The Absentee by Maria Edgeworth
In the meantime, Lady Clonbrony had been occupied with thoughts very different from those which passed in the mind of her son. Though she had never completely recovered from her rheumatic pains, she had become inordinately impatient of confinement to her own house, and weary of those dull evenings at home, which had, in her son's absence, become insupportable. She told over her visiting tickets regularly twice a day, and gave to every card of invitation a heartfelt sigh. Miss Pratt alarmed her ladyship, by bringing intelligence of some parties given by persons of consequence, to which she was not invited. She feared that she should be forgotten in the world, well knowing how soon the world forgets those they do not see every day and everywhere. How miserable is the fine lady's lot who cannot forget the world, and who is forgot by the world in a moment! How much more miserable still is the condition of a would-be fine lady, working her way up in the world with care and pains! By her, every the slightest failure of attention, from persons of rank and fashion, is marked and felt with jealous anxiety, and with a sense of mortification the most acute--an invitation omitted is a matter of the most serious consequence, not only as it regards the present, but the future; for if she be not invited by Lady A, it will lower her in the eyes of Lady B, and of all the ladies of the alphabet. It will form a precedent of the most dangerous and inevitable application. If she has nine invitations, and the tenth be wanting, the nine have no power to make her happy. This was precisely Lady Clonbrony's case--there was to be a party at Lady St. James's, for which Lady Clonbrony had no card.
'So ungrateful, so monstrous, of Lady St. James!--What! was the gala so soon forgotten, and all the marked attentions paid that night to Lady St. James!--attentions, you know, Pratt, which were looked upon with a jealous eye, and made me enemies enough, I am told, in another quarter! Of all people, I did not expect to be slighted by Lady St. James!'
Miss Pratt, who was ever ready to undertake the defence of any person who had a title, pleaded, in mitigation of censure, that perhaps Lady St. James might not be aware that her ladyship was yet well enough to venture out.
'Oh, my dear Miss Pratt, that cannot be the thing; for, in spite of my rheumatism, which really was bad enough last Sunday, I went on purpose to the Royal Chapel, to show myself in the closet, and knelt close to her ladyship. And, my dear, we curtsied, and she congratulated me, after church, upon my being abroad again, and was so happy to see me look so well, and all that--Oh! it is something very extraordinary and unaccountable!'
'But, I daresay, a card will come yet,' said Miss Pratt.
Upon this hint, Lady Clonbrony's hope revived; and, staying her anger, she began to consider how she could manage to get herself invited. Refreshing tickets were left next morning at Lady St. James's with their corners properly turned up; to do the thing better, separate tickets for herself and for Miss Nugent were left for each member of the family; and her civil messages, left with the footman, extended to the utmost possibility of remainder. It had occurred to her lady-ship that for Miss Somebody, the companion, of whom she had never in her life thought before, she had omitted to leave a card last time, and she now left a note of explanation; she further, with her rheumatic head and arm out of the coach-window, sat, the wind blowing keen upon her, explaining to the porter and the footman, to discover whether her former tickets had gone safely up to Lady St. James; and on the present occasion, to make assurance doubly sure, she slid handsome expedition money into the servant's hand --'Sir, you will be sure to remember.'--'Oh certainly, your ladyship!'
She well knew what dire offence has frequently been taken, what sad disasters have occurred, in the fashionable world, from the neglect of a porter in delivering, or of a footman in carrying up one of those talismanic cards. But, in spite of all her manoeuvres, no invitation to the party arrived next day. Pratt was next set to work. Miss Pratt was a most convenient go- between, who, in consequence of doing a thousand little services, to which few others of her rank in life would stoop, had obtained the entree to a number of great houses, and was behind the scenes in many fashionable families. Pratt could find out, and Pratt could hint, and Pratt could manage to get things done cleverly-- and hints were given, in all directions, to work round to Lady St. James. But still they did not take effect. At last Pratt suggested that, perhaps, though everything else had failed, dried salmon might be tried with success. Lord Clonbrony had just had some uncommonly good from Ireland, which Pratt knew Lady St. James would like to have at her supper, because a certain personage, whom she would not name, was particularly fond of it. --Wheel within wheel in the fine world, as well as in the political world!--Bribes for all occasions, and for all ranks! The timely present was sent, accepted with many thanks, and understood as it was meant. Per favour of this propitiatory offering, and of a promise of half a dozen pair of real Limerick gloves to Miss Pratt--a promise which Pratt clearly comprehended to be a conditional promise--the grand object was at length accomplished. The very day before the party was to take place came cards of invitation to Lady Clonbrony and to Miss Nugent, with Lady St. James's apologies; her ladyship was concerned to find that, by some negligence of her servants, these cards were not sent in proper time. 'How slight an apology will do from some people!' thought Miss Nugent; 'how eager to forgive, when it is for our interest or our pleasure; how well people act the being deceived, even when all parties know that they see the whole truth; and how low pride will stoop to gain its object!'
Ashamed of the whole transaction, Miss Nugent earnestly wished that a refusal should be sent, and reminded her aunt of her rheumatism; but rheumatism and all other objections were overruled--Lady Clonbrony would go. It was just when this affair was thus, in her opinion, successfully settled, that Lord Colambre came in, with a countenance of unusual seriousness, his mind full of the melancholy scenes he had witnessed in his friend's family.
'What is the matter; Colambre?'
He related what had passed; he described the brutal conduct of Mordicai; the anguish of the mother and sisters; the distress of Mr. Berryl. Tears rolled down Miss Nugent's cheeks. Lady Clonbrony declared it was very shocking; listened with attention to all the particulars; but never failed to correct her son, whenever he said Mr. Berryl.
'Sir Arthur Berryl, you mean.'
She was, however, really touched with compassion when he spoke of Lady Berryl's destitute condition; and her son was going on to repeat what Mordicai had said to him, but Lady Clonbrony interrupted--
'Oh, my dear Colambre! don't repeat that detestable man's impertinent speeches to me. If there is anything really about business, speak to your father. At any rate, don't tell us of it now, because I've a hundred things to do,' said her ladyship, hurrying out of the room, 'Grace--Grace Nugent! I want you!'
