The ladies proposed an airing to divert the Countess from dwelling on past events, and Matilda from apprehensions of future ones. The carriage was ordered, and they drove as far as Hampstead. The evening was uncommonly beautiful, and when they returned, the moon, which was in its meridian, shone with all its splendour. Just as the carriage stopped in Harley-street, Matilda, who sat next the door, saw two gentlemen pass slowly and look into the coach; she plainly perceived one of them was Mr Weimar: she met his eyes, and he turned his hastily from her; she gave a faint shriek, and hid her head behind Mrs Courtney. Her friends were alarmed, but hastened her into the house; she ran into the dining-parlour, and, in inconceivable terror, cried out, ‘He is come — he is come!’ ‘Who, who?’ exclaimed the Countess. ‘Mr Weimar,’ answered she; ‘did you not see him’ ‘No,’ replied the Marchioness, ‘and I hope your fears deceived you.’ ‘Too sure they did not,’ said Matilda, ‘and I am convinced also that he knew me.’ ‘Fear nothing,’ said Mrs Courtney; Â‘you are in the power of your friends; he must prove his right to you before he can take you from us: here are no lettres de cachet, the laws will protect you from injury; compose yourself, therefore, my dear girl — in England no violence can be offered to you in any shape.’
This kind and seasonable assurance calmed the terrors of the trembling Matilda; but when she retired to rest, and reflected on her cruel destiny, she shed floods of tears, and passed a sleepless night.
The following day was appointed for their return to Mrs Courtney’s villa, to spend a week or two, previous to the preparations for the birth-day, after which the whole party, with Lord Delby, proposed going to Scarborough.
The Countess and Matilda bore evident marks in their features and pale looks, of the uneasy state of their minds; their amiable friends fought to raise their spirits, and they felt too much gratitude to their kindness not to make the effort, though their smiles were clouded with sorrow.
They had a pleasant excursion to Mrs Courtney’s house, and its delightful situation, with the cheerful hospitality of its charming owner, could not fail of making those happy who had the honour of her friendship.
The Countess, who was known in public only as Madame Le Roche, and by which name her friends always called her in company, found in the sympathy of Matilda more consolation than the conversation of strangers or any amusements could afford her; they generally contrived to steal from company and ramble in the gardens, relating past sorrows, and mutually endeavoring to inspire each other with hopes of happier days, though despairing of any to themselves.
A few days after they had been in the country, the Marquis received another packet from the Count De Bouville, enclosing a letter from Madame de Clermont, to Matilda. They learnt, with much sorrow, that the Countess died three days after the Count’s first letter; that their affliction had been very great, and preyed much on the spirits of her affectionate daughter, in consequence of which she had been advised to visit Aix, and from thence to the Spa; their departure was fixed for the end of that week — Madame De Nancy and her amiable sister De Bancre were going with them. Madame De Clermont requested the correspondence of Matilda, and charged her to take great care of her brother. This charge Matilda did not comprehend, until the Marquis congratulated the party on the agreeable addition they might daily expect from the company of the Count De Bouville, who had written to him, that his sister having a party of her own going to Aix, he had no inclination to visit that place, and therefore should gratify his wishes, by returning to England for a few months, and hoped to enjoy additional satisfaction by the pleasures of the society.
Every one appeared gratified by this information, except Matilda. She felt her heart flutter at his name; she was convinced he was more interesting to her than any other man, and that in her circumstances she ought not to indulge a preference which never could be returned. Ah thought she, where is the sorrows that can equal mine? Scarce a wretch that breaths but has some connexion, some relation to own them and sympathise in their troubles, I alone am destitute of family, or fortune; I can carry only disgrace to the arms of a husband, and am therefore an outcast — a being without any natural ties, and must despair of procuring any other protection but what charity and benevolence affords me! She felt the full force of these melancholy reflections, and it threw such a sad impression on her features that every one was touched with compassion, though they knew not the cause, and sought by kindness and attention to render her more cheerful.
Within three days after this letter, which had occasioned so much pleasure and pain to different parties, the Marquis, by a note, was informed of the Count’s arrival in London. Mrs Courtney entreated the honour of his company, and Lord Delby offered to accompany the Marquis and escort him to their friends. This offer was too obliging to be declined; they set off that evening, and the following morning returned with the Count.
Matilda spent the intermediate time in laying down rules for her behaviour. She still suffered under the apprehensions that Mr Weimar had pursued, and would occasion more trouble to her; she therefore resolved to avail herself of that fear, keep as much in her apartment as possible, and avoid mixing in all the little pleasurable parties where the Count might make one.
The company received the Count with the politest attention. His amiable person, his polished manners, and enchanting vivacity, could not fail of engaging the esteem of every one who had taste and discernment. After he had been introduced to the lady of the mansion, to the Marchioness, and to Madame Le Roche, whom he knew not, he advanced to Matilda; she trembled; he took her hand, and bowing on it, ‘I am charged,’ said he, ‘with a thousand expressions of kindness and friendship from my sister and Mademoiselle De Bancre, to the charming Miss Matilda; but you must take them upon trust now, and permit me to express my own happiness in seeing my lovely friend well, and situated in the midst of a society so delightful as this.’ She attempted to speak, her voice, her powers failed her; ‘Your Lordship does me honour,’ was all she could utter. The conversation became general and sprightly, but she had no share in it; the day appeared uncommonly long, and she rejoiced when night came, that she could escape to her apartment and enjoy her own reflections.
The Count, who had observed her emotions, her silence and melancholy air, felt himself much concerned for the unfortunate girl; he thought her more lovely, more interesting than ever: the soft melancholy which pervaded her fine features could not fail of touching a susceptible heart; and the Count soon found the tender interest he had formerly taken in Matilda’s misfortunes, revive with more solicitude than ever. He seized an opportunity the following morning, to enquire some particulars respecting the cause of her distress. The Marquis told him of her alarm on seeing a gentleman she believed to be, and possibly, said he, might be, Mr Weimar. ‘I am really,’ added he, ‘unhappy about this charming young woman; we all love her exceedingly; beauty is her least merit; she has every amiable quality, joined to an excellent understanding, that can adorn a human being; I could not love my own child better; but she has too much sensibility to be happy — she feels her dependent and unprotected state too keenly — it preys upon her mind and injures her health. Consulting with the Marchioness on this subject last night, I intend this day to write, and order a deed to be drawn, agreeable to our design of making her independent, at the same time, I wish not to burthen her feelings with too high a sense of obligation, by settling any very large sum on her: four hundred a year, English money, paid her quarterly, will enable her to live genteelly, should she ever wish to seperate from us, and will be a handsome provision for pocket expences, if she does us the favour of continuing under our protection.’
‘Will you permit me,’ said the Count, eagerly, ‘to add another two hundred to her income?’ ‘Indeed I will not,’ replied the Marquis; Â‘I think myself as much the guardian of Matilda’s honour and delicacy as of her person: no young man shall boast any claims upon her, nor shall she be humbled by receiving favours, which, if known, might subject her to censure — say no more, my dear Count,’ added he, observing he was about to reply, ‘the Marchioness will not have her protÃ©gÃ©e under any obligations but to herself.’ ‘Shall I be sincere with you, Marquis?’ demanded the Count. ‘Doubtless, my Lord, you may, and assure yourself of my secrecy, if necessary.’ ‘Well then,’ resumed the Count, ‘I confess to you, that with the Marchioness’s protÃ©gÃ©e, as you call her, I should be the happiest of men: I feel, and acknowledge, that she has more than beauty — she has a soul; she has those virtues, those amiable qualities, which must render any man happy: but, my dear Marquis, her birth — the scandalous stories promulgated of her in Paris: ah! what can do away these objections which rise hourly before me, and bar me from happiness and Matilda?’ ‘Since you do me the honour of your confidence, my Lord, ’tis my duty to be candid and explicit. That I entertain the highest opinion of Matilda, is most certain that I think whoever the man is, who is honored with her hand, will be a happy one, I also acknowledge; but, my Lord, family and society have great claims upon us; we ought not to injure the one, nor disregard the other. Could you bear to see your wife treated with contempt, as one whom nobody knew, as one who had no claims to distinction, but what your very great friends might allow her? Could you support the idea, that she whose genuine merit might entitle her to the first society, should be refused admittance among such, as in real worth she very far surpassed? No; I know you would feel such a degradation most painfully; and, though young men, in the moment of passion, think they could sacrifice every thing to the object of it; yet, believe me, passion is but short-lived, and though your wife may yet retain your love and esteem, you will regret the loss of society — you will feel the insults offered to your wife, and you will both be unhappy.’
‘Ah! my dear Marquis,’ cried the Count, Â‘say no more. How happy are Englishmen! free from all those false prejudices, they can confer honour on whom they please, and the want of noble birth is no degradation where merit and character deserve esteem; but we are the victims to false notions, and from thence originates all that levity and vice for which we are censured by other nations.’ He walked away with a melancholy air: the Marquis felt for him, but national honour was in his opinion of more consequence than the gratification of a private individual, how great soever the merit of the object.
The Count walked into the garden, his arms folded, his mind distrest, unknowing what he should, what he ought to do. Turning into a small alcove, he beheld Matilda, her head reclining on one hand, whilst with the other she dried the tears which fell on her face: they both started; she rose from her seat; he advanced, prevented her going and seated himself by her. Both were silent for moment, at length Matilda, making a second effort to rise, exclaimed in a faint voice, ‘Bless me! I dare say I have made the family wait breakfast,’ and attempted to pass him. ‘Stay, Miss Weimar, I beseech you; tell me why I behold you a prey to sorrow and grief?’ ‘Because, Sir,’ said she, withdrawing her hand, ‘I am the child of sorrow; I never knew another parent; poor, forlorn, proscribed, and dependant, I never can belong to any one.’ She snatched her hand, which he endeavoured to retain, from him, and flew like lightning towards the house; the Count followed, full of admiration and grief. He entered the breakfast-room; every one was seated, and rallied him on his passion for morning rambles: his natural vivacity returned, and he tried to make himself agreeable and pleasant.
They had scarce finished breakfast when the Marquis received a letter from the French Ambassador, requesting he might see him in town immediately, on an important affair. The Marquis was surprised, but gave orders for his horses to be ready. The Countess trembled, Matilda was terrified; each thought herself concerned, and when the Marquis quitted the house, retired together.
‘Ah!’ cried the Countess, Â‘the Count has discovered me!’ ‘No, no, madam,’ replied Matilda, Â‘Â’tis, I am discovered and shall be torn from you.’ Both burst into tears, equally for herself and friend.
The Marchioness, who saw him depart, now entered the room; ‘As I supposed,’ said she, Â‘you retired to frighten each other, but that I shall not allow, so ladies, if you please, throw on your cloaks; I have made up two parties this morning for an airing: in my coach goes Lord Delby, the Count, my sister, and Miss Matilda; I accompany Mrs Courtney, in her chariot; so pray hasten directly, the carriages wait.’
She withdrew on saying these words, and left them no power to frame excuses, and consequently they were obliged to follow, though with aching hearts.
They were disposed of according to the Marchioness’s arrangements, but for some minutes after the carriage proceeded all were silent. Lord Delby first spoke, and regretted the party did not seem to accord with the wishes of the ladies, if he might judge from their averted looks. ‘Indeed, my Lord,’ replied the Countess, ‘you do me particular injustice; I entertain the highest respect for every person here; to your Lordship I owe obligations never to be forgotten; I infinitely esteem the Count, as a friend, and this young lady I love with the affection of a sister. I have been a little agitated by the sudden departure of the Marquis, and my uneasiness has communicated itself to my friend; we beg your pardon, and will endeavor to be better company.’ After this the conversation became more general and amusing.
The Marquis proceeded to town, and instantly waited on the Ambassador. ‘I am sorry, my dear Lord,’ said his Excellency ‘to have broken in upon your retirement, and must mention the visit I received yesterday as my apology. A German gentleman, who sent in his name as Mr Weimar, requested permission to wait on me; he was consequently admitted: he entered upon a long story of an orphan he had preserved from perishing, of a paper fastened to the child, deputing him the guardian of it Â‘till claimed by its parents; and in short, that despairing, from the number of years past, that those parents had any existence, he resolved to marry the young lady, that he might provide for her without injury to her reputation; that, from what motives he knew not, she had been induced to fly from his house, seducing a servant of his to go with her; and she was now detained from him by you, notwithstanding he had a lettre de cachet, which he produced, commanding you to give her up; consequently, by virtue of that order, he requested I would compel you to deliver the young lady to his care. Now, my dear Marquis, I am prepared to hear you on the subject, for it is a delicate affair, and I am convinced you would be sorry it should be noised abroad.’ ‘No otherwise, Sir,’ replied the Marquis, ‘than as it might wound the young lady’s delicacy to be publicly talked of. I am obliged to your Excellency for your communications, and must trespass on your patience to elucidate the affair properly.’ He then recapitulated the whole of Matilda’s story, concealing every thing relative to the Countess at that time; and having deduced it down to the present period, he besought his Excellency to protect an amiable young woman, under the most unfortunate circumstances.
‘I am really,’ he replied, ‘much interested for her, and perfectly disposed to comply with your wishes, but the whole affair is replete with so many extraordinary circumstances, that I think we had best consult the German Ambassador before any thing can be determined on.’
The carriage was ordered, and his Excellency took the Marquis with him. They most fortunately found the German Minister at home, and after some deliberation it was settled Matilda should remain under the protection of the Marquis for one year, he to be answerable for her; during that interval advertisements should be sent to the different kingdoms, in quest of her parents; and if in the course of one twelvemonth no such persons appeared, Mr Weimar was the natural protector of the young lady, but could not oblige her to marry him — neither could he prevent her retiring to a convent, though she might be accountable to him for her choice of such a retirement.
The Marquis was obliged to be contented with this decision, and returning with the Ambassador, he said, ‘I shall in all probability have to trouble you again soon, on a still more extraordinary affair, and relative to one more dear and nearer to me than this young lady.’ ‘Upon my word, Marquis,’ replied the Minister, smiling, ‘you are quite a knight-errant, to protect distressed damsels.’ ‘A very honourable employment,’ answered the other, in the same tone; ‘but though these are not the days of romance, yet I have met with such extraordinary incidents lately as carry much the face of the wonderful stories we have heard of former times but as the development of this business will be attended with serious consequences I must consider a few days before I make the discovery.’ ‘Very well,Â’ said his Excellency; ‘you have excited my curiosity, and, if I am not too old to join in a Quixote like expedition, behold me ready to assist in the defence of the fair.Â’ The Marquis smiled, thanked him, and declining an invitation to dine at his house, got into his own carriage, and drove back with all speed, rightly conceiving every one would entertain uneasy conjectures.
The party were but just returned from a long morning’s drive when the Marquis arrived; every one met him with anxiety in their looks — he accosted them with a smiling countenance; ‘A truce to interrogatories at present,’ said he, Â‘I have good news for all, but I am really faint for want of refreshment; order something for me; and then I shall give an account of my proceedings.’
Every one flew to the bells, and in a moment he had chocolate, jellies, wine, and biscuits set before him.
‘Ah!’ said he, laughing, ‘nothing like giving a little spur to curiosity, I see; this is an excellent lesson for me how to be well served.’
When he had taken his repast, which he maliciously prolonged Â‘till the Marchioness in a pet rang the bell, and declared he should eat no more, the things taken away, and the servants withdrawn. ‘Now listen, ladies, and thank me for having procured, in the person of our gallant Ambassador, a Don Quixote, ready to fight in your defence.Â’ He then, in a more serious tone, repeated the particulars which have been already related.
Poor Matilda felt but a gleam of satisfaction; ‘A twelvemonth,’ cried she. ‘A twelvemonth,’ repeated Mrs Courtney; ‘why, do you consider, my dear girl, how many strange events may happen in that time?’ ‘Yes,’ answered she, sighing, ‘I consider and hope death will free me from his power long before that period expires.’
The Count de Bouville rose and left the room to conceal his emotions.
‘I will not forgive you, my dear child,’ said the Marchioness ‘if you indulge such desponding ideas; depend upon it happier days await you — trust in Providence, and rejoice you are now free from anxiety: equally under the protection of the Ambassadors and the Marquis, Mr Weimar will not dare to molest you.’
The ladies all congratulated Matilda; and, the Marchioness taking her hand, ‘Come with me into the garden, I must chide you, but I will not do it publicly, though you deserve it.’ She led her to a little temple, at one end of the garden, and when seated she said to the still silent Matilda, ‘You do not consider the advantages we have gained.’ ‘O, my dear madam,’ cried the other, interrupting her, ‘how sensible I am of that kind we have gained!’ ‘Well, well,’ resumed the Marchioness, ‘hear me out. We can now take public methods to enquire, if there yet exists a being who has any claim to you, without fear of Mr Weimar; a twelvemonth may make great alterations in his sentiments; should it appear you have no particular relations, he has no legal claim upon you, but from his expenditure for your maintenance and clothes — let him bring in his bill, he shall be paid to the uttermost farthing; you are my adopted child; consider yourself as such, and dare not refuse that trifle for your future expences; — if you utter any ohs! or ahs! if you ever talk of obligations, I will never pardon you: to be cheerful and happy is the only return you can make or I accept.’ She then placed the deed mentioned by the Marquis, with a fifty-pound note, upon the lap of the astonished Matilda, and hastened away to the house.
It was some moments before she recovered herself enough to examine the papers. The contents overwhelmed her with gratitude; she burst into a flood of tears, the papers in her hand, when unexpectedly the Count stood before her. ‘Good heavens!’ he cried, ‘what means this distress, these tears?’ ‘O, my Lord,’ answered she, ‘they are tears of sensibility and gratitude.’ ‘I rejoice to hear it,’ replied the Count, ‘heaven forbid they should ever flow from any other cause.’ He seated himself by her, she dried her eyes, and put the papers in her pocket. ‘I congratulate you, madam,’ resumed he, ‘on the happy turn in your affairs, which the Marquis has informed me of.’ ‘You know me then for an unhappy deserted orphan?’ said she, blushing and mortified. ‘I know you,’ replied he, eagerly, ‘for the most amiable of your sex; no adventitious advantages of birth or fortune can add to those claims your own merit gives you to universal esteem.’ ‘Ah, my Lord,’ said she, ‘to generous spirits like yours and this family’s, misfortunes are a recommendation to kindness and attention, but with the generality of mankind I have not to learn it must be otherwise. Stranger as I am to the manners and customs of the world, I am sensible birth and fortune have superior advantages, and that without them, though with liberal minds we may obtain compassion, we can never hope for consideration or respect.’ ‘Pardon me, madam,’ replied the Count, Â‘if I presume to say you judge erroneously; she who with merit, with good sense, delicacy, and refined sentiments can command respect, is a thousand times superior to those whose inferiority of mind disgraces a rank which the other would ennoble.’ ‘You are very kind, Sir,’ said Matilda, rising, and unable to support a conversation which she feared might grow too interesting for her peace: ‘you are truly friendly, in endeavouring to reconcile me to myself; and I have no way of deserving your favourable judgement, but by constantly remembering what I am, that I may at least preserve my humility.’ She courtesied and walked fast towards the house, and to the apartment of the Countess. That lady was alone, her head resting on her hand, and seemed buried in thought. Matilda would have withdrawn, the other entreated her return; ‘Come in, my dear girl,’ said she, ‘my own thoughts are the worst company you could leave me in at present.’ ‘I come to tell you, my dear madam,’ cried her young friend, ‘that my heart is bursting with gratitude: the Marchioness will not hear me, but I must have vent for my feelings, or I shall be oppressed to death.’ She burst into tears. ‘My dear April girl,’ said the Countess, ‘no more of those showers — you have too much sensibility; I know what you want to tell me, therefore spare yourself the trouble, and let me acquaint you, that I am indebted to my generous brother, for a settlement of treble the value of what he has given you, yet I make no fuss about the matter.’ ‘But, dear madam,’ cried Matilda, ‘sure there is great difference in our situations, you have a natural claim —’ ‘A natural claim,’ repeated the Countess; ‘the best claim to a generous mind, is being unfortunate with merit that deserves a better fate. I think little of those favours which are bestowed from claims of affinity only; since family pride, the censure of the world, and many causes, may unlock a heart to support their own consequence in their connexions, but the truly benificent mind looks upon every child of sorrow as their relation, and entitled to their assistance; but when beauty and virtue suffer, from whatsoever cause, believe me, dear Matilda, they receive a superior gratification that have the power of relieving sorrows, than the receiver can in accepting the favours.’ ‘I believe, my dear madam,Â’ replied Matilda, her heart warmed by the idea, ‘I believe you are right; for if there is a human being I could envy, it would be the one who can raise the desponding heart to hope and peace.’ ‘With that conviction,’ resumed the Countess, ‘feel as if you conferred a favour, without the oppressive notion of having received one; and now pray listen to me. My brother and sister hourly importune me to prosecute the Count: you know my objections — God only knows whether I have a child living or not — the doubt gives me a thousand pangs; as to the murder of the poor Chevalier, Peter only was a witness beside myself, and he is a creature of the Count’s; then to accuse one’s husband, what an indelible reproach! I never can submit to it: tell me, advise me, dear girl, what I must do?’ ‘Impossible madam,’ replied she; ‘I am incompetent to advise — your own good sense, and the opinion of your friends, are more capable of it than one so little conversant in the world as I am.’ ‘Well,’ resumed the Countess, ‘I will be guided by Lord Delby and Mrs Courtney; my own relations are too warmly interested in my favour to give an impartial opinion:— but pray, my dear, what do you think of our Count, is not he a charming youth?’
A question so mal-a-propos, when poor Matilda’s heart bore testimony to his merit, threw her into the greatest confusion, she was unable to speak.
The Countess observed her emotion, but was too delicate to notice it; she therefore added, Â‘Â’Tis a needless question; I see your sentiments correspond with mine; but your spirits are low, child — in truth mine are not high, so let us seek for better company.’ She arose, and taking MatildaÂ’s passive hand, led her to the drawing-room, where the company was assembled.
Matilda could not see her benefactors without being visibly affected, which the Marchioness observing, ‘Come, ladies,’ said she, ‘give me your votes, I am collecting them for a party to Windsor tomorrow.’ ‘O, doubtless you may command ours,’ replied the Countess; ‘novelty has always its charms for us females.’ ‘Very well,’ said the Marquis, ‘then it’s a settled business.’
The excursion to Windsor, and several other places, in the fortnight they staid at Mrs Courtney’s jumbled the Count and Matilda so frequently together, and he had so many opportunities of admiring her strong understanding and polished manners, that his affection was insensibly engaged beyond all power of resistance, and he determined to brave the censures of the world, and marry her, if he could obtain her heart. From the moment this resolution took place, he treated her with that insinuating tenderness in his voice and manners, which seldom fails of communicating the infection to a susceptible mind. Matilda’s feelings alarmed her; she was conscious of the impropriety of indulging them, and felt the necessity of avoiding the Count as much as possible. He quickly observed the alteration in her behaviour, and was determined to come to an immediate explanation; justly conceiving nothing could be more wounding to a delicate mind than suspense under such circumstances.
She so carefully shunned him, that it was not easy to find her alone; but the morning, when it was intended to return in the evening to London, chance afforded him an opportunity. The Marchioness, Matilda, and the Count were in the garden; the Marquis came to them and requested to speak a few words to his Lady; She disengaged her arm from her companion, and went with him to the house. Matilda turned with an intention to follow; the Count took her hand, ‘Let me entreat you, madam, to pursue your walk; I wish to speak a few words, on an affair of consequence, that will not detain you long from your friends.’ She trembled, and without speaking, suffered him to conduct her to an alcove at the bottom of the garden. They were both seated for a minute before he could assume courage to speak, at length, ‘I believe from the first hour I had the happiness of being introduced to you, my admiration was very visible, but it was that admiration which a beautiful person naturally inspires, I knew not then it was your least perfection. Your story, which the Marquis related, convinced me you had every virtue which should adorn your sex, joined with a courage and perseverance, through difficulties which might do honour even to ours. Since I have been admitted a visitor in this house, I have been confirmed in the exalted opinion I entertained of your superiority to most women, and under this conviction I may justly fear you will condemn my presumption, in offering myself and fortune to your disposal.’ ‘How, my Lord,’ cried Matilda, recovering from her confusion, and interrupting him, ‘do you consider who and what I am?Â’ ‘Yes, madam,’ replied he, ‘I have already told you, I think you one of the most perfect of your sex, and as to any other consideration ’tis beneath my notice: if you will deign to accept of me, it shall be the study of my life to make you amends for the injustice of fortune, who blindly bestows her favours on the unworthy.’ ‘You will pardon me, my Lord,’ said she, ‘for interrupting you a second time, but I cannot suffer you to proceed in error; I entreat you, therefore to hear me with patience, and believe that the sentiments I express are the genuine feelings of my heart, from which no persuasions, no temptations shall ever make me depart. I acknowledge, with a grateful mind, the honour you offer me is far beyond any expectations I can ever form in life, and such as affords me both pride and pleasure, that I am not deemed unworthy your esteem. At the same time, although you can generously resolve to forego the respect you owe to yourself and family, my duty to myself obliges me to remember it: without family and connexions, without even a name — perhaps the offspring of poor, or still worse, of infamous parents, brought up and supported by charity; shall I intrude myself into a noble family, contaminate its lustre, reflect indelible disgrace on the author of my undeserved elevation, and live despised and reproached, as the artful creature who had taken advantage of your generosity and compassion? No, my Lord, permit me to say on such terms I never would condescend to be the wife of a prince. I shrink at my own littleness; I am in a state of obligation for my support, but I never will incur my own contempt, by deserving it from others. My mind is indeed, I hope, superior to my situation: I will preserve a rectitude of principles under every evil that may befall me; those principles impel me to avow, with the greatest solemnity in the face of heaven, that under the disgraceful circumstances in which my fate seems enveloped, I never will be yours.’ ‘Hold, hold, madam,’ cried the Count, endeavouring to interrupt her, ‘great God! what have you vowed!’ ‘What duty to myself and you required of me,’ said she; ‘and now, my Lord, let this subject never be renewed. If it can afford you any consolation,’ added she, softened by the disorder and distress of his appearance, ‘be assured, my Lord, that as I never can be yours, I never will be another’s; and if my happiness is as dear to you as yours will ever be to me, you will from this moment cease to think of me but as an unfortunate girl, deprived of all power to return obligations, and therefore with too much pride and spirit to receive them, but from this worthy family, where I conceive it no disgrace to hold myself dependent.’
