“Well, how I am to get up this hill again, Heaven knows!” said Lady Diana Chillingworth, who had been prevailed upon to walk down Clifton Hill to the Wells. “Heigho! that sister of mine, Lady Frances, walks, and talks, and laughs, and admires the beauties of nature till I’m half dead.”
“Why, indeed, Lady Frances Somerset, I must allow,” said Miss Burrage, “is not the fittest companion in the world for a person of your ladyship’s nerves; but then it is to be hoped that the glass of water which you have just taken fresh at the pump will be of service, provided the racketing to Bristol to the play don’t counteract it, and undo all again.”
“How I dread going into that Bristol playhouse!” said Miss Burrage to herself —“some of my precious relations may be there to claim me. My aunt Dinah — God bless her for a starched quaker — wouldn’t be seen at a play, I’m sure — so she’s safe; — but the odious sugar-baker’s daughters might be there, dizened out; and between the acts, their great tall figures might rise in judgment against me — spy me out — stare and curtsy — pop — pop — pop at me without mercy, or bawl out across the benches, ‘Cousin Burrage! Cousin Burrage!’ And Lady Diana Chillingworth to hear it! — oh, I should sink into the earth.”
“What amusement,” continued Miss Burrage, addressing herself to Lady Di., “what amusement Lady Frances Somerset can find at a Bristol playhouse, and at this time of the year too, is to me really unaccountable.”
“I do suppose,” replied Lady Diana, “that my sister goes only to please that child —(Clara Hope, I think they call her)— not to please me, I’m sure; — but what is she doing all this time in the pump-room? does she know we are waiting for her? — oh, here she comes. — Frances, I am half dead.”
“Half dead, my dear! well, here is something to bring you to life again,” said Lady Frances: “I do believe I have found out Miss Warwick.”
“I am sure, my dear, that does not revive me — I’ve been almost plagued to death with her already,” said Lady Diana.
“There’s no living in this world without plagues of some sort or other — but the pleasure of doing good makes one forget them all: here, look at this advertisement, my dear,” said Lady Frances: “a gentleman, whom I have just met with in the pump-room, was reading it in the newspaper when I came in, and a whole knot of scandal-mongers were settling who it could possibly be. One snug little man, a Welsh curate, I believe, was certain it was the bar-maid of an inn at Bath, who is said to have inveigled a young nobleman into matrimony. I left the Welshman in the midst of a long story, about his father and a young lady, who lost her shoe on the Welsh mountains, and I ran away with the paper to bring it to you.”
Lady Diana received the paper with an air of reluctance.
“Was not I very fortunate to meet with it?” said Lady Frances.
“I protest I see no good fortune in the business, from beginning to end.”
“Ah, because you are not come to the end yet — look —’tis from Mrs. Hoel, of the inn at Cardiffe, and by the date, she must have been there last week.”
“Who — Mrs. Hoel?”
“Miss Warwick, my dear — I beg pardon for my pronoun — but do read this — eyes — hair — complexion — age — size — it certainly must be Miss Warwick.”
“And what then?” said Lady Di, with provoking coldness, walking on towards home.
“Why, then, my dear, you know we can go to Cardiffe to-morrow morning, find the poor girl, and, before any body knows any thing of the matter, before her reputation is hurt, or you blamed, before any harm can happen, convince the girl of her folly and imprudence, and bring her back to you and common sense.”
“To common sense, and welcome, if you can; but not to me.”
“Not to you! — Nay; but, my dear, what will become of her?”
“Nay; but, my dear Frances, what will the world say?”
“My dear Di., shall I tell you what the world would say?”
“No, Lady Frances, I’ll tell you what the world would say — that Lady Diana Chillingworth’s house was an asylum for runaways.”
“An asylum for nonsense! — I beg your pardon, sister — but it always provokes me to see a person afraid to do what they think right, because, truly, ‘the world will say it is wrong.’ What signifies the uneasiness we may suffer from the idle blame or tittle-tattle of the day, compared with the happiness of a young girl’s whole life, which is at stake?”
“Oh, Lady Frances, that is spoken like yourself — I love you in my heart — that’s right! that’s right!” thought Clara Hope.
Lady Diana fell back a few paces, that she might consult one whose advice she always found agreeable to her own opinions.
