The Absentee by Maria Edgeworth
No--Lord Colambre was not in his accustomed place, reading in the breakfast-room: nor did he make his appearance till both his father and mother had been some time at breakfast.
'Good morning to you, my Lord Colambre,' said his mother, in a reproachful tone, the moment he entered; 'I am much obliged to you for your company last night.'
'Good morning to you, Colambre,' said his father, in a more jocose tone of reproach; 'I am obliged to you for your good company last night.'
'Good morning to you, Lord Colambre,' said Miss Nugent; and though she endeavoured to throw all reproach from her looks, and to let none be heard in her voice, yet there was a slight tremulous motion in that voice which struck our hero to the heart.
'I thank you, ma'am, for missing me,' said he, addressing himself to his mother; 'I stayed away but half an hour; I accompanied my father to St. James's Street, and when I returned I found that every one had retired to rest.'
'Oh, was that the case?' said Lady Clonbrony; 'I own I thought it very unlike you to leave me in that sort of way.'
'And, lest you should be jealous of that half-hour when he was accompanying me,' said Lord Clonbrony, 'I must remark, that, though I had his body with me, I had none of his mind; that he left at home with you ladies, or with some fair one across the water, for the deuce of two words did he bestow upon me, with all his pretence of accompanying me.'
'Lord Colambre seems to have a fair chance of a pleasant breakfast,' said Miss Nugent, smiling; 'reproaches on all sides.'
'I have heard none on your side, Grace,' said Lord Clonbrony; 'and that's the reason, I suppose, he wisely takes his seat beside you. But, come, we will not badger you any more, my dear boy. We have given him as fine a complexion amongst us as if he had been out hunting these three hours; have not we, Grace?'
'When Colambre has been a season or two more in Lon'on, he'll not be so easily put out of countenance,' said Lady Clonbrony; 'you don't see young men of fashion here blushing about nothing.'
'No, nor about anything, my dear,' said Lord Clonbrony; 'but that's no proof they do nothing they ought to blush for.'
'What they do, there's no occasion for ladies to inquire,' said Lady Clonbrony; 'but this I know, that it's a great disadvantage to a young man of a certain rank to blush; for no people, who live in a certain set, ever do; and it is the most opposite thing possible to a certain air, which, I own, I think Colambre wants; and now that he has done travelling in Ireland, which is no use in pint of giving a gentleman a travelled air, or anything of that sort, I hope he will put himself under my conduct for next winter's campaign in town.'
Lord Clonbrony looked as if he did not know how to look; and, after drumming on the table for some seconds, said--
'Colambre, I told you how it would be. That's a fatal hard condition of yours.'
'Not a hard condition, I hope, my dear father,' said Lord Colambre.
'Hard it must be, since it can't be fulfilled, or won't be fulfilled, which comes to the same thing,' replied Lord Clonbrony, sighing.
'I am persuaded, sir, that it will be fulfilled,' said Lord Colambre; 'I am persuaded that, when my mother hears the truth, and the whole truth--when she finds that your happiness, and the happiness of her whole family, depend upon her yielding her taste on one subject--'
'Oh, I see now what you are about,' cried Lady Clonbrony; 'you are coming round with your persuasions and prefaces to ask me to give up Lon'on, and go back with you to Ireland, my lord. You may save yourselves the trouble, all of you, for no earthly persuasions shall make me do it. I will never give up my taste on that pint. My happiness has a right to be as much considered as your father's, Colambre, or anybody's; and, in one word, I won't do it,' cried she, rising angrily from the breakfast-table.
'There! did not I tell you how it would be?' cried Lord Clonbrony.
'My mother has not heard me, yet,' said Lord Colambre, laying his hand upon his mother's arm, as she attempted to pass; 'hear me, madam, for your own sake. You do not know what will happen, this very day--this very hour, perhaps --if you do not listen to me.'
'And what will happen?' said Lady Clonbrony, stopping short.
'Ay, indeed; she little knows,' said Lord Clonbrony, 'what's hanging over her head.'
'Hanging over my head?' said Lady Clonbrony, looking up; 'nonsense! what?'
An execution, madam!' said Lord Colambre.
'Gracious me! an execution!' said Lady Clonbrony, sitting down again; 'but I heard you talk of an execution months ago, my lord, before my son went to Ireland, and it blew over I heard no more of it.'
'If won't blow over now,' said Lord Clonbrony; 'you'll hear more of it now. Sir Terence O'Fay it was, you may remember, that settled it then.'
'Well, and can't he settle it now? Send for him, since he understands these cases; and I will ask him to dinner myself, for your sake, and be very civil to him, my lord.'
'All your civility, either for my sake or your own, will not signify a straw, my dear, in this case--anything that poor Terry could do, he'd do, and welcome, without it; but he can do nothing.'
'Nothing!--that's very extraordinary. But I'm clear no one dare to bring a real execution against us in earnest; and you are only trying to frighten me to your purpose, like a child; but it shan't do.'
'Very well, my dear; you'll see--too late.'
A knock at the house door.
'Who is it?--What is it?' cried Lord Clonbrony, growing very pale.
Lord Colambre changed colour too, and ran downstairs. 'Don't let 'em let anybody in, for your life, Colambre; under any pretence,' cried Lord Clonbrony, calling from the head of the stairs; then running to the window, 'By all that's good, it's Mordicai himself! and the people with him.'
