Page images

in such a temper that I could have murdered the person who had thus attempted to deprive me of the affection of my wife: little thinking that the blow, could I have struck it, would have reached my sister's heart. My suspicions, however, did not fall on that quarter; yet I insisted on Lady Roxeter telling me the name of the mischief-maker.

She was silent, and her eyes were fixed on the baby. I repeated my entreaties—I added commands.

“My Lord,” she replied, “I wish you to understand this, that I never will so far depart from my character, as a woman and a Christian, as to be the channel of discord. I am sorry that I said what I did. May God forgive me this offence. In pressing a duty on you, I forgot one in myself. Be assured, that no person can have power to weaken my affection for my husband. But, as I have said these things, let us derive some advantage from my communication. It seems that the eyes of the world are upon you—that you have been suspected of being a careless father. Permit me to redeem your character. Permit me to be a mother, a tender mother to this baby.” And she raised her streaming eyes and clasped her hands towards me. “Assist me," she said, to rear him up to be the glory and support of your noble family; the heir of all your honours; your friend and comforter in old age, and mine also, as I may

deserve such kindness from his hands."

“ Angel of a woman!” I exclaimed, falling on my knees by her side, and clasping her in my arms, "you have conquered ! take your own way; take your boy; do what you will with him: but urge me not too far; keep him out of my sight; and dont expect me to delight in the grandson of old Golding, (and the inheritor, perhaps, of all the qualities of that low family,) as I undoubtedly shall do in the children of my Mary.” These latter words were whispered in her ear as I knelt by her; after which, I sprang up, and left the room.

I saw Lady Roxeter no more that evening, for she came not to bed; and, as I was told, was the whole night with the child, having sent for Dr. Simpson, the family physician; refusing to let the surgeon who had

Vol. VII. U

formerly prescribed for my son, continue to attend him, the reasons for which were very evident.

I was not very abundant in my inquiries after the child, yet I was not so insensible, when the physician appeared at breakfast the next morning, not to ask his opinion, especially concerning the injury the child had been supposed to have received in his back. Dr. Simpson informed me that the child had certainly had a fall, and sustained some injury, but, he hoped, not an irreparable one. And he further added, that the infant had been, he imagined, drenched with opium, to keep him quiet; and that if he had not had a remarkably good constitution he must have expired long since; and that years would probably pass away before he would appear like other children.

There was no remedy for all this: but I remembered the hint which lady Roxeter had given me, and did not say I wished that my son were dead already: nor did I use that phrase, so often adopted by persons who would conceal their want of feeling under the cloak of piety, viz.“ Please Heaven to take him, and put him out of his pain ;" but, on the contrary, I made a very pathetic speech, on the subject of paternal affection, &c. which was exceedingly well received by the good doctor, and which made my sister and Mr. Helmly look unutterable things. And I did this with the better grace, as Lady Roxeter was not present to give me one of her mildlysearching looks.

After breakfast the physician took his leave; and I had a long conversation with Mr. Helmly and my sister, in which they contrived convince me that they had no suspicions of the bad character of the nurse. After which, the housekeeper and butler were examined, respecting what they had seen or suspected of the nurse: but they, as well as the inferior servants, played their parts to admiration; assuming the innocent and the unsuspicious; and expressing the most vehement regard for the young lord. And thus the matter passed over, and I began to attend to other things.

The only person who spoke out on the subject of the ill usage sustained by the child, was Thomas Jefferies,

who told me at once, that he considered Mrs. Freeman to be as vile a woman as ever entered a house; and that I might be very thankful that she had not added the burning of the Hall to the breaking of my son's back; a disclosure which had much influence in inducing me to insist upon it that she should be dismissed from my premises.

This matter being settled, we proceeded to other arrangements. I allotted apartments for my sister and her son; and pointed out the province of Mr. Helmly. I sent orders to town for new equipages and furniture. I looked over my stud and dog-kennel; and planned with my sister certain improvements in my pleasuregrounds and park. I sent for a French cook, and a maid for Lady Roxeter; for my sister asserted that my wife had not the smallest idea how to dress herself. And all this we did without the least reference to the real female head of the family.

