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to Mrs. Mortimer, who made room for her near herself, with a parading kind of alacrity, by which she endeavoured to conceal her inward mortification.
The ceremony of introducing the two gentlemen to Sophia had scarcely taken place, before the dinner was announced: and Mrs. Mortimer, taking Sophia fondly by the arm, told them that they should not separate her from her newly-found child. And thus, by a skilful manæuvre, she left the baronet with her own daughter.
Nothing particular happened at dinner. Sophia, seated between Mrs. Mortimer and Miss Clifford, was nearly concealed from Sir James, who was entirely engrossed by the two younger Miss Cliffords. And the Captain, being devoted to the sports of the field and the pleasures of the table, was so entirely in his element in the society and at the board of Mr. Mortimer, that he never lifted his eye from his plate, nor devoted his faculty of hearing to the remarks of any other person present than those of the jolly Squire himself.
The ladies sat the usual time after dinner, and then withdrew; when Sophia, full of joy at being able to make her escape, retired to her own apartments, where she found Annette asleep in Mrs. Cicely's bed, and the good woman herself at work by the bed-room fire.
“Miss Mortimer,” said she, “ I have kept Annette tonight, because I was so dull without you. lady, that we could but call back the happy days that we spent together before this
came! Sophia made no answer; for she felt her heart rise to her throat, and she was also much afraid of saying too much: for, surely, (she thought,) my father was at liberty to marry again; and who can dispute his right to come to his own house?
Sophia sat down by Cicely, and read to her a few chapters in the Bible, till she was called to tea; when, begging the good woman to go to bed, and not wait for her, if she should be late, she took her neat work-bag, and returned to the drawing-room.
Sophia, on opening the door, became fully aware that the ladies, who had not yet been joined by the gentlemen, were engaged in some very warm discussion; for although the contents of their elegant work-boxes were spread before them, yet these were wholly disregarded, and they
O, my dear
were (to use a common yet expressive proverb) all putting their heads together over the table, and speaking with great vehemence. As Sophia, however, advanced into the room, every head was suddenly drawn back, and an immediate silence followed, which would have appeared even more awkward than it did, if the never-blushing Miss Clifford had not turned to Sophia, and begged her, if she could, to solve their difficulties. “Can you tell us, dear Miss Mortimer,” she said, “how far we are from York ?-for my sisters will insist upon it that it is fifty miles, and I am as obstinately determined that it shall be only forty: and here we are, at ten miles' distance, quarrelling with each other about this knotty point, and resolved not to budge an inch to come to an accommodation.”
Sophia smiled, but was not, however, quite such a novice as to suppose that all the heat and anxiety that she had seen manifested, and which were indicated both by voice and countenance, were engaged about no other object than the distance of Mortimer-Hall from York. Nevertheless, supposing that it was not any business of hers to look further into this matter, she sat down and took out her work, which happened to be a frock for Annette, it never having occurred to her that such an employment could possibly give occasion for any comments. Works of charity, however, being less common some years ago than they are now, it was not to be supposed that the little garment would pass unobserved, or that Miss Clifford would lose this opportunity of indulging in her favourite style of remark, which consisted of a kind of drawling and stupid commendation, concealing, at the same time, real disapprobation.
“ How I do love Christian boldness !” said she. “I do love to see people who are not afraid of letting the world behold their good works: for such a sight so rarely
Most people are afraid of having their charitable actions known. It is well, my dear Miss Mortimer, that you, at least, have not this defect of character; and I trust that we shall be enabled to profit by your example.
“Surely, Miss Clifford,” said Sophia, blushing, "you forget that we are here only a family party, with the exception of one or two gentlemen, who are come to see my
father. And men, in general, do not trouble themselves with ladies' needlework.'
" True, my dear," said Miss Clifford, drawing up her small mouth to a point: “very prudently observed : I had forgotten.'
Sophia smiled, (for she could not help it,) though vexed, and answered, playfully, “Well, when I have done my plain work, you shall teach me some of this fine embroidery, and then I shall be fitter to sit in company; but in the mean time I must finish what I have to do: and she continued to stitch with her usual quiet and elegant diligence.
The remarks on the unfortunate frock having apparently produced no sensations, another subject was presently called by Miss Clifford, though with such seeming ease, that it had not the air of being lugged in by the head and shoulders, as it surely would have appeared, had it been brought forward by a less skilful maneuverer. This subject was one that too frequently engages the conversation of young women whose minds are not right towards God,-namely, those unsanctified wanderings of the affections and fancy which are falsely ennobled by the general name of love.