'Lean your head on me, my dear aunt,' said Miss Nugent. Lady Clonbrony leant back, trembling, and ready to faint.
'But he's walking off now; the rascal could not get in-- safe for the present!' cried Lord Clonbrony, rubbing his hands, and repeating, 'safe for the present!'
'Safe for the present!' repeated Lord Colambre, coming again into the room. 'Safe for the present hour.'
'He could not get in, I suppose--oh, I warned all the servants well,' said Lord Clonbrony,'and so did Terry. Ay, there's the rascal, Mordicai, walking off, at the end of the street; I know his walk a mile off. Gad! I can breathe again. I am glad he's gone. But he will come back and always lie in wait, and some time or other, when we're off our guard (unawares), he'll slide in.'
Slide in! Oh, horrid!' cried Lady Clonbrony, sitting up, and wiping away the water which Miss Nugent had sprinkled on her face.
'Were you much alarmed?' said Lord Colambre, with a voice of tenderness, looking at his mother first, but his eyes fixing on Miss Nugent.
'Shockingly!' said Lady Clonbrony; 'I never thought it would reelly come to this.'
'It will really come to much more, my dear,' said Lord Clonbrony, 'that you may depend upon, unless you prevent it.'
'Lord! what can I do?--I know nothing of business; how should I, Lord Clonbrony; but I know there's Colambre--I was always told that when he was of age everything should be settled; and why can't he settle it when he's upon the spot?'
'And upon one condition, I will,' cried Lord Colambre; 'at what loss to myself, my dear mother, I need not mention.'
'Then I will mention it,' cried Lord Clonbrony; 'at the loss it will be of nearly half the estate he would have had, if we had not spent it.'
'Loss! Oh, I am excessively sorry my son's to be at such a loss --it must not be.'
'It cannot be otherwise,' said Lord Clonbrony; 'nor it can't be this way either, my Lady Clonbrony, unless you comply with his condition, and consent to return to Ireland.'
'I cannot--I will not,' replied Lady Clonbrony. 'Is this your condition, Colambre?--I take it exceedingly ill of you. I think it very unkind, and unhandsome, and ungenerous, and undutiful of you, Colambre; you, my son!' She poured forth a torrent of reproaches; then came to entreaties and tears. But our hero, prepared for this, had steeled his mind; and he stood resolved not to indulge his own feelings, or to yield to caprice or persuasion, but to do that which he knew was best for the happiness of hundreds of tenants who depended upon them--best for both his father and his mother's ultimate happiness and respectability.
'It's all in vain,' cried Lord Clonbrony; 'I have no resource but one, and I must condescend now to go to him this minute, for Mordicai will be back and seize all--I must sign and leave all to Garraghty.'
'Well, sign, sign, my lord, and settle with Garraghty. --Colambre, I've heard all the complaints you brought over against that man. My lord spent half the night telling them to me; but all agents are bad, I suppose; at any rate I can't help it--sign, sign, my lord; he has money--yes, do; go and settle with him, my lord.'
Lord Colambre and Miss Nugent, at one and the same moment, stopped Lord Clonbrony as he was quitting the room, and then approached Lady Clonbrony with supplicating looks; but she turned her head to the other side, and, as if putting away their entreaties, made a repelling motion with both her hands, and exclaimed, 'No, Grace Nugent!-no, Colambre--no--no, Colambre! I'll never hear of leaving Lon'on--there's no living out of Lon'on--I can't, I won't live out of Lon'on, I say.'
Her son saw that the Londonomania was now stronger than ever upon her, but resolved to make one desperate appeal to her natural feelings, which, though smothered, he could not believe were wholly extinguished; he caught her repelling hands, and pressing them with respectful tenderness to his lips--
'Oh, my dear mother, you once loved your son,' said he; 'loved him better than anything in this world; if one spark of affection for him remains, hear him now, and forgive him, if he pass the bounds--bounds he never passed before of filial duty. Mother, in compliance with your wishes my father left Ireland--left his home, his duties, his friends, his natural connexions, and for many years he has lived in England, and you have spent many seasons in London.'
'Yes, in the very best company--in the very first circles,' said Lady Clonbrony; 'cold as the high-bred English are said to be in general to strangers.'
'Yes,' replied Lord Colambre; 'the very best company (if you mean the most fashionable) have accepted of our entertainments. We have forced our way into their frozen circles; we have been permitted to breathe in these elevated regions of fashion; we have it to say, that the duke of this, and my lady that, are of our acquaintance. We may say more; we may boast that we have vied with those whom we could never equal. And at what expense have we done all this? For a single season, the last winter (I will go no farther), at the expense of a great part of your timber, the growth of a century--swallowed in the entertainments of one winter in London! Our hills to be bare for another half century to come! But let the trees go; I think more of your tenants--of those left under the tyranny of a bad agent, at the expense of every comfort, every hope they enjoyed!--tenants, who were thriving and prosperous; who used to smile upon you, and to bless you both! In one cottage, I have seen--'
Here Lord Clonbrony, unable to restrain his emotion, hurried out of the room.
'Then I am sure it is not my fault,' said Lady Clonbrony; 'for I brought my lord a large fortune; and I am confident I have not, after all, spent more any season, in the best company, than he has among a set of low people, in his muddling, discreditable way.'