“In my opinion,” whispered Miss Burrage to Lady Diana, “you are right, quite right, to have nothing more to do with the happiness of a young lady who has taken such a step.”
They were just leaving St. Vincent’s parade, when they heard the sound of music upon the walk by the river side, and they saw a little boy there, seated at the foot of a tree, playing on the guitar, and singing —
“J’ai quitté mon pays et mes amis, Pour jouer de la guitare, Qui va clin, clin, qui va clin, clin, Qui va clin, clin, clin, clin.”
“Ha! my wee wee friend,” said Clara Hope, “are you here? — I was just thinking of you, just wishing for you. By gude luck, have you the weeny locket about you that the young lady gave you this morning? — the weeny locket, my bonny boy?”
“Plait-il?” said little Louis.
“He don’t understand one word,” said Miss Burrage, laughing sarcastically, “he don’t understand one word of all your bonnys, and wee wees and weenies, Miss Hope; he, unfortunately, don’t understand broad Scotch, and maybe he mayn’t be so great a proficient as you are in boarding-school French; but I’ll try if he can understand me, if you’ll tell me what you want.”
“Such a trinket as this,” said Clara, showing a locket which hung from her neck.
“Ah oui — yes, I comprehend now,” cried the boy, taking from his coat-pocket a small case of trinkets —“la voilà! — here is vat de young lady did give me — good young lady!” said Louis, and he produced the locket.
“I declare,” exclaimed Miss Burrage, catching hold of it, “’tis Miss Warwick’s locket! I’m sure of it — here’s the motto — I’ve read it, and laughed at it twenty times — L’Amie Inconnue.”
“When I heard you all talking just now about that description of the young lady in the newspaper, I cude not but fancy,” said Clara Hope, “that the lady whom I saw this morning must be Miss Warwick.”
“Saw — where?” cried Lady Frances, eagerly.
“At Bristol — at our academy — at Mrs. Porett’s,” said Clara; “but mark me, she is not there now — I do not ken where she may be now.”
“Moi je sais! — I do know de demoiselle did stop in a coach at one house; I was in de street — I can show you de house.”
“Can you so, my good little fellow? then let us begone directly,” said Lady Frances.
“You’ll excuse me, sister,” said Lady Di.
“Excuse you! —I will, but the world will not. You’ll be abused, sister, shockingly abused.”
This assertion made more impression upon Lady Di. Chillingworth than could have been made either by argument or entreaty.
“One really does not know how to act — people take so much notice of every thing that is said and done by persons of a certain rank: if you think that I shall be so much abused — I absolutely do not know what to say.”
“But I thought,” interposed Miss Burrage, “that Lady Frances was going to take you to the play to-night, Miss Hope?”
“Oh, never heed the play — never heed the play, or Clara Hope — never heed taking me to the play: Lady Frances is going to do a better thing. — Come on, my bonny boy,” said she to the little French boy, who was following them.
We must now return to our heroine, whom we left on her way to Mrs. Bertrand’s. Mrs. Bertrand kept a large confectionary and fruit shop in Bristol.
“Please to walk through this way, ma’am — Miss Hodges is above stairs — she shall be apprized directly — Jenny! run up stairs,” said Mrs. Bertrand to her maid —“run up stairs, and tell Miss Hodges here’s a young lady wants to see her in a great hurry — You’d best sit down, ma’am,” continued Mrs. Bertrand to Angelina, “till the girl has been up with the message.”
“Oh, my Araminta! how my heart beats!” exclaimed Miss Warwick.
“How my mouth waters!” cried Betty Williams, looking round at the fruit and confectionaries.
“Would you, ma’am, he pleased,” said Mrs. Bertrand, “to take a glass of ice this warm evening? cream-ice, or water-ice, ma’am? pine-apple or strawberry ice?” As she spoke, Mrs. Bertrand held a salver, covered with ices, toward Miss Warwick: but, apparently, she thought that it was not consistent with the delicacy of friendship to think of eating or drinking when she was thus upon the eve of her first interview with her Araminta. Betty Williams, who was of a different nature from our heroine, saw the salver recede with excessive surprise and regret; she stretched out her hand after it, and seized a glass of raspberry-ice; but no sooner had she tasted it than she made a frightful face, and let the glass fall, exclaiming —
“Pless us! ’tis not as good as cooseherry fool.”
