Page images

my wife, and my son and heir, and having at the same time the house full of visitors; some of whom were ladies, and others gentlemen, of distinguished rank; being also anxious to appear fair in the eyes of the world; at least not outrageously bad ; for the world will allow a good deal; but there is a point beyond which the world will not go. What then was to be done? I resolved to leave it to chance; and was relieved in the drawingroom, before dinner, by the appearance of Lady Roxeter, looking indeed more sad and solemn than usual, but, at the same time, perfectly calm. Lord Bellamy was present, and took occasion to beg my pardon, for not having treated me with respect the day before. In consequence of which, I addressed him once or twice during dinner, and asked him to drink wine with me. Theodore and Lord Seaforth had been absent the last two days at the county-races, and knew not what had passed. Thus I had, I trusted, carried my point, and no consequences of a very unpleasant nature had ensued.

In the mean time, Theodore and Lord Seaforth had been making some very high bets at the races; and Theodore had not only lost all his ready money, but incurred a debt of a considerable amount. He came home in low spirits, and received a very severe reproof from me when I gave him the money to defray the debt; which I did not do without assuring him that I never again would assist him through a similar difficulty. He was humble on this occasion, which pleased me. Lord Seaforth had, it seems, met his mother and Laura on their way from Hartlands and had joined their party; in consequence of which Westfield had lost his companion, and associated more with me; but he still seemed to entertain a strong prejudice against his mother and elder brother.

A letter from my sister, soon after, informed me that Laura was more cheerful than she had expected ; that she behaved affectionately to her; and that, to do Lady Roxeter justice, she believed she had not so entirely prejudiced her mind against her father's family as she had suspected; or, rather, she added, that Laura had not so fully imbibed the poison as she might have done; add

ing this flattery: “Your daughter is like yourself, dear Roxeter—she cannot bear malice; she is a sweet girl ; and my son will be happy in such a wife. I think

and trust that he is winning his way to the heart of his beautiful cousin as rapidly as we could wish."

Another letter arrived soon after the first; wherein my sister informed me that she was about to remove to town, with her son and Laura, and hoped soon to see me there with Theodore. I was beginning to be weary of Hartlands; and accordingly accepted my sister's invitation with so much glee, that I was actually in London with Theodore as soon as she was.

Laura's appearance did not quite answer my sister's description. She looked pale and unhappy, and anxiously requested permission to return to her mother. But I put her off, by saying, that, as soon as I could arrange matters in my town-house, which was furnishing anew, I should send for Lady Roxeter and Lord Bellamy.

And now, as if I had had a foreknowledge that my time would be short, I entered into as complete a round of dissipation as I had ever done in any part of my life; and became a still more careless father to my son. The consequence of my example was such as might be expected. A very few months had passed in London before he had been introduced by Lord Seaforth, as he afterwards told me, into every kind of vice. Gambling was his besetting sin, as it is of most young men brought up on the Continent; and by indulging this habit, he became again involved in a heavy debt; in order to defray which, he wrote to his brother to lend him the money; which his brother did on one condition only—that he would leave London and come to Hartlands.

This he promised to do within a week after the receipt of the money; but did not get clear of the town till he had received another considerable loan from Lord Seaforth ; after which, with a heavy heart and light purse, he took a place in the mail for Hartlands; informing me, that he wished to be in the country against the shooting season, that he might gather the first fruits of my manor.

He arrived at Hartlands late one evening, and was af

sectionately received by his mother and brother; and, in return, endeavoured to show a reciprocal feeling, but with little success. For, as he himself afterwards stated the case, his mind was so thoroughly set against his mother, and his irritation was so great against his elder brother, on no other account, as was evident, but because he had taken the liberty to enter into the world before him, and to continue to live through as many accidents and mischances as might have destroyed any half dozen of the knights of the round table; that it was next to impossible to him to be easy in their company; and therefore, though bound by a degree of honour--that of his word passed to his brother-to remain at Hartlands, he resolved to give them as little of his company as possible; and, for this reason, he spent the whole of the day in the field with his dog and gun.

