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Mr. Mortimer's expressions of admiration and affection at the sight of his daughter were loud, and, like himself, of the coarsest sort: for although he was something of a man of the world, yet perhaps few persons were gifted with a smaller number of refined notions. Mrs. Mortimer's reception of Sophia was not, at least apparently, less warm than that of her father; neither were her daughters behind hand in their expressions of regard, although the beauty and simply elegant carriage of Sophia were by no means calculated to give them pleasure.
As soon as the first compliments had passed on both sides, Sophia had leisure to contemplate her newly-arrived relations, who were all busy in counting the packages they had brought with them, and giving various orders respecting them; after which, they proceeded to the dining-room, where a cold collation was prepared.
Mrs. Mortimer had been very handsome, and still, though near her sixtieth year, was, with the assistance of rouge and false hair, what the world called a fine woman, though such a figure as a serious Christian would contemplate with many bitter feelings. For what can be so lamentable, as to see one who, in the natural course of things, must soon resign this world, and enter into a new and eternal state of everlasting joy or sorrow, clinging closely to temporal things, and adorning, with all the vain and deceitful decorations which fashion can supply, that body which must in a short time be food for worms? Mrs. Mortimer had had, by her first husband,
six children, three only of whom were living. Her eldest daughter, Catharine, was at this time nearer forty than thirty years of age. She had never possessed any part of her mother's beauty excepting a tall and commanding figure, which of late had been spreading rather too much into the en bon point. Her face was large and broad, naturally very pale, and slightly marked by the smallpox, her large eyes were of a grey colour, her mouth was extremely small, and her nostrils were wide; the whole forming a very unpleasing assemblage of features. Notwithstanding which, a fashionable mode of dress, a quantity of rouge, an amazing degree of effrontery of manner, and a knack at repartee, rendered her generally accept
able in society, particularly as she was able to conceal under the cloak of entire openness and unblushing assurance, a character extremely artificial and designing. But though this lady's passion was ambition, she now had sense to discover, that her own person was not such as to warrant any hopes of her advancing the family dignity by a high marriage in propria persona. Her present object, therefore, was to establish her two younger sisters: and for this purpose, in conjunction with her mother, she had made several skilful manquvres, and had actually got at this time in her web a foolish young baronet, who had professed some regard for Miss Juliana Clifford when in Town, and who was even expected that very evening at the Hall: for the sapient mother and daughter judged that they should here be able to bring the whole artillery of Miss Juliana's charms to bear more directly upon him than in London, where he was subject to the attacks of other mothers and daughters, as cold-hearted, ambitious, and cunning, as themselves. Judge, then, if you can, what must have been the dismay of these ladies, when they discovered that the wilds of Yorkshire contained in Sophia a more powerful rival than any that they had had to fear in St. James's. However, nothing was to be done but to put a good face on the business: for which reason, Miss Clifford lavished on Sophia no small portion of compliments and caresses, by which she hoped, in time, to gain her confidence, and obtain from her an avowal of her most secret inclinations. What use she meant to make of such an avowal (could she obtain it) will hereafter appear.
In my description of the family party which now took possession of Mortimer-Hall, I have said nothing of Mrs. Mortimer's younger daughters, and for the plain reason, that there was little to be said about them. They, indeed, were passably good-looking, but, through affecting much delicacy, they were ready unreservedly to lend themselves to the ambitious and worldly views of their mother and sister. Strangely mixed as was this party, it was thought necessary by each individual to appear well with the rest. Yet there were certain feelings between Mrs. Mortimer and her daughters, who formed one party, and Sophia, who stood alone, which both parties were willing to conceal, but which they would
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still have found considerable difficulty in doing, had it not been for the boisterous humour of Mr. Mortimer, who could hardly restrain his triumph on finding his wife's daughters so entirely eclipsed by his own.
“Why, Sophia,” he exclaimed, as he cut a succession of enormous slices from a monstrous round of beef which stood before him, “ you would do credit to the head of any man's table! A prince need not be ashamed of such a companion to share his throne with him. Believe me, I never thought that old dame Fortescue would ever have made so much of you as she has done. Upon my word, you credit the old girl's management. But what! what's that long face? O! I must not talk of your
old governess, I see. Well, well, then, I won't. Come, child, look
up, and don't pipe and whine. However, I am glad to see you, and that's the plain truth. hand, child: I don't know that I have seen any thing I have liked so well, these twenty years.
Twenty years, Mr. Mortimer!” said Miss Clifford, laughing; "you forget how many times during the last twenty years you have looked at me!”