Mrs. Bertrand next offered her a cheesecake, which Betty ate voraciously.
“She’s actually a female Sancho Panza!” thought Angelina: her own more striking resemblance to the female Quixote never occurred to our heroine — so blind are we to our own failings.
“Who is the young lady?” whispered the mistress of the fruit shop to Betty Williams, whilst Miss Warwick was walking — we should say pacing— up and down the room, in anxious solicitude, and evident agitation.
“Hur’s a young lady,” replied Betty, stopping to take a mouthful of cheesecake between every member of her sentence, “a young lady — that has — lost hur —”
“Her heart — so I thought.”
“Hur purse!” said Betty, with an accent, which showed that she thought this the more serious loss of the two.
“Her purse! — that’s bad indeed:— you pay for your own cheesecake and raspberry-ice, and for the glass that you broke,” said Mrs. Bertrand.
“Put hur has a great deal of money in hur trunk, I pelieve, at Llanwaetur,” said Betty.
“Surely Miss Hodges does not know I am here,” cried Miss Warwick —“her Angelina!”
“Ma’am, she’ll be down immediately, I do suppose,” said Mrs. Bertrand. “What was it you pleased called for — angelica, ma’am, did you say? At present we are quite out, I’m ashamed to say, of angelica, ma’am — Well, child,” continued Mrs. Bertrand to her maid, who was at this moment seen passing by the back door of the shop in great haste.
“Ma’am — anan,” said the maid, turning back her cap from off her ear.
“Anan! deaf doll! didn’t you hear me tell you to tell Miss Hodges a lady wanted to speak to her in a great hurry?”
“No, mam,” replied the girl, who spoke in the broad Somersetshire dialect: “I heard you zay, up to Miss Hodges; zoo I thought it was the bottle o’brandy, and zoo I took alung with the tea-kettle — but I’ll go up again now, and zay miss bes in a hurry, az she zays.”
“Brandy!” repeated Miss Warwick, on whom the word seemed to make a great impression.
“Pranty, ay, pranty,” repeated Betty Williams —“our Miss Hodges always takes pranty in her teas at Llanwaetur.”
“Brandy! — then she can’t be my Araminta.”
“Oh, the very same, and no other; you are quite right, ma’am,” said Mrs. Bertrand, “if you mean the same that is publishing the novel, ma’am — ‘The Sorrows of Araminta’— for the reason I know so much about it is, that I take in the subscriptions, and distributed the pur posals.”
Angelina had scarcely time to believe or disbelieve what she heard, before the maid returned, with “Mam, Mizz Hodges haz hur best love to you, mizz — and please to walk up — There be two steps; please to have a care, or you’ll break your neck.”
Before we introduce Angelina to her “unknown friend,” we must relate the conversation which was actually passing between the amiable Araminta and her Orlando, whilst Miss Warwick was waiting in the fruit shop. Our readers will be so good as to picture to themselves a woman, with a face and figure which seemed to have been intended for a man, with a voice and gesture capable of setting even man, “imperial man,” at defiance — such was Araminta. She was, at this time, sitting cross-legged in an arm-chair at a tea-table, on which, beside the tea equipage, was a medley of things of which no prudent tongue or pen would undertake to give a correct inventory. At the feet of this fair lady, kneeling on one knee, was a thin, subdued, simple-looking quaker, of the name of Nathaniel Gazabo.
“But now, Natty,” said Miss Hodges, in a voice more masculine than her looks, “you understand the conditions — If I give you my hand, and make you my husband, it is upon condition that you never contradict any of my opinions: do you promise me that?”
“Yea, verily,” replied Nat.
“And you promise to leave me entirely at liberty to act, as well as to think, in all things as my own independent understanding shall suggest?”
“Yea, verily,” was the man’s response.
“And you will be guided by me in all things?”
“And you will love and admire me all your life, as much as you do now?”
“Swear,” said the unconscionable woman.
“Nay, verily,” replied the meekest of men, “I cannot swear, my Rachel, being a quaker; but I will affirm.”
“Swear, swear,” cried the lady, in an imperious tone, “or I will never be your Araminta.”
“I swear,” said Nat Gazabo, in a timid voice.
“Then, Natty, I consent to be Mrs. Hodges Gazabo. Only remember always to call me your dear Araminta.”