In the mean time, I was pressing forward the marriage of my daughter, and my sister was using all her influence to the same effect; and such was the gentleness of Laura's spirit, that I have no doubt we should have prevailed, had it not been for letters continually received from the country. It was after having received one of these letters, that Laura wrote me a note; in which she stated, that having two parents to whom she owed equal duty, she could not consent to oblige one at the expense of offending the other. Her mother, she added, wholly disapproved of the marriage. She also assured me, in the most decided terms, that the proposed alliance could not be more displeasing to her mother than it was to herself; and that nothing but the conviction that the proposed union would give pleasure to both her parents could possibly induce her to overcome her reluctance.

In my reply to this note, I required her to say whether she would submit if her mother would consent.

She replied, that she should then think it her duty to consent; at the same time she added, that she prayed her mother never might comply.

The result of this correspondence, which I showed to my sister, was, that I set off immediately for Hartlands, taking Lord Seaforth with me. I arrived early in the day, having travelled all night; leaving Lord Seaforth

[ocr errors]

in the village of Hartlands, where he was to remain till he heard from me.

When arrived at the gates of the shrubbery, I met my two sons; the younger being in a shooting-jacket, and having a fowling-piece on his shoulder. They were in very earnest conversation. Theodore looked flushed and fiery, and he was talking loudly. They both started on seeing the carriage, which had stopped at the lodge; and I caused the door to be opened, and sprang out to join them.

“You are come at a critical moment, Sir," said Theodore. “My brother has been warm with me: he is exceedingly averse to my sister's marriage; he would separate me from my friend; and he charges me with want of brotherly love in desiring to promote the union."

“Does Lord Bellamy understand what my wishes are ?" I asked, haughtily.

“I do, Sir,” he replied; “but

“No more, if you please, Sir !" I answered, interrupting him: "you will oblige me by permitting me to manage my own affairs. I ask not your interference; I never trouble myself wit your concerns; and I only require the same forbearance from you."

But in this case, Sir,” replied Lord Bellamy, “I cannot be an uninterested witness

He was proceeding; when I turned abruptly to Theodore, and asked him what sport he had met with since he arrived at Hartlands.

I scarcely know what answer he made; for, in truth, I did not care; I was thinking of other things; but I recollected, afterwards, that there was something in his manner which I thought strange at the moment, though I did not stop to consider what it might be.

When I arrived at the Hall door, I turned into the house, leaving the two young men together. I hastened to my library, and sent for Lady Roxeter; and such an interview we then had as I never before experienced. We began calmly and politely. I tried all that argument and persuasion could do to induce her to consent to the marriage so much desired: but she was firm, and for a length of time calmly so; but in the end became like one beside herself; and in that state she expressed her

[ocr errors]

self in a way that touched even my obdurate heart. “ You, my Lord,” she said, “were the object of my first love; by you all my conjugal affections were inspired ; by you my heart was first warmed to love; by you," she added, (and she wept as she spoke,)“that heart, once so warm, has been frozen-congealed to ice; and yet, if I have been unhappy, I was not made so by a man I did not love. How then can I consent that my daughter should be exposed to the same dreadful risk with one who, let me tell you, my Lord, has not half your good qualities! O! even now, after so many years of blighted hopes, I still delight in thinking of you as you were, as you once were to me; and sometimes I still hope-yes, she added, “I still hope—that I may yet find comfort in you. I could be contented--yes, I could be contentedif, even on your dying bed, you would do me justice, and render me again that heart which I never, never deserved to lose.”

“And yet, but a moment past, you spoke of your love for me, Lady Roxeter, as of a thing gone by.”

“Did I ?" she answered; then I spoke in haste. But what are words, my Lord ? Take actions for vouchers; judge me by these: I am willing to stand the test, as far as it concerns my husband and my children; though, in the sight of heaven, I know that I am a miserable, guilty wretch; and acknowledge that I have no hope but through the merits and death of my blessed Redeemer.” As she spoke these last words, she raised her eyes and united hands towards the heavens; and again I beheld that expression of the marble madona which I had formerly admired so much in the days of her youth and first beauty.

I stood like one petrified and overpowered, and felt almost ready to give her my hand; or, rather, to restore her to the full possession of my heart, and of all its accompanying rights and privileges. But I deliberated a moment; and oh! what misery did that cold delay occasion! But I will not anticipate. My gentler feelings passed away as a summer breeze; I thought of my sister's scornful smiles; and grew hard again. Lady Řoxeter, too, regained her composure, and with that, her dignity. As she prepared to leave the room, she tụrned to

« EelmineJätka »