“And at my bay mare, too,” said Mr. Mortimer: “and yet, I still stand to what I first said. Sophia here pleases me as well as-nay, even better than any thing I have seen these twenty years.” And he confirmed his assertion with an oath, which made Sophia's ears tingle and her heart sink.
The conversation was then forced into another channel by Mrs. Mortimer, who declared that if she remained at the Hall, she must absolutely have the dining-room newly furnished; -an observation to which Mr. Mortimer only replied by a shrill whistle, at the same time throwing the contents of a plate of beef on the floor-cloth, causing a violent contention among half-a-dozen or more dogs, that had followed the party into the room.
When the travellers had appeased their hunger, it was proposed that they should explore the house, and settle what apartments they might choose to occupy. Immediately they were all in motion: and Sophia, availing herself of the confusion which ensued, approached her father, and took his hand, just as he was leaving the dining-room, and, raising it at the same time to her lips, she told him that she had a favour to ask.
" And so," said he, turning good-humouredly round,
you are already presuming on your pretty face to wheedle and coax me. But I tell you, Miss, that I will refuse
you whatever you are going to ask.” “ Then, dear father,” said Sophia, “ will you please to turn me and Mrs. Cicely out of the brown parlour and the rooms within it?”
“No," said the good-humoured Squire, “no, I will not, saucy one!” And as he spoke, he chucked her under the chin. ** You sha'n't have your way, I promise you. The brown parlour is good enough for such as you; and there you shall stay: so don't be coaxing me.”
“But I will,” said Sophia, again kissing his hand, and receiving at the same time a cordial embrace from
“ What's all this?” said Miss Clifford, looking back. • What is little Miss about now? Come, come; I must look into these matters."
“Secrets in all families, Miss Clifford !” said the Squire; "and some you must not look into.”
Miss Clifford laughed, hit her step-father a tap on the back, and secretly resolved that she would have a watchful eye over both the father and daughter.
The examination of the house was the more speedily concluded, as the baronet already mentioned, and his friend Captain Dalrymple, were expected at dinner; and Sophia was not sorry when she was dismissed from her attendance, and permitted to return to her own apartments, which, with the offices, were the only parts of the house that Mrs. Mortimer and her daughters had not inspected.
She returned, however, to her own rooms, full of joy, in the persuasion that she should not be turned out of her favourite asylum. And she found Mrs. Cicely so ready to participate in her satisfaction, that the good old woman even requested permission to take her meals in her closet, or in one corner of the parlour, in order that she might be left the more to herself. Sophia joyfully acquiesced in this proposal: and as Cicely's services were to be devoted wholly to her, both the maid and the mistress began to hope that they should still enjoy much peace and comfort during those intervals in which Sophia might not be required to join the family.
As some hours yet remained before dinner, which was to be ready at six o'clock, Sophia gave her little Annette another lesson. She also read to her a little story from the Scripture, and prayed with her. And then, having, with Mrs. Cicely's help, arranged her simple dress, she left Annette to drink tea with the old servant, and, giving the child a kiss, she repaired to the drawing-room, where the family were by this time assembled.
Sophia now, for the first time since her recollection, entered a room superbly lighted with patent lamps and wax candles, and found herself introduced to such a scene of fashionable life as she had hitherto only known through the description of Mrs. Fortescue.
In the drawing-room were several sofas, on one of which, in a remote part of the room, sat Miss Juliana, lolling apparently at her ease, and discoursing with a young gentleman who sat by her, and whom Sophia supposed to be Sir James Horton. Miss Clifford was standing with her back to the fire, talking to Mr. Mortimer. And Mrs. Mortimer and her younger daughter, seated on another sofa, were engaged in a very animated conversation with Captain Dalrymple, who stood before them.
Sophia had been a little surprised at the dashing mode of dress of these ladies when she had seen them in the morning, and she had trembled lest any authority ‘should be used to compel her to adopt the short petticoat, the showy half-boot, and the blowsy head-dress, on which she had looked with such disgust. But what were these in comparison of the bare shoulders, the naked arms, and thin silk stockings, which now met her eye? The postures, too, of all the females, accorded so little with her old-fashioned ideas of decorum, that she stood at the door, not knowing which party she was to join, or by whom she was to take her place.
Her entrance was not, however, unobserved : and all admired, though some not without bitter
envy, dest dress, her gentle aspect, and her sweet expression of humility and innocence.
Her father was the first who spoke. sweet Sophia!” said he, as he went to meet her; “my little elegant peasant! Give me your hand, and let me lead you to your mother.” So saying, he conducted her
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