“My dear Araminta! thus,” said he, embracing her, “thus let me thank thee, my dear Araminta!”
It was in the midst of these thanks that the maid interrupted the well-matched pair, with the news that a young lady was below, who was in a great hurry to see Miss Hodges.
“Let her come,” said Miss Hodges; “I suppose it is only one of the Miss Carvers — Don’t stir, Nat; it will vex her to see you kneeling to me — don’t stir, I say —”
“Where is she? Where is my Araminta?” cried Miss Warwick, as the maid was trying to open the outer passage-door for her, which had a bad lock.
“Get up, get up, Natty; and get some fresh water in the tea-kettle — quick!” cried Miss Hodges, and she began to clear away some of the varieties of literature, &c., which lay scattered about the room. Nat, in obedience to her commands, was making his exit with all possible speed, when Angelina entered, exclaiming —
“My amiable Araminta! — My unknown friend!”
“My Angelina! — My charming Angelina!” cried Miss Hodges.
Miss Hodges was not the sort of person our heroine expected to see; — and to conceal the panic, with which the first sight of her unknown friend struck her disappointed imagination, she turned back to listen to the apologies which Nat Gazabo was pouring forth about his awkwardness and the tea-kettle.
“Turn, Angelina, ever dear!” cried Miss Hodges, with the tone and action of a bad actress who is rehearsing an embrace —“Turn, Angelina, ever dear! — thus, thus let us meet, to part no more.”
“But her voice is so loud,” said Angelina to herself, “and her looks so vulgar, and there is such a smell of brandy! — How unlike the elegant delicacy I had expected in my unknown friend!” Miss Warwick involuntarily shrunk from the stifling embrace.
“You are overpowered, my Angelina — lean on me,” said her Araminta.
Nat Gazabo re-entered with the tea-kettle —
“Here’s boiling water, and we’ll have fresh tea in a trice — the young lady’s over-tired, seemingly — Here’s a chair, miss, here’s a chair,” cried Nat. Miss Warwick sunk upon the chair: Miss Hodges seated herself beside her, continuing to address her in a theatrical tone.
“This moment is bliss unutterable! my kind, my noble-minded Angelina, thus to leave all your friends for your Araminta!”— Suddenly changing her voice —“Set the tea-kettle, Nat!”
“Who is this Nat, I wonder?” thought Miss Warwick.
“Well, and tell me,” said Miss Hodges, whose attention was awkwardly divided between the ceremonies of making tea and making speeches —“and tell me, my Angelina — That’s water enough, Nat — and tell me, my Angelina, how did you find me out?”
“With some difficulty, indeed, my Araminta.” Miss Warwick could hardly pronounce the words.
“So kind, so noble-minded,” continued Miss Hodges —“and did you receive my last letter — three sheets? — And how did you contrive — Stoop the kettle, do, Nat.”
“Oh, this odious Nat! how I wish she would send him away!” thought Miss Warwick.
“And tell me, my Araminta — my Angelina I mean — how did you contrive your elopement — and how did you escape from the eye of your aristocratic Argus — how did you escape from all your unfeeling persecutors? — Tell me, tell me all your adventures, my Angelina! — Butter the toast, Nat,” said Miss Hodges who was cutting bread and butter, which she did not do with the celebrated grace of Charlotte, in the Sorrows of Werter.
“I’ll tell you all, my Araminta,” whispered Miss Warwick, “when we are by ourselves.”
“Oh, never mind Nat,” whispered Miss Hodges.
“Couldn’t you tell him,” rejoined Miss Warwick, “that he need not wait any longer?”
“Wait, my dear! why, what do you take him for?”
“Why, is not he your footman?” whispered Angelina.
“My footman! — Nat!” exclaimed Miss Hodges, bursting out a laughing, “my Angelina took you for my footman.”
“Good heavens! what is he?” said Angelina, in a low voice.
“Verily,” said Nat Gazabo, with a sort of bashful simple laugh, “verily, I am the humblest of her servants.”
“And does my Angelina — spare my delicacy,” said Miss Hodges —“does my Angelina not remember, in any of my long letters, the name of — Orlando! — There he stands.”
“Orlando! — Is this gentleman your Orlando, of whom I have heard so much?”
