I think, continued Mrs Maynard, we left Miss Melvyn requiring to be confronted by her accuser, a request which her step-mother was not inclined to grant; for though in her dealings with young Simon she had perceived such a degree of solicitude for his own interest, and such flagrant proofs of want of integrity, that she did not doubt but that by promising him the farm on rather better terms than she had yet consented to he might be prevailed with to join so far in her scheme as to assert any thing to Sir Charles, yet she dared not venture to produce him face to face to Miss Melvyn, fearing lest his assurance should fail him on so severe a trial.
She replied, therefore, that the proofs were too strong to admit of doubt, but she could not think of exposing Miss Melvyn to the mortification of hearing her depravity witnessed by, perhaps, the last person whom she expected should acknowledge it. Besides, that by such an eclat the disgrace must infallibly become public, and she be deprived of the only means left her of rescuing her reputation from that infamy, to which, in a very short time, it must have been irrecoverably condemned; for it could not be supposed that Mr Morgan would accept as his wife a woman with a sullied character.
Miss Melvyn was almost distracted, at being both so injuriously accused and denied the liberty of defending herself; she begged, she intreated, on her knees, that Sir Charles would not suffer her to fall a prey to such undeserved malice. She asserted her innocence in the strongest and most persuasive terms, and insisted so warmly on her demand of being confronted with her accusers, that her father grew inclined to grant her just request. Lady Melvyn, perceiving he began to comply, repeated her refusal in the most peremptory manner, and declaring to Miss Melvyn that she had no other choice left her but either to resolve to marry Mr Morgan or to be exposed to shame in being publicly disclaimed by her parents, who would no longer suffer her to remain in their house, led Sir Charles out of the room; and he, though reluctant, dared not refuse to accompany her.
Miss Melvyn was now left to reflect on this dreadful alternative. Filled with horror at the shocking conduct of her step-mother, terrified with her threats, and sensible there was no villainy she was not capable of perpetrating rather than give up a point she was thus determined to carry, she was incapable of forming any resolution. She ran to her friend, to seek from her that advice and consolation which her own distracted thoughts could not afford her.
Miss Mancel was so struck with the terror and amazement which was still impressed on Miss Melvyn’s countenance, that she had not for some time courage to ask the cause. Trembling with fears of she knew not what, she embraced her distressed friend with an air of such tender, though silent sympathy, as softened the horror of Miss Melvyn’s mind, and brought a shower of tears to her relief, which at length enabled her to relate all that had passed between her and her parents. Louisa found it much easier to join in her friend’s grief than to administer consolation. She knew not what to advise; two artless, virtuous young women were ill qualified to contend with Lady Melvyn, especially in an affair which could not be rendered public without hazarding Miss Melvyn’s character; for reputation is so delicate a thing that the least surmise casts a blemish on it; the woman who is suspected is disgraced; and though Lady Melvyn did not stand high in the public opinion, yet it was scarcely possible for any one to believe she could be guilty of such flagrant wickedness.
Miss Melvyn had a very strong dislike to Mr Morgan, whose disposition appeared as ill suited to hers as his age; to enter into wedlock without any prospect of social happiness seemed to her one of the greatest misfortunes in life; but what was still of more weight in her estimation, she thought it the highest injustice to marry a man whom she could not love, as well as a very criminal mockery of the most solemn vows. On the other side she considered that to preserve her reputation was not only necessary to her own happiness, but a duty to society. ‘It is true,’ said she, ‘I am not placed in a very conspicuous sphere of life, but I am far from being of a rank so obscure that my actions will affect no one but myself; nor indeed do I know any so low, but they have their equals who may copy after them, if they have no inferiors. The care of our virtue we owe to ourselves, the preservation of our characters is due to the world, and both are required by him who commands us to preserve ourself pure and unpolluted, and to contribute as far as we are able to the well-being of all his creatures. Example is the means given universally to all whereby to benefit society. I therefore look on it as one of our principal duties to avoid every imputation of evil; for vice appears more or less hateful as it becomes more or less familiar. Every vicious person abates the horror which it should naturally excite in a virtuous mind. There is nothing so odious to which custom will not in some degree reconcile us; can we expect then, that vice, which is not without its allurements, should alone retain all its deformity, when we are familiarized to its appearance. I should never therefore esteem myself innocent, however pure my actions, if I incurred the reputation of being otherwise, when it was in my power to avoid it. With this way of thinking, my Louisa, you may imagine that I might be brought to believe it my duty to sacrifice my ease of mind, to the preservation of my character, but in my case, there is no choice; I must either add to the contamination of a very profligate world, or, in the face of Heaven, enter into the most solemn vows to love a man, whom the most I can do is not to hate. This is wilful perjury. In such an alternative duty cannot direct me, and misery must follow my decision, let me determine as I will.’
In this irresolution, Miss Melvyn left her friend, but the vent she had given to her grief had greatly calmed her spirits and restored her to the power of reflection. At her entrance into the house, she met Lady Melvyn, who with a very stern countenance ordered her to go and entertain Mr Morgan, who waited for her in the parlour. She found him alone, and as he began to renew his addresses, which a repulse from her had not discouraged, since he hoped to succeed by the influence her parents had over her, she immediately formed the resolution of endeavouring to make him relinquish his pretensions, in hopes that if the refusal came from him, he might become the object of her mother’s indignation, and her persecution might drop, at least for a time. She therefore frankly told him, that tho’ her affections were entirely disengaged, yet he was so very repugnant to them that it was impossible she should ever feel that regard for him which he had a right to expect from his wife; and therefore intreated him, in consideration of his own happiness, if hers were indifferent to him, not to persist in a pursuit which, if successful, could not answer his hopes, nor reduce her to render herself wretched by becoming his wife, or to exasperate her parents by refusing him. She then added all her heart could suggest to flatter him into compliance with this request.
Mr Morgan’s foible was not an excess of delicacy; he told her plainly, he admired her eloquence prodigiously, but that there was more rhetoric in her beauty than any composition of words could contain; which pleading in direct contradiction to all she had said, she must excuse him, if he was influenced by the more powerful oratory of her charms; and her good sense and unexceptionable conduct convinced him, that when it became her duty to love him, she would no longer remain indifferent.
All Miss Melvyn could urge to shew him this was but a very poor dependence, had no sort of weight, and he parted from her only more determined to hasten the conclusion of their marriage.
Lady Melvyn had not been idle all this time; she had prevailed on young Simon to acquiesce in the questions she put to him before Sir Charles, either by giving short answers, or by down cast eyes, which signified assent. With this Sir Charles acquainted Miss Melvyn, and insisted on her not thinking of exposing herself to the indignity of having the whole affair discussed in her presence. All the indignation that undeserved calumny can excite in an innocent mind could not have enabled Miss Melvyn to bear being charged before so low a creature, with a passion for him, and still less to have heard the suborned wretch pretend to confess it. She therefore found no difficulty in obeying her father in that particular, and rather chose to submit to the imputation than to undergo the shame which she must have suffered in endeavouring to confute it. She attempted to persuade Sir Charles to permit her to stay in the house under what restrictions he and his lady should think proper, till her conduct should sufficiently convince him of her innocence, and not to force her into a hated marriage, or unjustly expose her to disgrace and infamy. Her tears and intreaties would soon have softened his heart; and as far as he dared he shewed an inclination to comply with so reasonable a proposal; but his lady easily obliged him to retract and to deprive Miss Melvyn of all hopes of any mitigation of the sentence already pronounced against her.
Could she without the loss of reputation have fled to a remote part of the kingdom, and have hid herself in some obscure cottage, though reduced to labour for a subsistence, she would have thought it a state far more eligible than becoming Mr Morgan’s wife; but if she thus turned fugitive and wanderer, in what light could she expect to be seen by the world; especially as Lady Melvyn would infallibly, to remove any blame from herself, be liberal in her aspersions? Where she should be unknown, whatever disgrace might be affixed to her name, she herself might escape censure; but yet she would not be less guilty of a violation of her duty to society, since she must appear very culpable to those who knew her, and contribute to the depravity of others, as far as was in her power, by an example which, her motives being unknown, would appear a very bad one.
This consideration determined her to sacrifice her peace to her character; for by having told Mr Morgan the true state of her heart, she had acquitted herself from any charge of attempting, by the gift of her hand, to deceive him into a belief that he was the object of her affections. She still had scruples about entering into the matrimonial state, on motives so different from those which ought to influence every one in a union of that kind: these were not to be removed, but she imagined this might in some measure be excused as the least culpable part she could act; and since man was herein neither her judge nor accuser, she hoped the integrity of her mind would be received as some alleviation of a fault she was thus forced to commit, since she was determined in the strictest manner to adhere to every duty of her station.
Having formed this resolution, she went to consult her friend upon it, who as a person less perplexed, though scarcely less concerned, as their affections were so strongly united, that one could not suffer without the other’s feeling equal pain, might possibly be a calmer judge in so delicate a point. Louisa subscribed to her friend’s sentiments on the occasion, only desired her to consider well, whether she should be able to bear all the trials she might meet with in the married state when she was entirely indifferent to her husband.
‘My prospect,’ said Miss Melvyn, ‘I am sensible is extremely melancholy. All inclination must now be laid aside, and duty must become my sole guide and director. Happiness is beyond my view; I cannot even hope for ease, since I must keep a constant restraint on my very thoughts. Indifference will become criminal; and if I cannot conquer it, to conceal it at least will be a duty. I have learnt to suffer, but was never yet taught disguise and hypocrisy; herein will consist my greatest difficulty; I abhor deceit, and yet must not shew the real sentiments of my heart. Linked in society with a man I cannot love, the world can afford me no pleasure, indeed no comfort, for I am insensible to all joy but what arises from the social affections. The grave, I confess, appears to me far more eligible than this marriage, for I might there hope to be at peace. Mr Morgan’s fortune is large, but his mind is narrow and ungenerous, and his temper plainly not good. If he really loved me, he could not suffer me to be forced into a marriage which he well knows I detest: a knowledge which will not mend my fate, most certainly.
‘Could I enjoy the pleasures of self-approbation, it would be impossible to be very wretched, but the most exact performance of my duty will not yield me that gratification, since I cannot be perfectly satisfied that I do right in marrying a man so very disagreeable to me. I fear the pride of reputation influences me more than I imagine, and though it is as justifiable as any pride, yet still it is certainly no virtue.’
