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her companion to go up to the first of them, and make enquiry for the dying person, while she herself would stand waiting at the garden-gate.
While Mrs. Cicely was gone into the cottage, a young gentleman in a clerical habit approached in a direction opposite to that which Sophia had come, and drew near the young lady just as Mrs. Cicely came out of the cottage complaining that she could learn nothing there for there were only children to be seen.
The gentleman then spoke, and bowing politely, said, “I presume I am now addressing Miss Mortimer?” adding, “ if you will permit me, Madam, I will conduct you to the person you wish to see.”
Sophia now looked up, and for the first time saw the gentleman, whose near approach she had not before observed. She saw, also, that he was young, was a clergyman, and had a remarkably pleasing countenance, added to a fine person and genteel air. The surprise rather heightened her colour; and as this gentleman was altogether unknown to her, she could not at once resolve what answer to make to this proposal.
The gentleman saw her embarrassment, and probably imagining its cause, he said, "My name is Edward Sackville, Madam; I am rector of this parish of Fairfield: and though I have never before had the honour of speaking to Miss Mortimer, yet perhaps my name, at least, may be known to her.”
Sophia knew the name, and had always heard its owner spoken of in the highest terms by those who well understood the nature of true piety. Recovering herself, therefore, from her embarrassment, she thanked Mr. Sackville for his obliging offer; and, repeating to him the message she had received in the morning, asked him if he knew the poor widow from whom it came.
He replied, that he knew her history well, and that she was an object well deserving of the liveliest commiseration, and had once known better days, but had been reduced to the utmost need by inevitable misfortunes; to which he further added, that there would probably be a speedy end put to all her sufferings, as she could not live many days. He trusted that she possessed that firm confidence in her Saviour which was a sure promise that death would prove to her the beginning of everlasting joy.
Sophia then asked Mr. Sackville if he supposed the dying widow to be in want of pecuniary assistance.
To this he replied, that she perhaps might, indeed, have. some wants of that kind, but that he felt assured there was some other motive for her requesting to see Miss Mortimer. He then told Sophia that this poor woman had one little girl whom she had hitherto educated with great tenderness; and that he thought it possible that it was in order to interest her in the behalf of this child, that she had expressed so strong a desire to see her.
The tears started in Sophia's eyes when she heard this conjecture; but she had no time to reply, for the party having been seen from the upper windows of the cottage, were now accosted by a decent elderly woman who was employed in nursing the dying person, and were led by her through the small kitchen into an inner chamber, where the invalid was stretched on a little couch. The poor woman exhibited all those evidences of approaching dissolution well understood by Sophia from her acquaintance with the similar scene which she had so lately witnessed.
The dying widow thus first attracted the attention of the young lady. But her eyes presently wandered from the pale countenance of the mother to the blooming and dimpled face of the little daughter- a child of about four years
age, who was sitting on the bed near the head of her parent, and looking upon her with an innocent expression of wonder and sorrow.
Mr. Sackville presented Miss Mortimer to the dying woman, addressing her at the same time in words of tenderness and sympathy. The poor widow thanked her for attending so soon to her request, and proceeded instantly, with all the eagerness of one who feared she might not have breath to utter that which lay nearest her heart, earnestly and humbly to implore her protection for her child.
“I have heard of you, Miss Mortimer, I have heard of you,” she said; “I have been told that you are pious and tender-hearted. O hear the widow's prayer. Take my child, and see that she is brought up among pious persons."
The suddenness and vehemence of this address agitat
ed Sophia. She looked alternately at the mother and at the child; and then, turning to Mr. Sackville, she said, "I am dependent on my father's pleasure; and should be, when he comes, disapprove of what I have done, what can I do?"
“In that case,” replied Mr. Sackville, “ I am ready, Miss Mortimer, to be your substitute.”
The widow clung to these words. “ Then you will take her under your care, Miss Mortimer? you will protect my little Annette ?" she said; “you will see that she is piously brought up in her humble station? you will be a friend to her?” And thus she spoke, gasping for breath between every word.
“I will, I promise you I will," said Sophia, bursting into tears. "I will do all for your child which I possibly can. Make yourself easy on that account. I will love her. I will be kind to her. I promise you I will."
I shall not enter into further particulars of this scene in the cottage, nor describe the pious gratitude of the poor widow. Suffice it to say, that after Mr. Sackville had read the prayers for the sick, and Sophia had kissed the little Annette, they left the cottage.
