« EelmineJätka »
tribe of meddlers, and then the good work of reconciliation will be speedily accomplished between you and your lady; and, though I may suffer with the other impertinent persons in your train, yet I shall have one consolation which the rest will not enjoy; I shall see peace restored to that noble family in which, having no children of my own, my heart is entirely bound up."
I took no notice of the generous turn of this speech, but asked him whether he thought it a likely means to induce me to be cordial with Lady Roxeter, even supposing, I added, that I had quarrelled with her, to hint to me that she had deprived me of the affection of every old friend I had in the world. “What," I asked, "is the meaning of all the solemn faces I have seen to day, Mr. Helmly, if Lady Roxeter has not been setting every one against me ?"
“The meaning, my Lord, is this,” he replied, " that, since you left us, which is ten years, a new generation has risen up at Hartlands; children, whom you left, nine, ten, and eleven years of age, are now men and women, acting their part on the stage of life, and influencing their parents more or less. These children have all been brought up under the eye and control of Lady Roxeter: she established a village schoolmaster and mistress, years ago; and I verily believe that there have not been ten days in each year since you left us, in which she has not visited these schools. Her mode of instruction is peculiarly happy, and it has been abundantly blessed. If, therefore, she is bound up in the hearts of all these children, and, through them, in the hearts of their parents, can you wonder, my Lord, can you be surprised, or can you ask, wherefore you are not received as you expected to be? Such an influence as that of Lady Roxeter, acting, year after year, a village like this, must have a powerful, an irresistible effect; an effect which you will vainly try to resist; and especially as Lord Bellamy, having been entirely brought up by your lady, is, through the divine blessing, as steadfastly fixed in the way of what is right as his mother can possi
“Well, sir," I replied, “the sum and substance of all this, as far as I can understand, is, that Lady Roxeter
and Lord Bellamy are to rule every thing; and that I am to be a complete cipher in my family and on my own estate: all of which would be perfectly well, if I could but consent to become a mere puppet dancing on the wires of female influence; which you, my worthy friend, seem to have been for some years past. But, as I am not disposed, at present, to be quite so submissive, you must permit me to wish you a very good morning; and, if you will add to the benefits already bestowed on me, henceforward to forget the road between the Hall and the parsonage, I shall consider that the conversation of this morning has had the most agreeable and happy effect.” So saying, I took off my hat, made a low bow, and walked off in all speed, leaving my old tutor to his own cogitations.
Thus another sacred tie was broken by me; but my career was to be short; all was hastening on to the catastrophe. I was soon to see the effects of my wickedness: that they were not more fatal was, I believe, through the mercy of God, to be attributed to this circumstance; that I could not suffer alone; I could not have been made more miserable than I was, without having pai kers in my sufferings, among those who had not deserved the chastisements I had so justly incurred.
I saw no more, for some time, of Mr. Helmly, as may be supposed ; but I failed not to repeat all he had said to me to my sister, whenade light of it, saying, “The man's head is turned ; they are all a set of bigots together; and they have lived in solitude till they make mountains of mole-hills. If they would let you and Lady Roxeter alone, you would do vastly well; you are as easy and as happy a pair as any I ever saw; a perfect pattern of matrimonial felicity. What would the old man require? But he is a bachelor, and like all other old bachelors, has very ridiculous ideas of matrimony.” She then turned the conversation, and made a proposal which did not surprise me, neither did it displease me; it was on the part of her son for Laura.
Lord Seaforth was equal in rank to me. His estate had been wonderfully improved by the long minority; and I could not see that Laura could do better. I there
fore closed with the proposal at once, and without any reference to Lady Roxeter; and it was agreed between us that Lord Seaforth should endeavour to make himself agreeable to my daughter; there being no doubt entertained of his success. Lady Seaforth also proposed to go, in a few weeks, to her son's house in the adjoining county; at which time I foresaw that circumstances would call me to town; and I meant to pay Lady Roxeter the compliment of taking her with me, that the world might see what an easy and happy couple we were: for, although I tried to put a good face upon it, I began to be a little ashamed of my character as a careless husband. I also wished to have my beautiful daughter introduced at court; and, as Lord Bellamy did not choose to die, I thought that it would be impossible to keep him any longer in the back-ground.
It was an object, however, to me to make Hartlands as gay as possible while we remained there: in consequence of which, we filled our house, and assembled a variety of persons, selected chiefly for their powers of giving amusement.