‘When I reflect,’ said she afterwards, ‘on the step I am going to take, my terrors are inexpressible; how dreadful is it at my age, when nature seems to promise me so many years of life, to doom myself to a state of wretchedness which death alone can terminate, and wherein I must bury all my sorrows in silence, without even the melancholy relief of pouring them forth in the bosom of my friend, and seeking, from her tender participation, the only consolation I could receive! For after this dreaded union is completed, duty will forbid me to make my distresses known, even to my Louisa; I must not then expose the faults of him whose slightest failings I ought to conceal. One only hope remains, that you, my first and dearest friend, will not abandon me; that whatever cloud of
melancholy may hang over my mind, yet you will still bear with me, and remove your abode to a place where I may have the consolation of your company. If it be in my power to make my house a comfortable habitation to my Louisa, I cannot be entirely wretched.’
Miss Mancel gave her the tenderest assurances of fixing at least in her neighbourhood, since a second paradise could not recompense her for the loss of her society; and that on no terms could she prevail on herself to continue in a house where she must see that wretched Simon, who had been a vile instrument in reducing her friend to that distressful situation. This gleam of comfort was a very seasonable relief to Miss Melvyn’s dejected spirits, and gave some respite to her tears.
As soon as she returned home, she acquainted Sir Charles and Lady Melvyn with her resolution, who soon communicated it to Mr Morgan; and nothing was now thought of but hastening the wedding as much as possible.
‘I wonder,’ interrupted Lamont, ‘how Miss Melvyn could bring herself to let her step-mother have such an opportunity of exulting in the success of her detestable arts.’
‘That,’ replied Mrs Maynard, ‘was a consideration which had no weight with her, nor should it indeed be any mortification to our pride that deceit and cunning have triumphed over us. Wickedness serves itself by weapons which we would not use, and if we are wounded with them, we have no more reason to be mortified than a man would have to think his courage disgraced because when he lay sleeping in his bed he was taken prisoner by a body of armed men. To be circumvented by cunning must ever be the fate, but never the disgrace, of the artless.’
As Miss Melvyn’s compliance procured her a greater degree of favour at home than she had ever before enjoyed, Miss Mancel was suffered to come to the house, and met with an obliging reception from the whole family. Her continual presence there was a great support to her friend in her very disagreeable situation, and after indulging her sorrow in their private conversation, and mingling their sympathetic tears, she was the better able to endure the restraint which she was obliged to undergo when any other person was present.
The dreaded day fixed on for this unhappy union soon came, and Miss Melvyn received Mr Morgan’s hand and name with all the fortitude she could assume; but her distress was visible to all, even to Mr Morgan, who was so little touched with it that it proved no abatement to his joy; a symptom of such indelicacy of mind as increased his bride’s grief and apprehensions.
The day after their marriage, Mrs Morgan asked his permission to invite Miss Mancel to his house, to which he answered, ‘Madam, my wife must have no other companion or friend but her husband; I shall never be averse to your seeing company, but intimates I forbid; I shall not choose to have my faults discussed between you and your friend.’
Mrs Morgan was not much less stunned by this reply than if she had been struck with lightning. Practised as she had long been in commanding her passions and inclinations, a torrent of tears forced their way.
‘I did not want this proof,’ resumed Mr Morgan, ‘that I have but a small share of your affections; and were I inclined to grant your request, you could not have found a better means of preventing it; for I will have no person in my house more beloved than myself. When you have no other friend,’ added he with a malicious smile, ‘I may hope for the honour of that title.’
Mrs Morgan was so well convinced before of the littleness of his mind that she was more afflicted than surprised at this instance of it, and wished he would not have rendered it more difficult to esteem him by so openly professing his ungenerous temper. However she silently acquiesced; but that her friend might not feel the pain of believing herself neglected, she was obliged to tell her what had passed.
The new married couple stayed but two days longer at Sir Charles’s. Fortunately Mr Morgan spent the last day abroad in paying visits in the neighbourhood, which gave the two unhappy friends leisure to lament their ill fortune in this cruel separation, without giving the cause of it any new offence. They took a melancholy leave that night, fearing that even a correspondence between them might be considerably restrained by this arbitrary husband who seemed to think his wife’s affections were to be won by force, not by gentleness and generous confidence.
This was the severest affliction they had ever yet experienced, or indeed were capable of feeling. United from their childhood, the connection of soul and body did not seem more indissoluble, nor were ever divided with greater pain. They foresaw no end to this cruel separation; for they could not expect that a husband’s complaisance to his wife should increase after he ceased to be a bridegroom. Louisa indeed, who wished if possible to reconcile her friend to her fate, pretended to hope that her good conduct might in time enlarge his mind and cure him of that mean suspicious temper which then made him fear to have his faults exposed by a wife whose chief endeavour would be to conceal them.
But such distant views afforded no consolation to Mrs Morgan’s affectionate heart; the present pain engaged her thoughts too much to suffer her to look so far off for comfort. She had flattered herself not only with the hopes of enjoying Miss Mancel’s company, but of delivering her from all the difficulties of her situation, in offering her a protection from insult or poverty. To be disappointed of so delightful a prospect was her greatest affliction, and sat much heavier on her mind than the loss of her beloved society.
The evening was far spent when Lady Melvyn found them drowned in tears, anticipating the pangs of parting, the employment of that whole day; and as her ladyship’s hatred for her step-daughter was much subsided, since she no longer feared the observation of her too-virtuous eye, her natural disposition inclined her to prevent the wife’s discovering her real sentiments to her husband; she therefore reminded them that Mr Morgan must then be on his way home, and advised that by all means they should part before his return, lest he should be witness of a sorrow which he would take amiss. They were sensible that in this her ladyship judged well, and Louisa’s fear of occasioning any additional uneasiness to her friend gave her resolution and strength to take a last farewell. Mrs Morgan’s maid attended her home, as she was too much affected to be able to perform that little walk without some support. Mrs Morgan’s condition was still more deplorable; more dead than alive, she followed Louisa’s steps with eager eyes, till a turning in the road robbed her of the sight of her friend; and then, as if her eyes had no other employment worthy of them left, they were again overwhelmed in tears. Lady Melvyn found her incapable of consolation; but more successfully endeavoured to make her suppress the indulgence of her grief by alarming her fears with the approach of Mr Morgan. As soon as she was a little composed, she led her into the garden for air. The night was fine, and the moon shone very resplendent, the beauty of the scene and the freshness of the air a little revived her; and as Mr Morgan stayed out later than they expected she had time to acquire a sufficient command over herself to receive him with an air of tolerable cheerfulness.
The new married pair set out early the next morning, and arrived at Mr Morgan’s seat the following day. The house was large and old, the furniture not much less ancient, the situation dreary, the roads everywhere bad, the soil a stiff clay, wet and dirty, except in the midst of summer, the country round it disagreeable, and in short, destitute of every thing that could afford any satisfaction to Mrs Morgan. Nature nowhere appears graced with fewer charms. Mrs Morgan however had vexations so superior that she paid little regard to external circumstances, and was so fully determined to acquit herself properly in her new sphere that she appeared pleased with every thing around her. Hypocrisy, as she observed, was now become a virtue, and the only one which she found it difficult to practise. They were received on their arrival by a maiden sister of Mr Morgan’s, who till then had kept his house and he intended should still remain in it; for as through the partiality of an aunt who had bred her up she was possessed of a large fortune, her brother, in whom avarice was the ruling passion, was very desirous of keeping in her favour.
Miss Susanna Morgan had lived immaculate to the age of fifty-five. The state of virginity could not be laid to her charge as an offence against society, for it had not been voluntary. In her youth she was rather distinguished for sensibility. Her aunt’s known riches gave the niece the reputation of a great fortune, an attraction to which she was indebted for many lovers, who constantly took their leave on finding the old lady would not advance any part of the money which she designed to bequeath her niece. Miss Susanna, extremely susceptible by nature, was favourably disposed to all her admirers, and imagining herself successively in love with each, lived in a course of disappointments. In reality, the impression was made only on her vanity, and her heart continued unengaged; but she felt such a train of mortifications very severely, and perhaps suffered more upon the whole than if she had been strongly impressed with one passion. In time the parsimony of her old aunt became generally known, and the young lady then was left free from the tender importunity of lovers, of which nothing else could probably have deprived her; for as she never had any natural attractions, she was not subject to a decay of charms; at near fifty-five her aunt departed this life, and left her in possession of twenty thousand pounds, a fortune which served to swell her pride, without increasing her happiness.
Nature had not originally bestowed upon her much sweetness of temper, and her frequent disappointments, each of which she termed being crossed in love, had completely soured it. Every pretty woman was the object of her envy, I might almost say every married woman. She despised all that were not as rich as herself, and hated every one who was superior or equal to her in fortune. Tormented inwardly with her own ill-nature, she was incapable of any satisfaction but what arose from teasing others; nothing could dispel the frown on her brow, except the satisfaction she felt when she had the good fortune to give pain to any of her dependants; a horrid grin then distorted her features, and her before lifeless eyes glistened with malice and rancorous joy. She had read just enough to make her pedantic, and too little to give her any improving knowledge. Her understanding was naturally small, and her self-conceit great. In her person she was tall and meagre, her hair black, and her complexion of the darkest brown, with an additional sallowness at her temples and round her eyes, which were dark, very large and prominent, and entirely without lustre; they had but one look, which was that of gloomy stupid ill-nature, except, as I have already said, when they were enlivened by the supreme satisfaction of having made somebody uneasy, then what before was but disagreeable became horrible. To complete the description of her face, she had a broad flat nose, a wide mouth, furnished with the worst set of teeth I ever saw, and her chin was long and pointed. She had heard primness so often mentioned as the characteristic of an old maid, that to avoid wearing that appearance she was slatternly and dirty to an excess; besides she had great addition of filthiness, from a load of Spanish snuff with which her whole dress was covered, as if, by her profusion in that particular, she thought to compensate for her general parsimony.
This lady Mrs Morgan found in possession of her house, and was received by her with that air of superiority to which Miss Susanna thought herself entitled by her age and fortune. Mrs Morgan’s charms, though drooping like a blighted flower, excited much envy in Susanna’s breast, and she soon congratulated her on her extraordinary happiness in having captivated a gentleman of so large a fortune when her own was at present so very small.
At first she commended her for not being elated with so great an acquisition, but in a little time taxed her with ungrateful insensibility to so prodigious a blessing. She continually criticized her economy, accusing her of indolence; representing, how she used every morning to rouse the servants from their idleness, by giving each such a scold, as quickened their diligence for the whole day; nor could a family be well managed by any one who omitted this necessary duty. Mrs Morgan’s desire that her servants should enjoy the comforts of plenty, and when sick, receive the indulgence which that condition requires, brought her continual admonitions against extravagance, wherein Mr Morgan readily joined; for his avarice was so great that he repined at the most necessary expenses.
His temper was a mixture of passion and peevishness, two things that seldom go together; but he would fret himself into a passion, and then through weariness of spirits cool into fretfulness, till he was sufficiently recovered to rise again into rage. This was the common course of his temper, which afforded variety, but no relief.