As she ended these words she rose. ‘Stop one moment, madam,’ exclaimed the Count; ‘unless you would drive me to madness, afford me one gleam of hope, distant as it may be: your cruel vow precludes me from bliss, yet tell me, too lovely Matilda, that you do not hate me, that if —’
‘Ah! Sir,’ said she, involuntarily, ‘hate you! Heaven is my witness, that did my birth and rank equal yours, it would be my glory, to accept your hand; but as there exists not a possibility of that, I beseech you to spare me and yourself unnecessary pain; from this instant determine to avoid me, and I will esteem you as the most exalted of men.’
Without giving him time to reply, she darted like lightning towards the house, leaving him overwhelmed with admiration, grief, and despair.
‘What are the advantages of birth and rank,’ cried he, ‘which this sweet girl does not possess? A dignity of sentiment, a rectitude of heart; — how greatly superior to that wretch Fontelle, whose malicious stories have so much injured her reputation, and whose birth and fortune only render her the more despicable; as mine must be to me of no value, when considered as bars to happiness and Matilda.’
He walked slowly to the house and met the Marquis. ‘Dear Count,’ said he, ‘what have you done or said to my amiable protÃ©gÃ©e; I met her running up stairs, out of breath, and tears trembling in her eyes?’ The Count, without the least reserve, repeated the preceding conversation. ‘And did you really make such an offer,’ cried he, ‘and did she refuse it?’ Â‘Â’Tis very true,’ replied the Count. ‘Why then,’ said the Marquis, ‘you are two of the noblest creatures under heaven; that you, my worthy friend, should step beyond the prejudices of your country — that you should resolve to brave the censure, the malevolent whispers and contemptuous neglect of your equals, and support the insolent derision of your inferiors, in favour of a young woman under such peculiarly distressing circumstances, excites my wonder and admiration but I scarce know any words that can do justice to my sentiments, when I reflect that this very young woman, without friends or fortune, from a sense of rectitude, and a loftiness of sentiment which would do honour to the highest rank, could peremptorily refuse a situation and prospects so brilliant — do violence to her own heart, and prefer a dependence her soul is much superior to, rather than incur self-reproach for your degradation. Indeed, my Lord, I know not any language sufficiently expressive of my feelings: you must admire her more than ever.’ ‘Doubt not,’ answered the Count, in a melancholy tone, ‘of my more than admiration — my adoration; but, alas! she is inflexible — she has sworn never to be mine — she has charged me to see her, to think of her, no more.’ ‘Do her justice my Lord and obey her; prove your esteem for such an extraordinary exertion of virtue and prudence, imitate an example so deserving praise, and be assured the trial, however severe at present, will afford you satisfaction hereafter, in subduing love, though your highest esteem she has a right to challenge.’ ‘Say no more, Marquis,’ cried the Count; ‘I must cease to think of her before I can cease to love, for this day has riveted my chains more firmly than ever. I will not however be an inmate of your house; though I cannot relinquish the charms of her society altogether, yet I promise you I will indulge in no more dangerous tÃªte-Ã tÃªtes but I must see her sometimes.’ ‘Ah! Count,’ said the Marquis shaking his head. ‘Trust my honour and discretion,’ replied he, to his significant looks; ‘you may, for that angelic girl will never put them to the proof.’
They proceeded to the house, and the carriages drawing up, the party was collected together. Matilda contrived to accompany the Marquis, his Lady, and Mrs Courtney. The two latter kept up a sprightly conversation with the Marquis, and but once or twice broke in upon her reveries; yet she appeared easy and cheerful; in truth, the delight of being dear to the amiable Count, and a consciousness of having performed her duty, gave that peace and serenity to her mind which never fails of communicating itself to the countenance.
On their arrival in Harley-street the party separated, and the Count was compelled to accept an invitation from Lord Delby, to reside with him. ‘The Marquis,’ said his Lordship, ‘has his family party, but I am alone, and therefore you will do me particular honour and pleasure in complying with my wishes.’
As the Count could not reside with the Marquis, this was certainly the next best situation, for his Lordship was himself too fond of the ‘family party’ to be long absent from them; he therefore gladly accompanied him to Cavendish-square.
They had been now near a fortnight in town, enjoying its variety of amusements, and preparing for their journey to Scarborough, which was now to take place in four days. The birth-day being arrived, the Marquis, his Lady, and the Count proposed paying their compliments at court, with Lord Delby: the Count had been previously presented. The Countess (still known even by the Count only as Madame Le Roche) Mrs Courtney, and Matilda, contented themselves with attending the ball, at night, in the Lord Chamberlain’s box. They were accordingly accommodated with an excellent situation, and were extremely charmed with the beauty and splendor of the British court.
Matilda’s eyes were so intently fixed on the Royal Family, she had scarce thought of looking round her, until some audible whispers in French reached her ear; turning her head quickly, her eyes met those of Mademoiselle De Fontelle. A stranger to the malice of that young lady, she bowed with a smile, being rather too distant to speak; the lady gave her a look of contempt, and speaking low to the person next her; before Matilda could recover from her surprise and confusion, she observed three or four persons look full at her, with scorn and disdain strongly marked in their features. Shocked beyond measure at this to her unaccountable behaviour, she turned sick and faint, was obliged to have recourse to her salts, and heard a laughing whisper on one side of her, whilst the Countess on the other was eagerly enquiring the cause of her illness. Her salts, and natural dignity of mind soon enabled her to recover. She evaded the curiosity of her friend, by complaining of the heat, and declaring herself better. She then turned her head towards Fontelle and her companions; she viewed them with a steady air of the highest contempt and indifference, Â‘till even the eyes of that malicious girl fell under hers, and she was evidently confused. Matilda then returned to the amusements below her, and, though her mind was not easy, she appeared to enjoy uncommon satisfaction.
When the Royal Family had withdrawn, and they were about to quit their seats, they perceived Lord Delby and the Count making way to assist them in getting out. The latter had no eyes but for Matilda, Â‘till a sudden exclamation, and his name, caught his ear in the moment he had presented his hand to her; quickly turning, he saw Mademoiselle De Fontelle and her aunt, Madame Le Brune. Surprised and vexed, he darted at them a look of scorn, and with an air of the highest respect and attention, assisted Matilda into the room, joined her friends, and they were safely conveyed through the crowd to their carriage — Lord Delby and himself following in theirs.
When they alighted in Harley-street, Matilda, who had suppressed her feelings in the ball-room, and had been likewise deeply affected by the Count’s attentions, scarcely entered the drawing-room before she fainted: every one was alarmed, but the Count was distracted; his behaviour discovered the secrets of his heart to all the company, and when she recovered, she saw him on his knees, holding one of her hands, whilst his air of distraction was but too expressive of his feelings; she withdrew her hand, and he arose; she apologized to the company, and imputed her disorder to the heat of the room, and the sudden chill she felt in getting out of the carriage. Her friends, glad to see her recovered, enquired no further, but the Count drew the Marquis out of the room, and in much agitation, cried out, ‘That persecuting fiend, in a female form, is the cause of her illness.’ ‘Who do you mean?’ demanded the Marquis. ‘Who should I mean,’ answered he, warmly, ‘but that malicious Fontelle; I saw her not far from Matilda, and I dare say she insulted her; but, by heavens! if she propagates her infamous falsehoods here, she shall repent it, however she may trust to my honour.’
The Marquis was a little surprised at this sally, but without appearing to observe it, said, ‘You know, Count, we shall leave town three days hence, and consequently be out of her malice. I wonder what brought her to England.’ ‘Spite and envy,’ replied he; ‘but does the amiable girl know how much Mademoiselle De Fontelle is her enemy?’ ‘No certainly,’ answered the Marquis; ‘you do not suppose we would wound her feelings, by repeating the disagreeable reports spread among our acquaintance at Paris.’ ‘I am glad of it,’ said the Count, ‘yet I cannot but think the other affronted her.’ ‘We shall know tomorrow, but let us return and eat our supper now.’
They went down to the supper-room, and were much pleased in beholding Matilda cheerful and perfectly well.
When the company separated, and she was retired to her apartment, she gave way to her own reflections; she could not otherwise account for the impertinence of Mademoiselle De Fontelle, but by supposing she was acquainted with her birth; ‘Ah!’ said she, ‘I doubt not but Mr Weimar published it at Paris, from motives of revenge and she, who as a relation to the Marchioness, received a thousand civilities, is now despised as an imposter; an orphan, and a dependent on charity; nay, even my benefactors may suffer in the opinion of their friends for introducing me! Good heavens!’ cried she, ‘why should I continue in the world — why assume a character and appearance I have no pretensions to? What blameable pride, what meanness, in accepting gifts which draw upon me contempt and derision — I will no longer support it.’
Tormented all night by the distress of her situation, she arose unrefreshed, pale, feeble and agitated.
The Marchioness, alarmed at her appearance, insisted upon sending for a physician; the Marquis was going to pull the bell. ‘Stay, my dear friends,’ cried she, ‘I beseech you; ’tis my mind, not my body, that is disordered, and you only have the power to heal it.’ ‘Speak your wishes, my dear child,’ said the Marchioness; ‘be assured, if in our power, you may command the grant of them.’ ‘On that promise, my dearest benefactress, your poor Matilda founds her hopes of peace.’ She then repeated the affronts of the preceding evening, and her own conjectures upon it. ‘I am humbled, my dearest madam, as all false pretenders ought to be,’ added she: ‘I can no longer support the upbraidings of my heart; a false pride, a despicable vanity induced me to lay hold of your sentiments in my favour, which, after the discovery of my original meanness, I ought to have blushed at your condescension, and sought some humble situation, or retired to a convent, where, unknowing and unknown, I might have pursued the lowly path Providence seems to have pointed out for me. I have been punished for my presumption and duplicity — it has made me look into myself; doubtless, out of this family, every one beholds me with the scorn and contempt I have justly incurred from Mademoiselle De Fontelle, and all who know my doubtful origin. O, my beloved friends,’ cried she, wringing her hands, tears running down her cheeks, ‘save me from future insults, save me from self-reproach! complete your generosity and goodness, and let me retire to a convent. My poor endeavours to amuse you as a companion are no longer necessary; the Countess is restored to you, and I have only been a source of vexation and trouble ever since the hour you first condescended to receive me; — a convent is the only asylum I ought to wish for, and there only I can find rest.’ Here she stopped, overwhelmed with the most painful emotions.
The Marquis was affected, the Marchioness drowned in tears. ‘My dear, but too susceptible girl,’ said she, when able to speak, ‘why will you thus unnecessarily torment yourself; what is Fontelle and her opinions to us? We are going to Scarborough; you have friends who will protect you from every insult — who will treat you with increased respect, from a conviction that your mind is superior to all the advantages which birth and fortune has given to Mademoiselle De Fontelle, or a thousand such: besides, depend upon my assertions — you sprung not from humble or dishonest parents, the virtues you possess are hereditary ones, doubt it not, my dear Matilda; if nobleness of birth can add any lustre to qualities like yours, you will one day possess that advantage.’
’Tis impossible to express the agitations of Matilda, on hearing such kind and consoling sentiments; but her resolution to retire from the world was unconquerable; she found her heart too tenderly attached to the Count she knew the impossibility that she should ever be his; she was convinced her story was known, her friends had not attempted to deny it; in whatever public place she might visit, it was very possible to meet persons who had heard it, and she might be exposed to similar insults, which her spirit could not brook.
The Marquis and his Lady made use of persuasions, arguments, and even reproaches, but she had so much resolution and fortitude, when once she had formed a design, approved by her judgement, as could not be easily shaken; and though her heart was wounded with sorrow, and her mind impressed with grief, in being obliged to resist the kindness of her friends, yet she still persevered.
Â‘Well, Matilda,’ said the Marchioness, in a reproachful tone, ‘since you are inflexible to our wishes, I must insist upon your going with me to Mrs Courtney’s: what will she, what will my sister think, but that I have treated you ill, and you can no longer remain with one you have ceased to love.’
‘Kill me not,’ cried she, in an agony, ‘with such reproaches; let me fly to the Countess and disclose my reasons — ah! surely she will do more justice to my heart: oh! madam, that you could see it — that you could read the love, the admiration, and respect indelibly imprinted there, with your image, never, never to be erased whilst it beats within my bosom.’
Overcome with these sensations, she wept aloud; the Marchioness embraced and soothed her.
The carriage was ordered, and they drove to Mrs Courtney’s. The Marquis setting them down, and going on to Lord Delby’s.
It is needless to repeat what passed at Mrs Courtney’s, since it was only a repetition of every argument and persuasion which her protectors had before used in vain. Nothing could shake her resolution; and all the favour they could obtain, was to permit Louison and Antoine to accompany her to Boulogne, and remain in a convent there, Â‘till her friends returned to France, and the twelvemonth expired Mr Weimar had allowed her to remain under the care of the Marquis.
Whilst every countenance spoke pity, grief, and admiration, the gentlemen suddenly entered the room, the Count with an air of wildness and distress. The moment Matilda saw him she trembled violently, and could with difficulty keep her seat. ‘Ah! madam,’ said he, ‘what is it I hear — is it possible you mean to abandon your friends, to distress the most affectionate hearts in the world, to give up society, and, from romantic notions, bury yourself in a convent? Hear me thus publicly,’ cried he, throwing himself at her feet, With a frantic look, ‘hear me avow myself your lover, your protector, and if you will condescend to accept of me, your husband; yes, that is the enviable distinction I aspire to; plead for me, my friends — soften the obdurate heart that would consign me to everlasting misery. Oh! Matilda, cruel, unfeeling girl, has a proud and unrelenting spirit subdued every tender and compassionate sentiment. — has neither love nor friendship any claims upon your heart.’ His emotions were violent.
The ladies, Â‘till now, strangers to his sentiments, sat mute with wonder.
Matilda had covered her face with her handkerchief; when he stopped she withdrew it; it was wet with tears: he snatched it from her trembling hand, kissed it, and thrust it into his bosom. ‘I beseech you, Sir, to rise,’ said she, when able to speak, ‘this posture is unbecoming of yourself and me. The resolution I have formed is such as my reason approves, and my particular circumstances call upon me to adopt; I ought to have done it long ago, and blush at my own folly in delaying it.’ ‘But, good God! madam,’ interrupted the Count, ‘can the ridiculous behaviour, or unjust prejudices of one worthless woman weigh against the affections, the esteem of so many respectable friends? What have we done to deserve being rendered miserable through her envy and malice?’ ‘Could the warmest love, gratitude and respect, which I owe to every one here,’ answered she; ‘could the arguments of the most condescending kindness, deeply imprinted here’— putting her hand to her heart —‘could these avail to alter my purpose, I might not be able to withstand your persuasions; but, my Lord, when I have had fortitude sufficient to deny those who are dearer to me than life, you cannot be offended, that ’tis impossible for me to oblige you; and here, in the presence of those who have been witnesses to the honors you have offered me, I release you from every vow, every obligation your too ardent love has conferred on me, and from this hour beseech you to think of me as a friend, zealous for your honour and happiness, for your fame, and the respect you owe to your family; but equally jealous of every duty I owe myself, and therefore determined to see you no more.’ She rose quickly from her chair, and ran into Mrs Courtney’s dressing-room, giving way to a violent burst of tears. The astonished Count, who had not the power to prevent her departure, threw himself into a chair, without speaking. The Countess had followed Matilda.
‘This is really,’ said Mrs Courtney, ‘the most extraordinary young woman I ever met with; I wonder not at your attachment, my dear Count, but after this public declaration, you have nothing to hope for: imitate her example of fortitude and self-denial, and suffer not your mind to be depressed, when it is necessary you should exert man’s boasted superiority of reason and firmness.’ The Count replied not.
The Marchioness looked with a little surprise at Mrs Courtney, who she thought appeared less affected than she ought for her young friend.
Lord Delby was warm in her praise, and offered to be her escort to Boulogne, as he thought it highly improper she should be accompanied by servants only.
This offer was thankfully accepted by the Marchioness. ‘She has absolutely prohibited the Marquis and myself,’ said she, ‘but I hope will make no objections to the honour you intend her.’
The Count, making a slight apology, withdrew, and every one joined in pitying the necessity for a separation of two persons so worthy of each other. ‘Was fortune the only obstacle her delicacy could raise,’ said the Marquis, Â‘there are those who would rejoice to remove it; but when we consider the particular disadvantages of her situation — the disgrace and insults which would attend the Count, from her want of birth, however great her merit: unjust as I know those prejudices are, yet I confess it would have given me pain, had she acted otherwise. I applaud, I admire, I love her more than ever, but I do not wish to see her the Count’s wife, unless those bars could be removed, which now appear next to an impossibility.’ ‘No!’ cried the Marchioness, briskly, ‘no! I will not believe merit like Matilda’s is born to wither in the shade; I will hope to see her one day in a conspicuous point of view, that may reflect honour on all who are connected with her, either by blood or friendship.’
‘You are romantic, my dear madam,’ said Mrs Courtney, with a smile; ‘but suppose we go to your young favourite, and see how the poor thing does after her heroics.’
This was said with so little feeling, that the Marchioness was surprised; and a sudden idea darting into the mind of the Marquis, he could not suppress a smile, whilst Lord Delby looked offended with his sister’s light manner of speaking.
Under these different impressions they entered the dressing-room, and found poor Matilda reclining her head on the Countess, and both weeping. ‘Fie, fie, my good friend,’ said Mrs Courtney, ‘is this the way to comfort the young lady for the sacrifices she has made to honour and principle.’ ‘I adore your sensibility, madam,’ cried Lord Delby, hastily; ‘in my opinion, who ever loves Miss Matilda does honour to their own heart.’
Both ladies bowed to his lordship, though unable to speak; but endeavouring to recover themselves, the Countess said, ‘This dear obstinate girl proposes setting off the day after tomorrow.Â’ ‘Well, and if she is so determined, what hinders us from all taking a trip to Dover, previous to our Scarborough journey?’ said Lord Delby.
Every one agreed to the proposal, after which they sought to amuse their minds, by talking on different subjects.
The Countess and Mrs Courtney accompanied the Marchioness home to dinner, but Lord Delby excused himself, that he might attend to the Count. On his return to Cavendish-square he was informed his guest was in the library. He found him writing, and would have retired; the Count requested he would sit down: the conversation naturally turned on the recent occurrences in Harley-street. ‘Don’t think meanly of me, my dear Lord,’ said the Count, Â‘if I cannot help gratifying a little malice and revenge; I have just finished a few lines to Mademoiselle De Fontelle; I will, at least, make her remember she is in my power, and tremble every moment, lest I should put my threats in execution; I will plant a thorn in her bosom, if she is capable of feeling, though, alas! I can never draw the one from my breast she has been the cause of transfixing there for life! I shall send to the Ambassadors, to procure her address, as doubtless from old acquaintance Madame Le Brune has been to pay her respects to his lady, and that is the only clue at present, I have to find her.’
When Lord Delby acquainted him the day was fixed for Matilda’s departure, and their intended jaunt with her, ‘Ah!’ said he, ‘how hard, that the person most interested in that event should be precluded from being a witness of it, though I know I could not stand the shock.’ ‘If my sister does not accompany us, which I rather doubt, as one coach cannot hold them, and I intend going on horseback, there being no necessity for great expedition I shall consign her to your care, my dear Count, in our absence.’ ‘If Mrs Courtney will accept the attendance of such a spiritless being as myself,’ answered he, ‘I shall be honoured by permission to wait upon her.’
Not to dwell on the melancholy circumstances of parting, when nothing new or particular occurred, ’tis sufficient to say both parties were overwhelmed with grief, and Matilda submitted, with much reluctance, to Lord Delby’s going in the packet with her; but her friends all protesting, if she refused, every one would go, she was obliged to acquiesce; and embracing the two ladies a thousand times, with streaming eyes, she tore herself from them and embarked.
The wind was fair; they reached Boulogne in seven hours; and whilst they partook of some refreshment at the hotel, Louison and Antoine walked to the Ursuline Convent, in the high town, and having acquainted the porteress with their errand, found, to their great mortification, they took no ladies in chamber, or high pensioners. They were directed to the Annunciate Covent, and there soon procured admission, and accommodations for Matilda, and Louison, who gladly attended her, thinking it would be only for a short time, Â’till her lady came from England.
Within a few hours Matilda was received and settled. She took leave of Lord Delby, with tears of gratitude. ‘Ah!’ said he, much moved, ‘not one word of remembrance to my worthy guest?’ ‘Yes, Sir,’ said she, raising her voice, ‘tell him I admire, I esteem him — that his happiness is the first wish of my heart. Take care, my dear Lord, of the worthy Count; teach him to forget me, and if ever he should be united to an amiable woman, deserving and possessing his affection, I will then boldly claim his esteem —Â‘till then we must be for ever separated.’
She entered the gates, unable to say more, and when they were shut upon her, Lord Delby, overcome with pity and admiration, returned to the hotel; that same evening re-embarked for Dover, and joined his friends before nine the next morning.
Spiritless and unhappy, they arrived in Harley-street the following evening, and sending a messenger to Mrs Courtney, that lady shortly after entered the house, the Count with her; she cheerful and lively, he looking pale and dejected. She enquired, with an air of indifference, the particulars of their journey, but seemed little interested in it; not so the Count, he asked a thousand questions. ‘I have a message to you from the amiable Matilda,’ said Lord Delby. ‘For me,’ said the Count, eagerly; ‘O! why have you delayed it?’ His Lordship repeated her last words. ‘Sweet angelic girl!’ cried he, ‘is my happiness dear to her! but why should I doubt it? she is truth and goodness itself; my esteem, my love, must ever be hers, for no other woman shall ever possess that heart she condescended to prize, and never will I marry, if Matilda cannot be my wife.’ ‘Lord bless me!’ exclaimed Mrs Courtney, ‘let’s have no more dismals; I declare these last five days have vapoured me to death: I hope our journey to Scarborough will teem with more pleasant incidents than yours to Dover seems to have produced.’ ‘I am sure so,’ answered the Count; ‘the world does not abound with characters like Matilda’s to lament.’
No more was said; supper was announced, and more general conversation introduced during the remainder of the evening, though every one appeared absent and uneasy.
After the company had left them the Marchioness took notice of Mrs Courtney’s behaviour. Surely she has taken some pique against Matilda,’ said she. ‘Yes,Â’ replied the Marquis, ‘the pique natural to a jealous woman.’ ‘Jealous! repeated the Marchioness, ‘why, surely you do not think she is fond of the Count’ ‘Indeed, but I do,’ replied he; ‘nay, I am certain of it, from many observations I lately made on her conduct.’ ‘Bless me!’ returned she, ‘why Mrs Courtney is seven or eight and thirty, the Count only two and twenty.’ ‘That’s true,’ said he, smiling, Â‘but, my love, ladies have various ways of concealing their age, and the depredations of time; besides, vanity never forsakes them; and to do Mrs Courtney justice, she is an agreeable woman.’ ‘Yes, and a sensible woman,’ returned she; ‘I never can suppose her guilty of such a weakness; I rather think her prejudiced against Matilda, by some falsehoods or other.’ ‘Very well,’ replied the Marquis, ‘be it so: I am always more gratified by your favourable opinion of your own sex, than a readiness to condemn them; the one shews a generous mind, free from guile itself — the other, a malignant spirit, desirous of acquiring merit from the deficiencies of others.’ ‘But, pray,’ said the Marchioness, ‘how will you account to Mr Weimar for the retirement of Matilda, should he hear of it, and apply to you?Â’ By the simplest truth,’ replied he, ‘except what relates to Bouville. He must thank himself for all the stories Mademoiselle De Fontelle has repeated to her disadvantage, and from whence originated her sudden determination. She is now safe; the letter I procured from the Ambassador, addressed to any convent, at least, the superior of it, will always protect her, since mine is the only claim she is subject to.’