Miss Clifford, having rallied both her sisters by turns on these topics, suddenly turned round to Sophia, and staring her full in the face, exclaimed, “And now, my pretty shepherdess, it behoves me to look a little after you. Are there no Strephons nor Colins in these fair wilds? Come, now, be a good girl, and tell me who it is that bears away most hearts in this place. Who is the favourite shepherd in the Arcadia which surrounds Mortimer-Hall? There can be no question respecting the shepherdess, as I presume that my little Sophia here has not many rivals among the Yorkshire damsels ?”
Sophia looked up for a moment, on hearing this address, and replied, with a smile, that she knew of no shepherds in that neighbourhood, but one who belonged to her father, and who, being very old and rheumatic always wore a Welsh wig under his hat.
« Monstrous !” said Miss Clifford ; - it is almost as shocking to see a shepherd in a wig, as a shepherdess in a bell-hoop. But, my dear little sister," added she, with a laugh,"if you have no shepherds hereabouts, certainly,
this sweet retirement must contain some favourite friend, whose name you would not now mention for all the world, but on whom, however, it is your chief delight to meditate when walking alone, and when you sit in silence, guiding your needle, as you may now be doing, in the favourite parlour, when the moon is shining, and the owls hooting, as I suppose they sometimes do in the neighbourhood of Mortimer-Hall."
- For shame, Kate,” said Mrs. Mortimer, "you make your sister Sophia blush. She is not used to your saucy ways.'
Why, now you mention it, Ma'am,” said Miss Clifford, holding up her quizzing-glass to her eye, (for this young lady was short-sighted when she chose to be so,) “ I really do perceive that my little Sophia is blushing. Why, my dear Miss Mortimer,” she added, “ have I actually put you out of countenance? have I really made you blush?”
“Yes," replied Sophia, looking up; “but not for myself.”
• Witty, upon my word,” exclaimed Miss Clifford, and she again drew up her mouth into the form of a round 0, from which position it suddenly relaxed, and the lady, bursting into a loud laugh, added, “Upon my word, my little Sophia Mortimer, you are the prettiest demure little thing I have seen for these hundred years; and the best of it is, you would have us think that you have never yet beheld the man you could se, and that for your part you have a much more sincere affection for old Mrs. Cicely and Mr. Perry the butler, than for any young gentleman you ever saw in your life, or ever are likely to see, and so forth. But let me tell you, my little girl, you will not get any credit here for all your pretty little pretensions."
“I make no pretensions,” replied Sophia, modestly, “I don't presume to be either wiser or better than my neighbours; but as I think that the truth is always best spoken among friends, I will confess that it is
wish never to be joked upon subjects of this kind. It was the request of poor Mrs. Fortescue that I would never speak on these concerns, unless in a serious manner, and when necessary: and as I have now no occasion, either to speak or even to think of them, I should be
I have neither cause nor temptation to do so, to neglect the injunctions of this my maternal friend."
“0," said Miss Clifford, drawing up her mouth, and protracting the exclamation to a ridiculous length, “indeed ! I beg pardon. I am sorry.
Had I known so much before, I trust that I should have been more prudent. I would have died rather than have touched this tender subject with so rude a hand. To some persons I know that the affairs of the heart are matters of great importance. Perhaps they were so to Mrs. Fortescue ; perhaps they are so to you. You may depend in future, my dear Miss Mortimer, on my forbearance; only excuse me this once : saying which, she held out her hand to her new sister, at the same time assuming an expression of the ridiculous pathetic, at which Sophia could hardly refrain from smiling, though she experienced so strong a sentiment of distaste as wholly deprived her of the power of being amused by those peculiarities in Miss Clifford which few could look upon without mirth.
When the gentlemen appeared in the drawing-room, the conversation of course took another turn. Mr. Mortimer was in high and boisterous spirits, and the Captain was ready to second him in all his bumours; the baronet being the only quiet person of the party, the young gentleman having swallowed a sufficient quantity of liquor to make him more than commonly stupid.
After tea, Mr. Mortimer called for music, and asked Sophia to play
Sophia could play, and sing also, with considerable taste; but it was sacred music to which her attention had been chiefly directed, and she was, therefore, unprepared for any thing of a lighter sort. She stated this difficulty to her step-mother; when Mr. Mortimer observing her whisper, and desiring that her whisper might be repeated aloud, a burst of laughter from the good Squire himself, with certain fainter expressions of merriment from the young ladies, was the immediate consequence: while the father, clapping his daughter on the back in a manner something similar to that with which he would have caressed his favourite horse, bade her look up, saying, that she need only put herself under the tuition of Catharine Clifford, and she would teach her to sing to many new tunes.