Sensible that his wife married him without affection, he seemed to think it impossible ever to gain her love, and therefore spared himself all fruitless endeavours. He was indeed fond of her person; he admired her beauty, but despised her understanding, which in truth was unavoidable; for his ideas and conversation were so low and sordid that he was not qualified to distinguish the charms of her elegant mind. Those who know Mrs Morgan best are convinced that she suffered less uneasiness from his ill-humour, brutal as it was, than from his nauseous fondness. But the account I give of him, I have received from others; Mrs Morgan never mentions his name, if it can possibly be avoided; and when she does, it is always with respect. In this situation, a victim to the ill-humour both of her husband and his sister, we will leave Mrs Morgan, and return to that friend whose letters were her only consolation.
Miss Mancel’s person was so uncommonly fine, that she could not be long settled in the country without attracting general notice. Though the lower rank of people may be less refined in their ideas, yet her beauty was so very striking, that it did not escape their admiration, and the handsome lady, as they called her, became the general subject of discourse. As church was the only place where she exposed to public view, she had from the first endeavoured to elude observation, by mingling in the crowd, and sitting in the most obscure seat; but when fame had awakened the curiosity of those of higher rank, she was easily distinguished, and in a short time many inhabitants of the neighbouring parishes came to that church to see her. She more than answered every expectation; for such perfection of beauty scarcely ever came out of the hands of nature. Many ladies in the neighbourhood introduced themselves to her, and found her behaviour as enchanting as her person. She could not be insensible of the approbation which every eye significantly expressed; but she was abashed and in some degree more mortified than delighted by it. She well remembered what Mr d’Avora had said to her on that subject and saw that in her situation beauty was a disadvantage. He often repeated the same thing to her in letters (for she and Miss Melvyn keeping up a constant correspondence with him, the latter had acquainted him with the general admiration paid to Louisa) and told her that he feared the plan they had formed for her future way of life was at a still greater distance than they had hoped, since her beauty was the great obstacle to its being put in execution.
The ladies of the best fashion in the neighbourhood begged leave to visit her; and though she more than ever wished to have her time uninterrupted, since as she had no prospect of any other means of support, it was necessary, by such little additions as she could make to her small fund, to prevent its quick diminution, yet she could not decline the civilities so obligingly offered her, but avoided all intimacy with any of them as foreign to her plan, and hurtful to her interest. Thus was she circumstanced in respect to the neighbourhood when Miss Melvyn married.
As after this event Louisa was determined to change her habitation, she began to enquire for some family where she might be accommodated in the same manner as in that where she was then fixed. Among the persons who had taken most notice of her was Lady Lambton, a person of admirable understanding, polite, generous and good-natured; who had no fault but a considerable share of pride. She piqued herself upon the opulence of her family and a distinguished birth, but her good sense, and many virtues, so qualified this one blemish, that it did not prevent her being a very amiable woman.
When she found Miss Mancel designed to change her abode, she told her that at an honest farmer’s near her house she might be accommodated, but that as some little alterations would be requisite to make the place fit for her, she, in the most obliging manner, desired her company till the apartment was ready; which would give her opportunity to see such things were done to it as would be most convenient and agreeable. Lady Lambton insisted so strongly on Miss Mancel’s accepting this invitation that she could not without incivility refuse it; and as, after the loss of her friend, all places were alike to her, she had no reason to decline so obliging an offer.
No great preparations were required for this removal of abode. Lady Lambton came herself to fetch Miss Mancel home. The old lady was charmed with her new guest, many of whose accomplishments were unknown to her till she came under the same roof, and would not suffer any preparations to be made for another lodging, but insisted on her continuing much longer with her.
Lady Lambton behaved in so very obliging a manner, and Louisa found so much pleasure and improvement in the conversation of a woman whose admirable understanding and thorough knowledge of the world are seldom to be paralleled, that she could not be more agreeably placed; as she dared not go even into Mrs Morgan’s neighbourhood, for fear of giving additional uneasiness to one whose situation she plainly perceived was by no means happy; for though Mrs Morgan suppressed all complaints, never hinted at the treatment she received, and endeavoured to represent her way of life in the best colours, to save her friend the sympathetic pangs of heart which she knew she would feel for her sufferings; yet the alteration in her style, the melancholy turn of mind which in spite of all her care was visible in her letters, could not escape the observation of one whose natural discernment was quickened by affection.
The full persuasion of Mrs Morgan’s unhappiness, and that anxious solicitude which arose from her ignorance as to the degree of her wretchedness, was a source of continual grief to her mind, which Lady Lambton’s sincere friendship could scarcely alleviate. But she knew too well how few people can bear the unhappy to suffer her uneasiness to appear. She stifled therefore every expression of that kind; for if Lady Lambton had generously sympathized in her affliction, it would have given her pain to know she had occasioned that lady’s feeling any; and if she had been insensible to it, complaints would not fail to disgust her.
Lady Lambton was fond of music, and not void of taste for painting; Miss Mancel’s excellence in these arts therefore afforded her the highest entertainment. Her ladyship was likewise a mistress of languages, and was pleased to find Louisa equally acquainted with them. In this house Miss Mancel had passed above a twelve month, when Sir Edward Lambton returned from his travels, in which he had spent four years. As soon as he arrived in the kingdom he came to wait on Lady Lambton, his grandmother, who was likewise his guardian, his father and mother being both dead. She had longed with impatience for his return, but thought herself well repaid for his absence by the great improvement which was very visible both in his manner and person.
Sir Edward was extremely handsome, his person fine and graceful, his conversation lively and entertaining, politeness adding charms to an excellent understanding. His behaviour, I have been told, was particularly engaging, his temper amiable, though somewhat too warm, and he had all his grandmother’s generosity, without any of her pride.
It would have been strange if a man of three and twenty years old (for that was Sir Edward’s age) had not been much charmed with so lovely a woman as Miss Mancel. That he was so, soon became visible, but she, as well as his grandmother, for some time imagined the attentions he paid her were only the natural result of the gallantry usual at his age, and improved into a softer address, by a manner acquired in travelling through countries where gallantry is publicly professed Lady Lambton, however, knowing her own discernment, expressed some fears to Louisa, lest her grandson should become seriously in love with her, in order to discover by her countenance whether there was really any ground for her apprehensions, which she founded on the impossibility of his marrying a woman of small fortune, without reducing himself to the greatest inconvenience, as his estate was extremely incumbered, and he was by an intail deprived of the liberty of selling any part of it to discharge the debt. She was too polite to mention her chief objection to Miss Mancel, which was in reality the obscurity of her birth. Louisa, who sincerely believed Sir Edward had no real passion for her, answered with a frankness which entirely convinced Lady Lambton that she had received no serious address from him; but Louisa, who saw herself now in the situation which Mr d’Avora had warned her against, begged permission to leave Lady Lambton’s, to prevent her ladyship’s being under any uneasiness, and to avoid all danger of Sir Edward’s receiving any strong impression in her favour.
Lady Lambton was unwilling to part with her amiable companion; and besides, thought if her grandson was really enamoured, she should increase the danger rather than lessen it by not keeping Louisa under her eye; she therefore told her she could not consent to lose her company, and was certain she might depend on her honour. Louisa thanked her for her good opinion, and assured her she would never do any thing to forfeit it.
Sir Edward was more captivated than either of the ladies imagined, and every day increased his passion. Louisa’s beauty, her conversation and accomplishments were irresistible; but as he knew the great occasion he had to marry a woman of fortune, he long endeavoured to combat his inclinations. He might have conceived hopes of obtaining any other woman in her circumstances on easier terms; but there was such dignity and virtue shone forth in her, and he was so truly in love, that such a thought never entered his imagination. He reverenced and respected her like a divinity, but hoped that prudence might enable him to conquer his passion, at the same time that it had not force enough to determine him to fly her presence, the only possible means of lessening the impression which every hour engraved more deeply on his heart by bringing some new attractions to his view. He little considered that the man who has not power to fly from temptation will never be able to resist it by standing his ground.
Louisa was not long before she grew sensible that what she had offered to Lady Lambton for the ease of her ladyship’s mind, was advisable to secure the peace of her own. Sir Edward’s merit, his sincere respect for her, which certainly is the most powerful charm to a woman of delicacy, could scarcely fail to make an impression on a heart so tender, so generous as hers. She kept so strict a watch over herself that she soon perceived her sensibility, and endeavoured to prevail on Lady Lambton to part with her; but the old lady, imagining it was only in order to quiet her apprehensions, would not consent; and the difficulty in finding a place where she could be properly received, strongly discouraged her from insisting on it. If she continued in the neighbourhood, her purpose would not be answered; for she could not avoid Sir Edward’s visits; her only friend was denied the liberty of protecting her, and to go into a place where she was unknown would subject a young woman of her age and beauty to a thousand dangers.
These difficulties detained her, though unwillingly, at Lady Lambton’s for above half a year after Sir Edward’s return; who, at length, unable to confine in silence a passion which had long been obvious to every observer, took an opportunity, when alone with Louisa, to declare his attachment in the most affecting manner. She received it not with surprise, but with real sorrow. She had no tincture of coquetry in her composition; but if she had been capable of it, her affections were too deeply engaged to have suffered her to retain it. Her sensibility was never so strongly awakened; all her endeavours to restrain it were no longer of force, her heart returned his passion, and would have conquered every thing but her justice and her honour; these were deeply engaged to Lady Lambton; and she would have detested herself if she could have entertained a thought of making that lady’s goodness to her the occasion of the greatest vexation she could receive. She therefore never hesitated on the part she should act on this trying occasion; but the victories which honour gains over the tender affections are not to be obtained without the severest pangs. Thus tormented by the struggles between duty and affection, she was not immediately capable of giving him an answer, but finding that her difficulties were increasing by his repeated professions, and animated by the necessity of silencing a love which too successfully solicited a return of affection, she assumed a sufficient command over herself to conceal her sentiments, and with averted eyes, lest her heart should through them contradict her words, she told him, he distressed her to the greatest degree; that the respect she had for him on account of his own merit, and not less for the relation he bore to Lady Lambton, made her extremely concerned that he should have conceived a passion for her, which it was not in her power to return; nor could she listen to it in justice to Lady Lambton, to whom she was bound in all the ties of gratitude; neither should anything ever prevail with her to do any thing prejudicial to the interests of a family into which she had been so kindly received.
Sir Edward was too much in love to acquiesce in so nice a point of honour; but Louisa would not wait to hear arguments which it was so painful to her to refute, and retired into her own chamber, to lament in secret her unhappy fate in being obliged to reject the addresses of a man whose affections, were she at liberty, she would think no sacrifice too great to obtain.