Within a very few weeks from that time, we had entered into that mode of life, which continued with little variation for several years. We spent nine months, on an average, out of the twelve, at Hartlands, and the other three in town, or at Brighton. While at Hartlands, our house was always full of company; and, with the exception of Sir William and Lady Daurien, who returned to England a few months after ourselves, with persons selected either by me or by my sister. They were either gay, worldly individuals, of high ton, or such as could contribute, by their talents, to relieve the tedious hours of a country life. Persons, for instance, who could sing a good song, tell a good story, and converse with spirit.

During one or two seasons, we had a celebrated actress at Hartlands; and then we got up a few plays, and invited all the neighbourhood. I had my hounds, too, and my hunters; and these occasioned a number of persons to be about us.

But the chief life and spirit of Hartlands, after my sister, was Mr. Helmly; the most witty person of the age who ever wore a gown and cassock. It was wonderful what command of countenance this man possessed. I have often known him excite the greatest levity in our pew, with the grimaces he made in the pulpit on one

side of his face, while the other side, which was exposed to the view of the congregation in general, was as de mure as that of the marble figure of an old saint in a cloister. And then he and my sister united and mingled their efforts, exciting each other's talents in a way so admirable, that no comedy was more amusing than their company; while the serpents that lurked under these rattles were not suspected, I believe, by many who listened to them. Moreover, there was a sort of classic charm shed over the whole domain of Hartlands: every point of the park had its temple or obelisk; every grotto its naiad; every bed of roses its Flora; and every profane conversation, or indecorous sentiment, was rendered gay with the flowers of rhetoric, or dazzling with the tinsel of wit.

We were readers too, and fond of poetry, and were supplied with a variety of new publications, the selection of which was generally left to Mr. Helmly; and of the nature of these selections my reader will easily guess by what has been stated. In short, a variety of attractive objects was collected at Hartlands for the purpose of making the most of this life. Mark what I say-of this life-without a view to the next. And my sister was the presiding spirit who arranged and ordered every thing; and if talent consists in suiting the means to the end desired to be obtained, Juliana certainly, in her day, displayed as much talent as any woman with whose his. tory we are acquainted. To enjoy the world, to make the most of it, to live at others' expense, and to accumulate her own money, were the things at which she aimed; and she succeeded in accomplishing her desires. It is another question, whether the end and means were worthy of an immortal being; a question into which I shall not now enter.

It seems that one of the objects which Juliana had in view, was to induce me to suppose that Lady Roxeter, though beautiful, was a mere child, and very unfit to be the companion of a man of sense. I had never indeed tried Mary's companionableness. I had never seen her prove the strength of her mind, excepting in the case of my son: and although I had certainly felt the influence of her mind over mine, in that instance, yet my sister


had afterwards contrived to insinuate, that the feelings she had then evinced were nothing but caprice; an exhibition; a whim of sporting the tender stepmother; in fact, a piece of spite to bring her own superior feelings into comparison with the indifference of the child's aunts. How my sister converted me to these opinions I hardly know, but this I recollect, that they were strongly confirmed in my mind by the extremely delicate conduct of Lady Roxeter, who, finding that when the child slept in a room only separated from ours by the intervening dressing-room, his cries often disturbed me, had caused his little establishment to be removed to a distant part of the house, from which I could not hear his voice. Lady Roxeter carried her delicacy so far in this respect, that for several months she never mentioned the child's name to me, but on one occasion; when she asked permission for Thomas Jefferies to be his special servant, to assist in carrying him out and wait upon his

This extreme delicacy was misconstrued by my sister, as I before hinted. And as Lady Roxeter was at this time in expectation of becoming a mother, Juliana said to me, “Did I not tell you that the violent uproar which your lady made about Augustus would all end as such things generally do? Who now ever hears any. thing about his little lordship? You say you never hear his name mentioned. And the poor little object is carried moping about by that old fool, Thomas Jefferies, who is more fit to be a groom to a colt than to attend a young nobleman; while the grotesque old Hugunot creeps behind, trying to make the Welsh clown understand the patois of the Pyrenees. But any person of sense;" continued Juliana, "must have foreseen all this. Lady Roxeter cannot be so simple as not to know that Augustus excludes any boy she may have from the honours and advantages of your estates; and, if she have no son, there is an immense property that descends in the female line. It is only that part of the estate to which the title is attached which must go to the male heir."

“At that rate, Lady Seaforth,” said I, “it is a misfortune to you that I married at all."

« EelmineJätka »