Lord Colambre sighed deeply.
'Don't despair,' said Miss Nugent, as she followed to obey her aunt's summons. 'Don't despair; don't attempt to speak to her again till to-morrow morning. Her head is now full of Lady St. James's party. When it is emptied of that, you will have a better chance. Never despair.'
'Never, while you encourage me to hope--that any good can be done.'
Lady Clonbrony was particularly glad that she had carried her point about this party at Lady St. James's; because, from the first private intimation that the Duchess of Torcaster was to be there, her ladyship flattered herself that the long-desired introduction might then be accomplished. But of this hope Lady St. James had likewise received intimation from the double- dealing Miss Pratt; and a warning note was despatched to the duchess to let her grace know that circumstances had occurred which had rendered it impossible not to ask the Clonbronies. An excuse, of course, for not going to this party was sent by the duchess--her grace did not like large parties--she would have the pleasure of accepting Lady St. James's invitation for her select party on Wednesday the 10th. Into these select parties Lady Clonbrony had never been admitted. In return for her great entertainments she was invited to great entertainments, to large parties; but farther she could never penetrate.
At Lady St, James's, and with her set, Lady Clonbrony suffered a different kind of mortification from that which Lady Langdale and Mrs. Dareville made her endure. She was safe from the witty raillery, the sly innuendo, the insolent mimicry; but she was kept at a cold, impassable distance, by ceremony--'So far shalt thou go, and no farther' was expressed in every look, in every word, and in a thousand different ways.
By the most punctilious respect and nice regard to precedency, even by words of courtesy--'Your ladyship does me honour,' etc. --Lady St. James contrived to mortify and to mark the difference between those with whom she was, and with whom she was not, upon terms of intimacy and equality. Thus the ancient grandees of Spain drew a line of demarcation between themselves and the newly-created nobility. Whenever or wherever they met, they treated the new nobles with the utmost respect, never addressed them but with all their titles, with low bows, and with all the appearance of being, with the most perfect consideration, anything but their equals; whilst towards one another the grandees laid aside their state, and omitting their titles, it was, 'Alcala-Medina-Sidonia-Infantado,' and a freedom and familiarity which marked equality. Entrenched in etiquette in this manner, and mocked with marks of respect, it was impossible either to intrude or to complain of being excluded.
At supper at Lady St. James's, Lady Clonbrony's present was pronounced by some gentleman to be remarkably high flavoured. This observation turned the conversation to Irish commodities and Ireland. Lady Clonbrony, possessed by the idea that it was disadvantageous to appear as an Irishwoman, or as a favourer of Ireland, began to be embarrassed by Lady St. James's repeated thanks. Had it been in her power to offer anything else with propriety, she would not have thought of sending her ladyship anything from Ireland. Vexed by the questions that were asked her about her country, Lady Clonbrony, as usual, denied it to be her country, and went on to depreciate and abuse everything Irish; to declare that there was no possibility of living in Ireland; and that, for her own part, she was resolved never to return thither. Lady St. James, preserving perfect silence, let her go on. Lady Clonbrony, imagining that this silence arose from coincidence of opinion, proceeded with all the eloquence she possessed, which was very little, repeating the same exclamations, and reiterating her vow of perpetual expatriation; till at last an elderly lady, who was a stranger to her, and whom she had till this moment scarcely noticed, took up the defence of Ireland with much warmth and energy: the eloquence with which she spoke, and the respect with which she was heard, astonished Lady Clonbrony.
'Who is she?' whispered her ladyship.
'Does not your ladyship know Lady Oranmore--the Irish Lady Oranmore?'
'Lord bless me!--what have I said!--what have I done! Oh! why did not you give me a hint, Lady St. James?'
'I was not aware that your ladyship was not acquainted with Lady Oranmore,' replied Lady St. James, unmoved by her distress.
Everybody sympathised with Lady Oranmore, and admired the honest zeal with which she abided by her country, and defended it against unjust aspersions and affected execrations. Every one present enjoyed Lady Clonbrony's confusion, except Miss Nugent, who sat with her eyes bowed down by penetrative shame during the whole of this scene; she was glad that Lord Colambre was not witness to it; and comforted herself with the hope that, upon the whole, Lady Clonbrony would be benefited by the pain she had felt. This instance might convince her that it was not necessary to deny her country to be received in any company in England; and that those who have the courage and steadiness to be themselves, and to support what they feel and believe to be the truth, must command respect. Miss Nugent hoped that in consequence of this conviction Lady Clonbrony would lay aside the little affectations by which her manners were painfully constrained and ridiculous; and, above all, she hoped that what Lady Oranmore had said of Ireland might dispose her aunt to listen with patience to all Lord Colambre might urge in favour of returning to her home. But Miss Nugent hoped in vain. Lady Clonbrony never in her life generalised any observations, or drew any but a partial conclusion from the most striking facts.
'Lord! my dear Grace!' said she, as soon as they were seated in their carriage, 'what a scrape I got into to-night at supper, and what disgrace I came to!--and all this because I did not know Lady Oranmore. Now you see the inconceivable disadvantage of not knowing everybody--everybody of a certain rank, of course, I mean.'
Miss Nugent endeavoured to slide in her own moral on the occasion, but it would not do.
'Yes, my dear, Lady Oranmore may talk in that kind of style of Ireland, because, on the other hand, she is so highly connected in England; and, besides, she is an old lady, and may take liberties; in short, she is Lady Oranmore, and that's enough.'