'And how has he been reduced to this?' said Lord Colambre. 'Did he not formerly live with gentlemen, his equals, in his own country; his contemporaries? Men of the first station and character, whom I met in Dublin, spoke of him in a manner that gratified the heart of his son; he was respectable and respected at his own home; but when he was forced away from that home, deprived of his objects, his occupations induced him to live in London, or at watering-places, where he could find no employments that were suitable to him--set down, late in life, in the midst of strangers, to him cold and reserved--himself too proud to bend to those who disdained him as an Irishman--is he not more to be pitied than blamed for--yes, I, his son, must say the word-- the degradation which has ensued? And do not the feelings, which have this moment forced him to leave the room, show that he is capable?--Oh, mother!' cried Lord Colambre, throwing himself at Lady Clonbrony's feet, 'restore my father to himself! Should such feelings be wasted?--No; give them again to expand in benevolent, in kind, useful actions; give him again to his tenantry, his duties, his country, his home; return to that home yourself, dear mother! leave all the nonsense of high life-- scorn the impertinence of these dictators of fashion, by whom, in return for all the pains we take to imitate, to court them--in return for the sacrifice of health, fortune, peace of mind, they bestow sarcasm, contempt, ridicule, and mimickry!'
'Oh, Colambre! Colambre! mimickry--I'll never believe it,'
'Believe me--believe me, mother; for I speak of what I know. Scorn them--quit them! Return to an unsophisticated people--to poor, but grateful hearts, still warm with the remembrance of your kindness, still blessing you for favours long since conferred, ever praying to see you once more. Believe me, for I speak of what I know--your son has heard these prayers, has felt these blessings. Here! at my heart felt, and still feel them, when I was not known to be your son, in the cottage of the widow O'Neill.'
'Oh, did you see the widow O'Neill? and does she remember me?' said Lady Clonbrony.
'Remember you! and you, Miss Nugent! I have slept in the bed--I would tell you more, but I cannot.'
'Well! I never should have thought they would have remembered me so long!--poor people!' said Lady Clonbrony. 'I thought all in Ireland must have forgotten me, it is now so long since I was at home.'
'You are not forgotten in Ireland by any rank, I can answer for that. Return home, my dearest mother--let me see you once more among your natural friends, beloved, respected, happy!'
'Oh, return! let us return home!' cried Miss Nugent, with a voice of great emotion. 'Return, let us return home! My beloved aunt, speak to us! say that you grant our request!'
She kneeled beside Lord Colambre, as she spoke.
'Is it possible to resist that voice--that look?' thought Lord Colambre.
'If anybody knew,' said Lady Clonbrony, 'if anybody could conceive, how I detest the sight, the thoughts of that old yellow damask furniture, in the drawing-room at Clonbrony Castle--'
'Good heavens!" cried Lord Colambre, starting up, and looking at his mother in stupefied astonishment; 'is that what you are thinking of, ma'am?'
'The yellow damask furniture!' said her niece, smiling. Oh, if that's all, that shall never offend your eyes again. Aunt, my painted velvet chairs are finished; and trust the furnishing that room to me. The legacy lately left me cannot be better applied you shall see how beautifully it will be furnished.'
'Oh, if I had money, I should like to do it myself; but it would take an immensity to new furnish Clonbrony Castle properly.'
'The furniture in this house ' said Miss Nugent, looking round.
'Would do a great deal towards it, I declare,' cried Lady Clonbrony; 'that never struck me before, Grace, I protest--and what would not suit one might sell or exchange here--and it would be a great amusement to me--and I should like to set the fashion of something better in that country. And I declare, now, I should like to see those poor people, and that widow O'Neill. I do assure you, I think I was happier at home; only, that one gets, I don't know how, a notion, one's nobody out of Lon'on. But, after all, there's many drawbacks in Lon'on--and many people are very impertinent, I'll allow--and if there's a woman in the world I hate, it is Mrs. Dareville--and, if I was leaving Lon'on, I should not regret Lady Langdale neither--and Lady St. James is as cold as a stone. Colambre may well say frozen circles--these sort of people are really very cold, and have, I do believe, no hearts. I don't verily think there is one of them would regret me more--Hey! let me see, Dublin--the winter Merrion Square-- new furnished--and the summer--Clonbrony Castle!'
Lord Colambre and Miss Nugent waited in silence till her mind should have worked itself clear. One great obstacle had been removed; and now that the yellow damask had been taken out of her imagination, they no longer despaired. Lord Clonbrony put his head into the room.
'What hopes?--any? if not, let me go.'
He saw the doubting expression of Lady Clonbrony's countenance-- hope in the face of his son and niece.
'My dear, dear Lady Clonbrony, make us all happy by one word,' said he, kissing her.
'You never kissed me so since we left Ireland before,' said Lady Clonbrony. 'Well, since it must be so, let us go,' said she.
'Did I ever see such joy!' said Lord Clonbrony, clasping his hands; 'I never expected such joy in my life!--I must go and tell poor Terry!' and off he ran.
'And now, since we are to go,' said Lady Clonbrony, 'pray let us go immediately, before the thing gets wind, else I shall have Mrs. Dareville, and Lady Langdale, and Lady St. James, and all the world, coming to condole with me, just to satisfy their own curiosity; and then Miss Pratt, who hears everything that everybody says, and more than they say, will come and tell me how it is reported everywhere that we are ruined. 'Oh! I never could bear to stay and hear all this. I'll tell you what I'll do--you are to be of age the day after to-morrow,Colambre--very well, there are some papers for me to sign--I must stay to put my name to them, and that done, that minute I'll leave you and Lord Clonbrony to settle all the rest; and I'll get into my carriage with Grace, and go down to Buxton again; where you can come for me, and take me up, when you're all ready to go to Ireland--and we shall be so far on our way. Colambre, what do you say to this?'