Tranquillised by this, the Marchioness recommended her young friend to the care of Providence, and retired to rest with a virtuous heart, and an easy mind, which could not fail of producing quiet and refreshing slumbers.
The Count, Lord Delby, and Mrs Courtney were not equally happy. The former, more sensible every hour of Matilda’s worth, cursed the pride of birth, which stood between him and happiness, and determined to live only for her. Lord Delby had been many years a widower; he had only one son, whom he carried to Switzerland, at the time the Countess so fortunately obtained his protection: he was then extremely struck with her appearance; beauty in distress has a thousand claims upon a susceptible mind; but the Countess had good sense, sweetness of temper, and delicacy of manners to recommend her; and though the first bloom of beauty was worn off, she had sufficient charms both of mind and body to procure for her the admiration of any man. Lord Delby conceived a very warm affection for her, though he knew it was entirely hopeless, unless death should rid her of her persecutor; he was therefore condemned to silence on a subject nearest his heart, and felt the restraint very painfully. Mrs Courtney, from the first moment she beheld the Count, was charmed with his person and manners. She had been a widow four years: when about three and twenty, at the request of her father, Lord Delby, and the temptations of a very capital fortune, superb carriages, fine jewels, and those other avenues to the heart of a young and fashionable female, she gave her hand to Mr Courtney, who was struck with her person, and thinking it right to have an heir to his immense possessions, suspended for a time the delights of Newmarket, and his favourite sprightly, to attend the laws of Hymen; but in a very few weeks his former propensity returned; his young bride was forsaken for the pleasures of the turf, Newmarket, its jockies, its tumultuous pursuits, deep bets, and jovial companions, engrossed all his time and attention. His lady, happily for her, was not doatingly fond of her husband; she was possessed of every appendage proper for a female in fashionable life, and outshone two thirds of her acquaintance in jewels, plate, carriages, and dress; she was therefore extremely easy about the absence of her husband, and whilst he neither contracted her expences, nor deprived her of the amusements she liked, she was perfectly disposed to shew him the same complaisance. This very modish pair lived some years together, without feeling either pleasure or pain, from their different engagements. Mr Courtney was at first much disappointed by not having an heir, but time reconciled him to an event he could not remove; and having determined to make a distant relation, who was to inherit his estate, take his name by Act of Parliament, he ceased giving himself any further concern about the matter. They had been married upwards of ten years, when unfortunately taking cold, after very hard riding, a violent fever terminated his life in six days, and his disconsolate widow was left to undergo all the forms and ceremonies of deep mourning, and to wear odious black for three months. This state of mortification being rubbed through, she found herself mistress of all her former finery, and a very noble jointure, to live as she pleased. Mrs Courtney was good-natured, not from principle but constitution; she hated trouble of any sort, therefore bore any thing, rather than have the fatigue of being out of humour; she was polite and friendly, where she had no temptation to be otherwise; in short, she had many negative virtues, without any active ones. Such was Mrs Courtney, when she appeared in this book first. All men were indifferent alike, Â‘till she saw the engaging Count; a few interviews decided her fate; she found she loved to excess, and hated Matilda in proportion; she discovered his partiality in her favour, long before it was publicly known, and fought to recommend herself to his notice, by paying attention to his favourite; but finding all her endeavours ineffectual, she began to dislike the innocent object of her jealousy, and was casting about in her mind how to get rid of her, when Matilda unexpectedly declared her intention of going into a convent. The Count’s subsequent behaviour, his public declaration and protestations, were mortifying circumstances, ’tis true, but she depended upon time, absence, and her own endeavours, to conquer a passion he could not but look upon as hopeless. The Countess, so many years secluded from the world, at first felt only the warmest gratitude to Mrs Courtney and her brother, for their generous protection; but the polite attention, the mark’d kindness of Lord Delby, inspired her with the most perfect esteem for him — and though, from the melancholy circumstances which attended her early prepossession, her heart was dead to love, she yet experienced all that partiality in his Lordship’s favour which her heart was capable of feeling.
Such was the state and sentiments of the party, now about to set off for Scarborough. The day previous to which, after a consultation between the Marquis, his Lady, and the Countess, on the entrance of the Count, to pay his morning compliments, the Marquis led him to the Countess, ‘My dear friend, you have hitherto known this lady only as Madame Le Roche, the name she bears in England; I now introduce you to her as our dearest sister, the Countess of Wolfenbach, whose death you have heard us often lament.’
The Count started with surprise; ‘Good heavens!’ said he, after saluting her, ‘how is this possible?’
The Marquis gave him a brief recital of her confinement, and promised him the particulars another day. ‘I could no longer keep our secret from you, but she must still retain her former name, until the whole affair is brought forward. The Ambassador was made acquainted with it yesterday; he will take some private steps, at first, if possible, to do us justice; and when we return to London for the winter, we shall use decisive measures; mean time, I have written to a friend, as has likewise my sister, to procure Joseph’s testimony, as far as his knowledge extends, lest, as he is old, we should lose a witness of some consequence.’
The Count entered warmly into the business; his life and fortune was at the service of his friends: they embraced and thanked him The following day they left town, after writing the most affectionate letters to their beloved Matilda, whose absence they most sincerely regretted.
Matilda, on her first residence in the convent, found it replete with many inconveniences she did not expect. For the first week she cried incessantly, and poor Louison, not happier, continually pressed her to return. ‘Ah, mon Dieu!’ cried she, ‘if my good master and lady, if the dear charming Count de Bouville knew how miserable you are, they would fly to bring you out again. Ah! the good Count, the morning before we came away, gave me ten English guineas; the tears were in his eyes; “Take care of your charming mistress, Louison,” said he, “and I will always be your friend”:— Dear, dear gentleman! O, that he was but here!’
This little anecdote, which one might have supposed would have added to Matilda’s grief, proved a most salutary remedy for it: she instantly dried her eyes. ‘Amiable, generous man!’ said she, ‘shall I repine, that I have devoted myself to retirement to preserve a mind like his from repentance and self-reproach, and from the disdain of those low-minded people, incapable of the nobleness of heart which would prompt him to forget his own dignity, to raise a friendless orphan. No; I will at least prove deserving of his esteem, by my own self-denial; I will support every inconvenience, every trial with resignation — happy, if, in sacrificing the trifling amusements the world affords, I can promote his peace, and secure his future happiness.’
Fortified by these generous sentiments, she no longer wept or sighed; she sought consolation in the practice of her religious duties, which strengthened her mind and composed her spirits: she found in the uniform observance of piety, charity, and compassion towards the sick and unfortunate, that peace which the world could not give, and that serenity of mind which no recollection of misfortunes could deprive her of.
She became the admiration of the whole community; every one was desirous of her favour, but Matilda, blessed with uncommon penetration, and capable of the nicest discrimination, was at no loss to distinguish the selfish and fulsome attentions of the officious, from the approbation of the worthy and humble few who looked on her with eyes of kindness, but never intruded; from these few, to whom she payed particular civility, her heart selected mother St Magdalene; she was about eight and twenty, and had been a nun nearly ten years; she was one of those very elegant forms you cannot behold without admiration; her face was more expressive than beautiful, yet more engaging than a lifeless set of features without animation, however perfect or blooming, could possibly be; she was pious without ostentation, kind and affectionate to her sisterhood, and courteous, without design or meanness, to the pensioners.
This charming woman soon attracted the notice of Matilda — she sought her company and conversation — she received her attentions with particular complacency.
Mother Magdalene was sensible of her civilities — she plainly comprehended the value of them, but from peculiar notions of delicacy, and to avoid giving umbrage to the sisterhood, she rather repressed than encouraged her particular kindness. Matilda, however, would not be repulsed, and Magdalene was at length compelled to be her ‘Dear Mother’.
They were frequently together, and by her example Matilda was encouraged to the perseverance in every moral and religious duty. Letters from her two friends, the Marchioness and Countess, were the only things she permitted to break in upon them, and those letters were a continual stimulation to a sense of gratitude and generosity, which she found herself called upon to exert. Whilst Matilda had thus happily reconciled her mind to her situation, her friends were enjoying the amusements that Scarborough afforded.
The Count was always the attendant on Mrs Courtney; and though his passion was as fervent as ever, and his regrets as powerful for the loss of Matilda, he could not be always in company with an amiable woman, who paid him such particular attention, without being gratified by it, and sometimes shewing those little marks of gallantry which all women expect.
The Count, though he had a more than common share of solidity and stability, with the most refined understanding and integrity of heart, yet he was still a Frenchman — still possessed a natural gaiety of heart, the greatest politeness and attention to the fair sex, and sometimes fell into the hyperbolical compliments so natural to his countrymen, when addressing the ladies. Mrs Courtney, too ready to believe every thing to be as she wished, gave him every encouragement, and contrived frequently to draw him into situations and expressions which were rather equivocal, but by which he meant nothing, though the lady thought otherwise.
They had been near three weeks at Scarborough; the ladies had heard twice from Matilda, but as she requested her name might never be mentioned to the Count, but from necessity, they only answered his eager enquiries, by saying she was well, and appeared to be much pleased with her situation. He saw there was a reserve in their manner, and justly supposed it owing to her restrictions: he did justice to her greatness of mind, which only served to increase his love and regrets.
One morning Mrs Courtney, entering the Marchioness’s dressing-room, flung herself into a chair, ‘Bless me! said she, ‘what shall I do with your friend, the Count? he has drawn me into a pretty scrape — I never intended marrying again, but he is so pressing, so irresistible —’ ‘Who,’ cried the Marchioness, surprised, ‘the Count? he pressing?’ ‘Why, yes,’ answered she; ‘surely you must have observed his particular devoirs for some time past.’ ‘Not I, upon my honour,’ answered the Marchioness; Â‘I never supposed his attentions to you wore the face of particularity.’ ‘Then you can have observed nothing,’ said she, peevishly. ‘Pray, what think you, my dear madam?’ turning to the Countess. ‘Upon my word, I am equally surprised,’ replied she; ‘but if you can settle the matter agreeably between yourselves, I shall certainly rejoice at it, because I am very sure Matilda will keep her resolution, in refusing his addresses.’
Those last words, which were spoken undesignedly, piqued Mrs Courtney a good deal. ‘I do not think ’tis of much consequence,’ said she, haughtily, ‘whether she keeps her resolution or not; — I believe by this time he is very sensible of the impropriety of his offer — but I forget, I appointed him to meet me at a friend’s, in the next street — bon jour, ladies,’ said she, with a forced gaiety, and ran out of the room, leaving them looking at each other with astonishment.
‘Can this be Mrs Courtney?’ cried the Countess, ‘my God, what a change!’ ‘But is there, can there, be any truth,’ said the Marchioness, ‘in the Count’s attentions?’ ‘Heaven knows,’ said she, ‘but if it is so, I shall never depend upon man again.’
Some company coming in, prevented further conversation; but at dinner, when they all met, the ladies observed the Count appeared to be thoughtful and uneasy, Mrs Courtney gay and lively, Lord Delby rather attentive to both; in short, it was the first dinner in which the party seemed collected within themselves, and forgot their friends, except Mrs Courtney, who behaved with remarkable politeness and sweetness to all.
When the ladies retired to the drawing-room, the Count addressed the Marquis in the following manner. ‘I believe, my dear Sir, you are sufficiently acquainted with me, to know that I am equally incapable of a dishonourable thought or action to any one, much less towards a lady for whom I entertain the highest respect, and the sister of my hospitable entertainer.’ ‘For heaven’s sake,’ cried the Marquis, ‘what is all this — who dares accuse you?’ ‘A misapprehension only, I hope,Â’ said the Count, in a calm tone, ‘not an accusation. Both you and all our friends are perfectly acquainted with my attachment to the amiable Matilda — an attachment,Â’ added he, raising his voice, ‘that will be as lasting as my life, for I never shall love any other woman.But unhappily the respect and attentions I have paid to the merits of Mrs Courtney, have been misconceived; I have been upbraided with seeking to gain her affections, and with having given colour to suppose mine were also devoted to her: the highest respect, nay, even admiration of her many amiable qualities, I have undoubtedly expressed, but not one word beyond what friendship would warrant, from a man who made no scruple to own his love for another, though perhaps that other never can be his. My heart, my honour, does not reproach me with the least duplicity or mean design. Can you, my dear Marquis, from the whole tenor of my conduct, suppose I could be a trifling coxcomb, much less a deliberate villain, for I must hold any man as such who could seek to gain the affections of an amiable woman, to gratify his vanity only?Â’ Â‘I am equally surprised and concerned,’ said the Marquis, ‘that such misapprehensions should have taken place —’ ‘And I,’ interrupted Lord Delby, ‘equally displeased and mortified, at being made a party in the business; but there is no accounting for the vanity of women, and how very readily they entertain ideas they wish to indulge. I am very sorry, Count, I have been drawn into this foolish affair, for I observed at first it was very unaccountable, that a man should make his court to one woman, and avowedly profess his admiration of another; I shall however talk to my sister, and I beg the subject may drop and go no further.Â’ ‘I feel myself extremely at a loss how to behave,’ said the Count; ‘I think I had better leave Scarborough.’ ‘By no means,’ said his Lordship, hastily; ‘behave as usual to Mrs Courtney, in public, but avoid tÃªte-Ã -tÃªtes; — if she is wise, she will herself approve this method, to escape observation.’
The Count reluctantly submitted, knowing after what had passed, he must appear very awkward in his civilities, which had been so misconceived.
They attended the ladies in the drawing-room, and it being proposed to go to the theatre, the Count, as usual, offered his hand to Mrs Courtney, though with a look of confusion and reserve; she accepted it with a polite and tender air.
Lord Delby, not knowing she had exposed herself to the ladies, requested the Marquis would not mention the affair to them.
The evening passed off very well, and at supper they were more cheerful and talkative than usual. The following day however Mrs Courtney appeared with a new face; she looked pensive and unhappy, complained of a pain in her breast, ate little, sighed frequently, and in short, engaged that particular attention we naturally pay to those we love, and see indisposed. The Count looked the image of despair; he addressed her one moment, with an air of tenderness, the next he studiously seemed to avoid her; his behaviour was unequal, confused, and evidently perplexed. Things continued in this state for some days — Mrs Courtney more melancholy, the Count more distressed; when one day, as they were at table, the Marquis received an express from London. Every one was alarmed; it came from the German Ambassador, requesting the Marquis would instantly come to town, the Count of Wolfenbach being there dangerously ill, and desirous of making all possible reparation to the Countess.
This news suspended all the new schemes. The Countess could scarcely be kept alive; she was apprehensive of some fresh plots, and dreaded the idea of being again within his power. ‘Fear not, madam,’ cried Lord Delby; ‘the monster shall never see you without your friends to protect you.’ ‘Besides, sister,’ urged the Marchioness, ‘the Ambassador is himself a pledge of your safety, and tells us he is dangerously ill — perhaps the poor wretch cannot die in peace without your pardon.’ ‘O, my God!’ said she, starting up, ‘let me go this instant! — alas! he has need of forgiveness; his crimes are great, yet if they were the consequence of his love for me, ’tis my duty to speak peace and pardon; grant heaven!’ cried she, lifting up her hands, ‘I may not come too late! I will set off this very hour.’ ‘Be composed, my dear sister,’ said the Marquis, ‘we will go this evening; the Marchioness and I will attend you.’ ‘And I,’ exclaimed the Count. ‘We will all accompany you,’ said Lord Delby. ‘Ah! my Lord,’ answered the Countess, ‘why should I so suddenly call you from the amusements of this place: you proposed staying three months, we have only been here a little better than one.’ ‘Wherever my friends are,’ replied Lord Delby, ‘is to me the desirable place; I have no local attachments without their presence; and I dare answer for my sister, she has no objections, as I think the air of Scarborough has been of little use to her health.’ ‘You judge very right, my Lord, I shall certainly accompany our friends,’ said she, in a languid tone, adding, ‘their happiness must constitute mine.’
The Count, who took every thing literally which betrayed generosity of sentiment, could not help saying, Â‘Â’Tis impossible to doubt Mrs Courtney’s concurrence in every scheme productive of pleasure to those she honors with her esteem.’ This compliment made her eyes dance with pleasure.
Their women were called and desired to set about packing immediately. Every thing was hurried on, and at five the next morning they were all on their return to London.
About a week previous to this Matilda received a letter from an unknown hand, and without a name, signifying that the Count De Bouville was paying his addresses to Mrs Courtney; that he was extremely fond of her, but that she hesitated on account of his vows to Matilda, which made him very unhappy.
She read this letter with composure — she felt some pangs at her heart, she tried to overcome them: ‘Why should I be uneasy,’ said she, ‘have not I wished the Count might make a suitable alliance? — did I not release him from his vows? Alas! I have neither claims nor expectations — let him marry, I can then renounce the world, and settle here for life — when lost to him I have only this asylum to bury myself in for ever.’ The tears would flow, but she quickly dried them. ‘From whence this sorrow,’ said she again, ‘had I any hopes? O, no! all is despair and bitterness on my side, but I will rejoice in the happiness of the amiable Count, whatever befalls myself.’
Within three days after this, she received a letter from Mrs Courtney; these were the contents:
MY DEAR MISS MATILDA.
Honour, sentiment, and generosity impel me to address you; I am well acquainted with the nobleness of your heart, and can confide in its integrity. You have refused the Count De Bouville, publicly refused him: was there a shadow of hope you ever could be his, I would have been silent; but as I deem that impossible, I trust to your generosity and fortitude, when I tell you, he has for some time past paid his addresses to me, with the warm approbation of all our friends. I at first made objections on your account; he pleaded, you had publicly rejected him; and, as I did not feel satisfied, he offered to write you, and procure his release but knowing men have great duplicity, when they wish to carry a point, I declined his offer and chose to write myself; and I conjure you, my dear Matilda, to believe I will not consent to what he calls his happiness, without your permission. If you have any hopes or expectations; if you think his love may ever return to you, and that different situations may give a countenance to his addresses, and admit of your claims upon him, depend upon it I will dismiss him, however unhappy he may be; for I would not wound your peace, by acceding to his wishes, be the consequence what it may. Your friends, who are mine also, choose to be entirely silent on the subject; nor will they take notice of it, until settled between you and me. Look on me as your friend, dear Matilda — be explicit — do not consider the Count or myself; speak your wishes, your hopes, and be assured that your felicity is my first wish, whatever it may cost me. I am my dear Matilda’s sincere friend And obedient servant.
Prepared as Matilda had been, by the anonymous letter, to expect such intelligence, no words can express her feelings at receiving this letter; overcome with grief, she retired to her apartment and gave loose to the painful emotions that oppressed her. After a little time she grew more composed: ‘Is a heart like his worth regretting?’ cried she. ‘Could he, if his love had been founded on esteem, so soon have offered his addresses to another? O, no! it was only a transient affection, not imprinted on the heart, but vanished with my person: how fortunate then our hands were not joined; how miserable should I have found myself, if united for life to so fickle a disposition.’
Whilst this impression was strong upon her, she took up her pen and wrote the following answer: DEAR MADAM, Accept, I beseech you, my warmest acknowledgements for your very friendly and obliging letter: your candid communications and consideration for my peace, I feel in the most sensible manner; but I beg leave to assure you, madam, neither my happiness nor peace depend now upon the Count De Bouville. I shall always think myself obliged for the affection he offered me, but as it is impossible we should ever meet on those terms, I hope reason has entirely subdued an improper sentiment, and if we ever should meet again, which is not likely, we shall behold each other with the indifference of common acquaintances. I am exceedingly happy here, and, if at the expiration of the twelvemonth Mr Weimar allowed me, my friends will accede to my wishes, and permit my stay in this convent, I trust I shall be happy for the remainder of my life. I hope this will prove satisfactory to your very friendly offers respecting the Count, who has my sincerest wishes for his happiness, with any other woman but her who is, my dear madam, Your much obliged humble servant, MATILDA .
After she had sealed and sent off this letter her spirits grew more tranquillised; she tried to conquer her feelings, and consider only the fickleness of men’s dispositions. ‘Yet why should I upbraid him,’ thought she; ‘he has a family, a name to support, and ought to marry: Mrs Courtney is amiable, has a large independent fortune, respectable friends, and a noble origin to boast of; — what am I in a comparative view with her? Ah!’ cried she, bursting into tears, ‘the retrospection humbles and subdues both my pride and regret: what have I to do but to submit to the lowly state I am placed in, and bless at a distance those generous spirits that have enabled me to procure such an asylum as this.’
Mother Magdalene entered as she was wiping the tears from her cheeks; taking her hand affectionately between hers, ‘My dear young lady, why those tears? spare me the pain of seeing you unhappy; remember this is but a short and transitory life; our pilgrimage through it is painful, no doubt thorns are strewed in our paths, sorrows planted in our bosoms; but if planted and strewed by others, where is the sting to afflict our own hearts? Believe me, dear lady, reason can subdue every affliction but what arises from a condemnation within; with a self-approving conscience we can look forward with hope; and if turbulent and ungracious spirits are too powerful for us to contend with here, we can trust to our Heavenly Father, that our sufferings and patience will meet with a recompence hereafter, far superior to the brightest expectations that can be formed in this life.’ ‘My dear friend and comforter,Â’ said Matilda, kissing her hand, ‘be you my monitress if I grieve for temporal evils; yet, alas! my misfortunes are not common ones.’ ‘You think so,’ answered Mother Magdalene; ‘we are all apt to magnify our own troubles, and think them superior to what others feel; but, my dear child, you are yet a novice in affliction; when you know more of the world you will know also that there are varieties of misery which assail the human frame — and ’tis our own feelings that constitute great part of our distress.’
Matilda sighed, and after a little pause, ‘That I may not appear impatient, nor grieved at trifles, I will unbosom myself to you, and perhaps from you obtain that consolation I have hitherto sought in vain.’
She then related every part of her story, except the name of the Countess and situation of the castle.
Her gentle friend sympathized with her, and confessed, for so young a woman, her trials were very great. ‘But still, my dear lady,’ said she, ‘I bid you hope; you have a Father and Protector, trust in him, and you will one day assuredly be happy. Another time you shall know my sad story, and will then confess, of the two, I have been most wretched; and, though I cannot entirely exclude a painful remembrance sometimes, yet I am now comparatively happy — my troubles no longer exist, and religion has restored peace to my mind. Adieu, my dear child — take hope to your bosom and compose your spirit.’ ‘Yes,’ cried Matilda, ‘I will at least try to conquer one cause of my distress, and in destroying this fatal letter of Mrs Courtney’s, lose all remembrance of the Count: surely after having so solemnly renounced him, I have no right either to complain of him or grieve for myself — Â’tis an unpardonable folly, for every way he is dead to me.’ She threw the letter into the fire and walked into the garden.
In the evening she received another visit from her good mother, who was much pleased to see her so tranquil. Matilda reminded her of her promise to relate her history.
‘My story, my dear child, is not a long one, but replete with many melancholy circumstances. My father was a merchant at Dunkirk; he married a very amiable woman, and had a numerous family — five girls and four boys; few people lived more respectable than they did, but they were not rich; a large family, liberal minds, and hearts always disposed to relieve the wants of others, precluded affluence, though they had a decent competence. The failure of a very capital house in England, with whom my father was materially connected, obliged him to go over, without loss of time; he embarked from Dunkirk. Alas! My dear child, we saw him no more! A storm overtook them, as ’tis supposed, and all on board perished, for the packet was never but once seen or heard of after. When this dreadful news arrived, my mother was weeping over a letter just received from a friend in London, with the intelligence, that the house which had failed could not pay a shilling in the pound, and from some particular connexions between them and my father, all his effects would be seized, and he was likewise declared, or included in the bankruptcy. One of those unhappy gossiping persons, fond of telling every thing, without considering the consequences, called upon my mother, as she was in an agony over the contents of this letter; Â“Ah! My dear madam,” cried she, “I see you have received the fatal news?” “Yes,” answered my mother, wringing her hands, “we are all undone for ever!” “But who,” said she again, “could write you about it, for only the boat that is just come in saw the packet go down.” “What packet?” cried my mother, starting. “Why the packet your good husband was in.”
‘She heard no more, but fell senseless on the floor. I had been out upon business, and entered the room just as this officious newsmonger and the servants were trying to raise and recover my wretched parent. A stranger to all the circumstances I was frightened to death almost, and teased every one to know what had happened; no one answered. It was some time before she was brought to life. With a look of horror I shall never forget, she cried, “Hermine, you have no longer a father, a friend, nor a home!” “Great God!” I exclaimed, “what is all this?” “’Tis misery in extreme,” said she, still with a fixed look and a dry eye; “your father is drowned, and I hourly expect every thing to be seized.Well,” cried she, rather wildly, “let it be complete! Ruin should not come by degrees.” Two or three of the younger children came into the room; the moment she saw them she gave a violent shriek and fell into convulsions. Scarce in my senses, I flew about the house, and by my screams drew several persons to me. We got my mother up to her apartment, a physician was sent for, but it was many hours before she was restored; she lay three days at the point of death, the fourth the fever abated, and hopes were entertained of her life. This day a person came and took possession of the house and all our effects. By the interposition of a friend we were allowed to remain in it ten days. Judge, my dear young friend, what must have been my situation; a father dead, a mother scarcely alive, our whole property seized — eight children younger than myself, I only fifteen, and all unprovided for — obliged to be the comforter, the supporter of all.
