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For O, my
“ Come again, my little Annette !” returned Sophia. “Ah, little girl, they will be gone before the summer comes, and gone perhaps with them may be all your happy days-melted away, possibly, like those sparkling icicles before the rays of the summer sun. child,” she added, “I shall then be far beyond the reach of your infant cry, and your gentle calls for my notice and protection.” This exclamation was made by Sophia, as she stood near a tree under which there was a bench placed in such a situation as to command a view of the waterfall: and so acute were the feelings of this young lady at the moment, that she sunk upon the bench, and tlırowing her arms round the neck of the little girl, burst into an agony of tears.
Little Annette had not yet formed any idea of the cause of Sophia's distress; but she well knew that tears were in general the tokens of sorrow, and she instantly took up her little muslin apron to wipe her lady's cheeks, while her own sparkling eyes became suffused with crystalline drops.
At this moment Sophia heard an approaching step, which, from the hardness of the frosty ground, resounded, as it came nearer, more plainly through the valley. She started, and looked up; and before she had time to change her attitude, Mr. Sackville appeared before her.
This retired dingle was no common haunt of the young clergyman's: but he had happened to pass through it that morning, as a shorter road to a house on the other side of the country, where he had been paying a visit.
At the sight of Sophia and Annette, his cheeks became suffused with a sudden glow of pleasure ; but when, on a second glance, he perceived the traces of sorrow on their features, his own countenance instantly changed, and, as it were, reflected the uneasiness which theirs expressed, just as the clear mirror of some glassy lake reflects the variations which every passing cloud or vapour occasions in the heavens above.
“Miss Mortimer,” he said, “ can it be Miss Mortimer? But why these signs of sorrow?" And coming up more closely to her, “My dear Miss Mortimer," he added, “ how is it that I see you thus uneasy? what has bappened ? can I do any thing for you? have you met with
any accident ? -is all well at the Hall ? can I assist you? how can I serve you ?
Sophia endeavoured to wipe away 'her tears, to look more cheerful, and to command her voice so that she might at least speak with composure; but failing after several efforts, the tears again gushed forth, and she laid her head on the shoulder of Annette, whom she had taken upon her lap.
Mr. Sackville then, in his alarm, addressed the child, and begged her to tell him what was the matter. From Annette, however, he could get no satisfaction: and becoming more alarmed, he grasped Sophia's hand, and entreated her to relieve his anxiety.
Sophia, being quite ashamed of her weakness, endeavoured to rouse herself. She looked up, and said, “I am afraid, Sir, that you will think me very silly-very much to lame: but, and she hesitated.
“ Think you silly, dear Miss Mortimer !” rejoined Mr. Sackville; "O how little
heart. But, I beseech you, set me at ease.
Let me know the occasion of these tears. Something, I feel persuaded, has greatly afflicted you: and you will make me misera ble, indeed, if you send me away in this state of anxiety. I beseech you, tell me the worst. Is it what I apprehend? Is it what I most dread? Are you going to leave the country?"
“ Yes, Sir,” stammered Sophia; “yes, Sir, I am going; and my
heart is almost broken-because -because of little Annette."
“ And you are going with Sir James Horton ?” asked Mr. Sackville, suddenly turning quite pale.
“ With Sir James Horton!” replied Sophia, reddening violently, “ with Sir James Horton! No, never, never, while I live.”
Mr. Sackville seemed to breathe again, and his colour returned. He tried to make some apology for the strange question he had asked ; but made such blundering work of it, that he found it would be best to leave all apologies alone, as they only served to make Sophia the more sensible of the singularity of the question he had so unwarily put.
“What could make you think of Sir James Horton, Mr. Sackville ?” asked Sophia, as soon as she could recover her speech. “ He is nothing to me, nor I to him. He has left us some days: and when he was here, he had nothing to say to me; he was not my acquaintance."
“I am most sincerely rejoiced to hear this,” said Mr. Sackville.
“ And wherefore, Sir?" asked Sophia, whose astonishment increased every moment. "Do
dislike Sir James?”
No," said Mr. Sackville, “not exactly; but I am glad that he is gone."
Sophia looked earnestly at him; and then, turning to Annette, heaved a deep sigh, and wiped away another tear.
“ But you are unhappy, ever dear Miss Mortimer," said Mr. Sackville; "and you are still shedding tears. You are going from this place, you say. Let me entreat you to explain the cause of all this.
O how many, many sorrowful hearts you will leave behind you: and none, none more sad than mine!”
