Talk with a man out of a window! — a proper saying.
Much Ado about Nothing.
We must proceed with our extracts from Miss Mannering’s letters, which throw light upon natural good sense, principle, and feelings, blemished by an imperfect education and the folly of a misjudging mother, who called her husband in her heart a tyrant until she feared him as such, and read romances until she became so enamoured of the complicated intrigues which they contain as to assume the management of a little family novel of her own, and constitute her daughter, a girl of sixteen, the principal heroine. She delighted in petty mystery and intrigue and secrets, and yet trembled at the indignation which these paltry manoeuvres excited in her husband’s mind. Thus she frequently entered upon a scheme merely for pleasure, or perhaps for the love of contradiction, plunged deeper into it than she was aware, endeavoured to extricate herself by new arts, or to cover her error by dissimulation, became involved in meshes of her own weaving, and was forced to carry on, for fear of discovery, machinations which she had at first resorted to in mere wantonness.
Fortunately the young man whom she so imprudently introduced into her intimate society, and encouraged to look up to her daughter, had a fund of principle and honest pride which rendered him a safer intimate than Mrs. Mannering ought to have dared to hope or expect. The obscurity of his birth could alone be objected to him; in every other respect,
With prospects bright upon the world he came, Pure love of virtue, strong desire of fame, Men watched the way his lofty mind would take, And all foretold the progress he would make.
But it could not be expected that he should resist the snare which Mrs. Mannering’s imprudence threw in his way, or avoid becoming attached to a young lady whose beauty and manners might have justified his passion, even in scenes where these are more generally met with than in a remote fortress in our Indian settlements. The scenes which followed have been partly detailed in Mannering’s letter to Mr. Mervyn; and to expand what is there stated into farther explanation would be to abuse the patience of our readers.
We shall therefore proceed with our promised extracts from Miss Mannering’s letters to her friend.
‘I have seen him again, Matilda — seen him twice. I have used every argument to convince him that this secret intercourse is dangerous to us both; I even pressed him to pursue his views of fortune without farther regard to me, and to consider my peace of mind as sufficiently secured by the knowledge that he had not fallen under my father’s sword. He answers — but how can I detail all he has to answer? He claims those hopes as his due which my mother permitted him to entertain, and would persuade me to the madness of a union without my father’s sanction. But to this, Matilda, I will not be persuaded. I have resisted, I have subdued, the rebellious feelings which arose to aid his plea; yet how to extricate myself from this unhappy labyrinth in which fate and folly have entangled us both!
‘I have thought upon it, Matilda, till my head is almost giddy; nor can I conceive a better plan than to make a full confession to my father. He deserves it, for his kindness is unceasing; and I think I have observed in his character, since I have studied it more nearly, that his harsher feelings are chiefly excited where he suspects deceit or imposition; and in that respect, perhaps, his character was formerly misunderstood by one who was dear to him. He has, too, a tinge of romance in his disposition; and I have seen the narrative of a generous action, a trait of heroism, or virtuous self-denial, extract tears from him which refused to flow at a tale of mere distress. But then Brown urges that he is personally hostile to him. And the obscurity of his birth, that would be indeed a stumbling-block. O, Matilda, I hope none of your ancestors ever fought at Poictiers or Agincourt! If it were not for the veneration which my father attaches to the memory of old Sir Miles Mannering, I should make out my explanation with half the tremor which must now attend it.’
‘I have this instant received your letter — your most welcome letter! Thanks, my dearest friend, for your sympathy and your counsels; I can only repay them with unbounded confidence.
‘You ask me what Brown is by origin, that his descent should be so unpleasing to my father. His story is shortly told. He is of Scottish extraction, but, being left an orphan, his education was undertaken by a family of relations settled in Holland. He was bred to commerce, and sent very early to one of our settlements in the East, where his guardian had a correspondent. But this correspondent was dead when he arrived in India, and he had no other resource than to offer himself as a clerk to a counting — house. The breaking out of the war, and the straits to which we were at first reduced, threw the army open to all young men who were disposed to embrace that mode of life; and Brown, whose genius had a strong military tendency, was the first to leave what might have been the road to wealth, and to choose that of fame. The rest of his history is well known to you; but conceive the irritation of my father, who despises commerce (though, by the way, the best part of his property was made in that honourable profession by my great-uncle), and has a particular antipathy to the Dutch — think with what ear he would be likely to receive proposals for his only child from Vanbeest Brown, educated for charity by the house of Vanbeest and Vanbruggen! O, Matilda, it will never do; nay, so childish am I, I hardly can help sympathising with his aristocratic feelings. Mrs. Vanbeest Brown! The name has little to recommend it, to be sure. What children we are!’
