flood of tears was the greatest relief imaginable.
Sam called at the Rectory on his return to the town, and saw her for a few minutes. It was dark and the candles were not lighted, so she had ventured down stairs to meet him.
"Any news?" enquired Mr. Bridge.
"Nothing," said he: then crossing the room to his sister, he whispered,
"Emma, you are avenged!"
She shuddered and did not answer.
The next day brought a pleasing change to the current of Emma's thoughts. She was walking slowly under the old trees on the lawn, and was not aware of any one's approach until an arm was suddenly clasped round her waist, and she found herself obliged to submit to several very unceremonious kisses from her lover, who had contrived as usual thus unexpectedly to meet her.
"How you do startle one," cried she struggling to release herself. "I will have you indicted for assault."
"_Tears_, Emma," said he looking at her attentively; "what are those red eyes for?"
"You had better not ask questions," replied she, "lest you should hear unpleasant truths."
"But I will ask questions, and you must answer me!" said he earnestly; "I cannot let you cry without knowing the reason."
"But suppose there is none, what then?" suggested she playfully.
"Then I shall feel under the necessity of effacing the marks of your tears in the best way I can," replied he.
She then relieved her mind and his feelings by telling him the whole history of their yesterday's excursion and its termination, which led of course to almost interminable references to past events, explanations and details relative to Mr. Morgan himself, of all which until this moment he had been profoundly ignorant. The slanders circulated relative to Emma, the expedition of Lord Osborne to rebut them, and the trouble he had taken on her account made a great impression on him, and he took a vehement dislike to Croydon and everything connected with a place where Emma had been exposed to such misrepresentations. Of course he would not admit that she was in the least degree to blame for past events, or that she had showed any undue severity towards Mr. Morgan—on the contrary, he thought she had throughout been too lenient towards him; but this was an error arising from the rare goodness of disposition which led her in so remarkable a degree to tolerate the imperfections and weaknesses of those around her, of which her attachment to himself was a conspicuous example.
He had some news to communicate in return for hers, which though not of quite so tragical a nature, was to him a great disappointment.
The rectory house at Carsdeane proved to be in so extremely dilapidated a state that, in order to make it at all a comfortable residence, Lord Osborne proposed to rebuild it entirely. In the meantime there was no suitable home for Emma, and he feared their marriage must be delayed at least for some months, instead as he had hoped of taking place immediately.
This was a very great disappointment to them both. Emma had ventured to hope that the Autumn would have seen her installed in a settled home, of which she would be the mistress, and they tried very hard to persuade themselves and each other, that it would not be more prudent and advisable, to wait till Mr. Howard had a house to receive his bride. They might have succeeded perhaps in thinking so themselves, but they could not induce their friends to agree in the decision. On the contrary, like most friends when two young people wish to marry, they all concurred in considering it a very great advantage that they should wait a little.
And I am far from supposing them wrong in the idea. Taking into consideration Emma's youth, for she was not yet quite twenty, and the shortness of their acquaintance, which had as yet lasted barely six months, I am of opinion that the delay even of a whole year would have been by no means detrimental to their future happiness. It was perfectly natural that both Mr. and Miss Bridge should adopt this idea, and I trust equally so that since they urged it, Emma should yield to their prudent persuasions: the more especially as appearing to yield at this time and agreeing to wait a twelvemonth, would by no means preclude them from entirely changing their minds in a couple of months time, in case they should see any occasion for so doing.
As to any difficulty about Emma's home in the meantime, Miss Bridge declared it could not exist, since her house was always open to her, and she could regard her in no other light than as her adopted child. In vain Mr. Howard remonstrated. Miss Bridge was so firm in her conviction that Emma had better spend the next year in her house, and professed so much satisfaction at the idea, that he at last declared, in despair, he was certain it was for the sake of securing her company that Miss Bridge interposed to prevent the marriage.
Before however the two disputants could settle their conflicting claims on Emma's society, a new turn was given to the affair by the intervention of her youngest brother. He should want a companion at Chichester, and it had always been an understood thing he declared, that Emma was to live with him till she married. She readily admitted the fact, and so it was settled; she was to accompany him to Chichester immediately after Elizabeth's wedding, and remain there as he said, "until they were tired of one another."
Howard yielded this point much more readily than the other. Carsdeane was much nearer Chichester than Burton, and he could easily visit her there. Besides his penetration led him to surmise that Sam would be soon desirous of placing another person at the head of his establishment; that a sister's society would not long content him, and that when this change took place, he would probably be thankful to be relieved from the charge he was undertaking. He thought it likewise a great advantage that she should be removed entirely from Croydon for a time, and from the painful impressions which he observed seemed still to haunt her. She had suffered so much there, as he now began to understand, that he could not help wishing that she should see the place no more; a wish in which she certainly did not concur when she remembered it would be Elizabeth's future home.
The wedding that week was a very quiet one: the death of Mr. Morgan had thrown a damp over the whole town from which it could not at once recover, and no one felt inclined to indulge in festivities where he would be so much missed. Accordingly everything was conducted in the simplest manner, to the great disappointment of Mrs. Watson, who vowed it was hardly worth putting on her new and handsome clothes, when there would be no one to see her at Church.
It was some alleviation to her distress of mind however to remember that they would be equally handsome and more interesting after the wedding was over, and she should be able to appear in uncommon splendour, when returning all the congratulatory visits on some subsequent occasion.
When all was over, and Mrs. George Millar and her husband had set out from Croydon to make a short visit to London, which the bride had never seen, Emma took an affectionate leave of Annie Millar, and returned to the Rectory to prepare for her journey.