'That--if you like it, madam,' said he, giving one hasty glance at Miss Nugent, and withdrawing his eyes, 'it is the best possible arrangement.'
'So,' thought Grace, 'that is the best possible arrangement which takes us away.'
'If I like it!' said Lady Clonbrony; 'to be sure I do, or I should not propose it. What is Colambre thinking of? I know, Grace, at all events, what you and I must think of--of having the furniture packed up, and settling what's to go, and what's to be exchanged, and all that. Now, my dear, go and write a note directly to Mr. Soho, and bid him come himself, immediately; and we'll go and make out a catalogue this instant of what furniture I will have packed.'
So, with her head full of furniture, Lady Clonbrony retired. 'I go to my business, Colambre; and I leave you to settle yours in peace.'
In peace!--Never was our hero's mind less at peace than at this moment. The more his heart felt that it was painful, the more his reason told him it was necessary that he should part from Grace Nugent. To his union with her there was an obstacle, which his prudence told him ought to be insurmountable; yet he felt that, during the few days he had been with her, the few hours he had been near her, he had, with his utmost power over himself, scarcely been master of his passion, or capable of concealing it from its object. It could not have been done but for her perfect simplicity and innocence. But how could this be supposed on his part? How could he venture to live with this charming girl? How could he settle at home? What resource?
His mind turned towards the army; he thought that abroad, and in active life, he should lose all the painful recollections, and drive from his heart all the resentments, which could now be only a source of unavailing regret. But his mother--his mother, who had now yielded her own taste to his entreaties, for the good of her family--she expected him to return and live with her in Ireland. Though not actually promised or specified, he knew that she took it for granted; that it was upon this hope, this faith, she consented; he knew that she would he shocked at the bare idea of his going into the army. There was one chance--our hero tried, at this moment, to think it the best possible chance--that Miss Nugent might marry Mr. Salisbury, and settle in England. On this idea he relied as the only means of extricating him from difficulties.
It was necessary to turn his thoughts immediately to business, to execute his promises to his father. Two great objects were now to be accomplished--the payment of his father's debts, and the settlement of the Irish agent's accounts; and, in transacting this complicated business, he derived consider-able assistance from Sir Terence O'Fay, and from Sir Arthur Berryl's solicitor, Mr. Edwards. Whilst acting for Sir Arthur, on a former occasion, Lord Colambre had gained the entire confidence of this solicitor, who was a man of the first eminence. Mr. Edwards took the papers and Lord Clonbrony's title-deeds home with him, saying that he would give an answer the next morning. He then waited upon Lord Colambre, and informed him, that he had just received a letter from Sir Arthur Berryl, who, with the consent and desire of his lady, requested that whatever money might be required by Lord Clonbrony should be immediately supplied on their account, without waiting till Lord Colambre should be of age, as the ready money might be of same convenience to him in accelerating the journey to Ireland, which Sir Arthur and Lady Berryl knew was his lordship's object. Sir Terence O'Fay now supplied Mr. Edwards with accurate information as to the demands that were made upon Lord Clonbrony, and of the respective characters of the creditors. Mr. Edwards undertook to settle with the fair claimants; Sir Terence with the rogues; so that by the advancement of ready money from the Berryls, and by the detection of false and exaggerated charges, which Sir Terence made among the inferior class, the debts were reduced nearly to one half of their former amount. Mordicai, who had been foiled in his vile attempt to become sole creditor, had, however, a demand of more than seven thousand pounds upon Lord Clonbrony, which he had raised to this enormous sum in six or seven years, by means well known to himself. He stood the foremost in the list, not from the greatness of the sum, but from the danger of his adding to it the expenses of law. Sir Terence undertook to pay the whole with five thousand pounds. Lord Clonbrony thought it impossible; the solicitor thought it improvident, because he knew that upon a trial a much greater abatement would be allowed; but Lord Colambre was determined, from the present embarrassments of his own situation, to leave nothing undone that could be accomplished immediately.
Sir Terence, pleased with his commission, immediately went to Mordicai.
'Well, Sir Terence,' said Mordicai, 'I hope you are come to pay me my hundred guineas; for Miss Broadhurst is married!'
'Well, Mister Mordicai, what then? The ides of March are come, but not gone! Stay, if you plase, Mister Mordicai, till Lady- day, when it becomes due; in the meantime, I have a handful, or rather an armful, of bank-notes for you, from my Lord Colambre.'
'Humph!' said Mordicai; 'how's that? he'll not be of age these three days.'
'Don't matter for that; he has sent me to look over your account, and to hope that you will make some small abatement in the total.'
'Harkee, Sir Terence you think yourself very clever in things of this sort, but you've mistaken your man; I have an execution for the whole, and I'll be d--d if all your cunning shall make me take up with part!'
'Be easy, Mister Mordicai!--you shan't make me break your bones, nor make me drop one actionable word against your high character; for I know your clerk there, with that long goose-quill behind his ear, would be ready evidence again' me. But I beg to know, in one word, whether you will take five thousand down, and give Lord Clonbrony a discharge?'
'No, Mr. Terence! nor six thousand nine hundred and ninety-nine pounds. My demand is L7130, odd shillings: if you have that money, pay it; if not, I know how to get it, and along with it complete revenge for all the insults I have received from that greenhorn, his son.'