The next morning, when they all met at breakfast, Lady Clonbrony complained bitterly of her increased rheumatism, of the disagreeable, stupid party they had had the preceding night, and of the necessity of going to another formal party that night, the next, and the next, and, in the true fine lady style, deplored her situation, and the impossibility of avoiding those things,
Miss Nugent determined to retire as soon as she could from the breakfast-room, to leave Lord Colambre an opportunity of talking over his family affairs at full liberty. She knew by the seriousness of his countenance that his mind was intent upon doing so, and she hoped that his influence with his father and mother would not be exerted in vain. But just as she was rising from the breakfast-table, in came Sir Terence O'Fay, and, seating himself quite at his ease, in spite of Lady Clonbrony's repulsive looks, his awe of Lord Colambre having now worn off--
'I'm tired,' said he, 'and have a right to be tired; for it's no small walk I've taken for the good of this noble family this morning. And, Miss Nugent, before I say more, I'll take a cup of ta from you, if you please.'
Lady Clonbrony rose, with great stateliness, and walked to the farthest end of the room, where she established herself at her writing-table, and began to write notes.
Sir Terence wiped his forehead deliberately.
'Then I've had a fine run--Miss Nugent, I believe you never saw me run; but I can run, I promise you, when it's to serve a friend. And, my lord (turning to Lord Clonbrony), what do you think I run for this morning--to buy a bargain--and of what!--a bargain of a bad debt--a debt of yours, which I bargained for, and up just in time--and Mordicai's ready to hang himself this minute. For what do you think but that rascal was bringing upon you--but an execution?--he was.'
'An execution!' repeated everybody present, except Lord Colambre.
'And how has this been prevented, sir?' said Lord Colambre.
'Oh! let me alone for that,' said Sir Terence. 'I got a hint from my little friend, Paddy Brady, who would not be paid for it either, though he's as poor as a rat. Well! as soon as I got the hint, I dropped the thing I had in my hand, which was the Dublin Evening, and ran for the bare life--for there wasn't a coach--in my slippers, as I was, to get into the prior creditor's shoes, who is the little solicitor that lives in Crutched Friars, which Mordicai never dreamt of, luckily; so he was very genteel, though he was taken on a sudden, and from his breakfast, which an Englishman don't like particularly--I popped him a douceur of a draught, at thirty-one days, on Garraghty, the agent; of which he must get notice; but I won't descant on the law before the ladies--he handed me over his debt and execution, and he made me prior creditor in a trice. Then I took coach in state, the first I met, and away with me to Long Acre--saw Mordicai. "Sir," says I, "I hear you're meditating an execution on a friend of mine." "Am I?" said the rascal; "who told you so?" "No matter," said I; "but I just called in to let you know there's no use in life of your execution; for there's a prior creditor with his execution to be satisfied first." So he made a great many black faces, and said a great deal, which I never listened to, but came off here clean to tell you all the story.'
'Not one word of which do I understand,' said Lady Clonbrony,
'Then, my dear, you are very ungrateful,' said Lord Clonbrony.
Lord Colambre said nothing, for he wished to learn more of Sir Terence O'Fay's character, of the state of his father's affairs, and of the family methods of proceeding in matters of business.
'Faith! Terry, I know I'm very thankful to you--but an execution's an ugly thing--and I hope there's no danger--'
'Never fear!' said Sir Terence: 'Haven't I been at my wits' ends for myself or my friends ever since I come to man's estate --to years of discretion, I should say, for the deuce a foot of estate have I! But use has sharpened my wits pretty well for your service; so never be in dread, my good lord for look ye!' cried the reckless knight, sticking his arms akimbo 'look ye here! in Sir Terence O'Fay stands a host that desires no better than to encounter, single witted, all the duns in the united kingdoms, Mordicai the Jew inclusive.'
'Ah! that's the devil, that Mordicai,' said Lord Clonbrony; 'that's the only man an earth I dread.'
'Why, he is only a coachmaker, is not he!' said Lady Clonbrony: 'I can't think how you can talk, my lord, of dreading such a low man. Tell him, if he's troublesome, we won't bespeak any more carriages; and, I'm sure, I wish you would not be so silly, my lord, to employ him any more, when you know he disappointed me the last birthday about the landau, which I have not got yet.'
'Nonsense, my dear,'said Lord Clonbrony; 'you don't know what you are talking of. Terry, I say, even a friendly execution is an ugly thing.'
'Phoo! phoo!--an ugly thing! So is a fit of the gout--but one's all the better for it after. 'Tis just a renewal of life, my lord, for which one must pay a bit of a fine, you know. Take patience, and leave me to manage all properly--you know I'm used to these things, Only you recollect, if you please, how I managed my friend Lord --; it's bad to be mentioning names--but Lord everybody-knows-who--didn't I bring him through cleverly, when there was that rascally attempt to seize the family plate? I had notice, and what did I do, but broke open a partition between that lord's house and my lodgings, which I had taken next door; and so, when the sheriff's officers were searching below on the ground floor, I just shoved the plate easy through to my bedchamber at a moment's warning, and then bid the gentlemen walk in, for they couldn't set a foot in my paradise, the devils! So they stood looking at it through the wall, and cursing me and I holding both my sides with laughter at their fallen faces.'
Sir Terence and Lord Clonbrony laughed in concert.
'This is a good story,' said Miss Nugent, smiling; 'but surely, Sir Terence, such things are never done in real life?'
'Done! ay, are they; and I could tell you a hundred better strokes, my dear Miss Nugent.'
'Grace!' cried Lady Clonbrony, 'do pray have the goodness to seal and send these notes; for really,' whispered she, as her niece came to the table,'I cawnt stea, I cawnt bear that man's vice, his accent grows horrider and horrider!'
Her ladyship rose, and left the room.
'Why, then,' continued Sir Terence, following up Miss Nugent to the table, where she was sealing letters, 'I must tell you how I sarved that same man on another occasion, and got the victory too.'
No general officer could talk of his victories, or fight his battles o'er again, with more complacency than Sir Terence O'Fay recounted his civil exploits.
