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in a good humour: and I knew that she was jealous of the growing influence of her sister-in-law.
At length we arrived at the gates of the park. It was moonlight; and the moonbeams rested on the dark groves, and played on the polished surface of the lake. “This will do, even after Italy, my Lord,” said Lady Roxeter. "And then it is our home-our sweet home. We will try to render it happy, the Almighty helping us.” And, as she spoke, she took my hand and kissed it, with an air so dutiful, so affectionate, so becoming, that I was increasingly delighted with her; and more satisfied with myself for having obtained such a paragon; and thus we drove up to the gate of the Hall in the highest good humour.
The first person who appeared when the folding-doors were opened, was Mr. Helmly. Our meeting was cordial; and when I introduced him to Lady Roxeter, she bestowed upon him one of her lovely smiles, but was impatient to know how the baby was—thus again reminding me what ought to have been my first thought as a father.
Mr. Helmly shrugged up his shoulders, and, affecting a degree of concern which he did not feel, replied, that the child was for the present better ; “but, dear lady," he added, "I could almost advise you not to see him : he is a pitiable object; it might affect you too much.”
“What! not see him, Sir! never see him !” she replied: "little lovely one! I mean to spend every leisure moment I have with the babe; it shall be my heart's delight to attend him !” And, so saying, she addressed herself to the housekeeper, who had come from her own premises to pay her duty to her new lady; and they withdrew together. And thus I was left with Mr. Helmly, my sister having run up to see her own son.
We were no sooner alone, than he broke out with expressions of admiration of my second choice. charming young lady! all elegance and beauty!” he exclaimed; and then, passing from that subject, he spoke of my son; and in part confirmed what my sister had told me, the night before, in town, respecting the dangerous nature of his complaint.
I informed him, also, that I had heard his nurse had.
let him fall, and caused this injury. But he fired at this suggestion; and declared it to be his conviction, that there never was a more careful, prudent, excellent person than Mrs. Freeman—“quite a treasure”—with much more to the same purpose; which vexed me exceedingly, as it deprived me of an object on which to vent my rage; for I was almost mad with the fear that I might, perhaps, be obliged to bequeath my title and estates to a Iittle deformed creature; and such was my opposition and rebellion to the divine will in this instance, that I said, I wished nothing so much as that the child were under the sods with his mother and grandmother.
It was in Mr. Helmly's study (for we had arrived unexpectedly, and no other room was ready for us) that this conversation took place; and we were interrupted, in the midst of these expressions of my wicked desires, by a servant, who begged me to come immediately to Lady Roxeter.
I obeyed the summons; and found her standing in the gallery, at the head of the principal stairs. She was excessively pale, and her own maid (whom she had brought from Navarre) was at some little distance, holding a light. “I have seen the baby, my Lord," she said.
“And you are shocked at his appearance ?" I asked.
“I am,” she replied, “ dreadfully shocked;" and she trembled violently.
“Were you not advised not to go near him ?” I answered.
“Unhappy baby!" she replied, “thank God that I did not take that unfeeling counsel. The child is a poor object indeed! a pitiable, a miserable object! But what should you and I have been, had we been left, during infancy, in the hands of such wretches as those who have the care of your son? It was well we came unexpectedly; it was well that I insisted upon going to his chamber as I did. Oh! unhappy little babe! his pale face reveals the secret of his many sufferings. The women who have the charge of him are now both intoxicated ! the one, indeed, more so than the other : and all the people in this house are so careless as not to have dis
covered what is as plain as the light of day even to one so inexperienced as I am."
I was petrified; I was really for once shocked. I bade the waiting-maid light me to the nursery; and there I found all the women in the house collected, trying to make Mrs. Freeman know that I was come, but without success. The vile woman was asleep in the bed, in her clothes, and could not be roused; while my unhappy little son lay by her, seemingly as unconscious as herself.
I cannot, I dare not, repeat all that I said on this occasion. I ordered the servants to seize the miserable woman, and take her away; and bade all her partisans troop after her; while such of the servants as did not belong to the nursery stood aloof, trembling at my rage, which was for once just, although, perhaps, not properly exercised.
