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“And why, my dear Miss Jane,” asked the old lady, “ why should I look grave when any new proposal is
?” “ 0,” said Miss Jane, “ the reason is simple enough -you are naturally alarmed, lest the whole management of the new scheme should devolve on you, as so many of the former useful projects of our ladies have already done.”
No answer was made to this remark, for it was scarcely finished, when Mrs. Mary Bird arose to take her leave; and immediately on her departure, probably fearing lest she should witness some further impertinences on the part of her sister, Miss Parker invited Anna to accompany her to Mrs. Humphreys's.
While they walked together towards Mrs. Humphreys's, Miss Parker was unusually silent. And Anna was now not a little embarrassed; for she had discovered that all was not right with her friend, and began already to entertain many fears that her religion was exhibited more in words than deeds: in consequence, she hardly knew how to converse with her.
On arriving at Mrs. Humphreys's house, Anna was as much struck with the laboured elegance of its furniture and decorations as she had been with the same ornamental appearances, though on a larger scale, in Mrs. Parker's house; and she could not help asking herself, how this growth of fashionable splendour agreed with the increased profession of religion which had lately taken place in the Town of L-?
Mrs. Humphreys was sitting on a sofa in an elegant little parlour, dressed, it is true, as an old person, but with such studied exactness as seemed not wholly suited to the state of one who made so loud a profession of having abandoned the world and its vanities. The air and manner of Mrs. Humphreys were, at the same time, so strikingly artificial, and her mode of speaking on religious subjects so studied, that Anna felt, as she was introduced into the room, and was pressed to take a seat on the sofa by the old lady, a kind of reluctance and repugnance to enter into familiar conversation with her for which she could not account; and she was, therefore, particularly disconcerted, when Miss Parker, asking after some young lady whom she had appointed
to meet her there, said she would leave her dear Anna with Mrs. Humphreys, while she went to call upon the person in question.
Anna was, in consequence, left for more than an hour with Mrs. Humphreys: during which time, the soothing and flattering expressions which the old lady used, together with the many religious sentiments she uttered, had wrought such a revolution in Anna's feelings, as to excite some regret when their conversation was interrupted, which it was, at length, by a thundering knocking at the door; and, a few moments afterwards, eight or ten young ladies were ushered into the small parlour, accompanied by Mr. Burton.
This last was the first to throw himself on a chair, or rather into the corner of Mrs. Humphreys's sofa from which Anna had arisen; where, after several attempts to yawn and express fatigue, he complained, that he was worn to death, that he could not get a moment to himself, that he had been actually up the greater part of the night, and that he was now forcibly torn from some business of the greatest importance, by a dozen, at least, of cruel creatures, who had assailed his house on all sides, and brought him away captive.
“ Because, although you had promised,” said Miss Parker, “ we knew
would not come, if left to yourself; and we could not do without you.'
“My promise,” said Mr. Burton, " was only conditional: I call Mrs. Humphreys to witness, if it were more than conditional.”
“ You know,” said Mrs. Humphreys, “ that I never take your part.
” The newly arrived party, being invited by Mrs. Humphreys, placed themselves round herʻtable; and, after a quarter of an hour's general discourse on the gossip of the day, Mrs. Humphreys called the attention of the company to the business on which they were met, producing at the same time certain plans which she had found in the different religious magazines and registers which either she or any of her friends took in, These several plans were read, discussed, amended, approved, disapproved, adopted, and rejected; the company so often diverged from the matter in question; so many compliments were paid, all of which required disqualify
ing speeches from the person complimented; such a variety of opinions were brought forward; such a perpetual recurrence was made to things which Anna had supposed to have been already settled; that, although business had commenced at twelve, the clock struck three before any thing was determined: and as it was well known that Mrs. Humphreys always dined at three, it was agreed that the meeting should be adjourned to a future day.
As Miss Parker and Anna were accompanied by several of the party from Mrs. Humphreys's to their own door, they had no particular conversation together; so that the events of the morning were scarcely touched upon till, at dinner, Miss Jane asked, in her usual impertinently lively manner, what had been done at the meeting?-a question which instantly excited Miss Charlotte's ill humour.
