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Sophia. From the first moment that she had seen Mr. Sackville, his superiority to all the young men who had hitherto come under her observation was sensibly felt by her; and all that she had since heard of bim tended only to strengthen her prepossessions in his favour. But it was not till Mrs. Doiley had repeated this speech which he had made to Annette, that the young lady whom it so highly commended became sensible of the extent of her partiality for this young man; neither was she, till this moment, aware that the time was come which called upon her to prove whether she was indeed a worthy pupil of the excellent Mrs. Fortescue, or whether she had hitherto been merely a professor of religion, while, in fact, her heart remained estranged from her God.
She felt that it was, indeed, a painful moment when she first saw how far her mind and heart had already been allowed to wander from that object of supreme regard, on which Mrs. Fortescue so long continually laboured to fix them; and when, on her first looking inwardly, she could not but see how powerfully certain thoughts relative to a young man and a stranger had lately occupied her mind, and mingled themselves, more or less, with all her duties, but especially with those very acts of love and tenderness which she had shewn to the poor orphan.
What a casting-down of any high thoughts of self, which she might possibly have entertained and cherished, respecting her kindness to this little deserted one, was it, when the convictions of the Spirit, flashing on her conscience as the light from above on the jewels of the breast-plate, led her to see how much of self, how much of earthly feeling, how much of the desire of appearing interesting and worthy in the eyes of the only man who had ever yet attracted her attention or pleased her fancy, had united and mixed itself, as poison, with this her sweetest work of charity.
O how humbling, how degrading, in her own judgment, were these reflections! and how did they constrain her to turn away with secret anguish from the voice of every one who would have commended her for what she had already done, or might intend to do, for Annette.
While looking on this little fair creature, she would often say to herself, “ Yes, little lovely one, you do deserve
to be loved for yourself alone: and I will love you self alone, the Almighty helping me, through evil report and good report. I desire to love you; and I will pray that my motives with regard to you may be purified and rendered wholly independent of all earthly feelings. But, alas! while in this sinful body, who can hope to be pure? who can hope to be clean? who can wash himself from his secret sins?”
It was at this period that Sophia, for the first time, consulted the little manuscript left by Mrs. Fortescue: for, by the advice of this excellent woman, it was not to be opened till the young lady found herself in need of such directions as a prudent, pious, and delicate maternal friend alone could give.
The few first sheets of this manuscript contained certain tender expressions of love and affection; and then proceeded to the following effect.
“I have requested you, my child, not to open this little volume till you actually stand in need of my
advice relative to subjects on which, from the delicacy of your feelings, you would not easily be induced to speak to another. I therefore may now suppose myself to be addressing you at the crisis when you feel that some danger exists, lest your affections should be unduly influenced by an earthly object. Under the best circumstances, and in case of an affection which is reciprocal and authorized by parents, there is undoubtedly room to fear that the heart may be drawn downwards, and that the more spiritual affections may be regarded only as secondary to those whose sources and objects are upon earth; nevertheless, it is certain, that the more those affections to the creature (which are authorized and legitimatized by divine and human sanctions) are connected with duty, and confessed to the world, the less liable are they to withdraw the mind from God. The danger then to be apprehended for the spiritual welfare of a young person, in the formation of earthly connexions, is not at the period when the affection is authorized and acknowledged, or when love becomes a duty, as after marriage, but at that crisis when the heart is looking out of itself for happiness; when the imagination is busied either with the real or fancied perfections of the 'comparative stranger; and when all the anxious and ambi
tious feelings of the mind propel the individual to endeavour to look into futurity, and to influence her own fortune. This then is the time in which the should be most on her guard, and here is the trial of her faith,-if that grace be in her possession. To cast on God all her concern about her future settlements should be the object of her endeavours. In this case, as in every other, the Christian should be ready to adopt that most difficult of all sentiments, “Thy will, O God, be done!' It is true, that in her own strength she will never be able to put up that prayer; yet in the strength of her God she may and can do it. And having so done, with what dignity and ease will she be enabled to tread the thorny mazes of life, divesting herself of a thousand cares which continually perplex and enervate those persons who will not make God their confidence. ready, O my God, to be what thou hast ordained,' should be the language of every female heart. •I cast my cares upon
thee; and I desire never more, of myself, to resume the burden of them. Whether single or married, I desire to be thine; and I would wish never, without thy guidance, to take a single step, either to the right or the left, by which I might by any means influence my own lot.'