“He! he! he!” simpered Nat. “I am Orlando, of whom you have heard so much; and she —(pointing to Miss Hodges)— she is, to-morrow morning, God willing, to be Mistress Hodges Gazabo.”
“Mrs. Hodges Gazabo, my Araminta!” said Angelina, with astonishment, which she could not suppress.
“Yes, my Angelina: so end ‘The Sorrows of Araminta’— Another cup? — do I make the tea too sweet?” said Miss Hodges, whilst Nat handed the bread and butter to the ladies officiously.
“The man looks like a fool,” thought Miss Warwick.
“Set down the bread and butter, and be quiet, Nat — Then, as soon as the wedding is over, we fly, my Angelina, to our charming cottage in Wales:— there may we bid defiance to the storms of fate —
“‘The world forgetting, by the world forgot.’”
“That,” said Angelina, “‘is the blameless vestal’s lot:’— but you forget that you are to be married, my Araminta; and you forget that, in your letter of three folio sheets, you said not one word to me of this intended marriage.”
“Nay, my dear, blame me not for a want of confidence, that my heart disclaims,” said Miss Hodges: “from the context of my letters, you must have suspected the progress my Orlando had made in my affections; but, indeed, I should not have brought myself to decide apparently so precipitately, had it not been for the opposition, the persecution of my friends — I was determined to show them that I know, and can assert, my right to think and act, upon all occasions, for myself.”
Longer, much longer, Miss Hodges, spoke in the most peremptory voice; but whilst she was declaiming on her favourite topic, her Angelina was “revolving in her altered mind” the strange things which she had seen and heard in the course of the last half-hour; every thing appeared to her in a new light; when she compared the conversation and conduct of Miss Hodges with the sentimental letters of her Araminta; when she compared Orlando in description to Orlando in reality, she could scarcely believe her senses: accustomed as she had been to elegance of manners, the vulgarity and awkwardness of Miss Hodges shocked and disgusted her beyond measure. The disorder, and — for the words must be said — slatternly dirty appearance of her Araminta’s dress, and of every thing in her apartment, were such as would have made a hell of heaven; and the idea of spending her life in a cottage with Mrs. Hodges Gazabo and Nat overwhelmed our heroine with the double fear of wretchedness and ridicule.
“Another cup of tea, my Angelina?” said Miss Hodges, when she had finished her tirade against her persecutors, that is to say, her friends, “another cup, my Angelina? — do, after your journey and fatigue, take another cup.”
“No more, I thank you.”
“Then reach me that tragedy, Nat — you know —”
“Your own tragedy, is it, my dear?” said he.
“Ah, Nat, now! you never can keep a secret,” said Miss Hodges. “I wanted to have surprised my Angelina.”
“I am surprised!” thought Angelina —“oh, how much surprised!”
“I have a motto for our cottage here somewhere,” said Miss Hodges, turning over the leaves of her tragedy —“but I’ll keep that till to-morrow — since to-morrow’s the day sacred to love and friendship.”
Nat, by way of showing his joy in a becoming manner, rubbed his hands, and hummed a tune. His mistress frowned, and bit her lips; but the signals were lost upon him, and he sung out, in an exulting tone —
“When the lads of the village so merrily, ah! Sound their tabours, I’ll hand thee along.”
“Fool! Dolt! Idiot!” cried his Araminta, rising furious —“out of my sight!” Then, sinking down upon the chair, she burst into tears, and threw herself into the arms of her pale, astonished Angelina. “Oh, my Angelina!” she exclaimed, “I am the most ill-matched! most unfortunate! most wretched of women!”
“Don’t be frighted, miss,” said Nat; “she’ll come to again presently —’tis only her way.” As he spoke, he poured out a bumper of brandy, and kneeling, presented it to his mistress. “’Tis the only thing in life does her good,” continued he, “in this sort of fits.”
“Heavens, what a scene!” said Miss Warwick to herself —“and the woman so heavy, I can scarce support her weight — and is this my unknown friend?”
How long Miss Hodges would willingly have continued to sob upon Miss Warwick’s shoulder, or how long that shoulder could possibly have sustained her weight, is a mixed problem in physics and metaphysics, which must for ever remain unsolved: but suddenly a loud scream was heard. Miss Hodges started up — the door was thrown open, and Betty Williams rushed in, crying loudly —“Oh, shave me! shave me! for the love of Cot, shave me, miss!” and, pushing by the swain, who held the unfinished glass of brandy in his hand, she threw herself on her knees at the feet of Angelina.