Sam remained a few minutes behind; it was only to ask Annie if she still thought marriages as foolish as she had always declared them to be.
"Twenty times worse," said she, "they are not only foolish but sad, and I shall consider myself particularly fortunate when this miserable day is fairly over."
"What do you consider the worst part of the affair," enquired he, still lingering.
"Oh the leave takings," said Annie hastily, "if Elizabeth had never married you would all have stayed on here waiting for it, and we have been so happy for this last week. Now you are going, and you must take Emma too!"
"And will you give me leave to flatter myself that you are sorry at my going."
"I dare say you would not wait for my leave; men always take it for granted that women sit down and cry when they leave them," said she saucily.
"I should certainly entertain no such expectation Miss Millar; I am aware my profession renders me too unpleasant in your eyes for you to do otherwise than rejoice at my departure."
"Upon my word you make me out to be a very rational young woman," replied she; "when did I ever find fault with your profession, or express a wish that you were other than what you are? Because I should never have chosen the surgical profession myself is that any reason that I should detest a man who did—or so long as you do not exercise your skill on me, or in my presence, do you imagine I object to your exhibiting it elsewhere?"
"I had much rather you should detest my profession than consider it with indifference, Miss Millar."
She only looked down and blushed, then holding out her hand, said in a hurried manner,
"Good bye, I must go!" and left him, to his great disappointment.
If Sam felt discouraged by this sudden termination to his interview, the feeling lasted no longer than till the receipt of Annie's first letter to his sister after they were settled at Chichester; for there the allusions and reminiscences were of a most flattering kind, and the frequent mention of his name, and the manner in which it was introduced gave him very great pleasure.
Emma became reconciled to Penelope's marriage when she saw how well she was suited to her situation in life, and though she did not greatly admire her brother-in-law, he was so very superior to Tom Musgrove, that she thought her sister quite fortunate in comparison with Margaret. To forget everything that had passed of an unpleasant nature previous to her marriage was the wisest source which her friends could adopt; and it is so exceedingly common that there should be something which requires forgetting, that if the relatives of all married couples acted in the same way, there would be a great deal more of unity in the world than at present.
Before she had been resident at Chichester three months, two events occurred, which effected a change in her plans. One, as Mr. Howard and many others had foreseen, was the engagement of Sam and Annie, and preparations for their speedy marriage. The other was more unexpected.
Her aunt, whose sudden and ill-advised marriage had originally deprived her of her home, exasperated by the unkind and unprincipled conduct of her young husband, quitted him abruptly; procured a separation, and as she still retained the control of her income, he was left very much as he deserved to be, no better off than when he made his mercenary marriage. She returned to England, wrote to Emma, then came to her; was delighted with Sam, with Mr. Howard, and with everything she learnt of their doings, past, present, or future. She made Emma a magnificent wedding present, both in money and clothes, and declared her determination of ultimately dividing her fortune between her youngest nephew and niece. In the meantime, she took an elegant mansion in the parish of Carsdeane, and insisted on the marriage taking place immediately, and the young couple taking up their residence with her, until the rectory house was prepared for them.
This advice was much too agreeable to be long resisted, and before Emma and Mr. Howard had seen the anniversary of their first meeting, they were man and wife.
Whether they ever repented the interference of Miss Bridge to delay, or of Mrs. MacMahon to hurry the union, I leave entirely to the imaginations of my readers to settle; satisfied with having done my duty in detailing events as they really occurred.
There is but one more circumstance of any importance to relate; but that is, that Lord Osborne, after Emma's marriage, joined a regiment abroad as a volunteer—fought for some years in the Peninsular, and returned to England about ten years after he had been refused by Emma, accompanied by his wife, a very charming young Spanish lady, with whom he fell in love, because her dark eyes reminded him of Mrs. Howard's.
He had forgotten the likeness long before he reached Osborne Castle; and no one who saw Mrs. Howard when visiting the young bride, or watched his devotion to Lady Osborne, could, for a moment, have imagined that Lord Osborne's love could have had such a foundation.
I have nothing more to say of any of the party, and only trust that all who read my tale, may be convinced, as I am, that prudence, gentleness, and good sense, will secure friends under the most disadvantageous circumstances; but that marriage alone, unless undertaken with right feelings and motives, cannot be considered a certain recipe for worldly happiness.
T. C. NEWBY, Printer, 30, Welbeck-street, Cavendish-sq.
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We have read it with a pleasure in which method and reason have as much share as imagination. It is more readable than ninety-nine hundredths of so called historical novels.—Athenæum.
The author must have read a great deal to enable him to acquire the information, paint the portraits, dress up individual traditions in the clever fashion he has reached in his "Rizzio"—the volumes are, in every respect, curiosities of literature.—Literary Gazette.
A most valuable and interesting publication, valuable to the scholar, who is well acquainted with the history of the times of which it treats, and interesting to all who read merely for amusement.—Morning Herald.
"Rizzio" is a curious work. The author has read a good deal upon the history of the period in which he lays his story, and looked into its habits and manners. There is a certain imitation of reality about it, which really carries the reader along.— Spectator.
These volumes will be read with avidity.—Economist.
In Three Vols. MATERNAL LOVE.
A Novel. BY MRS. LOUDON.
A most amusing book.—Athenæum.
● Transcriber's Notes: ○ A few cases of inconsistent spelling were regularized. ○ p. 223: Rosa changed to Fanny ("You give me more credit than I deserve a great deal, Fanny;)