‘Out of the numerous set of acquaintances we had, two only appeared as friends in our distress; one an old gentleman of small fortune, the other a young merchant, who had for some months paid particular attention to me, young as I was. These two persons interested themselves a good deal for us. My mother grew better, but her nerves were so shattered, that a kind of partial palsy took effect upon her speech, she spoke thick and scarcely intelligible; a sort of convulsive cry succeeded every attempt to talk; in short, her situation was most truly deplorable. Within a few days we were removed to the house of the old gentleman, without any one thing we could call our own, but clothes. This good and worthy man placed out my sisters in a convent, put my brothers to school, raised a subscription for their support, his own fortune being insufficient to maintain us all, and in fine, did every thing a father and friend could do, for the whole family. Not one of my mother’s former gay acquaintance ever concerned themselves about her; she was poor and afflicted with sickness, “they could not bear to see a woman they esteemed in so miserable a situation, and therefore were obliged to give her up”. Oh! My dear lady, of all the worldly evils that can befall us, surely there is nothing so painful to support as the ingratitude and contumely of those who once thought themselves honoured in your acquaintance: mere butterflies of the day! They bask in the sunshine of your prosperity, but when night shuts in and sorrows assail you, they fly elsewhere, in search of those sweets you can no longer afford them, and despise what they once coveted and admired. Young, at that time, almost a stranger to mankind, I felt indignation and astonishment when I met any of our former friends — friends! Let me not profane the name of friendship! I mean intimates and companions; my civilities were repressed with scorn; my appearance glanced over with a look of contempt, and “poor souls, they are supported by charity, I pity them to my heart”, said aloud in my hearing, with features expressive of every thing but pity.
‘I will not dwell on things so common as ingratitude and hardness of heart; stings which you, my young friend, have never yet experienced — heaven grant you never may, for ’tis a bitter cup to taste of. We lived in the manner I have described for near eight months, my poor mother so ill and helpless I could not leave her. The young gentleman I have mentioned payed me the same attention, and scrupled not to acquaint our good friend, it was his design, in a short time, to make me his wife. “If you do,” said he, one day, “you shall have a father’s blessing with her when I die; whilst I live I will support the children: but Hermine is a good girl — she who can, at her time of life, give herself up to the care of a sick parent, and find delight in her duty, will make a good wife.”
‘One morning, when the old gentleman was in my mother’s room, he was suddenly seized with an apoplexy and dropped senseless from his chair: my screams soon brought assistance — a surgeon was sent for; — alas! he was gone for ever. My mother was, in consequence of her fright, taken in a shivering fit, which in a few moments turned to a stroke of the palsy, and deprived her entirely of speech and the use of her limbs on the left side. That I preserved my senses at such a time, was wonderful. I sent for my lover, in an agony no words can describe; the news flew through the town, and two or three of our late friend’s relations hastened to the house; they were rich and wanted nothing, however they began to assume an air of authority, when my lover interfered, told them he was convinced there was a will, and that I was the appointed heir. This enraged them greatly; the will was eagerly called for, and by all parties earnestly sought for: alas! no such thing was to be found. The unfeeling women ordered me to remove my mother and my trumpery the following morning. My lover was almost beside himself with vexation and disappointment: I was stupid with sorrow; I hung over my almost lifeless parent, without speaking, and unable to shed a tear. After some time, those women quitted the room, leaving orders with a woman servant, to watch me, that I took nothing but my own, and to take care I quitted their house next day. When they were gone, this poor woman in circumstances, but rich (oh! how much richer than her employers!) in goodness of heart, approached the bed, and, gently raising me, she gave me some drops and water that rouzed me from the stupor which had seized upon my faculties, when, looking round the room for my departed friend, and then on my helpless parent, I burst into a flood of tears. “Thank God!” said the good creature, “that you can weep: don’t be unhappy, my dear Miss, Providence will provide for you: I have a sister, who lives in a very humble style indeed, and keeps a little shop; her husband was formerly an under clerk to your father; he loves the whole family dearly, and I dare say, if you will condescend to stay under their mean roof Â‘till you are better suited, they will wait upon you with joy.” “Ah! where is Mr. —?” meaning my lover. “I know not, madam,” answered she, “but I think he followed the ladies.” “Good heavens!” I cried, “could he leave me under such a complication of horrid circumstances; this is bitterness indeed, if deserted by him — but it cannot be — he is doubtless gone to fetch a physician.” In this vain hope I passed several hours, no lover, no physician appeared; I was in a state of distraction: the servant sent for her sister and brother; they came, and offered me their services with a heartiness which spoke their sincerity. I was incapable of determining; I sent to my lover, “he was particularly engaged, but would see me some time tomorrow”. “O, let me begone!” cried I, in a frenzy, “I will take my dear mother in my arms — we will die together.” With difficulty they separated me from her: the dear saint was sensible, though incapable of speaking; her eyes told me all she felt — O! the expression in them can never be forgotten — what a night was that! In the morning my dear mother was put into a kind of litter, and we were conveyed to the humble dwelling of this charitable pair. She was laid in a decent bed and dropped a sleep: I was kneeling at the side of it when the door opened, and the man who called himself my lover appeared before me. I felt undescribeable emotions; he took my hand, and placing me in a chair, still unable to speak, he said, “I came to you, my love, the first moment of leisure; last night I was engaged; but you shall not stay in this poor place, I will take a decent lodging for you and your mother, and will be answerable for all expences; I will daily be your visitor, and I hope in a little time you will recover your spirits.” At first my heart bounded with joy at his kindness; then again I thought there was a something wrong, though I hardly knew what; at last, “I think,” replied I, ‘that I ought not to put you to such great expences, nor would it be proper you should maintain me, unless —” There I stopped. “Unless what?” said he, earnestly. “Unless I had a claim to your protection,” said I, blushing. “I will be very sincere with you, my dear Hermine: had your old friend performed his promise, and left you his fortune, though but a small one, I would have married you; but I am young, and only entering into life; a wife without a fortune, a mother in such a situation, and a family of young relations would soon ruin me, and of course you: I must prove my love another way; an old rich widow has been recommended to me; I will marry her; I shall then be enabled to support you all in affluence, and have no ill consequences to dread. What say you, my dearest Hermine, may I hope your sentiments concur with mine?” You will wonder, my dear child, at my patience and silence during this proposal; in truth I wondered at myself; heaven, no doubt, supported me, and gave me, at that trying moment, superior resolution. “Of my opinion, Sir, and of the sentiments you have avowed, you must collect my thoughts, when I tell you, that so far from living a life of obligation with such a man, were you this moment possessed of millions, and would offer to marry me, I would prefer poverty and want — I would starve, with this dear insulted woman, before I could condescend to marry a man of such infamous principles! — Leave me, Sir, for ever; presume not to enter the habitation of virtuous poverty, and blush at your own littleness, when you enjoy the house of wealth and magnificence.” He attempted to speak. “I hear you no longer, Sir; you are more mean and contemptible in my eyes than the poorest reptile that crawls upon the earth.Â” I stampt with my foot, and Mrs BoutÃ© came up. I never saw a countenance so expressive of wonder and disappointment when she entered. “I am sorry to say, madam, you do not know your best friends; but should your mind alter upon consideration, you know where to find me, and I shall be always happy to attend your commands.” I gave him no answer, but a look of contempt, and he left the room.
‘The spirit and indignation which had supported me through this scene, now subsided; I shed a flood of tears. I saw no one being to whom I could look up with any hope or prospect of comfort. Mrs BoutÃ©, who sympathized with me, said, “Ah! madam, if Madame De Raikfort, if Madame De Creponier were acquainted with your sorrows, I am sure you would find friends; they always assist the unfortunate, and particularly persons like you, born to higher expectations.” I took my resolution immediately; I wrote to both, describing my past and present situation. From the latter lady I received an almost immediate visit: she condoled with me; she entered into my concerns with a kindness and delicacy peculiar to herself, as I then thought; I knew not that the principles of charity and benevolence were the same in every well informed mind and good heart. I received the same kind attentions from the other family: Madame De Raikfort sent me every comfort and convenience I could want for my poor mother. In short, to those good ladies I was indebted for my chief support during her existence. A fortnight, exactly, from the death of our good old friend, she expired. There was no apparent alteration Â‘till within a few hours of her death; and she went off without a sigh or groan. Though the shock was dreadful, yet I had so long expected it, and in her melancholy situation it was rather to be wished for, that I found myself, though grieved at my irreparable loss, yet rejoiced that she escaped from the evils of this life, to awake in a blessed immortality. The benevolent ladies I have mentioned, did not forsake me; they paid the last sad duties to my parent; they undertook to educate and place my younger brothers and sisters to get their living decently; they asked what were my views and wishes? I frankly answered, “To be a nun.” Had I any choice of a convent? I named this; a young lady, a friend of my juvenile days, previous to my misfortunes, had professed here. The ladies told me I should enter upon my noviciate, but on no terms to be persuaded to assume the veil; it was by no means their wish; and the first summons from me they would take me out and provide for me in the world: that they rather complied with my wishes than their own inclinations — which would be more gratified in my residence with them. I thanked my generous benefactresses, but persisted in my desire of quitting the world. The day before I intended leaving Dunkirk, I received a letter from my quondam lover, expressing regret for his behaviour, and an unequivocal offer of marriage. I put his letter under a cover, with these lines: “The man who presumes to insult the feelings of a virtuous female, and when he fails in his purpose, condescends to solicit pardon, and offers to raise that ill-treated woman to a level with himself, lowers her more, by such an offer, than the bitterest poverty can inflict: but the person to whom this letter is addressed is fortunately beyond the reach of insult or indigence; she therefore rejects the proposal with her whole heart, and with the highest contempt.”
‘Having seen my brothers and sisters safe under the protection of those worthy ladies, and received from them every pecuniary assistance I could want, with letters of warm recommendation I arrived here; and here, in a short time, recovered tranquillity and ease: leaving nothing in the world to regret, I studied the duties of my situation, and, at the expiration of the time allowed to consider, I gave my decided choice of a monastic life, and took the veil. I hear often from my generous friends. Two of my sisters are well married; the rest of my family have every prospect of success. Now, my dear young lady, I have related my history, tell me candidly, have your troubles ever equalled mine?’
‘Oh! no,’ cried Matilda; Â‘I am ashamed of my own impatience and inquietude. Good heavens! if such are the evils to be expected in life; if misfortunes are so frequent, ingratitude and malignancy so prevalent, men so abandoned, and the good and benevolent alloted so small a share in the proportion of the world, the only asylum for the unfortunate is a convent.Â’Â‘Not always,Â’ answered Mother Magdalene;Â‘there are situations and difficulties in life, from which even the unfortunate may extract hope and comfort: yours is such: ’tis possible you have parents still living, who may one day fold you to their bosoms; ’tis likewise not impossible you may one day be united to the man you prefer. In short, your situation is not hopeless, like mine: I saw the downfall of every expectation I could form, and had no one hope or engagement to the world; you have many: you have no right to dispose of your future destiny, whilst there is the least probable chance you may be reclaimed. Reside here as a boarder, my dear child; but under your doubtful circumstances, never take the veil, for the mind should be entirely disengaged from all worldly hopes, before it can renounce it properly.Â’
From this day Matilda grew entirely resigned; she derived wisdom and comfort from her good mother’s conversation, nor suffered anticipation of evils to disturb her serenity.
The Scarborough party were now arrived in London. The Marquis immediately waited on the Ambassador. His Excellency told him the Count Wolfenbach was alive, but past all hopes of recovery. Â‘He knows you are hourly expected, and is anxious to see you.’
The Marquis, taking his address in Dover-street, hastened thither and sent up his name. He waited some time for the servant’s return, at length he was desired to walk up, and on entering the room, scarce could he trace any recollection of the object in the bed before him. It was some years since he had seen the Count; he was not then young; but age, anxiety, and conscious guilt, with the disorder that now oppressed him, had indeed greatly altered him. When the Marquis drew near, he was for a moment silent; then, addressing him, ‘I am told, my Lord, you requested my presence.’ ‘I did,’ replied the Count. ‘Pray, is your sister with you?’ ‘Not in the house,’ answered the Marquis, ‘but she is in town, and will soon attend, if it is your wish to see her.’ ‘Yes,’ said the Count, ‘let her come; I can tell my story but once, ’tis fit she should be present.’ The Marquis instantly dispatched a messenger for his wife and sister. In the interim the Count desired to be informed in what manner the Countess effected her escape through the wood and got to England. The Marquis recounted every particular. ‘There was a fate in it, no doubt,’ said the Count; ‘Providence intervened, to prevent me from the commission of crime I intended, and preserved her life.’
Word was brought up that the Countess and Marchioness were below. They were desired to enter. When they came into the room the Countess involuntarily shrunk back. ‘Approach, madam, do not fear; the discovery is now made, and in a very short time I shall have nothing to hope for, nor you any thing to dread.’ The Countess advanced, trembling, and seated herself by the bed. ‘I now,’ said he, ‘entreat your forgiveness of all the wrongs my cruel jealousy heaped upon you; say, speak, can you pardon me? tell me that, before I begin my narrative, lest I should be cut off e’er I have finished.’ ‘I do indeed,’ replied the Countess; ‘I pardon you from my soul, and may the God of mercy pardon you likewise.’ ‘I am satisfied,’ said he, ‘and now attend to my confessions. — I was well aware, before I married, of the affection subsisting between Victoria and the Chevalier; I was not blind to the difference in our persons and ages, and hated him in proportion to the advantages in his favour. I was resolved to carry my point, to gratify both passions; her father seconded my wishes, and she became mine. From that hour I never knew a peaceful moment. I doated on her to distraction; jealousy kept pace with love. Her conduct gave me no right to complain; yet she loved me not, and I feared the Chevalier was the object of her partiality and regret. My temper, naturally impetuous and furious, grew daily worse; for what hell can give torments equal to what a jealous man feels? One day I had been at Vienna, and was informed of the Chevalier’s return: desperate and alarmed, I came home. In the Park I met Peter. He had lived some years with me; was blindly devoted to my service, and had been employed by me to watch the Countess. He told me a gentleman had been walking round the park, examining the house, and on his going to him, and enquiring who he wanted, he only asked if the Count and Countess of Wolfenbach were there; and Peter answering, yes, he walked hastily away. This information was a dagger to my soul: I resolved to carry her to my castle in Switzerland, secretly. I pursued my design. I had been there but a short time before I heard a man, disguised, had been about the grounds, who made off when any person came near him; I concluded ’twas the Chevalier, and resolved to have him watched, determined he should die; at the same time that I thought it impossible he should come at the Countess in her apartment. One day going to her room, I heard a sudden noise, found her on the floor, with a paper in her hand, and saw a figure glance from the window. I was struck with rage and astonishment. After confining and upbraiding her, as she may inform you, I closeted Peter, and by promises of present reward and future prospects, he took a solemn oath to assist in my revenge, and to be secret. We took our stand the following night by the wall, and saw him advance to climb up the battlements; we sallied out, knocked him down, bound and gagged him, and, determined to have complete revenge, we dragged him to the Countess’s apartment. Â‘Spare the repetition of what passed there,Â’ cried she; Â‘it was a scene of horror; repeat only what were your transactions out of my sight.Â‘ Â‘You shall be obeyed,Â’ answered he. Â‘It was in vain she protested innocence I gave no credit. My first intention was to murder both; and when I locked her in the closet with the dead body, I hoped terror and fright would have done my business. In the morning we heard her groans; we entered; the sight of her agonies for a moment disarmed my rage, and I consented Margarite should assist her. After she was delivered, and the curtains fastened, Peter and myself took the body and carried it to one end of the subterraneous passage, dug a hole in the earth, on one side, and threw it in. I now grew irresolute with respect to my wifeÂ’s death; my revenge cooled, but I knew it was impossible but she must hate and detest me. One day I went to her, uncertain whether to destroy her and the child or not, to prevent a discovery. She knows what followed. I felt a thousand soft emotions at the sight of the child, and both loved and hated her to madness. I resolved at last to confine her for life, and to preserve the child. Joseph, the under gardener, the only man who lived in the castle, I was obliged to confide in. I told him my wife had been detected in an intrigue, and I had intended to murder her, but she recovered of her wounds, and now I should only confine her for life. I swore him to secrecy, and vowed, if ever he betrayed her place of residence, or life, to any one, I would murder both. The poor fellow swore faithfully to obey me. The rest she can inform you.’
‘But my child! my child!’ cried the Countess, eagerly. ‘Is alive, and an officer now in the Emperor’s service.’ ‘Great God! I thank thee!’ said she, falling on her knees; ‘and in this posture, when I return thanks to my Heavenly Father, for his preservation, I also forgive and bless you, for the care of my child; may every evil deed be forgiven, and may you enjoy peace in your last moments, and everlasting happiness hereafter!’
The hard heart of the Count was softened into tears by the warmth of her expressions: he held out his hand; she kissed it, in token of peace. ‘May your prayers be heard,’ said he; ‘but I have more vices yet to confess. I took the child to Vienna, brought it up, as the son of a friend, very privately. At a certain age he was placed in the military school, and about six months ago I procured for him a commission. But to return. Once in two years I generally visited the castle. Her resignation and obedience to my orders sometimes moved me in her favour, and every visit my heart grew more and more softened; yet I dared not liberate her, her death had been so universally believed for many years; how could I account for my conduct, or her appearance, without incurring suspicions against myself? Distracted in my mind, I neither enjoyed peace nor rest; — alas! there is neither for the wicked, however we may disguise our crimes to the world however we meet with respect and approbation from mankind, the man conscious of his wickedness, with doubt and terror gnawing at his heart, is the most miserable of human beings: we may swear to secrecy, we may silence every thing but conscience — there is the sting that for ever wounds — there the monitor no bribes can suppress. Life became a burthen to me, yet I feared to die; I feared daily a discovery of my crimes; I resolved to forbear my visits, but to send Peter every six months, to gain intelligence and see all was safe. On his return from his last errand of that kind he informed me, that, calling at a woodcutter’s cottage near the castle, who knew him not, from a curiosity to hear if they were acquainted with Joseph (of whose fidelity he was always doubtful) the woman told him a story of a young lady’s coming there, being recommended to the castle; and that she had so much courage as to go to the haunted rooms, (for I had taken care to have it supposed that wing was haunted) and that very day was there several hours. Alarmed at this intelligence, Peter flew to me, then on a visit about seven leagues from the castle, frightened out of his senses. After a little consultation we resolved to go in the night, break open the doors, if locked, and murder both Victoria and Margarite, and after that fall upon some method to silence the young lady and Joseph in the same manner. We succeeded in our attempt: we dispatched Margarite, and came down to do the same by her mistress, but Providence, who counteracts the designs of wicked men, and turns those very measures we take to secure ourselves to our destruction, suggested to me to take her into the wood and destroy her, that Joseph, if he came in the morning, might think it was a gang of banditti who had carried them off; for which reason, I thought my being concerned would never be suspected. This foolish concerted scheme we pursued; the Countess remembers I was thrown from my horse, and she took that opportunity to escape. When I recovered my senses I found I had some bruises on my head and shoulder. I looked round, “Where, where is the Countess?” “Ah!” cried Peter, “I fear we are undone; the horse flew away with her as I alighted, and your horse also run off.” “Villain!” I cried, “find her this moment, or I will murder you.” “’Tis impossible to pursue her on foot; ’tis most likely she may be dashed to pieces in the wood; mean time, Sir, creep, if possible, to the town, have some assistance; I will borrow another horse and make all possible search.” I had no alternative; distracted with pain and horror, I got with difficulty to the town, and was put to bed very ill. Peter rode off immediately; he was wanting a day and a night: I suffered a thousand tortures: I began to think he had betrayed me. ’Tis the curse attendent on villains always to be suspicious of each other: for what vows or ties can bind a man you know would commit the most atrocious crimes for money. In my conjectures, however, I wronged Peter; he returned. He had searched the wood, and every part of the adjacent neighbourhood, without gaining any intelligence, but that two or three persons had seen a horse saddled, galloping furiously in the wood: he had called at the cottage — nothing had transpired there. In short, we began to hope, as our only security, that she was killed some where in the road, and the body carried away by passengers. In a few days I got well, determined to visit the castle, and either destroy Joseph, or decoy him away to some remote place. In short, my schemes were so many and unsettled by fear that I fixed on no positive plan. We arrived at the castle; we saw no appearance of any lady; but Peter, taking an opportunity to speak to Bertha, was informed there had been a lady, but she had left them three or four days. This was another stroke: the lady, we knew, had seen the Countess; she might betray the secret, where could she be gone, or who was she? Peter enquired again, Bertha knew only that she talked of going to Paris. We were now distracted; the sword seemed suspended over our heads, and we every moment feared detection. That night we met in the Countess’s apartments and searched thoroughly; in a drawer we found a purse with some money, and a paper signed Matilda, giving an account of sundry articles taken from the drawers. This convinced us we had reasons for our apprehensions: the death of Joseph would rid us of one witness — I secretly determined to destroy another. We went to the town the following morning — I procured from the different medical persons some laudanum. We agreed the best way would be to get Joseph and his wife to my other castle, and destroy them there, where they were unknown. I deceived Peter by this foolish scheme, having taken a different resolution. I told him we would return that night to the castle, take the remaining valuables, money, & co., which should all be his, previous to our departure. He joyfully consented. I took an opportunity to give him the opium in the evening; by the time we got to the apartment he grew very heavy, and during his search among the drawers, dropped down in a heavy sleep; I put him upon the bed, fastened every window and door, set fire to the curtains and counterpane, and went out, locking the door after me; I then hastily proceeded to the wood-house which joined Joseph’s kitchen, and soon had that in a blaze; bringing some dry stubble, I lighted it against the door and window shutters, and seeing the whole take fire in both wings, I went to the stable, took my own horse, which was there fastened up, ready saddled, as we left them, and riding off to the town, went to the inn I had been ill at, and waited patiently for news. Within a few hours I was called up: my castle was discovered by some wood-cutters to be in flames, and before assistance could be procured was entirely destroyed. I pretended great vexation and distress; rode to the spot; it was a dreadful sight; my soul shuddered — I was in agony. The people imputed it to a different cause. I asked, had nobody seen Joseph nor his wife. No, was the general answer, and the fire imputed to their carelessness. Some of the neighbouring gentlemen rode over; every one condoled with me, and offered me accommodations; I returned with the gentleman to whom I had first been on a visit. When retired to my apartment, a retrospection of all my crimes forced themselves on my remembrance. I tried to sleep, alas! there was no sleep befriended me; ten thousand horrid images swam before my sight; I threw myself out of bed; it was moonlight; my room commanded a view of the distant wood, I shrunk at the sight — there lies my wretched wife! then the Chevalier, Joseph, Bertha, and Peter, all seemed to walk before me; great God! what were my sufferings that night, never to be effaced from my memory. When day-light came, I went down stairs to the garden; here I first thought of destroying myself — my boy shot across my mind — I took my resolution at once. I set off that day for Vienna. On my arrival I sent for Frederic, and after some preparation acknowledged him as my son, acquainted him his mother died in child-bed, and I had particular reasons, immaterial to him, for not owning him sooner; I made my will, secured my whole fortune to him, by proper testimonials, that I acknowledged him my son, and then resolved to retire from the world, repent of my sins, and try to make my peace with heaven. All Vienna was astonished at my resolution; my son sought every argument to divert me from my purpose, his tenderness, goodness, and virtue were daggers to my heart; I fell very ill, and earnestly prayed for the hour of death; heaven thought fit to spare me, that I might receive some comfort before the fatal hour arrived. I began to get better, though weak and declining, when, to my inexpressible surprise, I received a letter from our Minister in England, with a brief account of the Countess, the deposition of the Marquis, and requesting I would acknowledge the lady, and not permit such black transactions to appear before the public as the Countess said she had the power of disclosing. At first I thought this letter was all illusion; but when I considered the possibility of her escape from death, and the application of the Marquis to the Ambassador, I was convinced the whole was founded on truth. What a mountain was taken from my bosom! I wrote immediately, I would follow the letter. In three days my strength mended greatly, yet I was obliged to take very easy journies, and by the time I arrived in England fatigue had quite exhausted me. His Excellency sent off an express to you. I now thank heaven that both you and Joseph are alive, and adore the ways of Providence, who extracts good out of evil, and made the very crimes I intended to perpetrate the means of deliverance to you both. The death of the unfortunate Chevalier I bitterly repent, and can only observe here, that when a man gives himself up to unrestrained passions of what nature soever, one vicious indulgence leads to another, crimes succeed each other, and to veil one, and avoid discoveries, we are drawn insensibly to the commission of such detestable actions as once we most abhorred the idea of: for, although my temper was not good, and my passions always violent, had not love and jealousy urged me to desperation, and deprived me of reason, my soul would have shrunk at the thoughts of murders, which grew at last necessary for my preservation.Â’
Here the Count stopped, exhausted and fatigued; indeed he had made several pauses in his relation, from weakness, and it was very visible he had not many days to live.