'Now I'll tell Miss Nugent. There was a footman in the family, not an Irishman, but one of your powdered English scoundrels that ladies are so fond of having hanging to the backs of their carriages; one Fleming he was, that turned spy, and traitor, and informer, went privately and gave notice to the creditors where the plate was hid in the thickness of the chimney; but if he did, what happened! Why, I had my counter-spy, an honest little Irish boy, in the creditor's shop, that I had secured with a little douceur of usquebaugh; and he outwitted, as was natural, the English lying valet, and gave us notice just in the nick, and I got ready for their reception; and, Miss Nugent, I only wish you'd seen the excellent sport we had, letting them follow the scent they got; and when they were sure of their game, what did they find?--Ha! ha! ha!--dragged out, after a world of labour, a heavy box of--a load of brickbats; not an item of my friend's plate--that was all snug in the coal-hole, where them dunces never thought of looking for it. Ha! ha! ha!'
'But come, Terry,' cried Lord Clonbrony, 'I'll pull down your pride. How finely, another time, your job of the false ceiling answered in the hall. I've heard that story, and have been told how the sheriffs fellow thrust his bayonet up through your false plaster, and down came tumbling the family plate hey, Terry? That hit cost your friend, Lord everybody-knows-who, more than your head's worth, Terry.'
'I ask your pardon, my lord, it never cost him a farthing.'
'When he paid L7000 for the plate, to redeem it?'
'Well! and did not I make up for that at the races of --? The creditors learned that my lord's horse, Naboclish, was to run at -- races; and, as the sheriff's officer knew he dare not touch him on the race-ground, what does he do, but he comes down early in the morning on the mail-coach, and walks straight down to the livery stables. He had an exact description of the stables, and the stall, and the horse's body-clothes.
'I was there, seeing the horse taken care of; and, knowing the cut of the fellow's jib, what does I do, but whips the body- clothes off Naboclish, and claps them upon a garrone that the priest would not ride.
'In comes the bailiff--"Good morrow to you, sir," says I, leading out of the stable my lord's horse, with an ould saddle and bridle on.
'"Tim Neal," says I to the groom, who was rubbing down the garrone's heels, "mind your hits to-day, and wee'l wet the plate to-night."
'"Not so fast, neither," says the bailiff--"here's my writ for seizing the horse."
'"Och," says I, "you wouldn't be so cruel."'
"That's all my eye," says he, seizing the garrone, while I mounted Naboclish, and rode him off deliberately to --'
'Ha! ha! ha!--That was neat, I grant you, Terry,' said Lord Clonbrony. 'But what a dolt of a born ignoramus must that sheriffs fellow have been, not to know Naboclish when he saw him!'
'But stay, my lord--stay, Miss Nugent--I have more for you,' following her wherever she moved. 'I did not let him off so, even. At the cant, I bid and bid against them for the pretended Naboclish, till I, left him on their hands for 500 guineas. Ha! ha! ha!--was not that famous?'
'But,' said Miss Nugent, 'I cannot believe you are in earnest, Sir Terence. Surely this would be--'
'What?--out with it, my dear Miss Nugent.'
'I am afraid of offending you.'
'You can't, my dear, I defy you--say the word that came to the tongue's end; it's always the best.'
'I was going to say, swindling,' said the young lady, colouring deeply.
'Oh! you was going to say wrong, then! It's not called swindling amongst gentlemen who know the world--it's only jockeying--fine sport--and very honourable to help a friend at a dead lift. Anything to get a friend out of a present pressing difficulty.'
'And when the present difficulty is over, do your friends never think of the future?'
The future! leave the future to posterity,' said Sir Terence; 'I'm counsel only for the present; and when the evil comes, it's time enough to think of it. I can't bring the guns of my wits to bear till the enemy's alongside of me, or within sight of me at the least. And besides, there never was a good commander yet, by sea or land, that would tell his little expedients beforehand, or before the very day of battle.'
'It must be a sad thing,' said Miss Nugent, sighing deeply, 'to be reduced to live by little expedients--daily expedients.'
Lord Colambre struck his forehead, but said nothing.
'But if you are beating your brains about your own affairs, my Lord Colambre, my dear,' said Sir Terence, 'there's an easy way of settling your family affairs at once; and, since you don't like little daily expedients, Miss Nugent, there's one great expedient, and an expedient for life, that will settle it all to your satisfaction--and ours. I hinted it delicately to you before, but, between friends, delicacy is impertinent; so I tell you, in plain English, you've nothing to do but go and propose yourself, just as you stand, to the heiress Miss B--, that desires no better--'
'Sir!' cried Lord Colambre, stepping forward, red with sudden anger. Miss Nugent laid her hand upon his arm--
'Oh, my lord!'
'Sir Terence O'Fay,' continued Lord Colambre, in a moderated tone, 'you are wrong to mention that young lady's name in such a manner.'
'Why, then, I said only Miss B--, and there are a whole hive of bees. But I'll engage she'd thank me for what I suggested, and think herself the queen bee if my expedient was adopted by you.'
'Sir Terence,' said his lordship, smiling, 'if my father thinks proper that you should manage his affairs, and devise expedients for him, I have nothing to say on that point; but I must beg you will not trouble yourself to suggest expedients for me, and that you will have the goodness to leave me to settle my own affairs.'
Sir Terence made a low bow, and was silent for five seconds; then turning to Lord Clonbrony, who looked much more abashed than he did--
'By the wise one, my good lord, I believe there are some men-- noblemen, too--that don't know their friends from their enemies. It's my firm persuasion, now, that if I had served you as I served my friend I was talking of, your son there would, ten to one, think I had done him an injury by saving the family plate.'
'I certainly should, sir. The family plate, sir, is not the first object in my mind,' replied Lord Colambre; 'family honour-- Nay, Miss Nugent, I must speak,' continued his lordship, perceiving; by her countenance, that she was alarmed.