“Gracious me!” exclaimed Nat, “whatever you are, you need not push one so.”
“What now, Betty Williams? is the wench mad or drunk?” cried Miss Hodges.
“We are to have a mad scene next, I suppose,” said Miss Warwick, calmly —“I am prepared for every thing, after what I have seen.”
Betty Williams continued crying bitterly, and wringing her hands —“Oh, shave me this once, miss! ’tis the first thing of the kind I ever tid, inteet, inteet! Oh, shave me this once — I tid not know it was worth so much as a shilling, and that I could be hanged, inteet — and I—”
Here Betty was interrupted by the entrance of Mrs. Puffit, the milliner, the printer’s devil, and a stern-looking man, to whom Mrs. Puffit, as she came in, said, pointing to Betty Williams and Miss Warwick, “There they are — do your duty, Mr. Constable: I’ll swear to my lace.”
“And I’ll swear to my black thumbs,” said the printer’s devil.
“I saw the lace hanging out of her pocket, and there’s the marks of my fingers upon it, Mr. Constable.”
“Fellow!” cried Miss Hodges, taking the constable by the arm, “this is my apartment, into which no minion of the law has a right to enter; for, in England, every man’s house is his castle.”
“I know that as well as you do, madam!” said the constable; “but I make it a principle to do nothing without a warrant: here’s my warrant.”
“Oh, shave me! the lace is hers inteet!” cried Betty Williams, pointing to Miss Warwick. “Oh, miss is my mistress inteet —”
“Come, mistress or miss, then, you’ll be pleased to come along with me,” said the constable, seizing hold of Angelina —“like mistress, like maid.”
“Villain! unfeeling villain! oh, unhand my Angelina, or I shall die! I shall die!” exclaimed Araminta, falling into the arms of Nat Gazabo, who immediately held the replenished glass of brandy to her lips —“Oh, my Angelina, my Angelina!”
Struck with horror at her situation, Miss Warwick shrunk from the grasp of the constable, and leaned motionless on the back of a chair.
“Come, my angel, as they call you, I think — the lady there has brandy enough, if you want spirits — all the fits and faintings in Christendom won’t serve you now. I’m used to the tricks o’ the trade. — The law must take its course; and if you can’t walk, I must carry you.”
“Touch me at your peril! I am innocent,” said Angelina.
“Innocent — innocence itself! pure, spotless, injured innocence!” cried Miss Hodges. “I shall die! I shall die! I shall die on the spot! barbarous, barbarous villain!”
Whilst Miss Hodges spoke, the ready Nat poured out a fresh glass of that restorative, which he always had ready for cases of life and death; and she screamed and sipped, and sipped and screamed, as the constable took up Angelina in his arms, and carried her towards the door.
“Mrs. Innocence,” said the man, “you shall see whom you shall see.”
Mrs. Puffit opened the door; and, to the utter astonishment of every body present, Lady Diana Chillingworth entered the room, followed by Lady Frances Somerset and Mrs. Bertrand. The constable set down Angelina. Miss Hodges set down the glass of brandy. Mrs. Puffit curtsied. Betty Williams stretched out her arms to Lady Diana, crying, “Shave me! shave me this once!” Miss Warwick hid her face with her hands.
“Only my Valenciennes lace, that has been found in that girl’s pocket, and —” said Mrs. Puffit.
Lady Diana Chillingworth turned away with indescribable haughtiness, and, addressing herself to her sister, said, “Lady Frances Somerset, you would not, I presume, have Lady Diana Chillingworth lend her countenance to such a scene as this — I hope, sister, that you are satisfied now.” As she said these words, her ladyship walked out of the room.
“Never was further from being satisfied in my life,” said Lady Frances.
“If you look at this, my lady,” said the constable, holding out the lace, “you’ll soon be satisfied as to what sort of a young lady that is.”
“Oh, you mistake the young lady,” said Mrs. Bertrand, and she whispered to the constable. “Come away: you may be sure you’ll be satisfied — we shall all be satisfied, handsomely, all in good time. Don’t let the delinquency there on her knees,” added she aloud, pointing to Betty Williams —“don’t let the delinquency there on her knees escape.”