The Countess could not restrain her tears. ‘Ah!’ said she, ‘I have been the unhappy cause of all —’ ‘Do not reproach yourself,’ cried he, hastily; ‘I am now convinced of your innocence; indeed I long believed it, even when I designed your death the second time; only innocence could have supported you to bear my cruelties, and your horrid confinement with resignation: I knew too well the terrors of guilt; for let not the unhappy wretch, who forgets his duties towards God and man, who gives himself up to the indulgence of his passions, and wrongs the innocent, think, if he escapes detection, he can be happy: alas! remorse and sorrow will one day assail him; he will find he cannot hide his crimes from himself, and his own conscience will prove his bitterest punishment.’
The Countess extremely rejoiced to find him so sensible of his guilt, said every thing in her power to ease and calm his mind.
After he had a little recovered, he turned to the Marquis. ‘I sent for you, my Lord, not only to hear my confession, but to direct me in what manner I must do my wife justice; if it be your pleasure, I will repeat my story, or at least assent to a drawn up confession before witnesses.’ ‘By no means,’ answered the Marquis; ‘it will be perfectly sufficient if one part of the story, nearly what relates to her confinement, so as to authenticate her person, is related.’ After some consultation the Marquis attended the German Minister. A paper was drawn up, signifying the jealousy of the Count, without naming any particular object, in consequence of which he shut up his lady in the castle, after her delivery, and gave out a report of her death; that he had brought up her son, now an officer, who was lately acquainted with his real birth, and to whom his estates were secured: that the lady, after many years confinement, had found means to escape to her brother and sister, with whom she resided. The Count having accidentally heard of her residence, was come to England, with a view to obtain her pardon and do her justice; that he acknowledged her innocence in the strongest terms, and desired, in case of his death, she might enjoy every advantage settled on her, when married to him, in the fullest extent.
This paper was signed in presence of the Ambassador, his Chaplain, and all the friends of the Countess — Lord Delby among the rest.
Not a word was said relative to the Chevalier, Margarite, or Peter: the former had been so many years given up, as dead by his relations, though they never guessed in what manner he died, that it would have been the height of cruelty to have awakened sorrow so long dormant, had it ever been necessary, but as no such occasion appeared to demand an investigation, every thing relative to him and the other victims was buried in oblivion.
The Count survived nearly a week after their arrival in town, and then expired with more resignation and composure than could have been hoped for. Two days previous to his death he wrote to his son a few lines, referring him to the testimony he had given the Countess, and requesting he would, by his duty and tenderness, atone for the cruelties of his father; bid him remember the awful lesson placed before him, and restrain those passions, the indulgence of which had brought sorrow and shame on his guilty parent, whom, nevertheless, he had the comfort to tell him was a truly penitent one. The Marquis, taking upon him to direct every thing for preserving the body, and having it carried into Germany within a fortnight, a few days after the necessary orders were completed, told the Countess he thought it highly proper she should go in person to make her claim. She, who was impatient to see and embrace her son, received the proposition with joy. The Marchioness, Lord Delby, and Mrs Courtney accepted an invitation to accompany her with pleasure. The former had written to Matilda the late unexpected and agreeable turn in the affairs of the Countess, and again pressed her return to them. The latter, Mrs Courtney, still persevered in her soft melancholy, her tender looks, and attentions to the Count, who, when he found the party fixed for Vienna, excused himself from attending them, but promised, if the Marquis and his family did not return to France before Christmas, he would join them early in the spring.
This declaration was a thunderbolt to Mrs Courtney. She seized an opportunity of speaking to him alone. ‘How, my Lord,’ cried she, ‘is it possible you can think of separating yourself from your friends — will you not go to Germany?’ ‘It is not in my power, madam,’ answered he. ‘Say rather not your inclination,’ said she, warmly: ‘you pique yourself on speaking truth, you know.’ ‘I wish to do so always,’ replied he, ‘but the ladies will not always permit me.’ ‘I beg your pardon, Sir, for contradicting you; I, at least, gave you credit for truth and sincerity, when you unpardonably fought to gain those affections you have since cruelly trifled with.’ ‘Such a charge from Mrs Courtney,’ said he, ‘has too much severity in it, not to call for a serious answer; I therefore protest, madam, I never sought — I never wished to gain the affections of any woman but Matilda: my love for her is no secret to my friends — I glory in it. For you, madam. I entertained the highest respect; I thought it my duty to shew you every possible attention, a man of politeness was bound to offer to an amiable woman; more I never intended — I never could be thought to intend, with a heart avowedly devoted to another.’ ‘And do you call this politeness?’ cried she, highly enraged. ‘I must tell you, Sir, you have (if you please to call it so) trifled too much with my peace, by your gallantry; and was I not completely revenged by the entire indifference of your idol, I should resent it in a very different manner. There, Sir,’ tossing Matilda’s letter to him, ‘there see how much you are beloved or regretted by an insensible paltry girl.’ The Count had caught up the letter, and in his eagerness to read, scarcely heard her last words. He devoured every line with his eager eyes; and when he came to the conclusion, ‘happier with another woman’. ‘O, Matilda! never, never! You may indeed forget me; mine is a common character, but there are few like yours in the world.’ Then looking at it again, and turning to Mrs Courtney who looked full of fury and malice, ‘May I be permitted to ask, madam, on what occasion you wrote this young lady, and of what nature those offers of service were, made in my name by you.’ Mrs Courtney blushed, and was in the highest confusion. ‘Shall I interpret your looks, madam?’ asked he again. Â‘No, Sir, I can speak their language myself. I wrote to know her sentiments, at the time you were amusing yourself at the expence of my folly, as I had too much honour to give you encouragement, if she had any hopes of you.’ ‘So then,’ said he, in a rage, ‘she believes I was paying my addresses to you, madam.’ She smiled contemptuously. ‘No wonder she renounces me; if such ideas took possession of her mind, she must think me the most contemptible of men.’ ‘And of what signification are her thoughts to you? are there not insuperable difficulties to a connexion with her?’ asked she. ‘Not on my side, madam; this hour, this instant, I would receive her hand with gratitude and transport; her dignity of sentiment, her true greatness of mind are the bars to my happiness.’ ‘Well, but if there are bars —’ ‘I beg pardon for interrupting you, madam; I know what you would say; and it is far from my design to be rude to any lady, but you must permit me to declare, I am resolved to wait weeks, months, or years, to have a chance for the removal of those impediments; and if I do not succeed at last, in all probability I shall never marry at all.’ As he ended this speech he withdrew, with a respectful, but reserved air. ‘Heavens! said she, peevishly, ‘is this the gallant, polite Frenchman! I see ’tis all over; I can make nothing of him, and I will gratify his vanity no longer; on the contrary, treat him with levity and contempt.’ Pride stepped in to her aid, and produced that change of sentiment which reason, honour, and good sense had failed to do: so true is the poet’s observation.
Pride saves men oft, and women too, from falling. She determined, however, not to accompany her friends; being so lately returned from the Continent, she had no inclination to revisit it, without a powerful inducement, such as she had no chance of.
The Count’s motives for refusing were of a similar nature.
The Marchioness had heard from Matilda. She declined being of their party, and entreated to remain in the Convent Â‘till that lady returned to France. She wrote a letter of congratulation to her dear Countess, on the great change in her situation, but gave, what she thought, very satisfactory reasons for not going into Germany. Lord Delby, however, could not resist his desire of attending the Countess, though so recently returned from thence. He entreated the Count to accept his house, but he had previously accepted a similar offer from the Marquis.
In a few days the party separated: the Marquis, his Lady, the Countess, and Lord Delby for Germany: the Count, to avoid attendance on Mrs Courtney, went to Bath, and that lady soon after accompanied a party of friends to Tunbridge.
From the time that Mr Weimar had agreed, before the Ambassador, to permit Matilda’s residence twelve months with the Marquis, her friends had sent advertisements to all the different courts in Europe, describing the particular circumstances attending her birth, without mentioning names. No intelligence arrived, nor enquiries had yet been made on the subject, though they still entertained hopes of one day meeting with success. As to the young lady herself, she had none; resigned to her misfortunes, her only wish was to remain in the convent, free from the persecutions, and exempt from the temptations, of the world. She heard of her friend’s unexpected restoration to her family and fortune, with real delight; and no mention being made of the Count or Mrs Courtney, in the letter she received from the Marchioness, she concluded they were either married, or soon to be; and though a few sighs would follow the idea, she supported herself with fortitude and resolution.
She was one day sitting in her apartment, and ruminating on past events, when the superior of the convent came in, and with a look of regret, ‘Ah! madam,’ said she, ‘I am grieved to be the messenger of ill news to you, and sorrow to the whole community.’ ‘Bless me!’ cried Matilda, ‘what is the matter?’ Alas! my dear child, I have received an order from the king to deliver you to a Mr Weimar, and another gentleman, waiting to receive you.’
The unhappy girl repeated faintly the name of Weimar, and fell back, almost senseless in her chair. The good mother ran to her assistance; she soon recovered. Â‘Oh! madam,’ said she, ‘save me, keep me here; I wish to be a nun — I will not go into the world again. ‘Would it were possible for me to protect you,’ answered she, shrugging her shoulders ‘but we have no power to retain you from the king’s order; you must go, we dare not keep you.’
At this moment entered St Magdalene, all in tears.
‘Well, madam,’ said Matilda, endeavouring to collect fortitude from despair, ‘have the goodness to inform the gentlemen I will presently wait on them.’ The superior appeared rather unwilling to leave her with her favourite, but however she withdrew.
Her good mother advised her instantly to write a few lines to the Marquis, and likewise to the Countess at Vienna. ‘Give me the first letter,’ said she, ‘I will endeavour to have it conveyed; take the chance of leaving the other at some inn on the road: but make haste, for we have no time.’
Poor Matilda, more dead than alive, soon executed her task, and the other assisting in packing, she was just ready when a messenger came to hasten her. With a resolution that astonished her friend, she followed the persons who came for her trunks, and went down to take leave of the community. Every one was affected, for she was generally beloved; but when she kissed the hand of her good mother both burst into a flood of tears. ‘Farewell, my dear, my amiable friend,’ said she; ‘farewell, my good mother: if my wishes were gratified, and I have ever any power over my own actions, I will return to reside with you for ever.’ ‘To the protection of heaven I leave you,’ said mother Magdalene; ‘persevere in virtue and goodness, truth in God, and doubt not of being the object of his care; for he is a Father to the fatherless, and will never forsake the virtuous.Â’
With streaming eyes Matilda followed her conductor. The porteress opened the gates; there stood Mr Weimar and his friend. He seemed at first to shrink from her view; but recovering himself, advanced and took her hand. ‘Well, ungrateful run-away,’ said he, Â‘you are once more in the custody of your true and natural protector.’ She made no answer, nor any resistance; she was placed in the carriage between them. Mr Weimar was hurt at her silence, ‘You are sullen, you are ungrateful, Matilda.’ ‘No, Sir, I am neither: I am grateful for past benefits, and if I do not speak, ’tis because my sincerity or sentiments cannot be pleasing.’ ‘You are mistaken,’ said he; ‘I wish you to speak with sincerity; to tell me why you forsook the friend of your youth, the man who offered to make you his by every holy tie, to fly with an acquaintance of a day, and who, after all his professions, at last placed you in a convent?’ ‘It was my own voluntary choice, Sir, and very distressing to my friends, that I persisted in choosing a retirement from the world. To the first part of your question ’tis not necessary for me to answer: you know my motives for quitting your house, and for the subsequent offer of your hand, if you really were sincere, I must confess I think circumstances more than inclination prompted you to it. How you mean to dispose of me, or by what right you assume to yourself to be master of my destiny, I know not; but of this you may be assured, no force shall prevail upon me to act contrary to my own inclinations and judgement; and since I am not your niece, you have no legal authority over me.’
Weimar looked confounded at her spirit, the other stared with surprise; all were mute for some time, at length he said, ‘You have taken up unjust prejudices, Matilda; but you will find I am still your best friend.’ ‘Then,’ replied she, ‘I shall truly rejoice, for it is grievous to me to think ill of any one, much more of him, whom, for many years, I was accustomed to think my nearest relation and protector. If you are sincere, permit me to write to the Marchioness that I am in your care, to dispel the anxiety she will naturally feel on my account.’ ‘We will think of that,Â’ said he, ‘when we are settled.’
This evasion proved to her, she had not much favour to expect.
She was entirely ignorant of the road they took; she knew it was different from the Paris route, and had no opportunity of asking a single question, much less of dropping her letter, as the chaise being their own, they sat in it whilst they procured horses at the different posthouses, and at night stopped at a miserable hut, where they got only a few eggs and a little milk, no beds were to be had, and they were obliged to remain four hours in the chaise, until they could enter the next town. The distress of mind, with fatigue and want of rest, overpowered Matilda; as they were changing horses, she fainted. Weimar was frightened; he had her taken out of the carriage, laid upon a bed, and every method used to restore her. It was a long time before she recovered, and then she was so weak and exhausted, that he was at a loss how to get her on. Some wine and toasted bread was given to her, and he quitted the room a moment, to order refreshments into the chaise: she seized the opportunity; taking the letter and a louis d’or out of her pocket, ‘If you have charity,’ said she, ‘let that letter be sent to the post.’ The woman, surprised, took the letter and money, and going to speak, Matilda heard his footsteps; she put her finger to her lips; the other understood, and thrust both into her bosom. Joy and hope gave her spirits, and when he told her she must pursue her journey, she arose with difficulty, but without speaking, and was rather carried than walked to the chaise. When they drove off she recollected she had forgot to ask the name of the town; she put the question to him. ‘Faith I have forgot,’ was his answer. She said no more.
The two gentlemen talked of indifferent matters, which afforded her no information; she therefore resigned herself to her own contemplations until they arrived at a sea-port town.
She was astonished when he told her they were to embark on board a vessel. ‘Where are you going to carry me to,’ said she, trembling. ‘To Germany doubtless,’ replied he. ‘By water?’ ‘Yes, by water: but ask no questions, Matilda; I am once more your uncle during this voyage, to preserve your character.’ ‘And do you think, Sir,’ said she, assuming courage under a palpitating heart, ‘do you think I will give a sanction to your falsehoods, and permit myself to be made a slave of?Â’ ‘You will find,’ answered he, ‘you can have no voice to alter my determinations; but I will now make you a fair proposal, If you will consent to marry me, I will, in this very town, receive your hand, and without scruple then carry you to join your friends: if you refuse I will not part with you, but where I propose carrying you, shall be entire master of your destiny. The old story is propagated by my servant, that you are my niece, and I am saving you from a shameful marriage with a footman.’ ‘Good God!’ cried she, ‘is my character thus traduced? And do you suppose such methods will oblige me to become your wife? No! Sir; I will die first.’ ‘Very well,’ answered he, calmly, ‘you have had your choice — I shall pursue mine.’
Presently they were informed the vessel was ready. She was lifted out of the chaise, and notwithstanding her resistance, and cries for help, she was carried on board and down to the room below.
‘You are now safe in my possession,’ said he. ‘I am sorry you made force necessary; but you must be convinced ’tis now in vain to contend with me.’ Matilda sat stupidly gazing at him; but the vessel beginning to move, she turned very sick: without any female on board to assist her, she was compelled to let him place her on the bed; and then requesting to be alone, he retired, and left her to her own very painful reflections.
All hope of assistance from the Marquis was now at an end; she knew not the place of her destination; she saw no probability of escaping from Mr Weimar; yet she felt an unconquerable repugnance to become his wife — a man capable of such duplicity and cruelty; ‘O, no!’ cried she, weeping, ‘sooner will I plunge into a watery grave than unite myself for life to a man I must hate and despise.’ She continued extremely sick and ill. They had been two days at sea, when she was alarmed by an uncommon noise over her head; voices very loud, and every thing in much agitation: soon after she heard the firing of guns, and Mr Weimar entered with an air of distraction. ‘I am undone,’ cried he, ‘unfortunate girl; you have been my ruin and your own, but I will prevent both.’ He instantly drew a large case knife, stabbed her and then himself. At the same instant a number of strange men burst into the cabin, Weimar’s friend with them. The Turks, (for they were taken by a Barbary Corsair) highly enraged with the bloody scene before them, were about to dispatch Weimar, who lay on the floor, when Matilda faintly cried, ‘Spare him, spare him.’ One of them who understood French, stopped their hands: he ordered him to be taken care of, and approached Matilda, who, growing faint with loss of blood, could with difficulty say, ‘My arm.’ The clothes being stript off, it was found the wound was indeed through her arm, which being laid across her breast, received the blow which he was in too much confusion to direct as he intended. The humane Turk soon staunched the blood; and having with him necessaries for dressing wounds, he sent on board his own ship for them, and a person who could apply them. He requested the lady to make herself easy, no insult should be offered to her person. Meantime Weimar was carried on board the Turkish vessel, and carefully guarded. His wound was a dangerous one, and the person who drest it gave but little hopes of his life; it continued however in a fluctuating state Â‘till their arrival at Tunis.
Matilda was out of all danger, but a prey to the most dismal apprehensions of what might befall her.
On their arrival she was taken on shore to the captain’s house, where a very amiable woman received her with complacency, though they could not understand each other. Weimar was likewise brought on shore; and his situation growing more desperate, he requested to know if there was any hopes of his recovery, and being answered in the negative, the poor wretch, after many apparent convulsive struggles, asked if there was any French or German priest in the city? and being informed there was none, he requested to see Matilda, in presence of the captain and his friend, but that friend had been carried to a country house, to work in the gardens; the captain and lady however attended him. When he saw her he groaned most bitterly, nor could she behold the man to whom she had owed so many obligations in her juvenile days, reduced to a situation so wretched, without being inexpressibly shocked. He saw her emotions, and keenly felt how little he deserved them. ‘Matilda,’ he cried, ‘I shall soon be past the power of persecuting you myself, but when I think where and in whose hands I leave you, I suffer torments worse than death can inflict.’ ‘Let not the situation of the lady grieve you,’ said the generous Turk; ‘though I pursue an employment I am weary of, I never injure women; if she has friends, they may recover her.’ ‘O, Matilda!’ said the dying man, ‘I will not deceive you, your death would to me have been the greatest comfort; I cannot bear the idea, another should possess you. Swear to me,’ added he, eagerly, ‘that you will become a nun — that you will take the veil.’ She was terrified by his vehemence; and though she both wished and designed it, hesitated. The captain said, ‘How dare you, so near death, compel an oath foreign to her heart; no such vow shall pass in my hearing, be your affinity to her what it may.’ ‘No, Mr Weimar’ answered she, ‘I will not swear, though it is at present my intention so to do.’ ‘Then I am dumb,’ said he; ‘I will not be the victim to procure happiness for others.
It was in vain Matilda and the captain urged him to speak, he was resolutely silent. The Turk whispered her to withdraw; she obeyed; and in about half an hour was desired to return. ‘I am conquered,Â’ said Mr Weimar; ‘this man, this generous enemy has prevailed. Prepare to hear a story will pierce you to the heart. I am your uncle, but not a German, nor is my name Weimar.’ ‘O, tell me,’ cried Matilda, ‘have I a father, have I a mother living?’ ‘Not a father,’ answered he, sighing, ‘perhaps a mother you may have, but I have not heard for many years.’ She clasped her hands and burst into tears. ‘O, tell me — tell me all, for I am prepared to hear a tale of horror,’ ‘Horror, indeed!’ repeated he, ‘but I will confess all. Your father, the Count Berniti — ‘ ‘My father a Count!’ cried she, in all accent of joy. ‘Yes; but do not interrupt me. Your father was a Neapolitan nobleman, I was his younger brother; he had every good mild amiable quality that could dignify human nature. From my earliest remembrance I hated him; his virtue procured him the love of our parents and the esteem of our friends; I was envious, malicious, crafty, and dissipated. My parents saw my early propensity to wickedness, but entirely taken up with their darling boy, I must say that they neglected to eradicate those seeds of vice in my nature, which an early and proper attention might have done; but given up to the care of profligate servants, never received but with frowns and scorn; my learning, my dress, my company, all left to myself, and treated in general as a disgrace to the family: I soon grew hardened in wickedness, and hated my relations in proportion to their neglect of me. Parents would do well to consider this lesson: unjust, or even deserved partialities, visibly bestowed on one child, whilst others are neglected, too generally creates hatred to that child, and a carelessness in performing their duties, which they see are little attended to. It lays a foundation for much future misery in the family; creates every vice which envy and malice can give birth to, and the darling object is generally the victim. But here I will do my brother justice; the only kindness I ever received was from him, and often with tears he has supplicated favours for me, which was the only ones that ever met with a refusal, all others he could command. I grew at last so desperate that I formed an association with the most abandoned youth of the city, and was universally despised. About this time my father died, leaving his whole fortune to my brother. Except a very trifling pittance, weekly, to me, disgrace affected me beyond all bounds of patience. My brother sent for me; with a heart bursting with rage, I went. The moment I appeared, he rose and embraced me, with tears. “My dear brother,” said he, “I have now the power to make your life more comfortable; evil minded persons set my father against you, nor could I ever remove the prejudice: henceforth we are brothers, more than ever; use this house as your own; give up your idle acquaintance — I will introduce you to the good and worthy, and those only shall be my friends that are my brother’s also.” A reception so unexpected for a few moments warmed my heart to virtue, but the impression soon wore off; I accepted his offer, nevertheless, and for some time endeavoured to keep within bounds, and to be as private in my vices as possible. I found it easy to deceive my brother; whilst I preserved a semblance of goodness before him, no suspicion entered his breast. I had so long accustomed myself to behold him with hatred and envy, that every proof of his kindness, which carried with it an obligation, I could not support; rendered him more hateful in my eyes, because I knew it was undeserved. One morning the Count asked what I thought of the Count Morlini’s daughter? (at that time esteemed the most beautiful woman in Naples, and whom I had long looked at with desiring eyes.) I spoke my opinion freely. “I am glad,” returned my brother, “your sentiments correspond with mine; she is good as well as beautiful, and I hope in a short time will become my wife.” This was a dagger to my heart: I knew she never could be mine, and therefore had suppressed my wishes, but the idea of her being my brother’s wife threw me into a rage little short of madness; I hastened from him to vent my passion alone. Every plan which malice could suggest, I thought on, to prevent the marriage, but my plots proved abortive, and the union took place. The day previous to the marriage, my noble brother presented me with a deed, which secured a handsome annuity to me for life; assuring me his house was still my home, his country seat the same, but he chose to make me independent. From that day I was truly miserable: I adored the Countess, I hated my brother. She treated me with sweetness and civility, which increased my passion. In short, I grew so fond of her, that I neglected my old associates, and lived almost at home for ever. The deluded pair were delighted with my reformation, and behaved with redoubled kindness. Here I must pause,’ said Mr Weimar, Â‘for I am much fatigued.’
Matilda, whose eager curiosity could ill support any interruption of the narrative, hastened to give him a cordial, and some drops to recruit his spirits.
‘Before I proceed any further,’ said Mr Weimar, Â‘Â’tis fit an instrument should be drawn and signed by me and proper witnesses, proving that I acknowledge Matilda to be the only child and heiress to the late Count Berniti’s estates, which I have unjustly withheld; let this be done, lest the hand of death should cut me off, as I every hour expect.’
The generous captain lost no time in procuring the instrument to be drawn and properly attested. Matilda withdrew mean time to reflect on what she had already heard, and in trembling expectation of what was to follow. A painful thought obtruded itself. ‘Ah! had I known,’ cried she, ‘some time ago, that my birth was noble, happiness might have been my portion — it is now too late!’ She was soon recalled to the sick room; and every thing being settled as the unhappy repentant Weimar desired, he lay a short time composed and then resumed his narrative.