Miss Mancel endeavoured as much as possible to avoid giving Sir Edward any opportunity of renewing his addresses; but his vigilance found the means of seeing her alone more than once, when he warmly urged the partiality of her behaviour, representing how much more his happiness was concerned in the success of a passion which possessed his whole soul, than his grandmother’s could be in disappointing it. She, he observed, was actuated only by pride, he by the sincerest love that ever took place in a human heart. In accepting his addresses Louisa could only mortify Lady Lambton; in rejecting them, she must render him miserable. Which, he asked, had the best title to her regard, the woman who could ungenerously and injudiciously set a higher value on riches and birth than on her very superior excellencies, or the man who would gladly sacrifice fortune and every other enjoyment the world could afford, to the possession of her; of her who alone could render life desirable to him? By these, and many other arguments, and what was more prevalent than all the arguments that could be deduced from reason, by the tenderest intreaties that the most ardent passion could dictate, Sir Edward endeavoured to persuade Louisa to consent to marry him, but all proved unavailing. She sometimes thought what he said was just, but aware of her partiality, she could not believe herself an unprejudiced judge, and feared that she might mistake the sophistry of love for the voice of reason. She was sure while honour, truth and gratitude pleaded against inclination they must be in the right, though their remonstrances were hushed into a whisper by the louder solicitations of passion. Convinced that she could not be to blame while she acted in contradiction to her secret choice, since the sincerity of her intentions were thereby plainly, though painfully evinced, she persisted in refusing to become Sir Edward’s wife, and told him, that if he did not discontinue his addresses, he would force her to leave the house, and retire to any place that would afford her a quiet refuge from his importunity.
A hint of this sort was sufficient to drive Sir Edward almost to distraction, and Louisa dared not pursue the subject. When he found she could not be induced to consent to an immediate marriage, he endeavoured to obtain a promise of her hand after Lady Lambton’s decease, though to a man of his impatient and strong passions such a delay was worse than death; but Miss Mancel told him, by such an engagement she should be guilty of a mean evasion, and that she should think it as great a breach of honour as marrying him directly.
The despair to which Louisa’s conduct reduced Sir Edward, whose love seemed to increase with the abatement of his hopes, was very visible to his grandmother, but her pride was invincible; neither her affection for him, nor her great esteem for Miss Mancel’s merit, could conquer her aversion to their union. She saw them both unhappy, but was convinced the pangs they felt would not be of very long continuance, trusting to the usual inconstancy of young persons, while the inconveniencies attending an incumbered fortune, and the disgrace which she imagined must be the consequence of Sir Edward’s marrying a woman of obscure birth, would be permanent and influence the whole course of his life.
Louisa, unable to support so hard a conflict, continually resisting both her lover and her love, was determined to seek some relief from absence. She wrote Mr d’Avora a faithful account of all the difficulties of her situation, and intreated him to receive her into his house, till he could find some proper place wherein to fix her abode.
This worthy friend approved her conduct, while he grieved for her distress; his honest heart felt a secret indignation against Lady Lambton who could, by false pride, be blinded to the honour which he thought such a woman as Miss Mancel must reflect on any family into which she entered. He wrote that young lady word, that she might be assured of the best reception his house could afford, and every service that it was in his power to render her; desiring that she would let him know when she proposed setting out, that he might meet her on the road, not thinking it proper she should travel alone.
This letter gave Miss Mancel much satisfaction; she was now secure of an asylum; but the great difficulty still remained, she knew not how to get away from Lady Lambton’s in a proper manner; for to go clandestinely was not suitable to her character, and might bring it into suspicion. In this dilemma she thought it best to apply to that lady, and with her usual frankness told her (what had not escaped her discernment) the affection Sir Edward had conceived for her, and the return her own heart
made to it; only suppressing his solicitations, as her ladyship might be offended with his proceeding so far without her consent. She represented the imprudence of her continuing in the house with Sir Edward, whereby both his passion and her own must be increased; and yet she was at a loss how to depart privately, but was convinced it could not be affected with his knowledge, without such an eclat as must be very disagreeable to them all; nor could she answer for her own resolution when put to so severe a trial; as she should have more than her full measure of affliction in going from thence, without being witness to its effect on him.
One should have imagined that the generosity of Miss Mancel’s conduct might have influenced Lady Lambton in her favour; but though it increased her esteem, it did not alter her resolution. With inexcusable insensibility she concerted measures with her, and engaged to procure Sir Edward’s absence for a short time. Some very necessary business indeed demanded his presence in a neighbouring county where the greatest part of his estate lay, but he had not been able to prevail on himself to leave Louisa; too much enamoured to think any pecuniary advantage could compensate for the loss of her company. But as it was natural that an old grandmother should see the matter in another light; her pressing him to go and settle his affairs gave him no cause to suspect any latent meaning, and was too reasonable to be any longer opposed.
Though Sir Edward was resolved on so quick a dispatch of business as promised him a speedy return, yet any separation from Miss Mancel, however short, appeared a severe misfortune. The evening before the day of his departure, he contrived to see her alone and renewed his importunities with redoubled ardour, but with no better success than before. He lamented the necessity he was under of leaving her, though but for a little time, with an agony of mind better suited to an eternal separation. She, who saw it in that light, was overcome with the tender distress which a person must feel at taking a final leave of one who is extremely dear to her. Her own grief was more than she could have concealed; but when she anticipated in her thoughts what he would suffer when he knew he had lost her for ever, and judged from the pain he felt on the approach of what he thought so short an absence, how very great his distress would be, she was unable to support the scene with her usual steadiness. Tears insensibly stole down her face and bestowed on it still greater charms than it had ever yet worn, by giving her an air of tenderness, which led him to hope that she did not behold his passion with indifference. This thought afforded him a consolation which he had never before received; and though it increased his love, yet it abated his distress, and rendered him more able to leave her, since he flattered himself she would with pleasure see him return, which he was now more than ever resolved to do as speedily as possible.
The day of his departure she spent chiefly in her own room, to conceal, as far as she was able, a weakness she was ashamed of but could not conquer. She had written the day before to inform Mr d’Avora that she should set out for London four days after her letter. Accordingly at the time appointed, after having agreed with Lady Lambton that Sir Edward must be kept ignorant of the place to which she was gone, she set out with that lady, who carried her in her coach twelve miles of the way and then delivered her to Mr d’Avora, who was come thither to receive her. Lady Lambton could not part with her amiable companion without regret, and expressed her true sense of her merit in such strong terms to Mr d’Avora, who could not forgive that pride which had occasioned so much pain both to Louisa and Sir Edward, that he told her in plain terms how very happy and how much honoured any man must be who had her for his wife. Perhaps Lady Lambton would have subscribed to his opinion, had any one but her grandson been concerned; but the point was too tender, and it was no small command over herself that prevented her giving the good old man a hint that she thought him impertinent.
Our travellers arrived in town the next day, after a melancholy journey, for even the company of a friend she so much loved and esteemed could not restore Miss Mancel’s natural vivacity, though in compassion to the good old man who sympathized tenderly in her distress she endeavoured to the utmost of her power to conceal how very deeply she was afflicted. It was some little time before her spirits were sufficiently composed to form any scheme for her future life, nor were they benefited by a letter from Lady Lambton which acquainted her that Sir Edward, at his return, finding she had left the place, that his grandmother had consented to her departure and refused to tell him where she was gone, was for some days frantic with rage and grief, and had just then left Lady Lambton with a determination to serve as volunteer in the army in Germany, in hopes, he said, to find there a release from his afflictions, which nothing but the hand of death could bestow.
The old lady was much shocked at this event, but hoped a little time would restore his reason and enable him to bear his disappointment with patience. There was room to believe, she said, that the rest of the campaign would pass over without a battle, and if so the change of scene might abate his passion.
Louisa’s heart was too tenderly engaged to reason so philosophically, she was almost distracted with her fears, and was often inclined to blame her own scruples that had driven so worthy a man to such extremities. All Mr d’Avora could urge to reconcile her to herself and to calm her apprehensions for Sir Edward were scarcely sufficient to restore her to any ease of mind; but at length he brought her to submit patiently to her fate and to support her present trial with constancy.
They were still undetermined as to her future establishment when Mr d’Avora one day met an old acquaintance and countryman in the street. As this person had many years before returned to his native country, Mr d’Avora inquired what had again brought him into England? His friend replied that he was come in quality of factotum to a widow lady of fortune. In the course of their conversation he asked Mr d’Avora if he could recommend a waiting woman to his lady, hers having died on the road. The character this man gave of his mistress inclined Mr d’Avora to mention the place to Miss Mancel, who readily agreed that he should endeavour to obtain it for her.
Mr d’Avora had engaged the man to call on him the next day by telling him he believed he might be able to recommend a most valuable young person to his lady. He was punctual to his appointment and conducted Mr d’Avora and Louisa to Mrs Thornby’s, that was the name of the lady in question.
Miss Mancel was dressed with care, but of a very different sort from what is usually aimed at; all her endeavours had been to conceal her youth and beauty as much as possible under great gravity of dress, and to give her all the disadvantages consistent with neatness and cleanliness. But such art was too thin a veil to hide her charms. Mrs Thornby was immediately struck with her beauty, and made some scruple of taking a young person into her service whom she should look upon as a great charge, and she feared her maid might require more attention from her than she should think necessary for any servant to pay to herself. Mr d’Avora represented to her how cruel it was that beauty, which was looked upon as one of the most precious gifts of nature, should disqualify a young woman for obtaining a necessary provision. That this young person’s prudence was so irreproachable as sufficiently secured her from any disadvantages which might naturally be feared from it. But still he allowed her person would justly deter a married woman from receiving her, and might make a cautious mother avoid it, since her good conduct would rather add to than diminish her attractions, therefore it was only with a single lady she could hope to be placed; and he was well convinced that such a one would have reason to think herself happy in so accomplished a servant; since her mind was still more amiable than her person.
Mrs Thornby allowed what he said to be reasonable and was so charmed with Louisa’s appearance that she assured him she would receive her with pleasure. She was in haste for a servant, and Miss Mancel had no reason to delay her attendance, therefore it was agreed she should enter into her place the next day.