'Never fear, Miss Nugent dear,' said Sir Terence; 'I'm as cool as a cucumber. Faith! then, my Lord Colambre, I agree with you, that family honour's a mighty fine thing, only troublesome to one's self and one's friends, and expensive to keep up with all the other expenses and debts a gentleman has nowadays. So I, that am under no natural obligations to it by birth or otherwise, have just stood by through life, and asked myself, before I would volunteer being bound to it, what could this same family honour do for a man in this world? And, first and foremost, I never remember to see family honour stand a man in much stead in a court of law--never saw family honour stand against an execution, or a custodiam, or an injunction even. 'Tis a rare thing, this same family honour, and a very fine thing; but I never knew it yet, at a pinch, pay for a pair of boots even,' added Sir Terence, drawing up his own with much complacency.
At this moment Sir Terence was called out of the room by one who wanted to speak to him on particular business.
'My dear father,' cried Lord Colambre, 'do not follow him; stay for one moment, and hear your son--your true friend.'
Miss Nugent went out of the room, that she might leave the father and son at liberty.
'Hear your natural friend for one moment,' cried Lord Colambre. 'Let me beseech you, father, not to have recourse to any of these paltry expedients, but trust your son with the state of your affairs, and we shall find some honourable means--'
'Yes, yes, yes, very true; when you're of age, Colambre, we'll talk of it; but nothing can be done till then. We shall get on, we shall get through, very well, till then, with Terry's assistance. And I must beg you will not say a word more against Terry--I can't bear it--I can't hear it--I can't do without him. Pray don't detain me--I can say no more-- except,' added he, returning to his usual concluding sentence, 'that there need, at all events, be none of this, if people would but live upon their own estates, and kill their own mutton.' He stole out of the room, glad to escape, however shabbily, from present explanation and present pain. There are persons without resource who in difficulties return always to the same point, and usually to the same words.
While Lord Colambre was walking up and down the room, much vexed and disappointed at finding that he could make no impression on his father's mind, nor obtain his confidence as to his family affairs, Lady Clonbrony's woman, Mrs. Petito, knocked at the door, with a message from her lady, to beg, if Lord Colambre was by himself; he would go to her dressing-room, as she wished to have a conference with him. He obeyed her summons.
'Sit down, my dear Colambre--' And she began precisely with her old sentence--
'With the fortune I brought your father, and with my lord's estate, I cawnt understand the meaning of all these pecuniary difficulties; and all that strange creature Sir Terence says is algebra to me, who speak English. And I am particularly sorry he was let in this morning--but he's such a brute that he does not think anything of forcing one's door, and he tells my footman he does not mind not at home a pinch of snuff. Now what can you do with a man who could say that sort of thing, you know--the world's at an end.'
'I wish my father had nothing to do with him, ma'am, as much as you can wish it,' said Lord Colambre; 'but I have said all that a son can with propriety say, and without effect.'
'What particularly provokes me against him,' continued Lady Clonbrony, 'is what I have just heard from Grace, who was really hurt by it, too, for she is the warmest friend in the world: I allude to the creature's indelicate way of touching upon a tender pint, and mentioning an amiable young heiress's name. My dear Colambre, I trust you have given me credit for my inviolable silence all this time upon the pint nearest my heart. I am rejoiced to hear you was so warm when she was mentioned inadvertently by that brute, and I trust you now see the advantages of the projected union in as strong and agreeable a pint of view as I do, my own Colambre; and I should leave things to themselves, and let you prolong the dees of courtship as you please, only for what I now hear incidentally from my lord and the brute, about pecuniary embarrassments, and the necessity of something being done before next winter. And indeed I think now, in propriety, the proposal cannot be delayed much longer; for the world begins to talk of the thing as done; and even Mrs. Broadhurst, I know, had no doubt that, if this contretemps about the poor Berryls had not occurred, your proposal would have been made before the end of last week.'
Our hero was not a man to make a proposal because Mrs. Broadhurst expected it, or to marry because the world said he was going to be married. He steadily said that, from the first moment the subject had been mentioned, he had explained himself distinctly; that the young lady's friends could not, therefore, be under any doubt as to his intentions; that, if they had voluntarily deceived themselves, or exposed the lady in situations from which the world was led to make false conclusions, he was not answerable: he felt his conscience at ease--entirely so, as he was convinced that the young lady herself, for whose merit, talents, independence, and generosity of character he professed high respect, esteem, and admiration, had no doubts either of the extent or the nature of his regard.
'Regard, respect, esteem, admiration!--Why, my dearest Colambre! this is saying all I want; satisfies me, and I am sure would satisfy Mrs Broadhurst and Miss Broadhurst too.'
'No doubt it will, ma'am; but not if I aspired to the honour of Miss Broadhurst's hand, or professed myself her lover.'
'My dear, you are mistaken; Miss Broadhurst is too sensible a girl, a vast deal, to look for love, and a dying lover, and all that sort of stuff; I am persuaded--indeed I have it from good, from the best authority--that the young lady--you know one must be delicate in these cases, where a young lady of such fortune, and no despicable family too is concerned; therefore I cannot speak quite plainly--but I say I have it from the best authority, that you would be preferred to any other suitor, and, in short, that--'
'I beg your pardon, madam, for interrupting you,' cried Lord Colambre, colouring a good deal; 'but you must excuse me if I say, that the only authority on which I could believe this is one from which I am morally certain I shall never hear it from Miss Broadhurst herself.'
'Lord, child! if you would only ask her the question, she would tell you it is truth, I daresay.'
'But as I have no curiosity on the subject, ma'am--'
'Lord bless me! I thought everybody had curiosity. But still, without curiosity, I am sure it would gratify you when you did hear it; and can't you just put the simple question?'
'Impossible!--now that is so very provoking when the thing is all but done. Well, take your own time; all I will ask of you then is, to let things go on as they are going--smoothly and pleasantly; and I'll not press you farther on the subject at present, Let things go on smoothly, that's all I ask, and say nothing.'
'I wish I could oblige you, mother; but I cannot do this. Since you tell me that the world and Miss Broadhurst's friends have already misunderstood my intentions, it becomes necessary, in justice to the young lady and to myself, that I should make all further doubt impossible. I shall, therefore, put an end to it at once, by leaving town to-morrow.'