Being thus urged, Sophia informed Mr. Sackville of the intended journey to Bath, and her consequent separation from Annette, which must ensue.
It was not Mr. Sackville alone who was affected by this explanation: for Annette now, for the first time, comprehended the evil with which she was threatened; on which, throwing her arms more closely round Sophia's neck, she burst forth into such bitter cries that for a few minutes neither Sophia nor Mr. Sackville could appease her.
Annette, when thoroughly excited, was violent; though it was but seldom that occasions of such excitation occurred; and it is certain that this poor little orphan had already had experience enough of the unkindness of the world, to give her a rational dread of being left again with strangers. " You shall not go
Ma'am,” she said ; “no; never, never. I will not live with Mrs. Doiley; I will stay with you."
You shall come to me,” said Mr. Sackville ; “I will take care of you, my dear Annette, till Miss Mortimer returns, and you shall not live with Mrs. Doiley.”
Annette was silenced by this promise ; for, next to Sophia, she best liked Mr. Sackville: and Sophia looked up to the young gentleman with such an expression of
" that a
tearful gratitude as he prized more highly than any words she could have uttered.
“ Make yourself easy on Annette's account, my dear Miss Mortimer,” said Mr. Sackville ; “I promise her my
best services. Poor though they are, and far inferior to yours, you well know that I consider myself bound by every consideration capable of influencing a human creature, to be the guardian of this little girl. When you can no longer give her your personal attention, I will take her to my house, and place her in safe and careful hands. But must you go?” he added. · Well, if it must be so, it is my duty to submit. Will you, however, come back, and make us happy ?"
• I hope so," replied Sophia, faintly. “No, you never will,” returned Mr. Sackville, sorrowfully: “you will be too much loved and valued. Never, till this moment, was I ever induced to wish that I was more than the humble rector of Fairfield.”
Sophia was silent; and her head was bowed on the neck of Annette.
“I cannot suppose,” said Mr. Sackville, young lady of your rank, and fortune, and various advantages, would condescend to think of one so humble as I am; and yet I have sometimes almost ventured to hope that you would not altogether despise me. Your tastes are so simple, your pursuits so adapted to a retired and domestic life, that I have at times even presumed to think that my humble situation, were there no other objection, might not entirely preclude all hope on my side."
This was plain speaking, and such as Sophia could no longer misunderstand; but she had some difficulty in giving her answer, merely from the want of the
of utterance, not from any hesitation about what she ought to say. At length, however, she spoke, and said, that it was her fixed resolution never to enter into any engagement without her father's approbation, and that being so very young, she would wish Mr. Sackville to allow her time for consideration : adding, that every proposal of this kind must henceforward come to her through her father, and that she believed it would be best that the affair should be dropped for the present.
It is not necessary that I should now repeat what Mr. Sackville added further to Sophia. . Suffice it to observe, that the few words which the young lady said in reply were of such a nature as to convince him that he possessed her esteem, and, indeed, more of her regard than it was consistent with those principles of delicacy which had been impressed on her mind, for her to avow. Had he doubted this even a moment before, he must, however, have been convinced of it by the deeply sorrowful expression of her countenance when she took leave of him.
We do not presume to describe the state of Sophia's feelings as she returned home. What had passed had certainly tended in some degree to relieve her mind of its anxiety respecting Annette : neither was it by any means a painful discovery to her to find that she was, confessedly, so dear not only to the best but to the most pleasing young man she had ever known. But, on the other hand, she was not without some uneasy thoughts, arising from the conviction that her father's views for her were far higher than a union with the rector of Fairfield; while her uneasiness was increased by the additional persuasion that if she allowed herself to take a single devious step in this affair, she could not, and, in fact, she dared not, to expect the divine blessing upon it. In meditations of this nature, Sopbia occupied the remainder of the afternoon; and was scarcely come to any resolution before she was called to dinner.
During the meal, she was full of thought and perplexity; but suddenly, the course that she ought to pursue seemed to be clearly laid open before her mind, and she immediately resolved to seize the very first occasion to attempt that which she now thought it right to do.
It happened, that there was no stranger present this day at the Hall; and when the family party removed from the dining-table, and were seated round the fire, as soon as the servants had left the room, she began to carry her purposes into effect.
“I have been in the park this morning," said she; “I went to see the old cascade, and I think I never saw it look so beautiful.” She then added some incoherencies about icicles, liquid diamonds, and hoar frost; looking, however, so little like an icicle herself, while speaking, that Miss Clifford began to prick up her ears, and open her
eyes. “Humph!" said the Squire, as, raising his glass of