In the mean time, Mr. Helmly and my sister came up, and arrived just in time to share in a portion of my resentment; the one for his blindness in not having discovered the errors of the nurse, and the other for having recommended such a woman for the service. For once my inflamed spirit thoroughly overpowered their more deep and determined ones; and they stood pale and motionless before me, unable to urge any plea in their own favour, at least, that night; but, the next morning, they both contrived to make me believe they had been entirely deceived in the character of Mrs. Freeman; and Mr. Helmly assured me, that, had we only given a few hours' notice of our arrival, or waited till the morning before we had seen the infant, his nurse would have appeared to us in a light so wholly different, that we should have been as much deceived by her as he had himself been. -But to return to the nursery scene.
When I had routed the cruel woman and her partisans, and silenced my sister and Mr. Helmly, I looked round for Lady Roxeter and the infant: and was told by Thomas Jefferies, who stood just without the door in the gallery, that the lady had snatched up the baby in the beginning of the bustle, and carried him off in her
"And I am heartily glad of it,” said the old man
speaking as it were apart. "I am much mistaken, if, after all, the step-lady will not prove the best friend.' As he spoke, he pointed the way in which Lady Roxeter was gone, and I followed immediately.
The nursery was on the second floor. I ran down the stairs, and along the gallery; and, being directed by a light, I turned into the room which had been my first lady's dressing-room-one which had been furnished very elegantly for her—and where, over the chimneypiece, was her full-length portrait, in the robes of a countess, and adorned with the coronet. On a low seat, just before the fire-place, sat my second wife. Extended on her lap lay my son, and the tears of his step-mother were flowing freely for him. Her maid (the old Frenchwoman, a Protestant, from the kingdom of Navarre) was standing by her, holding a light, and looking anxiously on the child. Lady Roxeter looked up at me when I entered, and then her eyes were fixed again on the infant, while she heaved a deep sigh. I thought that the expression of her countenance was reproachful. I felt that I deserved her displeasure, and actually quailed beneath her gentle eye. I advanced. I stood before the lovely stepmother and the unhappy child. I hardly dared to look upon him ; it would have been a comfort to me never to have seen him. O how did I wish that he had died before my arrival in England! But the alternative was not left me I must see him I was to be made to feel.
0! what a sight was that miserable infant to me, when I first saw his poor pale face, after the lapse of seventeen months! for so long a time had passed since I had quitted Hartlands. I have seen larger children of ten months old; yet his limbs looked the longer, from their being miserably attenuated. His face was that of a person sunk with age, and it was impossible to form a judgment of what his features would have been in health; and notwithstanding all the uproar which had been made around him, he still lay in a dead slumber. He had not been undressed, apparently, since the morning; for his dress, though soiled, was richly decorated with lace, and one golden ringlet had escaped from beneath his cap, and had fallen, carelessly over his marble brow.
I looked at him for a moment, and then at Lady Roxeter; whose eyes, suffused with tears, were lifted up to
“You think me unfeeling, Mary?" I said. “No, no,” she answered," no, no, my dear Theodore; but I think you have been cruelly deceived, and I thank God that we are not come too late. The baby may yet be saved. If he could live through all this inhuman treatment, surely, surely there is a prospect that he may yet thrive in kinder hands. Cecile, good Cecile (that was the Frenchwoman then present) has promised me that she will take the charge of him. He shall sleep in the room adjoining to this, and he shall have every comfort.” And she rested her face on the baby; while her whole frame was agitated by the strength of her feelings.
I was beginning to expostulate with her, and to propose some alteration in her plan; on which she lifted up her head, and speaking vehemently, and almost passionately, “Say not a word, say not a word, Theodore,” she said. “They have called you a cruel father, and a bad husband; but they shall never say this of you again. You shall redeem your character; it shall no more be said of you that you are without a heart.”
She was proceeding: when I burst forth with some most violent expressions, not sparing oaths and execrations, and insisted on knowing who that person was who had dared thus to speak of me and to my wife.
She started at this inquiry, and changed colour.
“Speak," I said, “I will be informed," and I stamped with passion. I was angry with myself, and vented my rage upon the unoffending.
She looked in my face, and replied, with calmness, “I have spoken with haste. I was not told in so many words that you were a bad father, or that you had been a bad husband; but these things were insinuated. It was not in England that I heard them; and I did not believe them. Had I believed them,” she added, "I had not now been here, Theodore; for it was before we were married that these things were intimated."
Angry as I was, I could scarcely help smiling at the inference which it was natural to draw from this confession of LadyRoxeter, which proved that her affection for me had been stronger than her prudence. Yet I was