Lady Clonbrony, breathless for a moment with surprise, exclaimed, 'Bless me! leave town to-morrow! Just at the beginning of the season! Impossible!--I never saw such a precipitate, rash young man. But stay only a few weeks, Colambre; the physicians advise Buxton for my rheumatism, and you shall take us to Buxton early in the season--you cannot refuse me that. Why, if Miss Broadhurst was a dragon, you could not be in a greater hurry to run away from her. What are you afraid of?'
'Of doing what is wrong--the only thing, I trust, of which I shall ever be afraid.'
Lady Clonbrony tried persuasion and argument--such argument as she could use--but all in vain--Lord Colambre was firm in his resolution; at last, she came to tears; and her son, in much agitation, said--
'I cannot bear this, mother! I would do anything you ask, that I could do with honour; but this is impossible.'
'Why impossible? I will take all blame upon myself; and you are sure that Miss Broadhurst does not misunderstand you, and you esteem her, and admire her, and all that; and all I ask is, that you'll go on as you are, and see more of her; and how do you know but you may fall in love with her, as you call it, to-morrow?'
'Because, madam, since you press me so far, my affections are engaged to another person. Do not look so dreadfully shocked, my dear mother--I have told you truly, that I think myself too young, much too young, yet to marry. In the circumstances in which I know my family are, it is probable that I shall not for some years be able to marry as I wish. You may depend upon it that I shall not take any step, I shall not even declare my attachment to the object of my affection, without your knowledge; and, far from being inclined to follow headlong my own passions-- strong as they are--be assured that the honour of my family, your happiness, my mother, my father's, are my first objects: I shall never think of my own till these are secured.'
Of the conclusion of this speech, Lady Clonbrony heard only the sound of the words; from the moment her son had pronounced that his affections were engaged, she had been running over in her head every probable and improbable person she could think of; at last, suddenly starting up, she opened one of the folding-doors into the next apartment, and called--
'Grace!--Grace Nugent!--put down your pencil, Grace, this minute, and come here!'
Miss Nugent obeyed with her usual alacrity; and the moment she entered the room, Lady Clonbrony, fixing her eyes full upon her, said--
'There's your cousin Colambre tells me his affections are engaged.'
'Yes, to Miss Broadhurst, no doubt,' said Miss Nugent, smiling, with a simplicity and openness of countenance which assured Lady Clonbrony that all was safe in that quarter: a suspicion which had darted into her mind was dispelled.
'No doubt. Ay, do you hear that no doubt, Colambre?-- Grace, you see, has no doubt; nobody has any doubt but yourself, Colambre.'
'And are your affections engaged, and not to Miss Broadhurst?' said Miss Nugent, approaching Lord Colambre.
'There now! you see how you surprise and disappoint everybody, Colambre.'
'I am sorry that Miss Nugent should be disappointed,' said Lord Colambre.
'But because I am disappointed, pray do not call me Miss Nugent, or turn away from me, as if you were displeased.'
'It must, then, be some Cambridgeshire lady,' said Lady Clonbrony. 'I am sure I am very sorry he ever went to Cambridge,--Oxford I advised: one of the Miss Berryls, I presume, who have nothing. I'll have nothing more to do with those Berryls--there was the reason of the son's vast intimacy. Grace, you may give up all thoughts of Sir Arthur.'
'I have no thoughts to give up, ma'am,' said Miss Nugent, smiling. 'Miss Broadhurst,' continued she, going on eagerly with what she was saying to Lord Colambre--'Miss Broadhurst is my friend, a friend I love and admire; but you will allow that I strictly kept my promise, never to praise her to you, till you should begin to praise her to me. Now recollect, last night, you did praise her to me, so justly, that I thought you liked her, I confess; so that it is natural I should feel a little disappointed. Now you know the whole of my mind; I have no intention to encroach on your confidence; therefore, there is no occasion to look so embarrassed. I give you my word, I will never speak to you again upon the subject,' said she, holding out her hand to him, 'provided you will never again call me Miss Nugent. Am I not your own cousin Grace--Do not be displeased with her.'
'You are my own dear cousin Grace; and nothing can be farther from my mind than any thought of being displeased with her; especially just at this moment, when I am going away, probably for a considerable time.'
'To-morrow morning, for Ireland.'
'Ireland! of all places,' cried Lady Clonbrony. 'What upon earth puts it into your head to go to Ireland? You do very well to go out of the way of falling in love ridiculously, since that is the reason of your going; but what put Ireland into your head, child?'
'I will not presume to ask my mother what put Ireland out of her head,' said Lord Colambre, smiling; 'but she will recollect that it is my native country.'
'That was your father's fault, not mine,' said Lady Clonbrony; 'for I wished to have been confined in England; but he would have it to say that his son and heir was born at Clonbrony Castle--and there was a great argument between him and my uncle, and something about the Prince of Wales and Caernarvon Castle was thrown in, and that turned the scale, much against my will; for it was my wish that my son should be an Englishman born--like myself. But, after all, I don't see that having the misfortune to be born in a country should tie one to it in any sort of way; and I should have hoped your English edication, Colambre, would have given you too liberal idears for that--so I reelly don't see why you should go to Ireland merely because it's your native country.'
'Not merely because it is my native country; but I wish to go thither--I desire to become acquainted with it--because it is the country in which my father's property lies, and from which we draw our subsistence.'
'Subsistence! Lord bless me, what a word! fitter for a pauper than a nobleman-subsistence! Then, if you are going to look after your father's property, I hope you will make the agents do their duty, and send us remittances. And pray how long do you mean to stay?'
'Till I am of age, madam, if you have no objection. I will spend the ensuing months in travelling in Ireland; and I will return here by the time I am of age, unless you and my father should, before that time, be in Ireland.'
'Not the least chance of that, if I can prevent it, I promise you,' said Lady Clonbrony.
Lord Colambre and Miss Nugent sighed.
'And I am sure I shall take it very unkindly of you, Colambre, if you go and turn out a partisan for Ireland, after all, like Grace Nugent.'