Mr. Sackville accompanied Sophia only to the parkgate, where he took leave of her in the most respectful manner, assuring her that he considered himself bound to relieve her from the charge of the child at any time when she might signify the slightest wish of the kind.
She thanked him; adding, however, with warmth, that she hoped she should never be compelled to give up an engagement into which she had entered with so much delight.
“ And are you not cruel,” said he, smiling, “to withhold from me even the smallest part of an employment in which
you take so much pleasure? May we not consider ourselves as partners in this work of kindness ?”
Sophia did not know what answer to make to this remark, or how to take these expressions, whether seriously or in jest. She therefore made no answer, but wished the young gentleman a good morning.
As Sophia was walking home, her thoughts were so deeply engaged by the scenes through which she had just passed, that she scarcely heard one word of a long story which Mrs. Cicely addressed to her on certain domestic
subjects in which the old servant considered herself as being particularly well skilled; and she was not sorry, on her reaching home, to be left entirely to her own reflections.
What these reflections were it would be hard to describe; but this was certain, that she repeatedly called to memory, during the rest of the day, every word which Mr. Sackville had said to her. She also fancied that she had discovered a likeness between this young gentleman and an old portrait of the Duke of Monmouth, which hung in the great hall, and which she, when a little child, had been accustomed to admire.
So few had been the events which had varied the life of Sophia, that it were not to be wondered at if her thoughts were entirely engrossed by the circumstances of her walk this day; neither should it excite any surprise, though she did not immediately distinguish the agitation into which she was thrown by the prospect of her new and interesting undertaking from other feelings of a nature not to be indulged.
Sophia did not sleep quite so well as usual during the following night, and the next morning she thought of the Duke of Monmouth's picture. She immediately after breakfast, however, renewed her accustomed employment: but she had scarcely begun to feel herself interested in her engagements, before a servant came to say that a gentleman wished to speak with her.
“With me!” said Sophia, rising in haste.
The servant, who was an ignorant girl, and employed under the housekeeper merely to assist in cleaning and airing the house, answered, that she was sure he was a gentleman, from his appearance, and that he desired to see Miss Mortimer. “He now waits in the hall, Madam,” she said.
“And why," said Sophia, "did you not take him into another room?”
She then called Cicely, and went to meet her visitor in the hall. It was Mr. Sackville, and he held in his hand the little Annette, who evidently appeared to have been crying severely, but now had ceased from shedding tears, probably from wonder at her new situation, and the various extraordinary objects about her.
Before Sophia had time to speak to the child, Mr.
Sackville, addressing himself to her in a manner indicative of much feeling, presented her with the little girl, saying, “ Miss Mortimer, I have brought you a little orphan. Her poor mother died during the night; and I found the child, this morning, weeping at the foot of the bed on which the corpse of her parent was laid."
Sophia was much affected by this description; and as she looked upon the child, and recollected that she herself had also been left at a very early age without a mother, she could not refrain from tears.
Mr. Sackville was evidently touched by the tokens of sympathy that escaped Sophia on this occasion, though he made no remark on the subject, but merely assured Miss Mortimer, that if, upon reflection, she had found it would not be in her power to provide for the child, he was ready to take her in his hand to his own house.
Sophia politely objected to this proposal, but thanked Mr. Sackville for the generosity of his offer. She then would have taken the band of Annette, but the little girl shrank from her as a stranger, clinging to Mr. Sackville, as the person with whom she was best acquainted.
The reluctance of the child caused Mr. Sackville to lengthen his visit; and while he lingered, he endeavoured, in a manner which Sophia thought peculiarly tender and condescending, to reconcile the little weeping orphan to her new situation. At length, Mr. Sackville found it necessary to take his leave; although there was a something in his manner which shewed that he did not go without reluctance.
After he went from the door, Sophia, standing in the hall with the little Annette, was left in a state of mind of such mingled pain and pleasure as she had never before experienced. Mr. Sackville had gone some distance from the house before she recollected herself sufficiently to consider that, if he should happen to look back, it might seem strange to him to see her standing where he had left her. She therefore suddenly raised up the little ragged orphan in her arms, who was once more weeping bitterly on finding herself again left with a stranger, and hastened into her own parlour, where she mingled her tears with those of the child.
How long this pair might have continued weeping together, had they not been interrupted by the careful