“Come along, mistress,” said the constable, pulling up Betty Williams from her knees. “But I say the law must have its course, if I am not satisfied.”
“Oh, I am confident,” said Mrs. Puffit, the milliner, “we shall all be satisfied, no doubt; but Lady Di. Chillingworth knows my Valenciennes lace, and Miss Burrage too, for they did me this morning the honour —”
“Will you do me the favour,” interrupted Lady Frances Somerset, “to leave us, good Mrs. Puffit, for the present? Here is some mistake — the less noise we make about it the better. You shall be satisfied.”
“Oh, your ladyship — I’m sure, I’m confident — I shan’t utter another syllable — nor never would have articulated a syllable about the lace (though Valenciennes, and worth thirty guineas, if it is worth a farthing), had I had the least intimacy or suspicion the young lady was your la’ship’s protégée. I shan’t, at any rate, utter another syllable.”
Mrs. Puffit, having glibly run off this speech, left the room, and carried in her train the constable and Betty Williams, the printer’s devil, and Mrs. Bertrand, the woman of the house.
Miss Warwick, whose confusion during this whole scene was excessive, stood without power to speak or move.
“Thank God, they are gone!” said Lady Frances; and she went to Angelina, and taking her hands gently from before her face, said, in a soothing tone, “Miss Warwick, your friend, Lady Frances Somerset, you cannot think that she suspects —”
“La, dear, no!” cried Nat Gazabo, who had now sufficiently recovered from his fright and amazement to be able to speak: “Dear heart! who could go for to suspect such a thing? but they made such a bustle and noise, they quite flabbergasted me, so many on them in this small room. Please to sit down, my lady. — Is there any thing I can do?”
“If you could have the goodness, sir, to leave us for a few minutes,” said Lady Frances, in a polite, persuasive manner —“you could have the goodness, sir, to leave us for a few minutes.”
Nat, who was not always spoken to by so gentle a voice, smiled, bowed, and was retiring, when Miss Hodges came forward with an air of defiance: “Aristocratic insolence!” exclaimed she: “Stop, Nat — stir not a foot, at your peril, at the word of command of any of the privileged orders upon earth — stir not a foot, at your peril, at the behest of any titled She in the universe! — Madam, or my lady — or by whatever other name more high, more low, you choose to be addressed — this is my husband.”
“Very probably, madam,” said Lady Frances, with an easy calmness, which provoked Miss Hodges to a louder tone of indignation.
“Stir not a foot, at your peril, Nat,” cried she. “I will defend him, I say, madam, against every shadow, every penumbra of aristocratic insolence.”
“As you and he think proper, madam,” replied Lady Frances. “’Tis easy to defend the gentleman against shadows.”
Miss Hodges marched up and down the room with her arms folded. Nat stood stock still.
“The woman,” whispered Lady Frances to Miss Warwick, “is either mad or drunk — or both; at all events we shall be better in another room.” As she spoke, she drew Miss Warwick’s arm within hers. —“Will you allow aristocratic insolence to pass by you, sir?” said she to Nat Gazabo, who stood like a statue in the doorway — he edged himself aside.
“And is this your independence of soul, my Angelina?” cried Araminta, setting her back to the door, so as effectually to prevent her from passing —“and is this your independence of soul, my Angelina — thus, thus tamely to submit, to resign yourself again to your unfeeling, proud, prejudiced, intellect-lacking persecutors?”
“This lady is my friend, madam,” said Angelina, in as firm and tranquil a tone as she could command, for she was quite terrified by her Araminta’s violence.
“Take your choice, my dear; stay or follow me, as you think best,” said Lady Frances.
“Your friend!” pursued the oratorical lady, detaining Miss Warwick with a heavy hand: “Do you feel the force of the word? Can you feel it, as I once thought you could? Your friend! am not I your friend, your best friend, my Angelina? your own Araminta, your amiable Araminta, your unknown friend?”
“My unknown friend, indeed!” said Angelina. Miss Hodges let go her struggling hand, and Miss Warwick that instant followed Lady Frances, who, having effected her retreat, had by this time gained the staircase.
