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“I have seen very little of him, Miss Clifford,” replied Sophia, gravely.
“ But one may sometimes form no incorrect opinion of a person from one or two interviews,” returned Miss Clifford, looking exceedingly hard in Sophia's face; and then suddenly and abruptly introducing another subject, being perfectly satisfied of all she wanted to know upon this.
The next day being Sunday, the family appeared at church, and on the Monday following, many of the neighbouring gentry paid their respects to them at the Hall. None of these guests were, however, seen by Sophia, as she had walked out, after breakfast, with Mrs. Cicely and Annette, on an errand which took her to a considerable distance.
Among these visitors was Mr. Sackville, who had for once broken his resolution of never seeking any acquaintance beyond his parish, in order to
his compliments to Mr. Mortimer. What his motive might have been, he perhaps hardly understood himself: but Miss Clifford, who was confirmed in her suspicions by his appearance, suggested to Mrs. Mortimer, that she could not do better than invite him to dinner, and thus provide at once an admirer for Sophia, and convince the baronet, hy ocular demonstration, that he had no chance with her.
The invitation was accordingly given and accepted for the next day; when the unsuspecting Sophia was not a little astonished, on her entering the drawing-room, to find Mr. Sackville conversing with her step-mother.
During the evening, every arrangement was made by the maneuvering mother and daughter to throw these young people in each other's way; and Mr. Sackville seemed so well pleased with the opportunities thus given him of conversing with Sophia, that every hour seemed but a moment to him.
Although Sophia's manner was perfectly modest and artless, yet it was sufficiently evident, to such observers as she had about her, that her feelings for Mr. Sackville were very different from those that she discovered towards Sir James. Nothing, however, passed between this young lady and gentleman but what was lovely, holy, and of good report. They first talked of Annette, and Sophia repeated many little anecdotes relative to her
which she thought interesting; and such was the warmth with which she expatiated on this subject, that, without observing it, she had drawn upon herself the eyes of many in the room, who had never before seen her so animated. Mr. Sackville then described some particularly beautiful flowers which he had in his garden, at the same time promising Sophia some roots and seeds of them ; and he afterwards gave her an account of some persons who had lately died in his parish in a very happy man
When Mr. Sackville took his leave this evening, which he evidently did with considerable reluctance, Miss Clifford afforded him an opportunity of coming again by requesting the loan of a new publication which he had accidentally mentioned.
As this narrative has unavoidably extended itself to some length, I shall not increase its bulk by describing either the various means which Miss Clifford, in connexion with her mother, employed to bring Mr. Sackville continually to the Hall, or the various methods which she took to keep alive the remembrance of him in the mind of Sophia in his absence.
“ How could you think,” said she one day to Sophia, “of calling Mr. Sackville a plain man? In my opinion he is remarkably handsome.'
'I do not remember having mentioned the subject,” replied Sophia, colouring deeply.
“ Then I am, indeed, mistaken,” said Miss Clifford. “I am sure I thought you had affirmed as much.” And then, because Sophia would not allow herself to be addressed on such matters, this talkative lady proceeded to warn her sister Harriet, in Sophia's hearing, against falling in love with him, saying, that handsome men were always vain, and adding, that she was sure he had some design in coming so frequently to the Hall.
In the mean time several weeks had passed, while the baronet evidently betrayed an increasing preference for Sophia, and more and more uneasiness in the presence of Mr. Sackville, of whose advantages of person and manner he seemed perfectly sensible.
Mr. Mortimer at first did not appear to know what was going forward in his family; and Miss Clifford hoped he would continue in ignorance. But on Sir James
becoming more open and decided in his attentions to Sophia, her father began to think that it would be her own fault if his daughter did not become Lady Horton. The idea pleased him: and, from that time, he endeavoured to promote the connexion to the utmost of his power. His attention being thus drawn to what was passing, he was not long in observing that Sophia, though always modest and dignified in her manner, betrayed a much greater degree of pleasure in being addressed by Mr. Sackville, than by Sir James; and, in consequence of this discovery, he did every thing short of absolutely forbidding him the house to discourage Mr. Sackville's visits.