'A partisan! no;--I hope not a partisan, but a friend,' said Miss Nugent.
'Nonsense, child!--I hate to hear people, women especially, and young ladies particularly, talk of being friends to this country or that country. What can they know about countries? Better think of being friends to themselves, and friends to their friends.'
'I was wrong,' said Miss Nugent, 'to call myself a friend to Ireland; I meant to say, that Ireland had been a friend to me; that I found Irish friends, when I had no other; an Irish home, when I had no other; that my earliest and happiest years, under your kind care, had been spent there; and that I can never forget that my dear aunt--I hope you do not wish that I should.'
'Heaven forbid, my sweet Grace!' said Lady Clonbrony, touched by her voice and manner--'Heaven forbid! I don't wish you to do or be anything but what you are; for I am convinced there's nothing I could ask you would not do for me; and, I can tell you, there's few things you could ask, love, I would not do for you.'
A wish was instantly expressed in the eyes of her niece.
Lady Clonbrony, though not usually quick at interpreting the wishes of others, understood and answered, before she ventured to make her request in words.
'Ask anything but that, Grace. Return to Clonbrony, while I am able to live in London? That I never can or will do for you or anybody!' looking at her son in all the pride of obstinacy; 'so there is an end of the matter. Go you where you please, Colambre; and I shall stay where I please:--I suppose, as your mother, I have a right to say this much?'
Her son, with the utmost respect, assured her that he had no design to infringe upon her undoubted liberty of judging for herself; that he had never interfered, except so far as to tell her circumstances of her affairs, with which she seemed to be totally unacquainted, and of which it might be dangerous to her to continue in ignorance.
'Don't talk to me about affairs,' cried she, drawing her hand away from her son. 'Talk to my lord, or my lord's agents, since you are going to Ireland, about business--I know nothing about business; but this I know, I shall stay in England, and be in London, every season, as long as I can afford it; and when I cannot afford to live here, I hope I shall not live anywhere. That's my notion of life; and that's my determination, once for all; for, if none of the rest of the Clonbrony family have any, I thank Heaven I have some spirit.' Saying this, with her most stately manner she walked out of the room. Lord Colambre instantly followed her; for, after the resolution and the promise he had made, he did not dare to trust himself at this moment with Miss Nugent.
There was to be a concert this night at Lady Clonbrony's, at which Mrs. and Miss Broadhurst were, of course, expected. That they might not be quite unprepared for the event of her son's going to Ireland, Lady Clonbrony wrote a note to Mrs. Broadhurst, begging her to come half an hour earlier than the time mentioned in the cards, 'that she might talk over something particular that had just occurred.'
What passed at this cabinet council, as it seems to have had no immediate influence on affairs, we need not record. Suffice it to observe, that a great deal was said, and nothing done. Miss Broadhurst, however, was not a young lady who could be easily deceived, even where her passions were concerned. The moment her mother told her of Lord Colambre's intended departure, she saw the whole truth. She had a strong mind--was capable of drawing aside, at once, the curtain of self-delusion, and looking steadily at the skeleton of truth--she had a generous, perhaps because a strong mind; for, surrounded, as she had been from her childhood, by every means of self-indulgence which wealth and flattery could bestow, she had discovered early, what few persons in her situation discover till late in life, that selfish gratifications may render us incapable of other happiness, but can never, of themselves, make us happy. Despising flatterers, she had determined to make herself friends to make them in the only possible way--by deserving them. Her father made his immense fortune by the power and habit of constant, bold, and just calculation. The power and habit which she had learned from him she applied on a far larger scale; with him, it was confined to speculations for the acquisition of money; with her, it extended to the attainment of happiness. He was calculating and mercenary: she was estimative and generous.
Miss Nugent was dressing for the concert, or, rather, was sitting half-dressed before her glass, reflecting, when Miss Broadhurst came into her room. Miss Nugent immediately sent her maid out of the room.
'Grace,' said Miss Broadhurst, looking at Grace with an air of open, deliberate composure, 'you and I are thinking of the same thing--of the same person.'
'Yes, of Lord Colambre,' said Miss Nugent, ingenuously and sorrowfully.
'Then I can put your mind at ease, at once, my dear friend, by assuring you that I shall think of him no more. That I have thought of him, I do not deny--I have thought, that if, notwithstanding the difference in our ages, and other differences, he had preferred me, I should have preferred him to any person who has ever yet addressed me. On our first acquaintance, I clearly saw that he was not disposed to pay court to my fortune; and I had also then coolness of judgment sufficient to perceive that it was not probable he should fall in love with my person. But I was too proud in my humility, too strong in my honesty, too brave, too ignorant; in short, I knew nothing of the matter. We are all of us, more or less, subject to the delusions of vanity, or hope, or love--I--even I!--who thought myself so clear-sighted, did not know how, with one flutter of his wings, Cupid can set the whole atmosphere in motion; change the proportions, size, colour, value, of every object; lead us into a mirage, and leave us in a dismal desert.'
'My dearest friend!' said Miss Nugent, in a tone of true sympathy.
'But none but a coward, or a fool would sit down in the desert and weep, instead of trying to make his way back before the storm rises, obliterates the track, and overwhelms everything. Poetry apart, my dear Grace, you may be assured that I shall think no more of Lord Colambre.'
'I believe you are right. But I am sorry, very sorry, it must be so.'
'Oh, spare me your sorrow!'
'My sorrow is for Lord Colambre,' said Miss Nugent. 'Where will he find such a wife?--Not in Miss Berryl, I am sure--pretty as she is; a mere fine lady! Is it possible that Lord Colambre! Lord Colambre! should prefer such a girl--Lord Colambre!'
Miss Broadhurst looked at her friend as she spoke, and saw truth in her eyes; saw that she had no suspicion that she was herself the person beloved.
'Tell me, Grace, are you sorry that Lord Colambre is going away?'