Â‘For some months I lived in the house, a torment to myself, and concerting schemes to ruin the happiness of others. The Countess advanced in her pregnancy: my brother was overjoyed — I affected to be the same. There was at this time a young woman in the city whom I had seduced and who was likewise with child; I knew I could bring her to any terms I pleased; I laid my plan accordingly: she went to live near my brother’s country house, and passed for a young widow, greatly distressed. We contrived my sister should hear of her; the consequence was, as we expected, she was sent for, and told a plausible tale; was relieved, and engaged as a nurse for the Countess’s child. She was brought to bed three weeks before that lady, of a girl. The Countess was delivered of Matilda. Agatha, for it was she, Matilda, whom you well remember, attended her and received the child. As soon as the Countess could be moved with safety, we all went to the house in the country. It was close to the sea, and at the back a beautiful wood, where my brother frequently amused himself by having little vistas cut. It was in this place I designed to execute the horrid plan I had long concerted. I had privately procured a disguise, which lay concealed at one part of the wood. I knew he generally walked in the evening, and proceeded accordingly. Taking a horse one morning, I pretended to go into the city: I did so; and returned about the hour I supposed my brother in the wood: I fastened my horse at the entrance of it, changed my dress, put a mask on my face, and crept on towards the lower part; I distinguished him through trees — let me hasten from the remembrance! — I suddenly came upon him, and by repeated stabs, laid him dead at my feet.’ Matilda uttered a cry of horror. ‘I do not wonder at your emotion,’ said he, ‘since at this moment I tremble at my own crimes! I rifled his pockets of every thing valuable, to make it believed he had been dispatched by robbers. I returned and dug a hole at a distant part, where my horse was, hid the clothes, mounted the beast, returned to the public road, and came on horseback to the door; previous to which I had thrown his watch and money into the sea. I had executed a few little commissions for my sister, in the city, and appeared before her in good spirits, with the trifles she had sent for. We waited for my brother’s return, at the usual time, to supper; the hour elapsed — she grew alarmed. I made light of her fears for some time; at length I joined in her apprehensions, and calling the two men servants, proposed to search for him. She thankfully accepted the offer. We went to the wood, calling on him aloud, and for some time I pursued a contrary path to the one I knew he laid in; at last we came to the dreadful spot, where we all stood aghast; I made most moving lamentations. We found he had been robbed and murdered. The poor fellows took up the body, and we proceeded to the house. I bid them go the back way, whilst I prepared my sister. Villain, and hardened as I was in wickedness, I trembled at this talk, and the agitations of my mind, on entering her room, told the dreadful tale for me. “O, heavens!” cried she, “what is become of the Count? He is dead! he is dead!” she repeated, as I was silent to the question. I drew out my handkerchief, and turned from her. She gave two or three heavy groans and fell to the ground.’
Poor Matilda again gave way to the most lively emotions of grief Weimar seemed much affected, and was some moments before he could proceed.
‘I will not dwell on a scene so horrid. An express was sent into the city, search made for the murderer, but no traces appeared that could lead to a discovery. My sister continued very ill for many days, and my brother was universally regretted. My melancholy was observed by every one, and kindly noticed by the Countess who desired I would act for her without reserve: this proof of her confidence gave me great credit, and not one suspicion, I believe, ever glanced on me. It was my first intention to have destroyed the child, but the deed I had done filled my mind with such horror, I could not imbrue my hands a second time in blood. I was some time unresolved in what manner to act. The Countess still kept her bed, in a very languid state. One morning, going to Agatha’s room, I found her in tears; her child had died that night, in convulsions; it was in the cradle, and the features much distorted. A thought darted instantly into my head, to change the children: I proposed it to Agatha, and promised her great rewards; she readily agreed to every thing I proposed; the dresses were changed in a moment, and the children being only six weeks old, had been little seen. I left the room. Soon after, a servant came to the Countess’s apartment, (where I then was, to pay my morning respects, a custom I always observed) and requested me to step out on business. “O, Sir!” cried she, Â“we are all undone — the poor nurse is frantic — the sweet child, the young Countess, is dead! expired an hour ago, in convulsions, whilst poor Agatha thought it in a sweet sleep.” I pretended to be most exceedingly shocked; exclaimed against the nurse, sent for a physician — would have the body examined, I did so; I ran to Agatha’s apartment the other end of the house, abused her for her carelessness; she, who was really grieved for the loss of her own child, shed torrents of tears. The physician came; he examined the child; he said, it was really sudden convulsions had carried it off and no fault in the nurse, the disorder being common among infants. This satisfied every one; nobody troubled themselves about Agatha’s child. I sent off to the Count Morlini’s, who had left us the day before, intending to return the following one. He came immediately; I detained the physician. The Count made very minute enquiries, and was, or appeared to be contented with the physician’s deposition. “Alas! my Lord,” cried I, “who shall break this melancholy accident to the Countess I cannot, I dare not do it. Unhappy lady!” I exclaimed, “how great are your sorrows! my own share in them is lost, when I consider yours.” The Count shook my hand in a friendly manner but spoke not. He went from me to his daughter; I retired to my own apartment. I was now my brother’s heir to his title and estates; every thing promised to give me an undisputed right; and I enjoyed, by anticipation, the pleasures which fortune and rank would bestow.’ Here Mr Weimar stopped. ‘I cannot proceed now I am fatigued and exhausted.’ He was quite faint, and they were obliged to give him a respite for the present, and administer cordials. He promised to proceed and finish his story in the evening. Matilda withdrew overwhelmed with grief, horror, and a painful curiosity for the subsequent events which might have befallen her unhappy mother. Some time after she was in her apartment, the captain came in. ‘The surgeon,’ said he, ‘has just examined Mr WeimarÂ’s wound, and makes a much better report of it than in the morning. This last dressing has abated the inflammation, and the fever is not so violent.’ ‘If his repentance is sincere, heaven grant he may recover,’ said she.
In the evening, at Mr Weimar’s request, Matilda and the captain went to his apartment: he appeared much more easy and composed after recollecting himself a little, he went on as follows:
‘The Count took upon him to acquaint the Countess with the loss of the child; but notwithstanding all his precautions, it had a dreadful effect upon her. She was for some weeks deprived of reason, and when recovered, the disorder turned to a settled melancholy nothing could remove. Having some relations at Florence, the Count proposed taking her there to change the scene. What had been secured to her by marriage, was of course hers. From an affected generosity, I presented her with the house and furniture in the city; and under a pretence I could not longer stay where such melancholy accidents had taken place, and having no relations living, I disposed of my estates, and said I should travel into Turkey and Egypt, without assuming any title. In truth, I was ever in fear some unforeseen events might bring my evil deeds to light: for ’tis the fate of villainy never to be secure; and the constant apprehension of detection embitters every hour of their lives who once plunge into guilt. I had persuaded Agatha, with the child, to embark on board a French vessel, bound to Dieppe, and there wait for me; having engaged the captain to take care of her, though I secretly wished the waves might swallow them up; at the same time I had not resolution to destroy them. After the vessel sailed, I set off from Naples, glad to escape from a place I could not behold without shuddering. Whether any suspicions were entertained of me, I know not; for I kept up no correspondence there. I travelled into France, and arrived at Dieppe, where I found Agatha and the infant. I had a great inclination to settle in Switzerland, and determined to go through the country, and find a habitation. Leaving the woman at Dieppe, I went first to Paris, invested great part of my property there, in the name of Weimar; and from thence I went through Germany and Switzerland. Between Lausanne and Lucerne, I heard of an estate to be sold. I saw and liked it; the purchase was soon made, and every thing quickly settled. I sent for Agatha: she came part of the way by water, the rest, to Lausanne, by land; there I met her, and conducted her to my house. We now resumed our former intimacy, but she had no more children. I endeavoured by my care of Matilda, to atone for the crimes I had been guilty of, in destroying her father, and robbing her of her fortune — a fortune I was afraid to enjoy, and a rank I dared not assume, always apprehensive my villainy would be discovered. I kept but little company. Agatha, who was my housekeeper, and directed every thing, many times I was tempted to destroy, but fear preserved her life. As Matilda grew up, I became passionately fond of her; my love increased with her years, and I determined to possess her. Agatha had too much cunning not to perceive my inclination; and having long ceased having any particular attachment to me, she blindly fell in with my desires, and encouraged me to proceed. The conversation you overheard, Matilda, was such as you apprehended; she persuaded me to say I was not your uncle, and the story I told you in Paris, was the one we had fabricated to deceive you. I did not at first intend marrying; I had an aversion to that tie, and therefore a different plan was proposed, which, overhearing, drove you from my house. ’Tis needless to tell you what ensued on discovering you had left me: I resolved to find you, if possible, and traced you to Paris. I thought to have deceived the Marquis; he was too cunning for me: but I obtained knowledge of your being in England through the means of Mademoiselle De Fontelle; a servant of hers having met the Marchioness and you at Calais. I still followed you. You know the concession I made to the Ambassador, which I never intended to observe, having intelligence the Count De Bouville was your lover. I had every step watched, and no sooner found you were at a convent than I repaired to Paris, told my own story, and obtained an order for your delivery. I found letters at Paris, from my steward, informing me of the death of Agatha, almost suddenly. This was a most agreeable piece of news; there was now no one living that could accuse me. Blind, infatuated mortals! we forget there is an all-seeing eye, that sooner or later brings us to justice, when most we think ourselves secure! I went to Brest, I hired a vessel to carry me to Venice, determined to reside there with you. With the order in my pocket, and a person who had attended me, more like a confidential friend than a servant, I came to Boulogne, and obtained your delivery to me. The rest you know. It was my intention to have married you, unless you rejected me — in that case you must take the consequence. When I saw the Turkish vessel I gave all up for lost; and when they boarded us, expecting you would be sacrificed to their desires, and myself made a slave, I resolved to prevent both: Providence preserved you — what I have suffered, and the near prospect of death, determined me to confess all my crimes — crimes that have embittered every hour of my life, and which have led me into a thousand inconsistences, from fears and terrors, only created by guilt. Thus it is with the wicked; early plunged into vice, they proceed from one bad action to another; afraid to look back, unable to repent, they go on to fill up the measure of their crimes, Â‘till their best concerted schemes prove their ruin. Had not the hand of death overtaken me, this confession never would have been made; yet even at this moment I adore Matilda. Pardon me, dear unhappy girl, the evils I have caused you; let me die forgiven by you, and join in supplicating that mercy I have so little room to hope for, but from Divine goodness to the truly penitent.’
Matilda assured him of her forgiveness, and implored heaven’s mercy on him. ‘But tell me, Sir,’ said she, ‘did you never hear of my mother?’ ‘Only once, and by accident, eight years ago; she was then at Naples, with her family.’ ‘Grant heaven!’ said Matilda, ‘she may be there still; O, what happiness, if I should ever embrace a mother!’ Tears stopped her utterance; her uncle was affected. ‘O, Matilda! leave me; I cannot bear your tears, they reproach me too deeply; and I have much to repent of before I leave you for ever.’
She quitted the room, oppressed with the most painful sensations: the tragical end of her father, the melancholy situation of her mother, the crimes of her uncle, and her own present distressed and forlorn state, altogether gave her unutterable pangs: yet a gleam of joy darted through the gloom that pervaded her fate — she was of noble birth; no unlawful offspring, no child of poverty: then she thought of the Count —‘Ah!’ cried she, ‘he is now the husband of Mrs Courtney; in all probability I shall never see him more.’ A sigh followed the reflection, which she strove to place on another score.
She was soon after joined by the captain. ‘The surgeon came in as you left the room, madam; and notwithstanding the sick man’s agitation, in telling his story, he says, he is undoubtedly better, and he begins to entertain hopes, if no change happens for the worse.’ ‘I am glad to hear it,’ replied she, ‘may he live to repent.’ ‘Meantime, madam,’ said he, ‘if you wish to write your friends, I will take care your letters shall be conveyed by the quickest dispatch possible.’
She accepted his generous offer, and retired to write the Marchioness and Countess what had befallen her; but recollecting that she could not wish to be in France until she had visited Naples, she left her letters unfinished, to consult the captain the following morning. She retired to rest, but the agitations of her mind precluded sleep: alternate joy and sorrow, hopes and fears, created such different ideas, that she passed the night without closing her eyes, and arose, at break of day, resolved to write and address a letter to her grandfather with her story. ‘If he lives,’ said she, ‘he will be overjoyed; if not, if I have no such relation, no dear mother alive, some one of the family will doubtless write and inform me.’
When the captain came to breakfast, she imparted her different thoughts to him. She had no way of paying court to his amiable wife, but by kissing her hand, whilst the other pressed hers to her bosom, with tender affection, her husband having related the lady’s story to her.
The captain, after some deliberation, said, ‘I told you once, madam, the employment I am, or rather was engaged in, by no means suited me. I was not originally accustomed to this kind of life; my wife’s father always was; he persuaded me to follow it. I sailed with him three years; we made a good deal of money. He died six months ago. This last voyage was the first I ever made for myself. I am disgusted at the service, and mean to quit it: my wife wishes me to do so; she is a good woman; we have enough; I do not want a plurality of wives — I am content with her. My mother was an English woman — I imbibe her sentiments. I have not disposed of my vessel; I will take you to Naples, or even to France, if you wish it, under neutral colours, which I can procure. This will be better than engaging your friends to come here. I have no enemy but the Russians to fear, and those I can provide against.’ ‘You are very kind, Sir,’ said she; ‘I really am at a loss how to proceed, and will consult Mr Weimar’ (she could not reconcile herself to call him uncle). She did so: he approved of the captain’s advice, but thought she had best write her friends of her safety and situation, also of her intention to go to Naples, from whence they might expect to hear her decisive plan; previous to which the captain could write to some persons, to know if any of her relations were living. This being agreed upon, as the best methods to be taken, Matilda resigned herself to patience Â‘till answers could be obtained, which must necessarily take up some time.
We must now return to the Countess and her friends, who arrived at Vienna without meeting any accident.
Their first step was to deliver the German Minister’s letters to the English Ambassador; his Excellency having sent dispatches to his own court of this extraordinary affair.
The Countess found but little difficulty in being acknowledged, and put in possession of her rights. Her story engrossed the public attention at Vienna, and she received a thousand visits and congratulations from every person of distinction. Though abundantly gratified by their civilities, she was too anxious to see her son for her mind to be at ease. A messenger had been sent to his quarters, by the Marquis, with leave from the Emperor for his return, and preparing him, by degrees, for the agreeable surprise of finding some near and dear relations. The youth had been apprised of his fatherÂ’s death, but not having read the Count’s letter, was a stranger to all the circumstances relative to it. He made no difficulty of obeying the order, and set off for his father’s seat directly.
One day, when every heart beat high with expectation, a travelling carriage was seen driving through the park. ‘My son, my son!’ cried the Countess starting up. The Marquis ran out to meet him. In a moment a tall elegant youth, about sixteen, entered the room, with looks of eager expectation. The Countess flew towards him, threw her arms round him; attempted to speak, but overpowered by tender emotions Â‘till then a stranger to her breast, she fainted in his arms. The young gentleman, alarmed, and equally agitated, assisted, in silence, to convey her to a seat; and whilst the Marchioness was busy in her endeavours to restore her sister, he kissed her hand eagerly and cried to the Marquis, ‘Tell me, Sir, who is this dear lady?’ ‘It is —’ said the other, with a little pause, ‘she is your mother, Sir.’ ‘Mother!’ repeated he, dropping on his knees. ‘Great God! have I a mother? my own mother!’ ‘Yes,’ replied the Marquis, ‘she is indeed your parent, for very many years believed to be dead.’ Young Frederic was now in a state very little better than the Countess: surprise, joy, the soft emotions that at once assailed him, rendered him speechless and immoveable.
It was some time before they were both sufficiently recovered to be sensible of their felicity. The Countess embraced him with tears of expressive tenderness; he, on his knees, kissing her hands with ardour. ‘My mother! my dear mother!’ was all he could utter for a long time. The Marchioness at length separated them. ‘My dear Frederic,’ said she, ‘you have other duties to pay, besides your present delightful one — I claim you as my nephew; this gentleman is my husband, consequently your uncle.’ He flew and embraced both. ‘Gracious heaven!’ cried he, ‘what happiness. A few months ago I supposed myself without family or friends, dependent on the Count’s bounty; then I was agreeably surprised with being acknowledged as his son, then suddenly separated, and only ten days since informed of his death — again I was an orphan, and knew not what claims I could or ought to make; but now this unexpected tide of joy and happiness — to find a mother! O, the blessed sound! to find a mother, uncle, aunt, all dear and honoured relations! Great God, I adore thy bounty, make me deserving of thy favours.’ He again threw himself at the feet of the Countess, who had hung with rapture on his words, and now embraced him with the highest delight.
After this tumult of pleasure was a little subsided, he eagerly enquired the particulars of her story; which the Marquis repeated, as had been agreed upon, glossing over the Count’s crimes, as much as possibly could be done, to exculpate the Countess. No mention was made of the Chevalier’s death; but the youth heard sufficient to comprehend his mother had been cruelly used, and his features bore testimony of his emotions. ‘Dearest madam,’ cried he, ‘how great have been your sufferings! henceforth it shall be the study of my life to make you forget them in your future happiness.’
Lord Delby, who had been rambling in the park, now entered the room. Young Frederic was introduced to him, and the foregoing scene slightly described by the Marchioness. ‘I am glad,’ said his Lordship, ‘I was not present; for though I adore sensibility, such a meeting would have been too much for me.’
Growing more rational together, his relations were delighted with the young officer. ‘It must be confessed,’ said the Marquis, ‘the Count paid particular attention to Frederic’s education.’ ‘Yes, my Lord,’ answered the youth, ‘it would have been my fault, if I had not profited by the instructions I received; but I thought my debt of gratitude so great for such uncommon kindness from a stranger, on whom I had no claims, that I strove to exert my small abilities, and by diligence and application, evince my sense of his favours, as the only return in my power.’ ‘The deception, as far as related to you,’ said the Marchioness, ‘proved a happy one; it laid the foundation for virtue, humility, and gratitude, which perhaps happier circumstances and legal claims might never have called forth. Thus sometimes good springs out of evil.’
The following day, when the happy party was assembled, and projecting pleasurable schemes, the Marquis received the letter which the good Mother Magdalene had found means to send off from Matilda. He started, with an exclamation of surprise. All were eager to know the contents. Prepare yourselves for some regret, on account of your young friend,’ said he. ‘What! Matilda?’ cried both in a breath. ‘Yes, I am sorry to tell you she is again in her uncle’s power; he has again claimed her as his niece.’ He then read the letter, and all were equally grieved at the unfortunate destiny of this deserving young woman.
Frederic, with the warm enthusiasm of youth, cried out, ‘Is there no clue to trace them — I will myself pursue them.’ ‘Alas! my son, answered the Countess, Â‘Â’tis impossible to say where he may have carried her to; but let us hope, as she found means to send this letter, she will find an opportunity to write again; at all events, she has a protector, to whose care we must trust her, until we can obtain further intelligence.’
This letter threw a damp on the general joy.
Her story was repeated to Frederic, whose ardour was again raised to deliver the unhappy girl from her persecutor.
The Marquis, who was that day writing to the Count the happy event of their journey and meeting with his nephew, could not resist throwing in a postscript. ‘My dear Bouville,’ added he, ‘we are thrown into the greatest consternation, by a letter from Matilda. She is again in the power of that villain, Weimar; who, contrary to his engagements has procured an order from the king, and carried her off, we know not where. We wait with impatience to hear further.’
This letter from the Marquis found the Count De Bouville at Bath; where he vainly sought amusement, to remove the anguish which preyed upon his mind, arising from the impossibility of ever calling Matilda his. He viewed the gay females of fashion, with birth, beauty, and accomplishments to boast of, with perfect indifference. Ah! thought he, where is the modest retiring sweetness of Matilda? Where those unaffected charms — those natural graces of her deportment? Never shall I meet with a woman that I can admire or love, after knowing that lovely girl, whose very virtues preclude my happiness. He was in one of these reveries when the letter from the Marquis was delivered to him. The happiness of his friends gave him infinite delight; but how changed were his emotions on reading the postscript: his rage exceeded all bounds; he determined to leave Bath instantly. ‘I will hunt the villain through the world,’ cried he; ‘I will find her, if she is on earth, and no power shall ever take her from me again. O, Matilda! too scrupulous girl, you have undone us both, and ruined my peace for ever.’ He called his servants, and ordered the necessary arrangements for leaving Bath that night. He went out to call on some friends he had formed an engagement with, and to whom he thought more than a card was due. Crossing the parade, he saw, coming towards him, Madame Le Brune, Mademoiselle De Fontelle, and Mrs Courtney, who had arrived from Tunbridge together the preceding evening. Nothing could have happened more unfortunate than this meeting. His temper irritated before, at the sight of the two ladies together, both of whom he considered as enemies to Matilda, his passion increased beyond the bounds of politeness to restrain. Â‘I congratulate you, ladies, on an intimacy, minds like yours naturally create. For you, madam’— turning to Mademoiselle De Fontelle, who was pale with fear, observing his violence —‘you were never an object of my esteem, and long since of my aversion and contempt: your diabolical falsehoods have deprived me of happiness for ever; but vengeance will one day overtake you — I promise you it shall,’ said he, in a voice that made her tremble and unable to go on. ‘For you, madam,’ turning to Mrs Courtney —‘I have still some respect: you have many good qualities; but your malice and dislike of an unoffending and excellent young woman, is inexcusable, and very evidently pursued, by attaching yourself to one you know all your and her friends despise; malice only is the cement of your intimacy. Take my advice, madam — break it off, and entitle yourself to the respect and esteem of those who are the friends of yourself and Lord Delby.’
He was going to leave them, but Mrs Courtney, struck by his manner and words, still partial to him, cried out, ‘Stop, my Lord — tell me how long you remain in Bath?’ ‘This night I leave it,’ said he, ‘and a day or two hence I shall quit England.’ ‘For heaven’s sake!’ cried she, ‘let me see you for five minutes, an hour hence; — do not deny me, ’tis the last favour I will ever ask.’ Seeing he hesitated, ‘At No. 11, on the South Parade — I will expect you.’
She hastily followed her companions, who had gladly removed a few paces from them, and left the Count irresolute, whether he should oblige her or not: but recollecting the civilities he had received at her house and Lord Delby’s, he thought gratitude and honour required his obedience.
He called on his friends, and at the appointed hour attended Mrs Courtney. When introduced, she was alone, and very melancholy, but rose to receive him with evident pleasure. ‘I thank you for this visit,’ said she, ‘which I scarcely dared flatter myself with receiving, from your abrupt behaviour to me this morning.’ ‘You saw me, madam, very much ruffled; and the company I saw you in was not calculated to put me in better humour. You will pardon me, if I behaved any way rudely; but I really have too much respect for Mrs Courtney, to whose hospitality and kindness I am under so many obligations, to see her in company with a dissolute woman, whose want of chastity is perhaps her least crime; she is unprincipled, in every respect, with a base and malignant heart.’ ‘Good God! Count,Â’ cried Mrs Courtney ‘I did not know Mademoiselle De Fontelle, was charged with any other faults than a dislike to Matilda.’ ‘That of itself,’ replied he, ‘would to me be a sufficient proof of a bad mind; for only those who dislike virtue and goodness can be enemies to her: but independent of that, Fontelle is a profligate young woman, and by no means a fit companion for a lady of your respectability, though, being unknown, she may be received into company. I hope, madam, you will deem this an apology for my abrupt behaviour; and now favour me with your commands.’ ‘Commands!’ repeated she, Â‘dear Count, are you obliged to leave Bath so very soon?’ ‘I am, madam; and I will frankly tell you the cause.’ He repeated the MarquisÂ’s letter. ‘The amiable Matilda ever was, and ever will be dear to me; tho’ her superior greatness of mind will not permit her to accept my hand, I neither can nor will marry any other woman, nor shall she, if I can help it, be subject to the power of any man earth.’ ‘But,’ said she, ‘without knowledge even of the road they travelled how can you pursue them’ ‘It matters not,’ answered he, ‘I will not rest Â‘till I do obtain information.’ ‘This is really a Quixote expedition,’ said she; Â‘travelling the world through to deliver distressed damsels.’ ‘It may appear so,’ replied he, gravely, Â‘but don’t let me think Mrs Courtney possessed of so little feeling, as to be indifferent about the fate of an amiable girl, who esteemed and respected her. But have you any commands for me, madam — I am really hurried at present. Â‘Well, Sir,’ answered she, Â‘if you are determined to go, I must own I wish to preserve your esteem, at least, and therefore I promise you I will profit by your advice, and give up the French ladies.’ ‘You will entitle yourself to respect, madam, by so doing. Every French woman is not a Marchioness De Melfort, nor, I hope, a Mademoiselle De Fontelle; but ’tis necessary ladies should discriminate in their acquaintance.’ Then rising and kissing her hand, ‘Accept, madam, my grateful thanks for the favours you have honored me with. If I ever return to England, I shall again pay my respects to you, if you will permit me; and, if I am ever happily settled in France, I shall think myself highly honoured by a visit from Mrs Courtney, and her worthy uncle, Lord Delby.Â’ Mrs Courtney’s pride forsook her at this polite address, she burst into tears, ‘Adieu, my dear Count; may happiness attend you, though you leave me a prey to regret and sorrow.’ He hastened from her with some emotion. That woman, thought he, has many amiable qualities, but she wants steadiness and respect for herself: an imbecility of mind makes her resign herself up to her passions, from the want of resolution or fortitude to subdue them; she has naturally a good and generous heart, but she is easily led aside by others more artful than herself. He thought however he had done his duty by warning her against Mademoiselle De Fontelle; and returned to his lodging with satisfaction to himself.
Every thing being ready, the Count quitted Bath that night; slept a few hours on the road, and arrived in town the next day.
He pursued his route to Dover, and from thence to Boulogne. He went to the convent, to gain intelligence; the porteress very readily answered his questions, but that afforded him not the least clue to guide his search, as she knew nothing of the road taken. She told him that Matilda had left money to convey Louison to Paris, who had been gone upwards of a fortnight.
Although the Count scarcely supposed Weimar would carry her to his own house, yet he determined to go there. He wrote the Marquis, and proposed being at Vienna, should he prove unsuccessful in Switzerland.