'Paddy Brady!' cried Sir Terence,'do you hear that? Remember that word, revenge!--Mind, I call you to witness!'
'What, sir, will you raise a rebellion among my workmen?'
'No, Mr. Mordicai, no rebellion; and I hope you won't cut the boy's ears off for listening to a little of the brogue--So listen, my good lad. Now, Mr. Mordicai, I offer you here, before little goose-quill, L5000 ready penny--take it, or leave it; take your money, and leave your revenge; or, take your revenge, and lose your money.'
'Sir Terence, I value neither your threats nor your cunning. Good morning to you.'
'Good morning to you, Mr. Mordicai--but not kindly! Mr. Edwards, the solicitor, has been at the office to take off the execution; so now you may have law to your heart's content! And it was only to plase the young lord that the ould one consented to my carrying this bundle to you,'--showing the bank-notes.
'Mr. Edwards employed!' cried Mordicai. 'Why, how the devil did Lord Clonbrony get into such hands as his? The execution taken off! Well, sir, go to law I am ready for you; Jack Latitat is a match for your sober solicitor.'
'Good morning again to you, Mr. Mordicai; we're fairly out of your clutches, and we have enough to do with our money.'
'Well, Sir Terence, I must allow you have a very wheedling way-- Here, Mr. Thompson, make out a receipt for Lord Clonbrony: I never go to law with an old customer, if I can help it.'
This business settled, Mr. Soho was next to be dealt with.
He came at Lady Clonbrony's summons; and was taking directions, with the utmost sang froid, for packing up and sending off the very furniture for which he was not paid.
Lord Colambre called him into his father's study; and, producing his bill, he began to point out various articles which were charged at prices that were obviously extravagant,
'Why, really, my lord, they are abundantly extravagant; if I charged vulgar prices, I should be only a vulgar tradesman. I, however, am not a broker, nor a Jew. Of the article superintendence, which is only L500, I cannot abate a dolt; on the rest of the bill, if you mean to offer ready, I mean, without any negotiation, to abate thirty per cent; and I hope that is a fair and gentlemanly offer.'
'Mr. Soho, there is your money!'
'My Lord Colambre! I would give the contents of three such bills to be sure of such noblemanly conduct as yours. Lady Clonbrony's furniture shall be safely packed, without costing her a farthing.'
With the help of Mr. Edwards, the solicitor, every other claim was soon settled; and Lord Clonbrony, for the first time since he left Ireland, found himself out of debt, and out of danger.
Old Nick's account could not be settled in London. Lord Colambre had detected numerous false charges, and sundry impositions; the land, which had been purposely let to run wild, so far from yielding any rent, was made a source of constant expense, as remaining still unset: this was a large tract, for which St. Dennis had at length offered a small rent.
Upon a fair calculation of the profits of the ground, and from other items in the account, Nicholas Garraghty, Esq., appeared at last to be, not the creditor, but the debtor to Lord Clonbrony. He was dismissed with disgrace, which perhaps he might not have felt, if it had not been accompanied by pecuniary loss, and followed by the fear of losing his other agencies, and by the dread of immediate bankruptcy.
Mr. Burke was appointed agent in his stead to the Clonbrony as well as the Colambre estate. His appointment was announced to him by the following letter:--
To Mrs. Burke, at Colambre.
Happily for my father, my dear madam, he is now as fully convinced as you could wish him to be of Mr. Burke's merits; and he begs me to express his sense of the obligations he is under to him and to you. He entreats that you will pardon the impropriety of a letter, which, as I assured you the moment I saw it, he never wrote or read. This will, he says, cure him, for life, of putting his signature to any paper without reading it.
He hopes that you will forget that such a letter was ever received, and that you will use your influence with Mr. Burke to induce him to continue to our family his regard and valuable services. Lord Clonbrony encloses a power of attorney, enabling Mr. Burke to act in future for him, if Mr. Burke will do him that favour, in managing the Clonbrony as well as the Colambre estate.
Lord Clonbrony will be in Ireland in the course of next month, and intends to have the pleasure of soon paying his respects in person to Mr. Burke, at Colambre.--I am, dear madam, your obliged guest, and faithful servant,
Grosvenor Square, London.
Lord Colambre was so continually occupied with business during the two days previous to his coming of age, every morning at his solicitor's chambers, every evening in his father's study, that Miss Nugent never saw him but at breakfast or dinner; and, though she watched for it most anxiously, never could find an opportunity of speaking to him alone, or of asking an explanation of the change and inconsistencies of his manner. At last, she began to think that, in the midst of so much business of importance, by which he seemed harassed, she should do wrong to torment him, by speaking of any small disquietude that concerned only herself. She determined to suppress her doubts, to keep her feelings to herself, and to endeavour, by constant kindness, to regain that place in his affections which she imagined that she had lost. 'Everything will go right again,' thought she, 'and we shall all be happy, when he returns with us to Ireland--to that dear home which he loves as well as I do!'
The day Lord Colambre was of age, the first thing he did was to sign a bond for five thousand pounds, Miss Nugent's fortune, which had been lent to his father, who was her guardian.
'This, sir, I believe,' said he, giving it to his father as soon as signed--'this, I believe, is the first debt you would wish to have secured.'