When Lady Lambton took leave of Louisa she would have forced her to receive a very handsome present; Louisa had accepted many while she lived with her ladyship, but at this time she said it would look like receiving a compensation for the loss of Sir Edward; and as she chose to sacrifice both her inclinations and happiness to her regard for Lady Lambton, she could not be induced to accept any thing that looked like a reward for an action which if she had not thought it her duty, nothing would have prevailed with her to perform. The tenderest affections of her heart were too much concerned in what she had done to leave her the power of feeling any apprehensions of poverty; all the evils that attend it then appeared to her so entirely external that she beheld them with the calm philosophy of a stoic and not from a very contrary motive; the insensibility of each arose from a ruling passion; the stoic’s from pride, hers from love. But though she feared not poverty, she saw it was advisable to fix upon some establishment as soon as it could be obtained; and therefore received great satisfaction from being assured of Mrs Thornby’s acceptance of her services. Mr d’Avora was not without hopes, that if Sir Edward continued constant till Lady Lambton’s death, Louisa might then, without any breach of honour or gratitude, marry him; though to have engaged herself to do so, would, as she observed, have been scarcely less inexcusable than an immediate consent; therefore he advised her to assume another name, as Sir Edward might not choose, after she was his wife, to have it known that she had been reduced to servitude.
Louisa was accordingly received at Mrs Thornby’s by the name of Menil. Her good sense and assiduity enabled her to acquit herself so well in her new place as greatly delighted her mistress; and though she concealed the greatest part of her accomplishments, sensible they could be of no assistance, and might on the contrary raise a prejudice against her; yet her behaviour and conversation so plainly indicated a superior education that before she had been there a week Mrs Thornby told her she was certain she had not been born for the station she was then in, and begged a particular account of her whole life.
Louisa, fearing that a compliance would render her less agreeable to her mistress, who already treated her with respect which seemed more than was due to her situation, and often appeared uneasy at seeing her perform the necessary duties of her place, intreated to be spared a task which, she said, was attended with some circumstances so melancholy as greatly affected her spirits on a particular recollection.
Mrs Thornby’s curiosity was not abated by this insinuation, and she repeated her request in a manner so importunate, and at the same time so kind, that Louisa could no longer, without manifest disrespect, decline it.
She began then by acquainting her that she went by a borrowed name; but had proceeded no farther in her narration than to tell her that her real name was Mancel and that she had been left to the care of an aunt in her earliest infancy by parents who were obliged, for reasons she could never learn, to leave their country, when Mrs Thornby exclaimed, My child! my child! and sinking on her knees, with eyes and hands lifted up towards heaven, poured forth a most ardent thanksgiving, with an ecstasy of mind not to be described. Her first sensation was that of gratitude to the Almighty Power, who had reserved so great a blessing for her; maternal tenderness alone gave rise to the succeeding emotions of her heart; she threw her arms round Louisa, who on seeing her fall on her knees, and not comprehending the meaning of her action, ran to her; but struck with astonishment and reverence at the awful piety in her countenance and address, bent silent and motionless over her. Mrs Thornby, leaning her head on Louisa’s bosom, burst into such a flood of tears, and was so oppressed with joy, that the power of speech totally failed her. Louisa raised her from the ground, crying, ‘Dear madam, what can all this mean? What does this extreme agitation of your mind give me room to hope?’
‘Every thing, my child! my angel! that a fond parent can bestow,’ replied Mrs Thornby. ‘I am that mother that was obliged to leave thee to another’s care; and has Heaven preserved my daughter, and restored her to me so lovely, so amiable! Gracious Providence! Merciful beyond hope! Teach me to thank thee as I ought for this last instance of thy goodness!’ And then her whole soul seemed again poured forth in grateful adoration.
Louisa could scarcely believe this event was real; thus unexpectedly to meet with a parent whom she supposed lost to her for ever almost stunned her; her thoughts were so engrossed by the raptures of her joyful mother that she did not feel half her good fortune; and the delight she received in seeing her mother’s happiness robbed her of every other sensation.
It was some hours before Mrs Thornby’s mind was sufficiently composed to enter into any connected conversation. From broken sentences Miss Mancel learnt that her father and mother, by the complicated distress of ruined fortune and the too fatal success of a duel in which Mr Mancel was unwillingly engaged, had been obliged to absent themselves from England. They went to one of the American colonies, in hopes of finding means to improve their circumstances, leaving the young Louisa, then in her cradle, with a sister of Mr Mancel’s, who readily undertook the care of her. They were scarcely arrived in America when Mr Mancel was seized with a fever, of which he soon died, and with him all their hopes. Mrs Mancel was left entirely destitute, at a loss how to hazard the tedious passage home, without the protection of a husband and with hardly a sufficient sum remaining to discharge the expenses of it.
Her melancholy situation engaged some of the inhabitants of the place to offer her all necessary accommodations, till she could find a proper opportunity of returning to England. During this time, Mr Thornby, a gentleman who had acquired a fortune there, saw her, and was so well pleased with her person and conduct that he very warmly solicited her to marry him. Every person spoke in his favour, and urged her to consent; her poverty was no faint adviser, and with general approbation at the conclusion of the first year of her widowhood she became his wife.
His affairs soon called him into a more inland part of the country, to which she attributed her never having heard from her sister, to whom she wrote an account of her husband’s death; but by what Miss Mancel told her she imagined her letter had not been received.
Mr and Mrs Thornby continued in the same place, till about two years before her arrival in England; but his health growing extremely bad, he was advised by his physicians to return to Europe. He wished to re-visit his native country but was persuaded, for the re-establishment of his constitution, to spend some time in Italy. The climate at first seemed to relieve him, but his complaints returning with greater violence, he died in the latter part of the second year of his abode there.
His estate in the Indies he bequeathed to a nephew who lived upon the spot; but the money he had sent before him into England, which amounted to forty thousand pounds, he left to his widow. He had desired to be interred at Florence, where he died. As soon as the funeral was over, and some other necessary affairs settled, Mrs Thornby set out for England, where she no sooner arrived than she employed intelligent persons to find out her sister-in-law and daughter, but had not received any account from them, when her daughter was restored to her as the free gift of providence.
Mrs Thornby was now more desirous than ever to hear each minute particular that had befallen her Louisa; but Louisa begged that before she obeyed her orders she might have permission to communicate the happy event to Mr d’Avora, whose joy she knew would be nearly equal to her own. A messenger was dispatched for this purpose, and then she related circumstantially all the incidents in her short life, except her partial regard to Sir Edward Lambton, which filial awe induced her to suppress.
Mrs Thornby grew every day more delighted with her daughter, as her acquired accomplishments and natural excellencies became more conspicuous on longer acquaintance. Her maternal love seemed to glow with greater warmth for having been so long stifled, and Louisa found such delight in the tender affection of a mother that she was scarcely sensible of the agreeable change in her situation, which was now in every circumstance the most desirable. All that fortune could give she had it in her power to enjoy, and that esteem which money cannot purchase her own merit secured her, besides all the gratification a young woman can receive from general admiration. But still Louisa was not happy, her fears for Sir Edward’s life, while in so dangerous a situation, would not suffer her mind to be at peace. She might hope every thing from her mother’s indulgence, but had not courage to confess her weakness, nor to intimate a wish, which might occasion her separation from a parent whose joy in their reunion still rose to rapture. Chance, that deity which though blind is often a powerful friend, did what she could not prevail on herself to do.
One morning the news paper of the day being brought in, Mrs Thornby taking it up, read to her daughter a paragraph which contained an account of a battle in Germany wherein many of the English were said to be slain, but few of their names specified. Louisa immediately turned pale, her work dropped out of her hand and a universal trembling seized her. Mrs Thornby was too attentive not to observe her daughter’s distress, and so kindly inquired the reason that Louisa ventured to tell her for whom she was so much interested; and gave an exact account of Sir Edward’s address to her, her behaviour upon it, and the great regard she had for him.
Mrs Thornby affectionately chid her for having till then concealed a circumstance whereon so much of her happiness depended, and offered to write to Lady Lambton immediately, and acquaint her that if want of fortune was her only objection to Miss Mancel, it no longer subsisted, for that she was ready to answer any demands of that sort which her ladyship should choose to make, as she thought she should no way so well secure her daughter’s happiness as by uniting her with a gentleman of Sir Edward’s amiable character, and whose affection for her had so evidently appeared.
Louisa could not reject an offer which might rescue Sir Edward from the dangers that threatened him, and with pleasure thought of rewarding so generous and so sincere a passion. Perhaps she found some gratification in shewing that gratitude alone dictated her refusal. The letter was immediately dispatched, and received with great pleasure by Lady Lambton, whose esteem for Miss Mancel would have conquered any thing but her pride. She accepted the proposal in the politest manner, and that Sir Edward might be acquainted with his happiness as soon as possible, dispatched her steward into Germany, ordering him to travel with the utmost expedition, and gave him Mrs Thornby’s letter, with one from herself, containing an account of the great change in Louisa’s fortune.
The servant obeyed the directions given him and performed the journey in as short a time as possible; but as he entered the camp, he met Sir Edward indeed, but not as a future bridegroom. He was borne on men’s shoulders, pale and almost breathless, just returned from an attack, where by his too great rashness he had received a mortal wound. He followed him with an aching heart to his tent, where Sir Edward recovering his senses, knew him, and asked what brought him there so opportunely, ‘to close his eyes, and pay the last duties, to one of whose infancy he had been so careful?’ for this servant lived in the family when Sir Edward was born, and loved him almost with paternal fondness, which occasioned his desire of being himself the messenger of such joyful news.
The poor man was scarcely able to answer a question expressed in such melancholy terms, and was doubtful whether he ought to acquaint him with a circumstance which might only increase his regret at losing a life which would have been blessed to his utmost wish, but incapable in that state of mind of inventing any plausible reason, he told him the truth, and gave him the two letters.
The pleasure Sir Edward received at the account of Louisa’s good fortune, and the still greater joy he felt at so evident a proof of her regard for him, made him for a time forget his pains, and flattered the good old steward with hopes that his case was not so desperate as the surgeons represented it; but Sir Edward told him he knew all hope was vain. ‘I must accuse myself,’ said he, ‘of losing that lovely generous woman what a treasure would have gladdened my future days had I not rashly, I fear criminally, shortened them, not by my own hand indeed, but how little different! Mad with despair, I have sought all means of obtaining what I imagined the only cure for my distempered mind. Weary of life, since I could not possess her in whom all my joys, all the wishes of my soul were centred, I seized every occasion of exposing myself to the enemy’s sword. Contrary to my hopes, I escaped many times, when death seemed unavoidable, but grown more desperate by disappointment, I this morning went on an attack where instead of attempting to conquer, all my endeavour was to be killed, and at last I succeeded, how fatally! Oh! my Louisa,’ continued he, ‘and do I then lose thee by my own impatience! Had I, like thee, submitted to the disposition of providence, had I waited, from its mighty power, that relief which it alone can give, I might now be expecting with rapture the hour that should have united us for ever, instead of preparing for that which shall summon me to the grave, where even thou shalt be forgotten, and the last traces of thy lovely image effaced from my too faithful remembrance. How just are the decrees of the Almighty! Thy patience, thy resignation and uncommon virtues are rewarded as they ought; my petulance, my impatience, which, as it were, flew in the face of my Maker, and fought to lose a life which he had entrusted to my keeping, and required me to preserve, is deservedly punished. I am deprived of that existence which I would now endure whole ages of pain to recall, were it to be done, but it is past and I submit to thy justice, thou all wise disposer of my fate.’