It would be tedious to follow the Count thro’ his journey. He made all possible enquiries through the different towns, without obtaining any information. He arrived at Mr Weimar’s; they had not heard from him since he left England. Disappointed and mortified, he went from Switzerland to Vienna, and from thence to the villa of the Countess. He was received with transport. The Countess eagerly exclaimed, ‘She is found, we have a letter — O, such good news!’
The Count had hardly patience to go through the ceremony of introduction, before he begged to know the good news!
The Marchioness had two days before received the letter Matilda had written from Tunis — she gave it him to read.
Matilda had briefly given an account of her voyage and arrival at Tunis, the civilities of the captain, and dangerous state of Mr Weimar. She mentioned, that she had reason to suppose she was descended from a noble family, in Naples; that a short time would relieve her doubts; and, at any rate, she would write again, if not join them, in a very little while.
Lovers, who are ever industrious to torment themselves, would perhaps, like the Count, have conjured up a thousand fears to distract their minds. ‘Is this all your good news?’ cried he, ‘alas! I see little to depend upon here; “she has hopes” she belongs to some noble family — a scheme of that villain Weimar’s, to keep her easy Â‘till he recovers; besides, what dependence can be placed on a corsair? Ah! if these are all your hopes of safety, they are small indeed.’ ‘Upon my word, Count,’ said the Marchioness, ‘you are very cruel, to destroy the pleasing illusion we entertained of her safety; for my own part, I see no cause to doubt the kindness of the captain, who, ’tis plain, must have permitted her to write; and for the other, he can have no power, in his circumstances, whether ill or well.Â’ Â‘I hope, madam,’ replied the Count, ‘your conjectures are founded on truth and reason — I shall rejoice to find my fears are groundless; but, be that as it may, I am determined to go immediately to Tunis.’ ‘You are right, my dear Sir,’ cried the young Count, Frederic; ‘could I disengage my mind from superior duties, I would, with pleasure, accompany you.’ ‘Ah! the knight errantry of youthful folks!’ said the Marquis, smiling, ‘but I assure you, my good friend, we are all here equally interested in the fate of Matilda, and equally desirous of promoting any plan conducive to her safety.’ ‘I am sure of it,’ answered the Count, ‘and therefore hope you will not take it ill, if I leave you tomorrow, for I am resolved to go to Tunis, if a vessel can be hired.’
They saw it was in vain to oppose his resolution, and were therefore silent.
He was delighted with the warmth of the young Count, and praised his spirit in the most lively terms.
He took leave of them the following morning, to pursue his plan, with the earnest good wishes of the whole family.
Meantime every thing succeeded at Tunis, to Matilda’s wishes. Mr Weimar daily grew better. At first his recovery seemed rather a matter of regret to him; but when she assured him of her entire forgiveness, that she never would betray the secret of her father’s death, and that the restitution of her estates would sufficiently prove his penitence for the intended wrong done to her, he grew more reconciled, and by degrees, her sensible and pious observations wrought such a change in him, that he determined, when he got well, the captain giving him his liberty, he would enter into a monastery for the rest of his days. Matilda encouraged him in the design.
The captain, who was present at many of their conversations, said, one night, that his dislike to the cruel business he had been engaged in was considerably strengthened by Matilda’s dissertations on virtue and vice; he was resolved never to make another voyage; and, though he could not but think the faith of Mahomet the true faith, yet, for her sake, he would always respect Christians; because the two best women he knew, exclusive of his wife, were both Europeans and Christians.
Matilda impatiently expected an answer from Naples. The captain at last received one. The good Count Morlini had been dead three years; the Countess, his daughter, was alive, though in a languid state of health, and was gone, with another family to Nice, to stay two or three months.
This intelligence was delightful to Matilda: she was anxious to set off as soon as possible.
Mr Weimar was now well enough to bear the voyage. He made a deed of gift to his niece, of all he possessed; having greatly improved the original fortune, from a fear of exciting too much notice and enquiry if he had lived otherwise; and told her, his intention was to enter into the order of poverty, as the proper retribution for his inordinate desire of wealth, which had induced him to commit such horrid crimes. She would have persuaded him to have chosen an order of less severity; but nothing could alter his resolutions.
The captain having hastened his preparations, the day was appointed for sailing.
Matilda could not take leave of the captain’s amiable wife without feeling a very sincere regret; for, though they did not understand each other’s language, yet the expression, of the heart was comprehended by both, and engaged mutual esteem and tenderness. The friend, or rather confidant of Mr Weimar, was sent for from the country, his liberty given him, and Matilda, at her uncle’s request, promised to pay him the sum agreed upon in France, for his assistance to carry her off.
They set sail with a prosperous gale, but with hearts very differently agitated.
Much about the same time the Count De Bouville had taken leave of his friends; and having hired a vessel at the first sea-port, he proceeded on his voyage to Tunis, and, without any accident or interruption, safely arrived there six days after Matilda had left it. He was soon on shore, procured an interpreter, and hastened to the captain’s house. His heart beat fast with hope, fear, and expectation; but who can describe his emotions when informed of their departure for Nice. He asked a thousand questions could scarcely be persuaded but some sinister design was again practised against her, and it was with much difficulty he at length grew more reconciled and satisfied with the account he received.
He had nothing now to do but to follow her to Nice; but as water and some provisions were wanting for the vessel, he was obliged to bridle in his impatience, and remain there three or four days, which were ages in his calculation.
Matilda, meantime, safely arrived at Nice. Mr Weimar instantly left the place, promising to write his niece, under cover to the Marquis De Melfort, soon as he was settled in a monastery.
The captain conducted Matilda to a hotel, and they consulted how to act. It must be confessed her situation was a very distressing one; no female companion, no one to introduce her, she might be supposed an impostor, notwithstanding the testimony of Mr Weimar, signed before the captain. In short, they found themselves at a loss how to proceed. The first step was to know if the Countess Berniti was there; of this they were soon informed she was, accompanied by the Count and Countess Marcellini. After much deliberation the captain proposed waiting on the Count, telling him a lady just arrived from Tunis, requested the favour of seeing him, to enquire after some very particular friends and relations she had at Naples. This scheme was adopted and put into execution. The Count was surprised at the message, but curiosity carried him immediately to the hotel, and he was introduced to Matilda. He was extremely struck with her figure and appearance. She trembled, and for some moments was incapable of speaking; but endeavouring to collect fortitude from necessity she thus addressed him, ‘The liberty I have taken in requesting the honour of seeing your Lordship here requires many apologies, but I am in a very singular and distressing situation. Will your Lordship permit me to ask you how long you have known the Countess Berniti.’ The Count started at the question. Almost from a child, madam; we were brought up in an intimacy from our youth.’ ‘You knew her unfortunate husband then, and his brother,’ said she, Â‘and possibly may recollect it was supposed the infant daughter of the Countess died in convulsions?’ ‘Supposed!’ repeated he, ‘good God! What can you mean, madam?’ ‘To recall to your mind, Sir, those circumstances on the developing of which my future happiness depends. Save your surprise, my Lord, and to elucidate my meaning, I must entreat the favour of you to peruse these papers, the confession of a dying man once brother to the late Count Berniti.’ The Count took the papers with the most eager curiosity.
Matilda, affected with hopes, doubts, and fears, could not suppress her tears: on this important moment her fate seemed suspended .
The Count made two or three exclamations, but when he came to the murder of his friend, he smote his breast, ‘Unparalleled wickedness and ingratitude!’ cried he. Hastily proceeding in the narrative, he no sooner came to the exchange of the children, than throwing his eyes on Matilda, ‘My heart, and your striking resemblance to the charming Countess, tell me, you are her child.’
‘I am! I am!’ replied Matilda, weeping, and strongly agitated, ‘if she will vouchsafe to own me!’ He folded her to his bosom, ‘Own you! O, what transport to recover such a daughter! Compose yourself, my dear young lady; I am little less affected than you are — but let me finish this interesting confession of a miserable wretch.’ He went through the whole without any further interruption.
At the conclusion, the captain related the events at Tunis, and the result of their enquiries at Naples, which had brought them to Nice.
‘Doubt not, my dear lady, but all your troubles are over: behold the hand of Providence in every event; had not your wretched uncle taken you from France; had you not fallen into the power, perhaps of the only man who would have treated his captives with honour and compassion, unknown in general to people of his profession — forgive me, Sir, the observation’— the captain bowed —‘had not the dread of death and everlasting punishments terrified the guilty wretch; had not all these singular events happened, through Divine permission, you might, to this hour, have been ignorant of your birth, and my amiable friend deprived of the joy and transport that await her in your arms.’
The Count again warmly embraced her. He paid a thousand polite compliments to the captain; and though he regretted leaving them, he was anxious to consult his lady in what manner to convey this delightful intelligence to the Countess.
When he returned to his lady she saw he was greatly agitated, and knowing the message he had received, was very curious to hear the result of his visit. She fortunately happened to be alone; he therefore related the whole story, read the papers, and spoke in raptures of Matilda’s person, and engaging manners. Nothing could equal the astonishment of the Lady Marcellini. She anticipated the joy of her friends, yet was at a loss how to inform her of an event so entirely unexpected. They knew it must recall to her mind the horrid circumstances of her husband’s murder, which neither time nor reason had ever reconciled her to support with any fortitude. ‘Yet,’ said the Count, ‘to recover such a child; to have a hold, a connexion in life so desirable and so unlooked for, must surely greatly overbalance the affliction of a painful remembrance, at least weakened, though not subdued.’
They went to the apartment of the Countess. She was at her toilet. Her woman, being dismissed, ‘Well, Count,’ asked she, ‘have you seen the lady from Tunis — is she a Turkish woman?’ ‘No, madam, she was brought up in Germany; she is a charming young creature, and you may be proud of the compliment,’ added he, smiling, ‘when I assure you she very strongly resembles your Ladyship.’ ‘You are very polite, my good friend,’ answered she, in the same tone, ‘but I am neither young nor handsome, and you say this lady is both; but, pray, is she acquainted with any of our friends?’ ‘Yes, but by name only; she has no personal knowledge of any one in Naples; she was very particular in her enquiries after you.’ ‘Of me!’ said the Countess, surprised; ‘how could she know any thing of me?’ Â‘You remember the Chevalier N — who went abroad so many years since?’ ‘Ah!’ said she, with a sigh, Â‘I do indeed remember him; is he alive — does this lady belong to him?’ ‘He is not living,’ answered the Count, for Matilda permitted him to suppose he was dead, without asserting it; ‘this young lady was in some degree related to him, but I think more nearly so to your Ladyship.’ ‘Heavens! my dear Count, you surprise me! I know not of any female relation I can possibly have.’ ‘She is certainly a near relation, however,’ replied the Count, ‘and you must prepare yourself for a most agreeable surprise, as I am convinced you will love her dearly.’ ‘Indeed, my good Count,’ exclaimed the Countess, ‘you have given me violent emotions; my heart palpitates, and my whole frame trembles; for GodÂ’s sake, do not keep me in suspense — who can this lady be?’ ‘Before we answer you, my dear friend,’ said the Count’s Lady, ‘let me persuade you to take a few drops, in water, the agreeable flutter of your spirits will require them.’ ‘All this preparation terrifies me; I will take any thing, but pray be explicit at once.’ ‘Then, my dear lady, bear the joyful recital, I am about to give you with resolution.’
He took up the story, at a French vessel, captured by the Corsair, and a gentleman on board, attempting to destroy himself and a lady, described the subsequent events, and then began the narrative. When in his address to Matilda, he said, ‘The Count Berniti was your father,’ the Countess started from her chair, ‘Gracious God! what do I hear; but no — I can have no interest in it.’ She was silent. He proceeded, whilst she hung her head, drowned in tears at the mention of her husband whose death he slightly passed over, Â‘till he came to the circumstance of the children. She gave a shriek, and throwing her arms around her friend, ‘If this is true, great God! if this is true, I may yet have a child. O! say,’ cried she looking wildly at him, ‘tell me at once, have I child?’ ‘You have,’ said the Count, approaching her, ‘you have a daughter, my dear Countess, whom heaven has preserved to bless the remainder of your days.’ Â‘Â’Tis too much, too much,Â’ said she, putting her hand to her bosom and instantly fainted in the arms of her friend. Having drops and water at hand, she was soon recovered; and after a few sighs, that removed the oppression from her heart, she said, ‘Tell me, if it is the illusion of my senses only, or if indeed I have a child?’ ‘No, my dear lady, you are not deceived — we have told you truth.’ ‘Then, where is she?’ cried the Countess, eagerly, ‘let me see her — I die with impatience!’ ‘Recover your spirits,’ answered the Count; ‘collect your fortitude, and I will immediately fetch her to your arms.Â’ Â‘O, hasten! hasten!’ cried she, dissolving in tears, which they were glad to see. And the Count, with joy, flew to the hotel, where poor Matilda waited in all the agonies of suspense. ‘The discovery is made, my dear young lady; your mother is impatient to receive and bless you.’
This intelligence, though so anxiously wished for, gave her inexpressible agitations; she got up and sat down, two or three times, without speaking, or being able to move; and at length, with trembling knees, was conveyed to the carriage, the captain, at the request of the Count, accompanying them. When arrived at the house, and conducted to a room, she had a glass of wine to raise her spirits, whilst the Count announced her arrival. In a few minutes he returned, and took her hand. The Captain wished not to be present at the first interview. With a tremor through her whole frame she gave her hand; the door opened; she saw a lady, at the top of the room, who appeared to be in tears. Matilda saw no more, she sprung from the Count, threw herself on her knees before her, and without uttering one word, sunk into insensibility. The friends hastened to her relief. The Countess sat stupid, gazing wildly on her, without moving. When Matilda’s senses were a little restored she looked up, she exclaimed, ‘My mother! O, have I a mother’ That word recalled the Countess to sense and feeling; she clasped her in her arms, ‘Blessed! blessed sound!’ she cried, ‘my child, my dearest daughter! heaven be thanked.’ She dropped on her knees and lifted her hands and eyes to heaven, then again embraced her child, whose soft and tender emotions were too powerful to admit of speech, nor is it possible to describe the tumultuous joy of both for many minutes. The unhappy widow, the childless parent, dead to every hope of comfort, to embrace a child, adorned with every grace, to feel those delightful sensations to which her breast had been a stranger, and which mothers only can conceive — a blessing so great, so unexpected, no language can describe. What then must be the feelings of Matilda, after suffering such a variety of sorrows, to find herself in the arms of a parent? O, sweet and undefinable emotions! when reciprocal between a mother and a child! who can speak the rapture of each tender bosom, when parental and filial love unites!
After the first transports were a little abated, the captain was introduced. The Countess welcomed him as the preserver of her child. He was struck with the perfect resemblance between the mother and daughter, and extremely gratified by the affectionate attention of every one present.
In the evening Matilda promised to relate the particulars of her whole story, and the following day to write to her friends.
The Count now pursued his voyage to Nice, still doubtful of Matilda’s safety, and the sincerity of Mr Weimar’s repentance.
The wind was not favourable to his impatience, and the passage was a tedious one; at last, however, he was landed at Nice, and, after many enquiries, learnt there was a Turkish vessel on the point of sailing. He flew to the ship; the captain was on board; without reserve the Count acquainted him with his errand, and search after Matilda. ‘Indeed, Sir,’ said the captain, ‘I pity you; Â’tis peculiarly unfortunate, that they have quitted Nice three days, on their way to Vienna.’
The poor Count was struck dumb with vexation and disappointment; the captain, however, related to him the whole story, as he recollected, in Matilda’s narrative, he was mentioned as a particular friend. ‘When,’ added he, ‘the Countess was acquainted with the extent of her daughterÂ’s obligations to the ladies in Germany, she instantly proposed going to Vienna, which being correspondent to Matilda’s wishes, their friends consented to accompany them, and the happy party set off three days ago. Me,’ said the captain, ‘they have rewarded with unbounded generosity much beyond my wishes or deserts; I shall now return, to live in the bosom of my family, and give up the sea for ever.’
The Count applauded his resolution; and taking a ring from his finger, of value, ‘Wear this, my dear Sir, as a testimony of my esteem for the friend of Matilda, and remember, that in the Count de Bouville you will ever find one, upon any future occasion.’
The captain could not refuse so polite a compliment, though he was already amply gratified for the services he had done.
Thus we see a just and generous action scarcely ever fails of being properly recompensed.
The Count had now nothing to do but follow his mistress. He remembered Mrs Courtney telling him he was going on a Quixote expedition. What would she say now, thought he, how exult at my disappointed knight errantry? Then, when he thought of the discovery of Matilda’s birth, ‘Ah!’ said he, ‘should I no longer be dear to her, of what use is my pursuit? she will now be introduced to the great world, and my pretensions may be distanced by a thousand pretenders of more merit and superior fortune! Nevertheless, I will not give her up until from herself I receive my doom.’ Accordingly the following morning, a little recovered from his fatigue, he set of for Vienna.
Meantime the Countess, her daughter, the Count and Countess Marcellini, with their attendants, were safely arrived at Vienna, from whence Matilda wrote to her beloved friends, and earnestly requested the favour of seeing them.
’Tis impossible to describe the transports which her letter occasioned. They lost no time in setting off, and that very same evening their names were announced, Lord Delby and the young Count restraining their impatience Â‘till the following day.
The mutual joy, congratulations, and expressions of obligation which took place on their meeting may be easier conceived than described. The Countess Berniti was never weary of pouring forth her acknowledgements to the friends and preservers of her child, whilst they, on the other hand, could not help admiring the wonderful chain of events which had gradually led the way to such a happy discovery both for her and the Countess of Wolfenbach.
‘To-morrow,Â’ said the Marquis, ‘we shall beg leave to introduce our friend Lord Delby, and the young Count, my sister’s son. I assure you,’ said he, addressing Matilda, ‘when we first heard of your being forced from the convent, our young Frederic, though only sixteen years old, had the gallantry to offer himself as your champion to pursue and deliver you.’ ‘Can I wonder at his generosity and heroism, my dear Sir,’ answered she, ‘born of such a mother, and possessing doubtless the virtues of his family? No; I am already prepossessed in his favour; I know he must resemble my charming Countess.’
She forebore speaking of Lord Delby, that she might not be obliged to ask for the Countess, his sister, as she concluded the marriage must have taken place long ago.
They spent a most delightful evening together, and engaged to accompany the Countess of Wolfenbach to her seat, in three days from the present; that lady next day sending orders to prepare for the reception of her noble guests.
Matilda longed to see young Frederic, and her ideas of him were all confirmed when she beheld him: his elegant form and polished manners, in some measure, reconciled her to his late father, for having done his son so much justice in his education. Every one was charmed with him; and Lord Delby was received with all the respect due to his rank and merit.
As both the Countess Berniti and her daughter were silent respecting the Count, the others were equally cautious not to name him, lest they might say more than Matilda chose to have known; and there being no opportunities for private conversation, the Marchioness earnestly wished to be in the country, that they might enjoy a few uninterrupted tÃªtÃª-Ã -tÃªtes.
At the appointed time they all quitted Vienna, and arrived at the Countess’s villa.
They were just seated at the dinner-table when the Count De Bouville’s name was announced. The Marchioness gave a cry of joy; the knife and fork dropped from Matilda’s hand, and it was with difficulty she kept her seat when he entered the room. The Marquis introduced him to the strangers as his particular friend: as they had never heard his name mentioned, they received him with the politeness due to that recommendation only: but when he advanced to Matilda she changed colour, and trembled so violently as to attract her mother’s observation, although she was too attentive just then to speak, for the Count’s agitations were visibly greater than hers; he bowed upon her hand and said a few words, but they were not intelligible. The Marquis hurried him through the rest of the company, and then placed him between Lord Delby and himself, saying, ‘Now, if you please, let us have our dinner; I put a negative to all compliments and question for this hour to come —’tis plain we are all very glad to see each other.’
In consequence of this seasonable order the conversation became general, and the Count and Matilda had time to recover themselves. She wondered indeed no one asked for his lady, nor that she appeared to be of the party. He cannot help being a little confused, thought she, and did not expect to find me here, I suppose: well, I must try to exert my fortitude, and, amidst so many blessings, I ought not to repine that one is withheld from my possession. Occupied by these reflections, she ate very little, nor attended to the conversation.
The Countess, her mother, who had been an attentive observer both of the Count and her daughter, said, ‘My love, Matilda, you eat nothing.’ She almost started, but replied, ‘I beg your pardon, madam, I am doing extremely well.’
Bouville, who had been at no loss to discover Matilda’s mother, as well from the likeness as the tender looks of the latter, now paid that lady particular attention.
When the dinner and servants were removed, the Marchioness complained of a trifling head-ache, and said she would go for a few minutes into the air. ‘Will you step out with me, Matilda?’ ‘With pleasure, my dear madam,’ answered she, rising quickly from her chair, and glad to escape.
The two friends walked to the garden. ‘My dear Matilda,’ cried the Marchioness, ‘I could rein in my impatience no longer; I was eager to congratulate you on the arrival of the Count, and on your happiness, in having now all your friends about you.’ ‘You are ever good and kind to me, my dear madam. I have indeed met with so many great and undeserved blessings, that my heart bounds in gratitude to heaven for its goodness towards one who, a short time since, thought herself the most unhappy of her sex.’ ‘You will remember, my dear,’ said the Marchioness, ‘it was my constant lesson to you, never to despair. Providence has now brought you out of all your troubles; a reliance on its justice and mercy, and an humble and grateful heart for the blessings you enjoy, will henceforth make your happiness permanent. But, my dear Matilda, I can perceive your confidence in your charming mother has not been quite unreserved; I plainly see she is a stranger even to the name of the Count De Bouville; how comes that to be the case?’ ‘As all possibility of any connexion between the Count and myself was at an end, I conceived there would be an indelicacy in mentioning his former offers to my mother; yet perhaps I was wrong, and ought to have done justice to the sentiments he then honoured me with, as they proved his generosity and nobleness of mind. If I have been wrong,’ said she, with a sigh, Â‘Â’tis not too late to repair the fault, though it can be of no consequence to him now.’ ‘Your words astonish me,’ cried the Marchioness; what has the Count De Bouville done to have forfeited your esteem?’ ‘Nothing, madam,’ replied she, confused; ‘he has done nothing to lessen his merit or virtues in my estimation.Â’ I think indeed,’ resumed her friend, ‘you must be strangely altered. If it should be so, for I thought you always an enthusiast in gratitude, and surely the man who made you an unreserved offer of his hand, and though rejected, still preserved his affection through many temptations — who has traversed lands and seas in search of you.’ ‘Of me, madam!’ exclaimed Matilda, surprised; ‘pardon my interruption, but did you say the Count had been in search of me?’ ‘Doubtless I did,’ replied her friend; ‘can that surprise you; could you suppose we did not inform him, you were in the power of Weimar? or that he knowing it, would not range through the world to find you? I am sorry you do him so little justice, Matilda, for certainly he is entitled to your warmest gratitude, if your heart no longer speaks in his favour.’ Astonishment overpowered the senses of Matilda for a moment. ‘He is not then married to Mrs Courtney’ said she, faintly. ‘To Mrs Courtney! good God! no; how came you to entertain such a ridiculous idea?’
Joy, transport, and unexpected relief from the painful thoughts she long had entertained were now too powerful for her feelings: with difficulty she tottered to a seat, and leaning her head on her friend’s shoulder, burst into a flood of tears, which preserved her from fainting.
‘My dear Matilda,’ cried the Marchioness, ‘I now clearly comprehend the whole; but, at the same time that I give you joy of your doubts being removed, I could beat you for presuming to wrong my amiable friend by entertaining them; see that you excuse yourself well, or depend upon my displeasure.’
Matilda, after taking some time to recover her spirits, mentioned the anonymous letter; also, nearly as she could recollect, the contents of Mrs Courtney’s, written to her whilst she was in the convent; she repeated her answer. ‘After which,’ added Matilda, ‘your journey taking place, when you kindly sent to invite me of your party, the Count was not mentioned; I therefore naturally concluded he was married, and remained with his lady, and that, from considerate motives you declined giving me the information.’ ‘How industrious some spirits are to torment themselves,’ exclaimed the Marchioness, ‘yet I own you had some little cause for your conclusions; but I am most inconceivably surprised Mrs Courtney should have taken such a step; that she was very partial to him, I believe, and might wish for a return from him, is also very probable, but I am convinced the Count never did make, nor ever thought of making the smallest pretensions to her favour, any more than common politeness required; and so, my little credulous, jealous friend, I desire you will return to the company, make the Count one of your best courtesies, and pay him the highest attention otherwise I will certainly put him out of the pain that now oppresses him, by telling the whole story.’
Matilda, who felt her heart uncommonly light, readily promised to behave very well, and requested the Marchioness would take an opportunity to acquaint her mother with the Count’s generosity and affection for her.
This being agreed on, the ladies returned to the dessert, with so much satisfaction in their countenances as excited the attention of their friends.