'Well thought of, my dear boy I--God bless you!--that has weighed more upon my conscience and heart than all the rest, though I never said anything about it. I used, whenever I met Mr. Salisbury, to wish myself fairly down at the centre of the earth; not that he ever thought of fortune, I'm sure; for he often told me, and I believed him, he would rather have Miss Nugent without a penny, if he could get her, than the first fortune in the empire. But I'm glad she will not go to him penniless, for all that; and by my fault, especially. There, there's my name to it --do witness it, Terry. But, Colambre, you must give it to her-- you must take it to Grace.'
'Excuse me, sir; it is no gift of mine--it is a debt of yours. I beg you will take the bond to her yourself, my dear father. '
'My dear son, you must not always have your own way, and hide everything good you do, or give me the honour of it I won't be the jay in borrowed feathers. I have borrowed enough in my life, and I've done with borrowing now, thanks to you, Colambre--so come along with me; for I'll be hanged if ever I give this joint bond to Miss Nugent, without you along with me. Leave Lady Clonbrony here to sign these papers. Terry will witness them properly, and you come along with me.'
'And pray, my lord,' said her ladyship, 'order the carriage to the door; for, as soon as you have my signature, I hope you'll let me off to Buxton.'
'Oh, certainly--the carriage is ordered--everything ready, my dear.'
'And pray tell Grace to be ready,' added Lady Clonbrony.
'That's not necessary; for she is always ready,' said Lord Clonbrony. 'Come, Colambre,' added he, taking his son under the arm, and carrying him up to Miss Nugent's dressing-room.
They knocked, and were admitted.
'Ready!' said Lord Clonbrony; 'ay, always ready--so I said. Here's Colambre, my darling,' continued he, 'has secured your fortune to you to my heart's content; but he would not condescend to come up to tell you so, till I made him. Here's the bond; put your hand to it, Colambre; you were ready enough to do that when it cost you something; and now, all I have to ask of you is, to persuade her to marry out of hand, that I may see her happy before I die. Now my heart's at ease! I can meet Mr. Salisbury with a safe conscience. One kiss, my little Grace. If anybody can persuade you, I'm sure it's that man that's now leaning against the mantelpiece. It's Colambre's will, or your heart's not made like mine--so I leave you.'
And out of the room walked he, leaving his poor son in as awkward, embarrassing, and painful a situation, as could well be conceived. Half a dozen indistinct ideas crossed his mind; quick conflicting feelings made his heart beat and stop. And how it would have ended, if he had been left to himself, whether he would have stood or fallen, have spoken or have continued silent, can never now be known, for all was decided without the action of his will. He was awakened from his trance by these simple words from Miss Nugent--
'I'm much obliged to you, cousin Colambre--more obliged to you for your kindness in thinking of me first, in the midst of all your other business, than by your securing my fortune. Friendship--and your friendship--is worth more to me than fortune. May I believe that is secured?'
'Believe it! Oh, Grace, can you doubt it?'
'I will not; it would make me too unhappy. I will not.'
'You need not.'
'That is enough--I am satisfied--I ask no farther explanation. You are truth itself--one word from you is security sufficient. We are friends for life,' said she, taking his hand between both of hers; 'are not we?'
'We are--and therefore sit down, cousin Grace, and let me claim the privilege of friendship, and speak to you of him who aspires to be more than your friend for life, Mr.--'
Mr. Salisbury!' said Miss Nugent; 'I saw him yesterday. We had a very long conversation; I believe he understands my sentiments perfectly, and that he no longer thinks of being more to me than a friend for life.'
'You have refused him!'
'Yes. I have a high opinion of Mr. Salisbury's understanding, a great esteem for his character; I like his manners and conversation; but I do not love him, and therefore, you know, I could not marry him.'
'But, my dear Miss Nugent, with a high opinion, a great esteem, and liking his manners and conversation, in such a well-regulated mind as yours, can there be a better foundation for love?'
'It is an excellent foundation,' said she; 'but I never went any farther than the foundation; and, indeed, I never wished to proceed any farther.'
Lord Colambre scarcely dared to ask why; but, after some pause, he said--
'I don't wish to intrude upon your confidence.'
'You cannot intrude upon my confidence; I am ready to give it to you entirely, frankly; I hesitated only because another person was concerned. Do you remember, at my aunt's gala, a lady who danced with Mr. Salisbury?'
'Not in the least.'
'A lady with whom you and Mr. Salisbury were talking, just before supper, in the Turkish tent.'
'Not in the least.'
'As we went down to supper, you told me you had had a delightful conversation with her--that you thought her a charming woman.'
'A charming woman!--I have not the slightest recollection of her.'
'And you told me that she and Mr. Salisbury had been praising me a l'envie l'une et l'autre.'
'Oh, I recollect her now perfectly,' said Lord Colambre; 'But what of her?'
'She is the woman who, I hope, will be Mrs. Salisbury. Ever since I have been acquainted with them both, I have seen that they were suited to each other; and fancy, indeed I am almost sure, that she could love him, tenderly love him--and, I know, I could not. But my own sentiments, you may be sure, are all I ever told Mr. Salisbury.'
'But of your own sentiments you may not be sure,' said Lord Colambre; 'and I see no reason why you should give him up from false generosity.'