While all these things were taking place, Sophia found reason to lament the loss of that peace of mind of which she had once enjoyed so large a share, although her retired apartment and her little Annette were still as dear to her as ever. She now remembered with
guish the days when her heart had been sincerely and continually devoted to her God; when it was her highest pleasure to read her Bible, to dwell upon the merits of her Saviour, and to seek the presence of the Holy Spirit. But now she found that a mere earthly passion was acquiring a growing influence over her mind; and that this passion was constantly fed either by the presence of the favoured object, or by her hearing him continually spoken of. She was at this time made sensibly to experience what Mrs. Fortescue had often told her, that the young woman who allows the encroachment of any passion which has not received the sanction of duty, utterly destroys her peace for the time being, if not for ever. “But are there no means,” said she, "of overcoming this evil? Shall I patiently submit to be the slave of feeling? No, no," she added, “I will consult my late beloved Mrs. Fortescue's book, and I shall no doubt be directed to what will supply a remedy for my present
Sophia did as she resolved. She read over, again and again, the little manuscript left by her deceased instructress; and, thus, was she led, under the divine blessing, to a sincere and hearty repentance, to a renewed devotion of herself to God, and to a more active and lively exercise of her various duties. Sophia now endeavoured to give less of her company
VOL. IV. L
to the Miss Cliffords, and more time to her Bible, her general improvement, and her attentions to the little Annette.
But while these things were passing in the mind of Sophia, and she was gradually recovering her mental vigour, Sir James, being hurt by a hint purposely given him by Miss Clifford, respecting Sophia, who she pretended cherished an invincible dislike, to him, took himself off without making the offer expected by Mr. Mortimer; at which, the angry father declared that he would shortly leave Yorkshire, and take his whole family to Bath, in order, he said, to separate his daughter from the young man to whom he too plainly saw she was attached.
It was a severe blow to Sophia, when she was informed of this proposed visit to Bath, and she tried to persuade herself that all her sorrow on this occasion arose from her reluctance to leave Annette: for she had come to the conclusion, that she thought no more of Mr. Sackville but as of a friend, with whom she might probably have no further conversation. But it was necessary, on account of Annette, that Mr. Sackville should know of this intended journey; and although Sophia very properly objected to entering into an epistolary communication with him on the subject, the matter might, however, easily have been settled through the medium of Mrs. Cicely: yet Sophia chose rather to fancy that there were some objections to so simple a mode of arranging this knotty point, which she supposed could be managed by nothing less than a personal interview with the
party concerned; and therefore, as Mr. Sackville did not, as formerly, now come to the Hall, she allowed day after day to pass without making the requisite communication, or forming any arrangement for the comfort of the child while she herself was to be absent.
In the mean time, the engaging little creature wrapped herself more and more closely about the heart of her protectress, and the child's entire freedom from apprehension respecting the approaching separation daily increased the sadness of Sophia. “O my little Annette!” would she often say within herself, “must I leave you ? and will nobody love you, and bear with you, and please you, as I do? Cicely must go with me,
and I know that Mrs. Doiley is sometimes cross with you; and then you will have no one to whom you may tell
your little sorrows, or who will wipe your weeping eyes. Ah, little orphan, I shall often think of you when far far away.”
Such were the reflections of Sophia; in spite of which she still hesitated to allow Mrs. Cicely to acquaint Mr. Sackville with her concern about the child, though the good woman was very willing to convey to him any message which her lady might wish to send.
Such was the state of things, when, one fine clear morning in December, Sophia went out to walk in a remote and retired part of the park, holding Annette by the hand; and, lost in melancholy reflection, having passed the more open part of the inclosure, they turned into a path leading to a deep dell or dingle, that was shaded in the summer season by the thick foliage of many trees which grew on its sloping sides. At the further end of this dell was a waterfall, which, tumbling from the higher grounds, fell dashing and foaming into the depths of the glen. At the present season of the year, the trees were leafless, and the full glare of day shot into the very bottom of the valley. The cold, however, had been severe; and the feeble December sun which now appeared in the vaporous sky had not sufficient power to dissolve the hoar frost which spangled every bough and spray, and rendered the moss of the unfrequented pathway short and crisp beneath the foot. Many long and briliant icicles were hanging like cones of crystal from the rocky sides of the cascade, and the whole scene of the dingle was not now as beautiful as it would appear in the heats of summer, inasmuch, only, as the ideas which it suggested were less promising of enjoyment in the open air.
Look, dear Ma'am,” said little Annette, pointing her finger to the cascade, “ look at those long pieces of glass which hang down by the brook : look how bright they are! May not I carry some of them home?"
“ Not now,” said Sophia : « it is wet and cold; we cannot get down to the side of the water."
“ Then we will come again by and by,” said Annette. “When the winter is gone, we will come and fetch them, shall we not, Ma'am ?”