“ And now, my beloved Sophia, let us but suppose what effect a secret and sincere devotion of this nature to the Almighty, would have on the carriage of any young
What modesty, what simplicity, what ease and artlessness, would be the result of such a state of mind! Would not faith of this kind impart a polish to the manners, and shed over the general character a lustre and a loveliness, which the most laboured artificial education would in vain attempt to imitate?”
Sophia meditated long and closely on these passages cited from the manuscript; and thus, having fully found out what line of duty to pursue, under her present circumstances, she resolved, with the divine help, to set herself more earnestly than ever to the furtherance of her own improvement, and of that of Annette; to think as seldom as possible of Mr. Sackville; and to endeavour to forget her little difficulties by active, cheerful, and useful employment.
She wrote to her father, stating what she had done respecting Annette, and promising that the child should
never be a burden to him. In answer to which, he returned a few lines, intimating, that he considered her adoption of the child as a whim, which would pass away in a very short time, and which was not worthy of his notice either one way or other: for he concluded his letter with this expression—"Amuse yourself as you like, child; but don't plague me with your pets, whether they may be monkeys, lap-dogs, or beggars' brats.”
Sophia was very thankful for this consent or acquiescence with her will, however inelegantly it was signified, and she secretly determined to keep Annette, as much as possible, out of her father's sight.
Towards the end of the fifth month after the death of the excellent Mrs. Fortescue, Sophia received a letter from her step-mother, informing her that it was the intention of the family to be in Yorkshire in less than a month. The letter was concluded with many strong expressions of regard, which Sophia could not well comprehend, as this very affectionate step-mother had sometimes allowed a whole year to pass
away without taking any notice of her even by a letter. Reflecting, however, on the duty which she owed to her father's wife, she resolved that she would endeavour, if possible, to love her and her daughters. Still, she could not but regret, that her happy days hitherto spent in retirement must now in a short time come to an end; and she wept to think that, in all probability, she would be compelled to diminish, in a great measure, her attentions towards her beloved An-nette. The very thoughts of this were so painful to her, that she would often take the little girl into her arms, and give way for a long time to her sorrow.
The summer was gone, and autumn had considerably advanced, when a coach full of female servants arrived at the Hall, to prepare every thing for the proper reception of the family.
Sophia still kept possession of her own apartments, and pursued her own simple and unostentatious plans, always admitting her little Annette by the glass door which opened on the lawn, being herself, as usual, constantly attended by Mrs. Cicely. But, remote as her rooms were from the rest of the house, many unusual sounds of loud voices and slamming doors reached her ears, which disturbances she deemed, too truly, but the
precursors of a more general interruption of her repose.
During this interval, Sophia received a message, through Mrs. Doiley, from Mr. Sackville, urging her, in very polite terms, if she found the charge of little Annette likely to be at all inconvenient to her, to commit her to his care, assuring her that he would be ready to give her up again whenever she might require it.
There was something so kind and considerate in the feeling which must have dictated this message, that Sophia felt herself greatly obliged to the young gentleman for it. She, however, declined his kind offer; adding, that, at present, she foresaw no inconvenience whatever, likely to arise from her little charge, but that, in case any difficulty should occur, she would not fail to apply to Mr. Sackville.
On the morning of the day fixed for the arrival of Mr. and Mrs. Mortimer, and the three Misses Clifford, the daughters of the latter, Sophia spent, as usual, several hours in instructing her little Annette, and she was still engaged in this agreeable task, when she saw several outriders approaching through the park, followed immediately by a sociable, and a travelling-post-chaise. Sophia started, changed colour, and, calling Mrs. Cicely, she begged her to stay in her room and attend to her little Annette; “For now," added she, bursting into tears, now-now-I can do no more for her.”
“Nay, my dear young lady,” said Mrs. Cicely, who was as much afraid of innovations as her young mistress could possibly be, “ do not be so much alarmed. We shall not, surely, be interrupted in these rooms, which you may say have been yours ever since my poor lady died! And if they do but leave these to us, we shall then do vastly well. And I am sure I shall never go out to trouble
any of them, if they will let me alone here.” By this time, the gay train of equipages had reached the house, and were wheeling round to the front door. A moment afterwards, the shrill voices of the fashionable young ladies were re-echoed through the long passages ; while Sophia, in visible agitation, kissed Annette, who was prevented from following her by Mrs. Cicely, and bastened to meet her parents. In a few moments, she found herself in her father's arms.