As Miss Jane declared her intention of staying at home this evening, Anna expressed a hope, that they might all together drink tea with Mrs. Parker. But she was speedily informed by Miss Parker, that she had an engagement to go out which could not be set aside: so Anna found that she must give up her wish of spending that evening with the old lady, in order to accompany her daughter to a party–where much the same scene was presented as she had witnessed the night before.
In this heartless way passed most of the time which Anna spent at L- During this period, she heard much talk of religion; but scarcely could discern any points in which these professors differed from the world in general, excepting that they did not play at cards, nor attend the amusements of the theatre, (the theatre being at this time open in L- ..) But when she looked for self-denial, which Mr. Mills had taught her to consider as one test of truly religious principles, she saw so few instances of this kind, and those so slight, so arbitrary, and uncertain, that she was almost led to form this harsh decision-that, with the exception of Mrs. Mary Bird, there were few of the religious society in L- who appeared to be much acquainted with the nature of Christian simplicity.
We may discern the errors of our fellow-creatures, and mourn over the state of the world in general, witbout deciding on the case of any single individual. There were, even at that time, many well-meaning persons in the religious society at L-; individuals that daily spent many hours in reading and prayer; who yet, while they believed themselves separate from the world because they did not attend its public amusements, were so entirely influenced by the persons with whom they associated, as to be kept in as complete a state of bondage to the creature as the most worldly characters in L-Thus they were sorely let and hindered in their Christian walk, because they did not look simply to Christ, but, seeking for honour one of another, were caught in the net of the flatterer. And so, being entangled in the snares of Satan, they became of the number of those who, by a high profession and inconsistent practice, render themselves guilty of taking the name of the Lord in vain, as well as of making religion contemptible in the sight of its enemies.
In this society, Anna gradually lost her spirits; and though, through the influence of the flattering speeches which she daily heard from Mrs. Humphreys and others, she acquired rather an higher idea of her own perfections, yet by this she was no gainer in the article of happiness; since, in proportion as her attention was directed to self, she became estranged from the Saviour. Prayer and private meditation, once her chief delight, now gradually lost something of their sweetness; till at length she was ready, when alone, more than once to break out in the beautiful words of the hymn
" Where is the blessedness I knew
When first I saw the Lord ?
Of Jesus and his word ?
“ How bless'd the hours I once enjoy'd !
How sweet their memory still !-
The world can never fill.'
One sad but very common effect of flattery she experienced in a particular degree, which was this — that, being afraid to lose the good opinion she supposed her companions to entertain respecting her, she became afraid to deal sincerely with them. Although therefore
she saw the exceeding impropriety of Miss Parker's conduct towards her mother, yet it was very long before she could bring herself to hint her thoughts on the subject to her friend: and when she did so, it was in so weak and indecisive a manner, that it might almost as well have been let entirely alone; since it only gave Miss Parker opportunity to justify herself, and to use arguments in her own favour which, notwithstanding their fallacy, served to strengthen her in her fault.
Miss Parker represented to Anna that her mother was not only an enemy to religion, but, as far as lay in her power, a persecutor also; and that every effort which she, her daughter, had made to lead her to better things, had only ended in the mother becoming more hostile than ever to the interests of religion.
Anna might have answered, that she feared Miss Parker had not taken the way to make religion appear amiable to her mother. But the selfish fear of giving offence kept her lips closed; while Miss Parker proceeded to say, that she supposed the irreligious state of her mother and sister were to be her trials; that this was the cross she was to bear; and that it was her constant prayer to be enabled to support it with fortitude. * But," added she, in an agony of passion and pride, which Anna interpreted into a burst of tender feeling, “ if I must, on their accounts, lose the esteem of my dearest friend, my trial will be bitter indeed.”
Forbearing to repeat the quotations from Scripture which Miss Parker used during her defence, I will only observe, that they were so well applied, as not only to deceive Anna, but even to confirm the young lady herself in the idea of her being an injured daughter, persecuted by an infidel mother for the sake of her religion; in fact, a Christian heroine. Thus, while her vanity was soothed, she was encouraged to proceed in her imprudent course.
The period fixed for Anna's stay at L being, however, nearly exhausted, Mr. Mills, one morning, drove up to Mrs. Parker's door, in the well known taxed-cart, lent to him for the occasion by the farmer: and I am happy to add, that Anna was not yet so spoiled by flattery, or so injured by a soft and luxurious life, as not to feel her heart bound with joy at the sight