The agitation of Sir Edward’s mind had given him a flow of false spirits, but at length they failed, leaving him only the more exhausted. He kept Mrs Thornby’s letter on his pillow, and read it many times. Frequent were his expressions of regret for his own rashness, and he felt much concern from the fear that Louisa would be shocked with his death. Her mother’s proceedings convinced him she was not void of regard for him; he now saw that he had not vainly flattered himself when he imagined, from many little circumstances, that her heart spoke in his favour; and the force she must have put on her affections raised his opinion of her almost to adoration. He often told his faithful attendant that in those moments he felt a joy beyond what he had ever yet experienced, in believing Louisa loved him; but these emotions were soon checked by reflecting, that if she did so, she could not hear of his death without suffering many heart-felt pangs.
He lingered for three days, without the least encouragement to hope for life, and on the last died with great resignation, receiving his death as a punishment justly due to his want of submission in the divine will, and that forward petulance which drove him to desperation in not succeeding to his wishes just at the time that to his impetuous passions, and short-sighted reason, appeared most desirable.
The afflicted steward wrote an account, of this melancholy event to Lady Lambton, and stayed to attend Sir Edward’s body home, that his last remains might be deposited in the family vault.
Lady Lambton received these mournful tidings with excessive grief, and communicated them to Mrs Thornby. Louisa, from the time of the messenger’s setting out for Germany, had been pleasing herself with reflecting on the joyful reception he would meet with from Sir Edward, and had frequently anticipated, in imagination, the pleasures she and Sir Edward would receive at seeing each other after so melancholy a separation. She now every hour expected him, and when Mrs Thornby began to prepare her against surprise, she imagined he was arrived and that her kind mother was endeavouring to guard her against too sudden joy. She attempted to break through the delay which must arise from all this caution by begging to know if he was in the house, desiring her not to fear any ill effects from his sudden appearance, and rose from her seat, in order to attend her mother to Sir Edward. Mrs Thornby made her sit down again, and with a countenance which spoke very different things from what she expected, acquainted her with the fatal end of all her hopes.
Louisa was shocked in proportion to the degree to which she was before elated. She sunk lifeless in the arms of her mother, who had clasped her to her breast, and it was a considerable time before their cruel endeavours to bring her to her senses succeeded. Her first sensation was an agony of grief; she accused herself of being the occasion of Sir Edward’s death, and from the unfortunate consequences of her actions, arraigned her motives for them. Mrs Thornby and Mr d’Avora, whom she had sent for on this occasion, endeavoured to convince her she was no way to blame, that what she had done was laudable, and she ought not to judge of an action by its consequences, which must always remain in the hands of the Almighty, to whom we are accountable for our motives, but who best knows when they ought to be crowned with success. When they had prevailed with her to exculpate herself, her piety and patience made it the more easy to persuade her calmly to submit to the decrees of providence. She soon saw that to suffer was her duty, and though she might grieve, she must not repine. The good advice of her two friends was some support to her mind, but her chief strength arose from her frequent petitions to him who tried her in sufferings to grant her patience to bear them with due resignation. Such addresses, fervently and sincerely made, can never be unavailing, and she found the consolation she asked for. Her affliction was deep, but silent and submissive, and in no part of her life did she ever appear more amiable than on this trying occasion when her extreme sensibility could never extort one word or thought which was not dictated by humble piety, and the most exemplary resignation. That Sir Edward had had so just a sense of his own error, and so properly repented his impatience was a great consolation, and she hoped to meet him whom she had so soon lost, in a state of happiness where they should never more be parted.
Mrs Morgan had borne a tender share in all Louisa’s joys and sorrows; for in the frequency of her correspondence every circumstance that attended the latter was faithfully imparted, though the communication was less free on Mrs Morgan’s side, who, contrary to her natural temper, acted with reserve on this particular; induced by a double motive, a belief that it was her duty to conceal her husband’s faults, and a desire to spare her friend the pain of suffering participation in her vexations. She longed to attend Miss Mancel in her affliction, but dared not urge a request with which she knew Mr Morgan would not comply. He lived entirely in the country and seemed to be totally insensible to the pleasure of contributing to the happiness of others. All his tenderness was confined within the narrow circle of himself. Mrs Morgan daily beheld distress and poverty without the power of relieving it, for his parsimony would not let him trust her with the disposal of what money was necessary for her own expenses, his sister always brought what they in their wisdoms judged requisite, and Mrs Morgan was treated in those affairs like a little child.
In matters too trifling to come within Mr Morgan’s notice, Miss Susanna, fearing her sister should enjoy a moment’s ease, took care to perform her part in teasing, as if their joint business was only to keep that poor woman in a constant state of suffering. To complete her vexation, Mr Morgan, who had always drank hard, increased so much in that vice that few days passed wherein he was not totally intoxicated. Mrs Morgan saw no means of redress, and therefore thought it best to suffer without complaint; she considered that, by contention, she could not prevail over their ill temper, but must infallibly sour her own, and destroy that composure of mind necessary to enable every one to acquit herself well in all Christian duties. By this patient acquiescence her virtues were refined, though her health suffered, and she found some satisfaction in reflecting that him whom she most wished to please would graciously accept her endeavours, however unavailing they might be towards obtaining the favour of those on whom her earthly peace depended.
At this part of Mrs Maynard’s narration we were again interrupted by dinner, but the arrival of some visitors in the afternoon afforded Lamont and myself an opportunity of begging her to give us the sequel, and for that purpose we chose a retired seat in the garden, when she thus proceeded.
The next six years of Miss Mancel’s life passed in a perfect calm; this may appear too cold an expression, since her situation was such as would by most people have been thought consummate happiness. Mrs Thornby’s ample fortune enabled them to live in great figure, and Miss Mancel’s beauty and understanding rendered her the object of general admiration. Had her conduct been less admirable, she could not but have acquired many lovers; it is not strange then, such as she was, that she should be addressed by many men of distinguished rank and fortune. Wherever she appeared, she attracted all eyes and engrossed the whole attention. Mrs Thornby, more delighted with the admiration paid her daughter than she herself, carried her frequently into public and kept a great deal of company. Louisa could not be insensible to general approbation, but was hurt with the serious attachment of those who more particularly addressed her. As she was determined never to marry, thinking it a sort of infidelity to a man whose death was owing to his affection for her, she always took the first opportunity of discouraging every pursuit of that kind; and restrained the natural vivacity of her temper lest it should give rise to any hopes which could end only in disappointment. She endeavoured to make publicly known her fixed determination never to marry; but as those resolutions are seldom thought unalterable, many men flattered themselves that their rank and fortunes, with their personal merits, might conquer so strange an intention, and therefore would not desist without an express refusal.
In the seventh year after Mrs Thornby’s return into England, she was taken off by a fever, and left Miss Mancel, at twenty-four years of age, in possession of forty thousand pounds, a fortune which could not afford her consolation for the loss of so tender a parent. Having nothing to attach her to any particular part of the kingdom, she more than ever longed to settle in Mrs Morgan’s neighbourhood, but feared to occasion some new uneasiness to her friend, and was sensible that if, when vicinity favoured them, they should be denied the pleasure of each other’s company, or very much restrained in it, the mortification would be still greater than when distance would not permit them to meet. She had the satisfaction of hearing from her friend that Mr Morgan seemed to esteem her more than for some years after their marriage, and often gave her reason to think he did not despise her understanding and was well pleased with her conduct. The truth was, this gentleman’s eyes were at last opened to the merits of his wife’s behaviour, the long trial he had made of her obedience, which was implicit and performed with apparent cheerfulness; if compared with his sister’s conduct, could not fail of appearing in an amiable light, when he was no longer beset with the malicious insinuations of Susanna, who had bestowed herself on a young ensign whose small hopes of preferment in the army reduced him to accept that lady and her fortune as a melancholy resource, but his only certain provision. This alteration in Mr Morgan’s temper gave Mrs Morgan and Louisa room to hope that he might not always continue averse to their becoming neighbours.
While they were flattering themselves with this agreeable prospect, Mr Morgan was seized with a paralytic disorder which at first attacked his limbs, but in a very short time affected his head so much as almost to deprive him of his senses. He was totally confined to his bed, and seemed not to know any one but his wife. He would take neither medicine nor nourishment except from her hands; as he was entirely lame, she was obliged to feed him, and he was not easy if she was out of the room. Even in the night he would frequently call to her; if she appeared at his bedside, he was then contented, being sure she was in the chamber, but would fall into violent passions which he had not words to express (for he was almost deprived of his speech) if she did not instantly appear.
When Miss Mancel heard of his deplorable situation, she was under the greatest apprehensions for her friend’s health, from so close and so fatiguing an attendance, and begged she might come to her, as he was then incapable of taking umbrage at it. The offer was too agreeable to be rejected, and these ladies met after so long an enforced separation with a joy not to be imagined by any heart less susceptible than theirs of the tender and delicate sensations of friendship. Louisa was almost as constantly in Mr Morgan’s room in the day time as his wife, though she kept out of his sight, and thus they had full opportunity of conversing together; for though the sick man often called Mrs Morgan, yet as soon as he saw she was in the chamber he sunk again into that state of stupefaction from which he never recovered. Mrs Morgan put a bed up in his room, and lay there constantly, but as he was as solicitous to know she was present in the night, as in the day, she could never quite undress herself the whole time of his sickness.
In this condition Mr Morgan lay for three months, when death released him from this world; and brought a seasonable relief to Mrs Morgan, whose health was so impaired by long confinement and want of quiet rest that she could not much longer have supported it; and vexation had before so far impaired her constitution that nothing could have enabled her to undergo so long a fatigue, but the infinite joy she received from Miss Mancel’s company.
When Mr Morgan’s will was opened, it appeared that he had left his wife an estate which fell to him about a month before the commencement of his illness, where we now live. The income of it is a thousand pounds a year, the land was thoroughly stocked and the house in good repair. Mr Morgan had at his marriage settled a jointure on his wife of four hundred pounds a year rent charge, and in a codicil made just after his sister’s wedding, he bequeathed her two thousand pounds in ready money.