'No, I am glad. I was sorry when I first heard it; but now I am glad, very glad; it may save him from a marriage unworthy of him, restore him to himself, and reserve him for--the only woman I ever saw who is suited to him, who is equal to him, who would value and love him, as he deserves to be valued and loved.'
'Stop, my dear; if you mean me, I am not, and I never can be, that woman. Therefore, as you are my friend, and wish my happiness, as I sincerely believe you do, never, I conjure you, present such an idea before my mind again--it is out of my mind, I hope, for ever. It is important to me that you should know and believe this. At least I will preserve my friends. Now let this subject never be mentioned or alluded to again between us, my dear. We have subjects enough of conversation; we need not have recourse to pernicious sentimental gossipings. There is a great difference between wanting a confidante, and treating a friend with confidence. My confidence you possess; all that ought, all that is to be known of my mind, you know, and--Now I will leave you in peace to dress for the concert.'
'Oh, don't go! you don't interrupt me. I shall be dressed in a few minutes; stay with me, and you may be assured, that neither now, nor at any other time, shall I ever speak to you on the subject you desire me to avoid. I entirely agree with you about confidantes and sentimental gossipings. I love you for not loving them.'
A thundering knock at the door announced the arrival of company.
'Think no more of love, but as much as you please of friendship --dress yourself as fast as you can,' said Miss Broadhurst. 'Dress, dress is the order of the day.'
Order of the day and order of the night, and all for people I don't care for in the least,' said Grace. 'So life passes!'
'Dear me, Miss Nugent,' cried Petito, Lady Clonbrony's woman, coming in with a face of alarm, 'not dressed yet! My lady is gone down, and Mrs. Broadhurst and my Lady Pococke's come, and the Honourable Mrs. Trembleham; and signor, the Italian singing gentleman, has been walking up and down the apartments there by himself, disconsolate, this half-hour, and I wondering all the time nobody rang for me--but my lady dressed, Lord knows how! without anybody. Oh, merciful! Miss Nugent, if you could stand still for one single particle of a second. So then I thought of stepping in to Miss Nugent; for the young ladies are talking so fast, says I to myself, at the door, they will never know how time goes, unless I give 'em a hint. But now my lady is below, there's no need, to be sure, to be nervous, so we may take the thing quietly, without being in a flustrum. Dear ladies, is not this now a very sudden motion of our young lord's for Ireland? --Lud a mercy! Miss Nugent, I'm sure your motions is sudden enough; and your dress behind is all, I'm sure, I can't tell how.'--'Oh, never mind,' said the young lady, escaping from her; 'it will do very well, thank you, Petito.'
'It will do very well, never mind,' repeated Petito muttering to herself, as she looked after the ladies, whilst they ran downstairs. 'I can't abide to dress any young lady who says never mind, and it will do very well. That, and her never talking to one confidantially, or trusting one with the least bit of her secrets, is the thing I can't put up with from Miss Nugent; and Miss Broadhurst holding the pins to me, as much as to say, Do your business, Petito, and don't talk.--Now, that's so impertinent, as if one wasn't the same flesh and blood, and had not as good a right to talk of everything, and hear of everything, as themselves. And Mrs. Broadhurst, too, cabinet- councilling with my lady, and pursing up her city mouth when I come in, and turning off the discourse to snuff, forsooth; as if I was an ignoramus, to think they closeted themselves to talk of snuff. Now, I think a lady of quality's woman has as good a right to be trusted with her lady's secrets as with her jewels; and if my Lady Clonbrony was a real lady of quality, she'd know that, and consider the one as much my paraphernalia as the other. So I shall tell my lady to-night, as I always do when she vexes me, that I never lived in an Irish family before, and don't know the ways of it--then she'll tell me she was born in Hoxfordshire --then I shall say, with my saucy look, "Oh, was you, my lady?--I always forget that you was an Englishwoman:" then maybe she'll say, "Forget!-- you forget yourself strangely, Petito." Then I shall say, with a great deal of dignity, "If your ladyship thinks so, my lady, I'd better go." And I'd desire no better than that she would take me at my word; for my Lady Dashfort's is a much better place, I'm told, and she's dying to have me, I know.'
And having formed this resolution, Petito concluded her apparently interminable soliloquy, and went with my lord's gentleman into the antechamber, to hear the concert, and give her judgment on everything; as she peeped in through the vista of heads into the Apollo saloon--for to-night the Alhambra was transformed into the Apollo saloon--she saw that whilst the company, rank behind rank, in close semicircles, had crowded round the performers to hear a favourite singer, Miss Broadhurst and Lord Colambre were standing in the outer semicircle, talking to one another earnestly. Now would Petito have given up her reversionary chance of the three nearly new gowns she expected from Lady Clonbrony, in case she stayed; or, in case she went, the reversionary chance of any dress of Lady Dashfort's except her scarlet velvet, merely to hear what Miss Broadhurst and Lord Colambre were saying. Alas! she could only see their lips move; and of what they were talking, whether of music or love, and whether the match was to be on or off; she could only conjecture. But the diplomatic style having now descended to waiting-maids, Mrs. Petito talked to her friends in the antechamber with as mysterious and consequential an air and tone, as a charge d'affaires, or as the lady of a charge d'affaires, could have assumed. She spoke of her private belief; of the impression left upon her mind; and her confidantial reasons for thinking as she did; of her 'having had it from the fountain's head;' and of 'her fear of any committal of her authorities.'
Notwithstanding all these authorities, Lord Colambre left London next day, and pursued his way to Ireland, determined that he would see and judge of that country for himself, and decide whether his mother's dislike to residing there was founded on caprice or reasonable causes.
In the meantime, it was reported in London that his lordship was gone to Ireland to make out the title to some estate, which would be necessary for his marriage settlement with the great heiress, Miss Broadhurst. Whether Mrs. Petito or Sir Terence O'Fay had the greater share in raising and spreading this report, it would be difficult to determine; but it is certain, however or by whomsoever raised, it was most useful to Lord Clonbrony, by keeping his creditors quiet.