‘I do not ask after the head-ache,’ said the Marquis, smiling, ‘a tÃªtÃª-Ã -tÃªte seems to have driven it away.’ ‘You are right,’ answered his lady, in the same tone; ‘it sometimes cures both the head and the heart; but come, give us some fruit, it must be confessed you have done pretty well in our absence.’
The Countess Berniti was delighted to see her daughter look cheerful; and as the Count De Bouville had engaged her in conversation, Matilda joined in it now and then with great complaisance towards him, which elevated his spirits to the highest pitch; and every thing relative to her being full in his mind, he observed what an uncommon generous Turk the captain of the corsair was.
‘Why, do you know him, my Lord?’ asked the Countess.
He was struck mute; Matilda hung her head, evidently confused. ‘Ah! Count, Count,’ said the Marquis, ‘when men get tipsy, whether with wine or joy, out pops all their secrets; but I see you are dumb — I will answer for you. Yes, madam,’ added he, addressing the Countess, ‘I believe the Count does know the captain, for he has been taken a prisoner too.’ ‘Indeed!’ cried she, ‘what, at the same time my daughter was?’ ‘I will not take upon me to say,’ answered he, smiling archly at Matilda, ‘that it was exactly at the same time, but I believe it was pretty nearly so.’
The Marchioness and her sister could not help laughing at this equivoque which added to the confusion of Matilda.
‘Come, come,’ cried the Countess, her friend, ‘none of your pleasantry my Lord; the Count shall tell his own story to the ladies another time, and I will assist him where he fails to do himself justice.’
The Count bowed; ‘You are very good to me, madam; I am only afraid I shall have occasion for troubling you and the Marchioness to prove your partiality for me, at the expence of your judgement.’ ‘Very well, Count,’ said the Marquis, ‘I am thrown out, I see. Faith, you are in the right; a young handsome fellow seldom fails of engaging the ladies, whilst no such dust is thrown in our eyes, to blind our judgement, or obtain a partial testimony.’ ‘Be quiet, Marquis,’ said his sister; ‘you are really malicious.’
The company arose soon after, and going into the garden, divided into little parties. The Marchioness and the two Countesses went towards an alcove; the lady of the house, with Matilda, the Count, Lord Delby, and Frederic took another path; the Marquis and Count Marcellini strolled into a different one.
Matilda now took an opportunity to atone for the omission she had been guilty of, by asking Lord Delby after Mrs Courtney and his son. Meantime the Marchioness explained to the Countess the sentiments of the Count De Bouville; his early affection for Matilda, his repeated offers of marriage, and her noble refusal openly, grounded on the uncertainty of her birth, since she did not deny a preferable esteem for him. She also repeated his long and tedious searches after her, as far as she knew of them, and concluded with observing, his rank and fortune, elevated as both were, fell far short of his merit and amiable disposition. When she had finished, ‘I own to you, madam,’ said the Countess, ‘your relation has broke in upon my favourite plan. I hoped to have carried my daughter to Naples, and to have seen her married and settled there for life. Ah!’ said she, ‘to what purpose did I find her, if we are to be separated again?’ ‘But where is the necessity for a separation?’ said the Countess Marcellini, ‘cannot you alternately visit each other every year?’ ‘No,’ replied she; ‘when she marries there will be many things to prevent it. Indeed,’ added she, in tears, ‘good and amiable as the Count is, I wish Matilda had never known him.’ ‘Possibly, madam,’ answered the Marchioness, very gravely, Â‘she might then never have seen the convent, never have been carried off, and you still ignorant you had such a daughter living, whose generous self-denial deserves some praise as the Count’s disinterested and uncommon passion is entitled to some consideration: but I beg your Ladyship’s pardon; I have only done my duty in making this communication; the Lady Matilda, will doubtless conform herself to your wishes.’
The Countess struck with her words and manner of speaking them, caught her hand, and kissing it, ‘Pardon me, dearest madam,’ said she, ‘if I have appeared petulant and ungrateful, my heart is not so, but consider how natural it is for a mother, just in possession of a treasure so long and painfully regretted as entirely lost, to be jealous of a superior attachment, and unhappy at the idea of parting from an object so entwined about her heart.’ ‘It is natural, my dear madam,’ answered the Marchioness, ‘and if I did not hope some method might be found out to obviate the objection, I believe the Count would have little chance of succeeding with —’ ‘Your and my Matilda,’ said the Countess, eagerly. ‘That “Lady Matilda” struck me to the heart.’ ‘She is indeed mine,’ replied the Marchioness, ‘my adopted child; and had the want of fortune only prevented her union with the Count, we offered largely to remove it; but her objections proceeded from an elevation of soul, a greatness of mind, that would not disgrace the man she married, whilst the Count thought she would dignify any rank, and honour any man to whom she gave her hand.’ ‘Amiable, good young people!’ said the Lady Marcellini. ‘O! my dear Countess they ought not be separated.’ ‘Nor shall they,’ answered she, ‘if I find their affection is still mutual: I will have a private conversation with Matilda tomorrow, and you, madam, shall immediately know the result.’ They now walked towards the house, and were soon joined by the rest of their party.
Notwithstanding every one wished to appear pleasing, the evening was not a gay one. The Countess Berniti seemed collected within herself Matilda was confused and apprehensive; the Count De Bouville distracted with doubts, drew unfavourable omens from the looks of the mother and daughter, and therefore was very silent. They separated at an early hour, and sought in sleep a forgetfulness of care.
The following morning, the Countess and Matilda being alone in their dressing-room the former said, ‘How comes it, my dear child, that, in relating your story to me, you never mentioned the particular obligations you owed to the Count De Bouville, for his generous offers?’ ‘Because, madam,’ answered Matilda, blushing, ‘I thought it would appear to give myself a consequence I did not wish to arrogate, for merely doing my duty in declining them. Another reason was, I had been misled into a belief, that the Count had married an English lady, a sister of Lord Delby’s; and therefore supposing he never could be any thing to me, I judged it of no consequence, for the present, at least, to say any thing about him.’ ‘You have answered with candour and sincerity,’ said the Countess ‘and I expect the same to the following question: Do you love the Count De Bouville?’ ‘If, madam,’ replied she, hesitating a little, ‘to prefer him to any other man I ever saw; if to confess that I think him deserving of the highest esteem from every one he honours with his acquaintance; if this is to be called love, I must answer in the affirmative.’ ‘You are not quite so ready and explicit in this answer,’ said the Countess, with a smile, ‘nevertheless I believe your sentiments in his favour are pretty decisive; and if my conjectures are right what part am I to act, and how be expected to give a sanction to your union, which, in all probability will part us for ever.’ ‘Never, my dear mother,’ answered she, in a firm tone, ‘never; no power on earth shall part us again: how great soever my affection for the Count may be, be assured my duty, my love for you will greatly over-balance it; and if the alternative must be to part with one, behold me ready to give him up, without the least degree of hesitation.’ ‘Now, my dear Matilda,’ said the Countess, extremely moved by the firmness of her voice, and the expression in her eyes, Â‘now you have found the way to subdue me at once: you shall make no such sacrifices for me, my child; and I will think of some method to reconcile your duty and inclination to my wishes.’ Matilda kissed her mother’s hand with the warmest affection, and some of their friends coming into the room precluded further conversation. She went in search of the Marchioness. She was told that lady was in the garden, and thither she repaired, when, coming to an alcove, she saw her seated in earnest conversation with the Count De Bouville. She would have turned back, but the Count ran, caught her hand, and led her to the Marchioness. ‘I am rejoiced to see you,’ said she, ‘my dear child; do, pray, take this troublesome young man off my hands, for I declare he has been making down right love to me.’ ‘Who, I?’ said the Count. ‘Yes,’ answered she, ‘you know you have — as a proxy; and, as I am quite tired of being only a substitute, I leave Matilda to supply my place for the present.’ She got up and walked away, Matilda being too much confused to have the resolution to prevent her.
The Count seized this moment to know his doom. He besought her attention for a few moments, briefly ran over the affair between Mrs Courtney and him, as a mere Bagatelle, without wounding the lady’s consequence. His distress and pursuit of her through France, Switzerland, Germany, from thence to Tunis and back again. He described the fervency of his love and the tortures of suspence; called upon her in the tenderest manner, to remember the time when she had said, ‘If her rank and fortune equalled his, she would, with pleasure, give him her hand.’ ‘And now, madam,’ added he, ‘that hour so much wished for by you, though of little consequence in my estimation, when thrown into the scale with unequaled merit and dignity of mind; that hour is arrived, deign, my beloved Matilda, to tell me, if I still can boast a share in your esteem; tell me, if I may presume to hope, that, however changed your situation, your heart, faithful to your other friends, has not withdrawn itself from him who lives only for you, and depends on you for happiness or misery in extreme?’
Matilda endeavoured to assume a composure she did not feel, for after the conversation with her mother she thought she was not at liberty to act for herself. Being silent a few moments she replied, ‘Believe me, Sir, my heart is still unchanged, still the same grateful and affectionate sentiments predominate in my mind: the Count De Bouville possesses my esteem, if possible, more than ever, for my obligations to him are increased; but — I have a mother; no longer mistress of my own destiny, she must determine for me. I will not scruple to confess, that it will be to me the happiest moment of my life, if my duty and affection to her coincide with your wishes.’
The Count, transported with joy, kissed her hand in expressive silence, whilst Matilda rose from her seat and hurried to the house, rejoiced that this interview was over. She returned to her mother’s apartment. The ladies were with her. The Marchioness smiled a little maliciously at her, but observing she looked rather agitated, she asked, ‘What is become of the gentlemen this morning? have you seen the Marquis and his friends, my love?’ ‘No, madam,’ replied she, ‘I suppose they are rambling in the grounds.’
Just then the Marquis entered. ‘Ah! ladies,’ said he, ‘I am happy to see you together: I have undertaken to bring a cause before your tribunal today, against one of your coterie, and I expect an impartial judgement. What say you, ladies, dare you promise to be just and sincere?’ ‘Your impertinent question is so affronting to us,’ replied the Countess, ‘that I think we ought to decline hearing your cause.’ ‘Conscience, conscience, my dear sister,’ cried he, smiling, ‘nevertheless, I will open my brief. A gentleman of rank, fortune, and unquestionable merit’— here Matilda trembled —‘has, for some time, entertained the warmest affection and respect for an amiable woman. When first he knew and admired her she was in a situation that precluded hope, he was therefore condemned to silence; that situation is changed; he has no obstacles to combat but the lady’s over-strained delicacy: she owns a preferable esteem, but — she cannot approve of a second marriage.’ Here all eyes were glanced at the Countess, who was confused. Matilda began to respire. ‘Tell me, ladies,’ resumed the Marquis, ingenuously, ‘should so futile an objection preclude her from making a worthy man happy, gratifying her own partiality in his favour, and giving a dear and valuable additional relation to her friends? You see I put the case simply and plainly. Will you, madam’— addressing the Countess Berniti — have the goodness to speak first?’ ‘I am not an advocate, Sir,’ she answered ‘for second marriages; on the contrary, I think there are but very few cases that can justify them. If a woman is left with a family she is anxious to provide for, and has an eligible offer, that will enable her to do so, duty to them should make her accept it; gratitude to the generous man, should render her a good and affectionate wife. If a woman has had a bad husband, who has used her ill, and unworthy of her merit, I conceive she owes no respect to his memory, but may, without any imputation whatever, reward the affection of a deserving object, and find her own happiness in so doing.’ The Countess Marcellini, said, ‘My sentiments exactly correspond with my amiable friend’s.’ ‘And mine, also,’ cried the Marchioness, ‘only I must be permitted to add, that if a woman so situated declines the offer, from over-delicacy, which is no delicacy at all, and by so doing renders a worthy man wretched, and refines away her own happiness at the same time, I think her quite inexcusable, and deserving reproach from her friends.’ ‘Thank you, my love,’ said the Marquis; ‘and now, sister, your opinion, if you please.’ ‘Mine,’ answered she, in some confusion, ‘you are no stranger to, otherwise whence this appeal? but to convince you I am neither obstinate nor perverse, but open to conviction and the advice of my best friends, I will frankly subscribe to the opinion and judgement of these ladies.’ ‘Now,’ said the Marquis, ‘you have redeemed my love and esteem. I will not apply to our sweet Matilda here; she is unqualified, at present to judge; and I fear her trial is not far off from an accusation something similar, though not on account of a second marriage; however I shall now rejoice my client with intelligence, that he has gained his cause.’ He bowed with a smiling air, and left the room.
‘My dear sister,’ said the Marchioness, ‘accept my congratulations: Lord Delby is a most worthy nobleman, and offers to reside in whatever country you please; wherever you are will be his home.’
The ladies all congratulated the Countess.
‘I own,’ said she, ‘I have a very preferable regard for Lord Delby, and am, in all probability, indebted to him for my life and present happiness: it shall henceforth be my study to return those obligations.’
This matter being settled, the ladies retired to dress; and, after a little hesitation in her voice, Matilda informed her mother of the preceding conversation, between herself and the Count. ‘I have referred him to you, madam, and I beg previously to observe, I will implicitly, and without a murmur, abide by your decision. I never will be separated from you; and if my union with the Count must be attended with so great a sacrifice, no consideration whatever shall induce me to marry him. I have already shewn I can resign him, when I think it my duty to do so.’ ‘You are an extraordinary good girl,’ answered the Countess, ‘but I will make no promises; when I have heard the Count, I shall be the better able to determine what I ought to do.’
This day a cheerfulness pervaded through the whole party. Young Frederic, extremely attached to Lord Delby, was delighted with the prospect of a nearer connexion. He was charmed with the Count De Bouville; but his young heart felt a little degree of envy when he considered him as the favoured lover of Matilda, whom he admired so exceedingly, that his extreme youth only prevented him from being a formidable rival.
In the evening, when they took their usual walk, the Count requested the honour of a quarter of an hour’s conversation with the Countess Berniti, and they retired to an alcove.
Matilda, who was leaning on the Lady Marcellini’s arm, trembled so exceedingly, that she pressed her hand, and said, ‘Fear nothing, my good girl, and hope every thing.’ This a little re-assured her, and they pursued their walk.
The Marquis suddenly joined them, and observing her companion engaged in chat, drew her gently aside, ‘There is a letter for you, under my cover, and I suspect, from Weimar.’ They walked aside, and Matilda, hastily opening it, found it was really from him. He had entered among the Carthusians, at Paris. He pathetically laments all his past crimes, and acknowledges the justice and mercy of God: calls upon her to forgive and pray for him; cautions her against the allurements of the world, and takes an everlasting leave of her; meaning, from the hour he receives one line from her, to inform him, that she has recovered a mother, and is happy in her present prospects, to shut up his correspondence and connexion with the world for ever.
This letter affected Matilda greatly; she remembered the care he had taken of her youth, though she shuddered when she considered him as the murderer of her father. ‘Unhappy man,’ cried she, ‘may God afford him penitence and peace in this life, and endless happiness in the world to come!’ She promised the Marquis to write an answer the following morning, and he undertook to enclose it.
She joined her friends; but the letter had given so melancholy a turn to her thoughts, that every one took notice of her dejection; and judging it to arise from another cause, every one was anxious to dispel it, and raise her spirits.
At supper they all met. Matilda glanced her eyes once towards the Count, and observed joy seemed to animate his whole frame; from thence she derived hope, that he was not very displeasing to her mother.
When they retired for the night, the Countess was silent; Matilda of course asked no questions.
The next morning the Countess held a long conversation with her two Neapolitan friends; at the conclusion of which, the Count and her daughter was sent for. They attended, both visibly agitated. After they were seated, the Countess addressed herself to her child: ‘My dear Matilda, the Count has done you the honour to express a warm attachment to you, and has requested me to authorize his addresses, without which permission you have refused to listen to him. I expect you answer me with sincerity; will my consent, my sanction to his addresses meet your wishes? or, can you renounce him, and follow me to Naples, if I desire it?’ ‘Certainly I will, madam, there, or any where you command; at the same time, I should make a very poor return for the obligations I owe the Count De Bouville, if I hesitated to own, that had his addresses been favoured with the approbation of my mother, I could have preferred him to all men living; but no preference whatever shall militate against the superior obligations I am under to a parent.’ ‘Come to my arms, my dear children,’ cried the Countess, extending them, ‘I know not which is most dear to me.’
They threw themselves at her feet: she blessed them with tears of joy and joined their hands. Both were speechless, but language was not necessary to prove their mutual transports. She raised them, and presented them to her friends, ‘Love my children,’ said she, ‘I think they deserve it.’
When a little recovered from their joy, and seated by her, ‘Now listen to me,’ said the Countess; ‘I will not repeat the conversation I had with the Count last evening, ’tis sufficient to say his offers were beyond my hopes or expectations: he frankly of himself requested my daughter and self should never be separated, for he would settle in Naples. That intention of his did away the only objection I could make. I consented to his wishes, but reserved to myself the pleasure of telling Matilda so. Last night, when I came to reflect on the sacrifice the Count was about to make, of his country, his friends, the injury his fortune must sustain, and the uncommon affection he manifested for my daughter, in paying me so great a compliment, I felt myself little in my own eyes for my acceptance of his generous offer. Dissatisfied and uneasy I said nothing to you, my love, of our conversation. This morning I consulted my friends; they were equally struck with myself at the Count’s attention to my happiness; their opinion coincided with my own — that it became my character not to accept such a resignation.’ ‘My dear mother!’ exclaimed Matilda. ‘Patience, my love; those generous friends, I presume to flatter myself, decided against their own inclinations. In one word, they approved that I should renounce Naples; that your country,’— turning to the Count —‘should be my country; and that the satisfaction of entertaining the friends of my youth, who offer to pay me a triennial visit, should be the only favour I ought to ask, or you consistently can grant. Yes, my dear children,’ added she, ‘I will accompany you to France, and end my days under your roof.’
Never was delight equal to what the Count felt at this unexpected turn in his favour; for it could not be supposed he could renounce his country and friends without a pang; on the contrary, only his superior love for Matilda, and respect for the feelings of her mother, could have induced him to offer so great a sacrifice. He thanked her, in transports of joy. He embraced the Count and Countess. ‘Complete your goodness,’ cried he, ‘and add to my obligations, by making this your first visit — go with us to France, and let there be no drawback on my happiness.’
The Countess and Matilda, urging the same request, they conscented to spend three months with them.
‘Now, young folks,’ said the Countess, smiling, ‘you may take a walk and congratulate each other, conscious that you deserve the happiness that awaits you, from nobleness of mind, and a generous self-denial, which prefered the satisfaction of others to your own gratification.’
The Count availed himself of this permission, and led Matilda to the garden, whilst the delighted mother sent for the rest of the family and repeated the preceding scene.
Pleasure shone on every face — all were equally happy; and even Frederic, with a repressed sigh, said, ‘They were deserving of each other.’
Within a week from that day the Countess of Wolfenbach gave her hand to Lord Delby at Vienna, after a mutual agreement, that they should divide their time equally between Germany and England, with sometimes a visit to their friends in Paris, which was promised on all sides, should be reciprocal.
The Count De Bouville wrote to his sister, Madame De Clermont, who was returned to Paris, with restored health, on the happy turn of his affairs, and requested she would make every magnificent preparation for the reception of his guests, the Count and Countess Marcellini; the Countess Berniti and Matilda accompanying the Marchioness until proper arrangements should take place for their marriage, which all were desirous should be publicly performed at Paris, to confute the odium Mademoiselle De Fontelle had thrown upon Matilda’s character.
Lord Delby and his lady had written to Mrs Courtney, of the different events which had taken place, and requested a visit from her to Germany; the Marchioness and Matilda wrote, also, and entreated the same favour.
These letters a little discomposed her at first; but as she had given up all hopes of the Count, and was not of a disposition to fret herself long on any subject, being naturally of an easy temper, she answered their letters with perfect good-humour, congratulated them on the happiness before them, and promised to visit all parties the following Spring.
The parting of the friends from the Countess and Lord Delby was very painful: they were strongly entreated to accompany them, but Frederic having only another month’s leave of absence, to remain with his mother, the time was too short to admit of his going to Paris, and the Countess could not be persuaded to leave him; they were therefore obliged to be contented with the assurance of an early visit to the Count De Bouville, in the Spring, when they would come to meet Mrs Courtney.
The Paris travellers, though much affected by taking leave, as they proceeded on their journey, recovered their spirits, and arrived without meeting any accident at Paris.
Madame De Clermont, her husband, Madame De Nancy, and Mademoiselle De Bancre waited to receive them. Great was the joy of all parties: a thousand embraces and felicitations passed between the Count’s sister, Mademoiselle De Bancre and Matilda; and when the latter called to her remembrance the difference of her feelings now, and when before she had felt herself humbled by their caresses, as passing upon them in a false light, she bent herself, with a grateful adoration, to the Divine Being, who had protected her, and by such unforeseen, and apparently untoward accidents, brought her to such unexpected happiness.
The Count Marcellini waited on the Neapolitan Minister, who came and payed his compliments to the ladies, congratulating the Countess on the recovery of such a daughter, and requesting he might have the honour of introducing them at court.
Three days after the Marchioness gave a superb entertainment: all the foreign ministers were invited, an extensive circle of friends, and among the rest, Madame Le Brun and her niece, who were just returned from England. Conscious as they were of their ill conduct, they had not the resolution to refuse being present at an entertainment where all the great world was invited, and appeared with much effrontery. When they entered, the Marchioness led them to the Countess Berniti, ‘The Countess Berniti, ladies, mother to the Lady Matilda, whom you had the honour of seeing with me a few months ago, as my relation.’ They bowed, paid their compliments, in a confused manner, and hurried on; but the Marchioness had not done with them; she observed the Imperial and Neapolitan Ambassadors were conversing with Matilda; they rather shrunk back; “Nay, ladies,’ said she, ‘you must pay your respects to the queen of the day.’ Mademoiselle felt extremely confused, yet resolved to put a good face on the matter; she assumed a gay and affectionate air as she advanced. The Marchioness having introduced Madame Le Brun, ‘And now,’ said she, to Fontelle, ‘let me present you to Lady Matilda Berniti, one of the first families in Naples, as his Excellency can bear witness; and to your Ladyship I beg leave to say, this is Mademoiselle De Fontelle, the envious traducer of your character; the despicable young woman, who, incapable of practising virtue, from the depravity of her own mind, naturally hates the good and exalted characters of those who entitle themselves to the respect and admiration of the world, and who now meets with that contempt and mortification worthless and censorious characters like hers deserve.’
The struggles of Fontelle, to free her hand from the Marchioness, and the elevated voice of that lady, had drawn a large circle round her. ‘Go, Mademoiselle,’ added she, ‘leave the presence of those you can never see without self-accusation; and may your example teach others how cautious they ought to be in judging of persons and appearances from the malignancy of their own hearts. Candour and good nature,’ said she, smiling, ‘will give beauty to the most indifferent faces, whilst envy and malice will render the most beautiful persons truly contemptible.’
Matilda, who had not expected this denouement, was extremely confused, and felt for the mortified Fontelle, but the numbers who crowded round her, and expressed their satisfaction, though it in some degree abated her regret, induced her to think there was little dependence on the applauses of the multitude: these very people, thought she, a few months ago encouraged the persons they now reprobate; let me not be vain of respect which only circumstances create!
Matilda thought justly; since every day’s experience must convince her, fortuitous circumstance will engage the shew of esteem and respect, which the next moment of misfortune will as assuredly deprive us of, among those who are not capable of discriminating, and attach themselves only to persons gifted by fortune, and are incapable of giving merit, if in obscurity, the praise it deserves.
The two ladies having left the room, boiling with rage and indignation, and leaving a useful lesson to the envious and ill-natured, harmony was restored; every one exerted themselves for the entertainment of others, and every one agreed it was the most delightful evening they had ever spent; though many of them called on Mademoiselle De Fontelle the following morning, expressed their sorrow for the ill-treatment she suffered, and assured her it was the most horrid entertainment; the Lady Matilda, the idol of the evening, the most vain, impertinent, conceited creature they had ever seen.
Such is the progress of envy, such the hatred of virtue, in bad minds, and such you meet with in all public circles.
In less than a fortnight after their arrival in Paris, the Count De Bouville, who had been indefatigable in his endeavours to hasten all the elegant arrangements he had projected for the reception of his bride, had the pleasure of seeing every thing in proper order, and by the approbation of all their joint relations and friends, received the hand and heart of his Matilda, who all acknowledged was the only one deserving the entire affection of the accomplished and respectable Count De Bouville.
Thus, after a variety of strange and melancholy incidents, Matilda received the reward of her steadiness, fortitude, and virtuous self-denial. A consciousness of performing her several duties ensured her happiness; and when she wrote her beloved Mother St Magdalene the happy conclusion of her adventures, ‘From you,’ said she, ‘I learned resignation, and a dependence on that Being who never forsakes the virtuous; from you I learned never to despair; to your precepts and prevention I am indebted for not taking the veil; and I trust, called into an elevated situation, I shall ever remember the unfortunate have claims upon the hearts of those whom God has blessed with affluence; and that, through your means, reserved to experience every blessing of life, I shall feel it my duty, by active virtues, to extend, to the utmost of my abilities, those blessings to others less fortunate than myself.’
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Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:53