After Mrs Morgan had settled all her affairs, it was judged necessary that, for the recovery of her health, she should go to Tunbridge, to which place Miss Mancel accompanied her. As Mrs Morgan’s dress confined her entirely at home, they were not in the way of making many acquaintances; but Lady Mary Jones being in the house, and having long been known to Miss Mancel, though no intimacy had subsisted between them, they now became much connected. The two friends had agreed to retire into the country, and though both of an age and fortune to enjoy all the pleasures which most people so eagerly pursue, they were desirous of fixing in a way of life where all their satisfactions might be rational and as conducive to eternal as to temporal happiness. They had laid the plan of many things, which they have since put into execution, and engaged Mr d’Avora to live with them, both as a valuable friend and a useful assistant in the management of their affairs.
Lady Mary was at that time so much in the same disposition, and so charmed with such part of their scheme as they communicated to her, that she begged to live with them for half a year, by which time they would be able to see whether they chose her continuance there, and she should have experienced how far their way of life was agreeable to her. Lady Mary’s merit was too apparent not to obtain their ready consent to her proposal, and when they had the satisfaction of seeing Mrs Morgan much recovered by the waters, and no farther benefit was expected, they came to this house.
They found it sufficiently furnished, and in such good order, that they settled in it without trouble. The condition of the poor soon drew their attention, and they instituted schools for the young and almshouses for the old. As they ordered everything in their own family with great economy, and thought themselves entitled only to a part of their fortunes, their large incomes allowed them full power to assist many whose situations differed very essentially from theirs. The next expense they undertook, after this establishment of schools and almshouses, was that of furnishing a house for every young couple that married in their neighbourhood, and providing them with some sort of stock, which by industry would prove very conducive towards their living in a comfortable degree of plenty. They have always paid nurses for the sick, sent them every proper refreshment, and allow the same sum weekly which the sick person could have gained, that the rest of the family may not lose any part of their support by the incapacity of one.
When they found their fortunes would still afford a larger communication, they began to receive the daughters of persons in office, or other life-incomes, who, by their parents’ deaths, were left destitute of provision; and when, among the lower sort, they meet with an uncommon genius, they will admit her among the number. The girls you see sit in the room with us are all they have at present in that way; they are educated in such a manner as will render them acceptable where accomplished women of a humble rank and behaviour are wanted, either for the care of a house or children. These girls are never out of the room with us, except at breakfast and dinner, and after eight o’clock in the evening, at which times they are under the immediate care of the housekeeper, with whom they are allowed to walk out for an hour or two every fine day, lest their being always in our company should make them think their situation above a menial state; they attend us while we are dressing, and we endeavour that the time they are thus employed shall not pass without improvement. They are clad coarse and plain for the same reason, as nothing has a stronger influence on vanity than dress.
Each of us takes our week alternately of more particular inspection over the performances of these girls, and they all read by turns aloud to such of us as are employed about any thing that renders it not inconvenient to listen to them. By this sort of education my friends hope to do extensive good, for they will not only serve these poor orphans, but confer a great benefit on all who shall be committed to their care or have occasion for their service; and one can set no bounds to the advantages that may arise from persons of excellent principles, and enlarged understandings, in the situations wherein they are to be placed. In every thing their view is to be as beneficial to society as possible, and they are such economists even in their charities as to order them in a manner that as large a part of mankind as possible should feel the happy influence of their bounty.
In this place, and in this way of life, the three ladies already mentioned have lived upwards of twenty years; for Lady Mary Jones joined her fortune to those of the two friends, never choosing to quit them, and is too agreeable not to be very desirable in the society. Miss Mancel has often declared that she plainly sees the merciful hand of providence bringing good out of evil, in an event which she, at the time it happened, thought her greatest misfortune; for had she married Sir Edward Lambton, her sincere affection for him would have led her to conform implicitly to all his inclinations, her views would have been confined to this earth, and too strongly attached to human objects to have properly obeyed the giver of the blessings she so much valued, who is generally less thought of in proportion as he is more particularly bountiful. Her age, her fortune and compliant temper might have seduced her into dissipation and have made her lose all the heart-felt joys she now daily experiences, both when she reflects on the past, contemplates the present, or anticipates the future.
I think I ought to mention Mrs Morgan’s behaviour to her half-sisters. Sir Charles died about five years ago, and through his wife’s extravagance left his estate over-charged with debts and two daughters and a son unprovided for. Lady Melvyn’s jointure was not great; Sir George, her eldest son, received but just sufficient out of his estate to maintain himself genteelly. By the first Lady Melvyn’s marriage settlements, six thousand pounds were settled on her children, which, as Mrs Morgan was her only child, became her property; this she divided between her stepmother’s three younger children, and has besides conferred several favours on that family and frequently makes them valuable presents. The young gentlemen and ladies often pass some time here; Lady Melvyn made us a visit in the first year of her widowhood, but our way of life is so ill suited to her taste that, except during that dull period of confinement, she has never favoured us with her company.
My cousin, I believe, was going to mention some other of the actions of these ladies, which seemed a favourite topic with her, when the rest of the company came into the garden, and we thought ourselves obliged to join them.
The afternoons, in this family, generally concluded with one of their delightful concerts; but as soon as the visitors were departed, the ladies said, they would amuse us that evening with an entertainment which might possibly be more new to us, a rustic ball. The occasion of it was the marriage of a young woman who had been brought up by them and had for three years been in service, but having for that whole time been courted by a young farmer of good character, she had been married in the morning, and that evening was dedicated to the celebration of their wedding.
We removed into the servants’ hall, a neat room, and well lighted, where we found a very numerous assembly; sixteen couples were preparing to dance; the rest were only spectators. The bride was a pretty, genteel girl, dressed in a white calico gown, white ribbons, and in every particular neat to an excess. The bridegroom was a well looking young man, as clean and sprucely dressed as his bride, though not with such emblematic purity. This couple, contrary to the custom of finer people on such occasions, were to begin the ball together; but Lamont asked leave to be the bride’s partner for two or three dances, a compliment not disagreeable to the ladies, and highly pleasing to the rest of the company, except the bride, whose vanity one might plainly see did not find gratification enough in having so genteel a partner to recompense her for the loss of her Colin; he, however, seemed well satisfied with the honour conferred on his wife.
That the bridegroom might not be without his share of civility, the ladies gave him leave to dance with the eldest of the young girls more particularly under their care, till his wife was restored to him.
We sat above an hour with this joyous company, whose mirth seemed as pure as it was sincere, and I never saw a ball managed with greater decorum. There is a coquetry and gallantry appropriated to all conditions, and to see the different manner in which it was expressed in this little set, from what one is accustomed to behold in higher life, afforded me great amusement; and the little arts used among these young people to captivate each other were accompanied with so much innocence as made it excessively pleasing. We stayed about an hour and half in this company, and then went to supper.
My cousin told me that Miss Mancel gave the young bride a fortune, and that she might have her share of employment and contribute to the provision for her family had stocked her dairy and furnished her with poultry. This, Mrs Maynard added, was what they did for all the young women they brought up, if they proved deserving; shewing, likewise, the same favour to any other girls in the parish who, during their single state, behaved with remarkable industry and sobriety. By this mark of distinction they were incited to a proper behaviour, and appeared more anxious for this benevolence on account of the honour that arose from it than for the pecuniary advantage.
As the ladies’ conduct in this particular was uncommon, I could not forbear telling them, that I was surprised to find so great encouragement given to matrimony by persons whose choice shewed them little inclined in its favour.
‘Does it surprise you,’ answered Mrs Morgan smiling, ‘to see people promote that in others which they themselves do not choose to practise? We consider matrimony as absolutely necessary to the good of society; it is a general duty; but as, according to all ancient tenures, those obliged to perform knight’s service, might, if they chose to enjoy their own firesides, be excused by sending deputies to supply their places; so we, using the same privilege substitute many others, and certainly much more promote wedlock than we could do by entering into it ourselves. This may wear the appearance of some devout persons of a certain religion who, equally indolent and timorous, when they do not choose to say so many prayers as they think their duty, pay others for supplying their deficiencies.’
‘In this case,’ said I, ‘your example is somewhat contradictory, and should it be entirely followed, it would confine matrimony to the lower rank of people, among whom it seems going out of fashion, as well as with their superiors; nor indeed can we wonder at it, for dissipation and extravagance are now become such universal vices that it requires great courage in any to enter into an indissoluble society. Instead of being surprised at the common disinclination to marriage, I am rather disposed to wonder when I see a man venture to render himself liable to the expenses of a woman who lavishes both her time and money on every fashionable folly, and still more, when one of your sex subjects herself to be reduced to poverty by a husband’s love for gaming, and to neglect by his inconstancy.’
‘I am of your opinion,’ said Miss Trentham, ‘to face the enemy’s cannon appears to me a less effort of courage than to put our happiness into the hands of a person who perhaps will not once reflect on the importance of the trust committed to his or her care. For the case is pretty equal as to both sexes, each can destroy the other’s peace. Ours seems to have found out the means of being on an equality with yours. Few fortunes are sufficient to stand a double expense. The husband must attend the gaming-table and horse-races; the wife must have a profusion of ornaments for her person, and cards for her entertainment. The care of the estate and family are left in the hands of servants who, in imitation of their masters and mistresses, will have their pleasures, and these must be supplied out of the fortunes of those they serve. Man and wife are often nothing better than assistants in each other’s ruin; domestic virtues are exploded, and social happiness despised as dull and insipid.
‘The example of the great infects the whole community. The honest tradesman who wishes for a wife to assist him in his business, and to take care of his family, dare not marry when every woman of his own rank, emulating her superiors, runs into such fashions of dress as require great part of his gains to supply, and the income which would have been thought sufficient some years ago for the wife of a gentleman of large estate will now scarcely serve to enable a tradesman’s wife to appear like her neighbours. They too must have their evening parties, they must attend the places of public diversion, and must be allowed perpetual dissipation without control. The poor man sighs after the days when his father married; then cleanliness was a woman’s chief personal ornament, half the quantity of silk sufficed for her clothes, variety of trumpery ornaments were not thought of, her husband’s business employed her attention, and her children were the objects of her care. When he came home, wearied with the employment of the day, he found her ready to receive him, and was not afraid of being told she was gone to the play or opera, or of finding her engaged in a party at cards, while he was reduced to spend his evening alone. But in a world so changed, a man dare not venture on marriage which promises him no comfort, and may occasion his ruin, nor wishes for children whose mother’s neglect may expose them to destruction.
‘It is common to blame the lower sort of people for imitating their superiors; but it is equally the fault of every station, and therefore those of higher rank should consider it is their duty to set no examples that may hurt others. A degree of subordination is always acquiesced in, but while the nobleman lives like a prince, the gentleman will rise to the proper expenses of a nobleman, and the tradesman take that vacant rank which the gentleman has quitted; nor will he be ashamed of becoming a bankrupt when he sees the fortunes of his superiors mouldering away and knows them to be oppressed with debts. Whatever right people may have to make free with their own happiness, a beneficial example is a duty which they indispensably owe to society, and the profuse have the extravagance of their inferiors to answer for. The same may be said for those who contribute to the dissipation of others, by being dissipated themselves.’