'Generosity?' interrupted Miss Nugent; 'you totally misunderstand me; there is no generosity, nothing for me to give up in the case. I did not refuse Mr. Salisbury from generosity, but because I did not love him. Perhaps my seeing this at first prevented me from thinking of him as a lover; but, from whatever cause, I certainly never felt love for Mr. Salisbury, nor any of that pity which is said to lead to love; perhaps,' added she, smiling, 'because I was aware that he would be so much better off after I refused him--so much happier with one suited to him in age, talents, fortune, and love--"What bliss, did he but know his bliss," were his!'
'Did he but know his bliss,' repeated Lord Colambre; 'but is not he the best judge of his own bliss?'
'And am not I the best judge of mine?' said Miss Nugent; 'I go no farther.'
'You are; and I have no right to go farther. Yet, this much permit me to say, my dear Grace, that it would give me sincere pleasure, that is, real satisfaction, to see you happily-- established.'
'Thank you, my dear Lord Colambre; but you spoke that like a man of seventy at least, with the most solemn gravity of demeanour.'
'I meant to be serious, not solemn,' said Lord Colambre, endeavouring to change his tone.
'There now,' said she, in a playful tone, 'you have seriously accomplished the task my good uncle set you; so I will report well of you to him, and certify that you did all that in you lay to exhort me to marry; that you have even assured me that it would give you sincere pleasure, that is, real satisfaction, to see me happily established.'
'Oh, Grace, if you knew how much I felt when I said that, you would spare this raillery.'
'I will be serious--I am most seriously convinced of the sincerity of your affection for me; I know my happiness is your object in all you have said, and I thank you from my heart for the interest you take about me. But really and truly, I do not wish to marry. This is not a mere commonplace speech; but I have not yet seen any man I could love. I like you, cousin Colambre, better than Mr. Salisbury--I would rather live with you than with him; you know that is a certain proof that I am not likely to be in love with him. I am happy as I am, especially now we are all going to dear Ireland, home, to live together: you cannot conceive with what pleasure I look forward to that.'
Lord Colambre was not vain; but love quickly sees love where it exists, or foresees the probability, the possibility of its existence. He saw that Miss Nugent might love him tenderly, passionately; but that duty, habit, the prepossession that it was impossible she could marry her cousin Colambre--a prepossession instilled into her by his mother--had absolutely prevented her from ever yet thinking of him as a lover. He saw the hazard for her, he felt the danger for himself. Never had she appeared to him so attractive as at this moment, when he felt the hope that he could obtain return of love.
'But St. Omar!--Why! why is she a St, Omar!--illegitimate!--"No St. Omar sans reproche." My wife she cannot be--I will not engage her affections.'
Swift as thoughts in moments of strong feeling pass in the mind without being put into words, our hero thought all this, and determined, cost what it would, to act honourably.
'You spoke of my returning to Ireland, my dear Grace. I have not yet told you my plans.'
'Plans! are not you returning with us?' said she, precipitately; 'are not you going to Ireland--home--with us?'
'No--I am going to serve a campaign or two abroad. I think every young man in these times--'
'Good heavens! What does this mean? What can you mean?' cried she, fixing her eyes upon his, as if she would read his very soul. 'Why? what reason?--Oh, tell me the truth and at once.'
His change of colour--his hand that trembled, and withdrew from hers--the expression of his eyes as they met hers-- revealed the truth to her at once. As it flashed across her mind, she started back; her face grew crimson, and, in the same instant, pale as death.
'Yes--you see, you feel the truth now,' said Lord Colambre. 'You see, you feel, that I love you--passionately,'
'Oh, let me not hear it!' said she; 'I must not--ought not. Never, till this moment, did such a thought cross my mind--I thought it impossible--oh, make me think so still.'
'I will--it is impossible that we can ever be united.'
'I always thought so,' said she, taking breath with a deep sigh. 'Then why not live as we have lived?'
'I cannot--I cannot answer for myself--I will not run the risk; and therefore I must quit you--knowing, as I do, that there is an invincible obstacle to our union, of what nature I cannot explain; I beg you not to inquire.'
'You need not beg it--I shall not inquire--I have no curiosity-- none,' said she, in a passive, dejected tone; 'that is not what I am thinking of in the least. I know there are invincible obstacles; I wish it to be so. But, if invincible, you who have so much sense, honour, and virtue--'
'I hope, my dear cousin, that I have honour and virtue. But there are temptations to which no wise, no good man will expose himself. Innocent creature! you do not know the power of love. I rejoice that you have always thought it impossible--think so still--it will save you from--all I must endure. Think of me but as your cousin, your friend--give your heart to some happier man. As your friend, your true friend, I conjure you, give your heart to some more fortunate man. Marry, if you can feel love--marry, and be happy. Honour! virtue! Yes, I have both, and I will not forfeit them. Yes, I will merit your esteem and my own--by actions, not words; and I give you the strongest proof, by tearing myself from you at this moment. Farewell!'
'The carriage at the door, Miss Nugent, and my lady calling for you,' said her maid. 'Here's your key, ma'am, and here's your gloves, my dear ma'am.'
'The carriage at the door, Miss Nugent, said Lady Clonbrony's woman, coming eagerly with parcels in her hand, as Miss Nugent passed her and ran downstairs; 'and I don't know where I laid my lady's numbrella, for my life--do your Anne?'
'No, indeed--but I know here's my own young lady's watch that she has left. Bless me! I never knew her to forget anything on a journey before.'
'Then she is going to be married, as sure as my name's Le Maistre, and to my Lord Colambre; for he has been here this hour, to my certain Bible knowledge. Oh, you'll see, she will be Lady Colambre?