“Gone!” cried Miss Hodges; “then never will I see or speak to her more. Thus I whistle her off, and let her down the wind to prey at fortune.”
“Gracious heart! what quarrels,” said Nat, “and doings, the night before our wedding-day!”
We leave this well-matched pair to their happy prospects of conjugal union and equality.
Lady Frances, who perceived that Miss Warwick was scarcely able to support herself, led her to a sofa, which she luckily saw through the half-open door of a drawing-room, at the head of the staircase.
“To be taken for a thief! — Oh, to what have I exposed myself!” said Miss Warwick.
“Sit down, my dear, now we are in a room where we need not fear interruption — sit down, and don’t tremble like an aspen leaf,” said Lady Frances Somerset, who saw that at this moment, reproaches would have been equally unnecessary and cruel.
Unused to be treated with judicious kindness, Angelina’s heart was deeply touched by it, and she opened her whole mind to Lady Frances, with the frankness of a young person conscious of her own folly, not desirous to apologize or extenuate, but anxious to regain the esteem of a friend.
“To be sure, my dear, it was, as you say, rather foolish to set out in quest of an unknown friend,” said Lady Frances, after listening to the confessions of Angelina. “And why, after all, was it necessary to have an elopement?”
“Oh, madam, I am sensible of my folly — I had long formed a project of living in a cottage in Wales — and Miss Burrage described Wales to me as a terrestrial paradise.”
“Miss Burrage! then why did she not go to paradise along with you?” said Lady Frances.
“I don’t know — she was was so much attached to Lady Di. Chillingworth, she said, she could never think of leaving her: she charged me never to mention the cottage scheme to Lady Di., who would only laugh at it. Indeed, Lady Di. was almost always out whilst we were in London, or dressing, or at cards, and I could seldom speak to her, especially about cottages; and I wished for a friend, to whom I could open my whole heart, and whom I could love and esteem, and who should have the same tastes and notions with myself.”
“I am sorry that last condition is part of your definition of a friend,” said Lady Frances, smiling; “for I will not swear that my notions are the same as yours, but yet I think you would have found me as good a friend as this Araminta of yours. Was it necessary to perfect felicity to have an unknown friend?”
“Ah! there was my mistake,” said Miss Warwick. “I had read Araminta’s writings, and they speak so charmingly of friendship and felicity, that I thought
‘Those best can paint them who can feel them most.’”
“No uncommon mistake,” said Lady Frances.
“But I am fully sensible of my folly,” said Angelina.
“Then there is no occasion to say any more about it at present — to-morrow, as you like romances, we’ll read Arabella, or the Female Quixote; and you shall tell me which, of all your acquaintance, the heroine resembles most. And in the mean time, as you seem to have satisfied your curiosity about your unknown friend, will you come home with me?”
“Oh, madam,” said Angelina, with emotion, “your goodness —”
“But we have not time to talk of my goodness yet — stay — let me see — yes, it will be best that it should be known that you are with us as soon as possible — for there is a thing, my dear, of which, perhaps, you are not fully sensible — of which you are too young to be fully sensible — that, to people who have nothing to do or to say, scandal is a necessary luxury of life; and that, by such a step as you have taken, you have given room enough for scandal-mongers to make you and your friends completely miserable.”
Angelina burst into tears — though a sentimental lady, she had not yet acquired the art of bursting into tears upon every trifling occasion. Hers were tears of real feeling. Lady Frances was glad to see that she had made a sufficient impression upon her mind; but she assured Angelina that she did not intend to torment her with useless lectures and reproaches. Lady Frances Somerset understood the art of giving advice rather better than Lady Diana Chillingworth.
“I do not mean, my dear,” said Lady Frances, “to make you miserable for life — but I mean to make an impression upon you that may make you prudent and happy for life. So don’t cry till you make your eyes so red as not to be fit to be seen at the play to-night, where they must — positively — be seen.”
“But Lady Diana is below,” said Miss Warwick: “I am ashamed and afraid to see her again.”
“It will be difficult, but I hope not impossible, to convince my sister,” said Lady Frances, “that you clearly understand that you have been a simpleton; but that a simpleton of sixteen is more an object of mercy than a simpleton of sixty — so my verdict is — Guilty; — but recommended to mercy.”
By this mercy Angelina was more touched than she could have been by the most severe reproaches.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:08