In this gay and heterogeneous society, Lady Roxeter preserved her usual calm and dignified deportment; never making her appearance till the hour of dinner, and frequently leaving us for an hour or more when we were set down to cards. As to her daughter, she hardly ever left her mother's side ; and, when obliged so to do, I observed that she always attached herself to her elder brother. She even would be handed by him to dinner; and when I expostulated with her on the singularity of this behaviour, which I did in a playful way, she answered, that she did not know before that it was rude to give her hand to a relation, and would not, therefore, repeat the offence.
I was not aware that she thus intended to extend the prohibition to Lord Seaforth, her cousin ; and I perceived, when she pleaded this my command as an excuse for not being handed to dinner by Lord Seaforth, that I had not quite so simple a person to deal with in Laura as I had supposed. Still
, however, I did not feel that I quite understood her; I therefore resolved to cultivate my acquaintance with her, and try to attach her to my
self; and, for this purpose, I bought her a beautiful horse, and invited her to ride out with me. She seemed to be pleased; and, though she was rather reserved during our first few excursions, I soon found the means of rendering her communicative.
One morning, while walking our horses under the shade of an avenue in the park, I resolved to try her feelings as they regarded me and her mother; and I said, “ Laura, you expected, no doubt, to find in me a harsh father: the world, I hear, gives me a bad character, both as a father and as a husband.”
Does it, papa ?" she answered: “I did not know it. But we must not mind what the world says, when we are conscious that we don't deserve its reproaches."
“Does she mean to be very severe under a gentle aspect ?" thought I, and scarcely knew what to answer. "Do you think, Laura," I asked, " that I do deserve this character ?"
“No, papa,” she replied, with apparent simplicity; though there is one thing I have considered : perhaps people thought it odd that you should have left mamma with me and Lord Bellamy at home when you went abroad, and the story might originate from that; because people could not know that it was mamma's choice to stay, on account of my brother's health.”
I was more and more puzzled; I looked keenly at her. “Is she designing," I thought, “or quite simple? I would give something to know this.—Did your mother tell you that it was her choice to stay at home, Laura ?" I asked.
She turned her full face to me, and looked as if surprised at the question; and then answered, “Why, papa, I know you would not have left her if she had not wished to stay. I must think you very unkind to have such an idea.”
“0,” thought I, “you can reason, and put two things together, though you are dimpled, and have coral lips and dove's eyes. I must mind what I am about with you, I see.” And then I carelessly said, “But did you, and your mamma, and Lord Beğlamy, never wish to join me abroad ???
“We wanted to see you, and Theodore also," she answered; “but we were very happy! 0, very happy!
all my life has been happy, papa: we have had so many pleasures ! and mamma was so kind !" Well,”
,” I said, “and what were your pleasures ?" “We lived very quietly, papa.
You know the room which opens on the wilderness, as we call our flowergarden, where we can see the south dingle, and the waterfall, and the temple, and the woods—there mamma used to live; and the small room beyond it was Augustus's study; and there we used to breakfast; and then mamma taught me, while Mr. Helmly gave Augustus his Latin lessons in the next room; and we always went on with our employments till two o'clock, and then we dined-for we were very vulgar, papa, in that respect; and then mamma and Lord Bellamy used to ride out in the pony-carriage. And I had a little horse, and Thomas was my groom, and we went far and wide; first to the school, and then to see the poor people, and then to look at what the work-people were doing in the park or gardens; and then we came home and had tea; and then went to work again; and Mr. Helmly came most evenings to teach Augustus; and at eight o'clock we had prayers in the music-room, that we might have the aid of the organ; and then to bed. O, papa, we were happy !" and I thought she sighed.
“Happier than you are now ?" I asked. She rather hesitated, and then said, “I don't know, papa; we ought to be happier now.”
“But are you so ?" I asked.
“I think I should be,” she replied, “if Lord Seaforth were not here."
I felt myself colour ; but I endeavoured to speak with apparent carelessness, and asked what Lord Seaforth had done to offend her.
“He has not offended me in particular," she replied ; " but I cannot like him, because he misleads Theodore, and would willingly make him as bad as himself.”
“As bad as himself! why, what do you mean, Laura ?". I asked.
“O, papa," she replied, smilingly, “why do you ask “Because I wish to know what you mean.". “Don't force me to speak out, dear papa," she an