'I wish she may, with all my heart said Anne; 'but I must run down--they're waiting.'
'Oh no,' said Mrs. le Maistre, seizing Anne's arm, and holding her fast; 'stay--you may safely--for they're all kissing and taking leave, and all that, you know; and my lady is talking on about Mr. Soho, and giving a hundred directions about legs of tables, and so forth, I warrant--she's always an hour after she's ready before she gets in--and I'm looking for the numbrella. So stay, and tell me--Mrs. Petito wrote over word it was to be Lady Isabel; and then a contradiction came--it was turned into the youngest of the Killpatricks; and now here he's in Miss Nugent's dressing-room to the last moment. Now, in my opinion, that am not censorious, this does not look so pretty; but, according to my verdict, he is only making a fool of Miss Nugent, like the rest; and his lordship seems too like what you might call a male cocket, or a masculine jilt.'
'No more like a masculine jilt than yourself, Mrs. le Maistre,' cried Anne, taking fire. 'And my young lady is not a lady to be made a fool of, I promise you; nor is my lord likely to make a fool of any woman.'
'Bless us all! that's no great praise for any young nobleman. Miss Anne.'
'Mrs. le Maistre! Mrs. le Maistre! are you above?' cried a footman from the bottom of the stairs; 'my lady's calling for you.'
'Very well! very well!' said sharp Mrs. le Maistre; 'very well! and if she is--manners, sir!--Come up for one, can't you, and don't stand bawling at the bottom of the stairs, as if one had no ears to be saved. I'm coming as fast as I conveniently can.' Mrs. le Maistre stood in the doorway, so as to fill it up, and prevent Anne from passing.
'Miss Anne! Miss Anne! Mrs. le Maistre!' cried another footman; 'my lady's in the carriage, and Miss Nugent.'
'Miss Nugent!--is she?' cried Mrs. le Maistre, running downstairs, followed by Anne. 'Now, for the world in pocket- pieces wouldn't I have missed seeing him hand Miss Nugent in; for by that I could have judged definitively.'
'My lord, I beg pardon!--I'm afeard I'm late,' said Mrs. le Maistre, as she passed Lord Colambre, who was standing motionless in the hall. 'I beg a thousand pardons; but I was hunting high and low, for my lady's numbrella.'
Lord Colambre did not hear or heed her; his eyes were fixed, and they never moved.
Lord Clonbrony was at the open carriage-door, kneeling on the step, and receiving Lady Clonbrony's 'more last words' for Mr. Soho. The two waiting-maids stood together on the steps.
'Look at our young lord, how he stands,' whispered Mrs. le Maistre to Anne, 'the image of despair! And she, the picture of death!--I don't know what to think.'
'Nor I; but don't stare if you can help it,' said Anne. 'Get in, get in, Mrs. le Maistre,' added she, as Lord Clonbrony now rose from the step, and made way for them.
'Ay, in with you--in with you, Mrs. le Maistre,' said Lord Clonbrony. 'Good-bye to you, Anne, and take care of your young mistress at Buxton; let me see her blooming when we meet again; I don't half like her looks, and I never thought Buxton agreed with her.'
'Buxton never did anybody harm,' said Lady Clonbrony; 'and as to bloom, I'm sure, if Grace has not bloom enough in her cheeks this moment to please you, I don't know what you'd have, my dear lord --Rouge?--Shut the door, John! Oh, stay!--Colambre! Where upon earth's Colambre?' cried her ladyship, stretching from the farthest side of the coach to the window. 'Colambre!'
Colambre was forced to appear.
'Colambre, my dear! I forgot to say that, if anything detains you longer than Wednesday se'nnight, I beg you will not fail to write, or I shall be miserable.'
'I will write; at all events, my dearest mother, you shall hear from me.'
'Then I shall be quite happy. Go on!'
The carriage drove on.
'I do believe Colambre's ill; I never saw a man look so ill in my life--did you, Grace?--as he did the minute we drove on. He should take advice. I've a mind, cried Lady Clonbrony, laying her hand on the cord to stop the coachman--'I've a mind to turn about, tell him so, and ask what is the matter with him.'
'Better not!' said Miss Nugent; 'he will write to you, and tell you--if anything is the matter with him. Better go on now to Buxton!' continued she, scarcely able to speak. Lady Clonbrony let go the cord.
'But what is the matter with you, my dear Grace? for you are certainly going to die too!'
'I will tell you--as soon as I can; but don't ask me now, my dear aunt!'
'Grace, Grace! pull the cord!' cried Lady Clonbrony-- 'Mr. Salisbury's phaeton!--Mr. Salisbury, I'm happy to see you! We're on our way to Buxton--as I told you.'
'So am I,' said Mr. Salisbury. 'I hope to be there before your ladyship; will you honour me with any commands!--of course, I will see that everything is ready for your reception.'
Her ladyship had not any commands. Mr. Salisbury drove on rapidly.
Lady Clonbrony's ideas had now taken the Salisbury channel.
'You didn't know that Mr. Salisbury was going to Buxton to meet you, did you, Grace?' said Lady Clonbrony.
'No, indeed, I did not!' said Miss Nugent; 'and I am very sorry for it.'
'Young ladies, as Mrs. Broadhurst says, "never know, or at least never tell, what they are sorry or glad for,"' replied Lady Clonbrony. 'At all events, Grace, my love, it has brought the fine bloom back to your cheeks; and I own I am satisfied.'