‘But, madam,’ interrupted Lamont, ‘do you think it incumbent on people of fashion to relinquish their pleasures, lest their example should lead others to neglect their business?’
‘I should certainly,’ replied Miss Trentham, ‘answer you in the affirmative were the case as you put it, but much more so in the light I see it. Every station has its duties, those of the great are more various than those of their inferiors. They are not so confined to economical attentions, nor ought they to be totally without them; but their more extensive influence, their greater leisure to serve their Creator with all the powers of their minds, constitute many duties on their part to which dissipation is as great an enemy as it can be to those more entirely domestic; therefore on each side there is an equal neglect; and why should we expect that such as we imagine have fewer advantages of education should be more capable of resisting temptations and dedicating themselves solely to the performance of their duties, than persons whose minds are more improved?’
‘I cannot deny,’ answered Lamont, ‘but what you say is just, yet I fear you have uttered truths that must continue entirely speculative; though if any people have a right to turn reformers, you ladies are best qualified, since you begin by reforming yourselves; you practise more than you preach, and therefore must always be listened to with attention.’
‘We do not set up for reformers,’ said Miss Mancel, ‘we wish to regulate ourselves by the laws laid down to us, and as far as our influence can extend, endeavour to enforce them; beyond that small circle all is foreign to us; we have sufficient employment in improving ourselves; to mend the world requires much abler hands.’
‘When you talk of laws, madam, by which you would regulate your actions,’ said Lamont, ‘you raise a just alarm; as for matter of opinion, every one may demand an equal power, but laws seem to require obedience; pray, from whence do you take those which you wish to make your rule of life?’
‘From whence,’ answered Miss Mancel, ‘should a Christian take them, from the Alcoran, think you, or from the wiser Confucius, or would you seek in Coke on Littleton that you may escape the iron hand of the legislative power? No, surely, the Christian’s law is written in the Bible, there, independent of the political regulations of particular communities, is to be found the law of the supreme Legislator. There, indeed, is contained the true and invariable law of nations; and according to our performance of it, we shall be tried by a Judge whose wisdom and impartiality secure him from error, and whose power is able to execute his own decrees. This is the law I meant, and whoever obeys it can never offend essentially against the private ordinances of any community. This all to whom it has been declared are bound to obey, my consent to receive it for the rule of my actions is not material; for as whoever lives in England must submit to the laws of the country, though he may be ignorant of many of the particulars of them, so whoever lives in a Christian land is obliged to obey the laws of the Gospel, or to suffer for infringing them; in both cases, therefore, it is prudent for every man to acquaint himself thoroughly with these ordinances, which he cannot break with impunity.’
‘If such obedience be necessary,’ said Lamont, ‘what do you imagine will be the fate of most of the inhabitants of Christendom; for you will allow that they do not regulate their conduct by such severe commands?’
‘What will be their fate,’ replied Miss Mancel, ‘I do not pretend even to suppose, my business is to take care of my own. The laws against robbery are not rendered either less just or less binding by the numbers that daily steal or who demand your purse on the highway. Laws are not abrogated by being infringed, nor does the disobedience of others make the observance of them less my duty. I am required to answer only for myself, and it is not man whom I am ordered to imitate. His failings will not excuse mine. Humility forbids me to censure others, and prudence obliges me to avoid copying them.’
Lamont thought Miss Mancel too severe in her doctrine; but there was something so respectable in her severity, that he forbore to contest it, and owned to me afterwards that, while she spoke and he contemplated that amiable society, his heart silently acquiesced in the justness of her sentiments.
We parted at our usual hour; and at the same time the company in the lower part of the house broke up, eleven o’clock being the stated hour for them on those occasions to return to their respective homes.
The next morning, as I went downstairs, I met the housekeeper and entered into conversation with her, for which the preceding night’s festivity furnished me with topics. From her I learnt that since the ladies had been established in that house they had given fortunes from twenty to a hundred pounds, as merit and occasion directed, to above thirty young women, and that they had seldom celebrated fewer than two marriages in a year, sometimes more. Nor does their bounty cease on the wedding-day, for they are always ready to assist them on any emergency; and watch with so careful an eye over the conduct of these young people as proves of much greater service to them than the money they bestow. They kindly, but strongly, reprehend the first error, and guard them by the most prudent admonitions against a repetition of their fault. By little presents they shew their approbation of those who behave well, always proportioning their gifts to the merits of the person; which are therefore looked upon as the most honourable testimony of their conduct, and are treasured up as valuable marks of distinction. This encouragement has great influence, and makes them vie with each other in endeavours to excel in sobriety, cleanliness, meekness and industry. She told me also that the young women bred up at the schools these ladies support are so much esteemed for many miles round that it is not uncommon for young farmers, who want sober, good wives, to obtain them from thence, and prefer them to girls of much better fortunes, educated in a different manner, as there have been various instances wherein their industry and quickness of understanding, which in a great measure arises from the manner of their education, has proved more profitable to their husbands than a more ample dower.
She added that she keeps a register of all the boys and girls, which, by her good ladies’ means, have been established in the world; whereby it appears that thirty have been apprenticed out to good trades, three score fixed in excellent places, and thirty married. And it seldom happens that any one takes an apprentice or servant till they have first sent to her ladies to know if they have any to recommend.
I expressed a desire to see the schools, which she obligingly offered to shew me, but feared we could not then have time to go thither, as breakfast was just ready. While I was talking with her, I observed that the fingers of one of her hands were contracted quite close to the palm. I took notice of it to her. ‘Oh! sir,’ said she, ‘it was the luckiest accident that could possibly be; as I was obliged to work for my support, I was very much shocked at my recovery from a fever to find myself deprived of the use of a hand, but still tried if I could get myself received into service; as I was sensible I could, notwithstanding my infirmity, perform the business of a housekeeper; but no one would take me in this maimed condition. At last I was advised to apply to these ladies and found what had hitherto been an impediment was a stronger recommendation than the good character I had from my last place; and I am sure I have reason to value these distorted fingers, more than ever any one did the handsomest hands that ever nature made. But,’ added she, smiling, ‘few of my fellow-servants are better qualified; the cook cannot walk without crutches, the kitchen maid has but one eye, the dairy maid is almost stone deaf, and the housemaid has but one hand; and yet, perhaps, there is no family where the business is better done; for gratitude, and a conviction that this is the only house into which we can be received, makes us exert ourselves to the utmost; and most people fail not from a deficiency of power, but of inclination. Even their musicians, if you observed it, sir, are much in the same condition. The steward, indeed, must be excepted; he is one whom the good Mr d’Avora chose for the sake of his integrity some years before he died, as his successor in the care of the ladies’ affairs, and employed him for some time under his own inspection, that he might be sure he was fit for the purpose, though he persuaded the ladies to receive their own rents and direct all the chief concerns of their estates, which they have done ever since, so that theirs is rather a household than a land steward. But, except this gentleman and the shepherd, there is not one of their musicians that is not under some natural disadvantage; the defects of two of them are so visible I need not point them out, but of the other two, one is subject to violent fits of the stone, and the other to the asthma. Thus disabled from hard labour, though they find some employment in the manufacture, yet the additional profit which accrues from their playing here adds much to their comfort, as their infirmities render greater expenses necessary to them than to others in their station.’
There was something so whimsically good in the conduct of the ladies in these particulars, as at first made me smile; but when I considered it more thoroughly, I perceived herein a refinement of charity which, though extremely uncommon, was entirely rational. I found that not contented with merely bestowing on the indigent as large a part of their fortunes as they can possibly spare, they carry the notion of their duty to the poor so far as to give continual attention to it, and endeavour so to apply all they spend as to make almost every shilling contribute towards the support of some person in real necessity; by this means every expense bears the merit of a donation in the sight of him who knows their motives; and their constant application is directed towards the relief of others, while to superficial observers they seem only providing for their own convenience. The fashionable tradesman is sure not to have them in the list of his customers; but should he, through the caprice of the multitude, be left without business, and see his elated hopes blasted, in all probability he will find these ladies his friends. Those whose youth renders them disregarded, or whose old age breeds neglect, will here meet with deserved encouragement. This sort of economy pleases me much, it is of the highest kind, since it regards those riches which neither moth nor rust can corrupt, nor thieves break through and steal; and is within the reach of every person’s imitation, for the poorest may thus turn their necessary expenses into virtuous actions. In this they excel others, as much as the bee does the common butterfly; they both feed on the same flowers, but while the butterfly only gains a transient subsistence and flies and flutters in all its gaudy pride, the bee lays up a precious store for its future well-being, and may brave all the rigours of winter. Man, indeed, often encroaches on the labours of the bee and disappoints it of its reasonable hope; but no one without our own concurrence can despoil us of the treasures laid up in heaven.
As the good housekeeper foretold, the bell soon summoned me to breakfast; which, like every other hour spent in that society, was rendered delightful by their rational cheerfulness and polite freedom. We offered to take our leave, but should have been disappointed had we not been asked to prolong our visit; nor were we so insincere as to make much resistance to this agreeable invitation; we expressed some fears of interrupting their better employments; to which Mrs Morgan replied by assuring us that we did not do so in the least; but added, ‘I will tell you plainly, gentlemen, the only alteration we shall wish to make, if you will favour us with your company a few days longer. Our family devotions are regular, as you were strangers we have not summoned you to them, but for the rest of your visit we must beg leave to alter that method; for we do not think it a proper example to our servants to suffer any one in this house to be excluded from them; though as your coming was sudden, and has been prolonged only, as it were, from hour to hour, we at first did not think it necessary to require your presence.’
You may imagine we expressed ourselves obliged by this frankness; and, for my own part, I was glad of what appeared to me like being received into a community of saints; but was forced to wait for it till night, the devotion of the morning having been paid before breakfast, as was usual in that family.
Mrs Maynard accompanied us that morning into the park, and having placed ourselves on a green bank under an elm, by the side of the canal, I called on her to perform her promise, and increase my acquaintance with the rest of the ladies, by giving some account of them.
‘I shall not the less readily comply,’ she answered, ‘for being able to bring what I have to say of them into less compass, than I did my history of Mrs Morgan and Miss Mancel, of whom, when I begin to speak, I always find it difficult to leave off, and am led by my fondness for the subject into a detail, perhaps too circumstantial. Lady Mary Jones, by what I have already said, you may have perceived must come next in order.’
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:13