‘It is all over now, Matilda! I shall never have courage to tell my father; nay, most deeply do I fear he has already learned my secret from another quarter, which will entirely remove the grace of my communication, and ruin whatever gleam of hope I had ventured to connect with it. Yesternight Brown came as usual, and his flageolet on the lake announced his approach. We had agreed that he should continue to use this signal. These romantic lakes attract numerous visitors, who indulge their enthusiasm in visiting the scenery at all hours, and we hoped that, if Brown were noticed from the house, he might pass for one of those admirers of nature, who was giving vent to his feelings through the medium of music. The sounds might also be my apology, should I be observed on the balcony. But last night, while I was eagerly enforcing my plan of a full confession to my father, which he as earnestly deprecated, we heard the window of Mr. Mervyn’s library, which is under my room, open softly. I signed to Brown to make his retreat, and immediately reentered, with some faint hopes that our interview had not been observed.
‘But, alas! Matilda, these hopes vanished the instant I beheld Mr. Mervyn’s countenance at breakfast the next morning. He looked so provokingly intelligent and confidential, that, had I dared, I could have been more angry than ever I was in my life; but I must be on good behaviour, and my walks are now limited within his farm precincts, where the good gentleman can amble along by my side without inconvenience. I have detected him once or twice attempting to sound my thoughts, and watch the expression of my countenance. He has talked of the flageolet more than once, and has, at different times, made eulogiums upon the watchfulness and ferocity of his dogs, and the regularity with which the keeper makes his rounds with a loaded fowling-piece. He mentioned even man-traps and springguns. I should be loth to affront my father’s old friend in his own house; but I do long to show him that I am my father’s daughter, a fact of which Mr. Mervyn will certainly be convinced if ever I trust my voice and temper with a reply to these indirect hints. Of one thing I am certain — I am grateful to him on that account — he has not told Mrs. Mervyn. Lord help me, I should have had such lectures about the dangers of love and the night air on the lake, the risk arising from colds and fortune-hunters, the comfort and convenience of sack-whey and closed windows! I cannot help trifling, Matilda, though my heart is sad enough. What Brown will do I cannot guess. I presume, however, the fear of detection prevents his resuming his nocturnal visits. He lodges at an inn on the opposite shore of the lake, under the name, he tells me, of Dawson; he has a bad choice in names, that must be allowed. He has not left the army, I believe, but he says nothing of his present views,
‘To complete my anxiety, my father is returned suddenly, and in high displeasure. Our good hostess, as I learned from a bustling conversation between her housekeeper and her, had no expectation of seeing him for a week; but I rather suspect his arrival was no surprise to his friend Mr. Mervyn. His manner to me was singularly cold and constrained, sufficiently so to have damped all the courage with which I once resolved to throw myself on his generosity. He lays the blame of his being discomposed and out of humour to the loss of a purchase in the south-west of Scotland on which he had set his heart; but I do not suspect his equanimity of being so easily thrown off its balance. His first excursion was with Mr. Mervyn’s barge across the lake to the inn I have mentioned. You may imagine the agony with which I waited his return! Had he recognized Brown, who can guess the consequence! He returned, however, apparently without having made any discovery. I understand that, in consequence of his late disappointment, he means now to hire a house in the neighbourhood of this same Ellangowan, of which I am doomed to hear so much; he seems to think it probable that the estate for which he wishes may soon be again in the market. I will not send away this letter until I hear more distinctly what are his intentions.’
‘I have now had an interview with my father, as confidential as, I presume, he means to allow me. He requested me to-day, after breakfast, to walk with him into the library; my knees, Matilda, shook under me, and it is no exaggeration to say I could scarce follow him into the room. I feared I knew not what. From my childhood I had seen all around him tremble at his frown. He motioned me to seat myself, and I never obeyed a command so readily, for, in truth, I could hardly stand. He himself continued to walk up and down the room. You have seen my father, and noticed, I recollect, the remarkably expressive cast of his features. His eyes are naturally rather light in colour, but agitation or anger gives them a darker and more fiery glance; he has a custom also of drawing in his lips when much moved, which implies a combat between native ardour of temper and the habitual power of self-command. This was the first time we had been alone since his return from Scotland, and, as he betrayed these tokens of agitation, I had little doubt that he was about to enter upon the subject I most dreaded.
‘To my unutterable relief, I found I was mistaken, and that, whatever he knew of Mr. Mervyn’s suspicions or discoveries, he did not intend to converse with me on the topic. Coward as I was, I was inexpressibly relieved, though, if he had really investigated the reports which may have come to his ear, the reality could have been nothing to what his suspicions might have conceived. But, though my spirits rose high at my unexpected escape, I had not courage myself to provoke the discussion, and remained silent to receive his commands.
‘“Julia,” he said, “my agent writes me from Scotland that he has been able to hire a house for me, decently furnished, and with the necessary accommodation for my family; it is within three miles of that I had designed to purchase.” Then he made a pause, and seemed to expect an answer.
‘“Whatever place of residence suits you, sir, must be perfectly agreeable to me.”
‘“Umph! I do not propose, however, Julia, that you shall reside quite alone in this house during the winter.”
‘“Mr. and Mrs. Mervyn,” thought I to myself. — “Whatever company is agreeable to you, sir,” I answered aloud.
‘“O, there is a little too much of this universal spirit of submission, an excellent disposition in action, but your constantly repeating the jargon of it puts me in mind of the eternal salaams of our black dependents in the East. In short, Julia, I know you have a relish for society, and I intend to invite a young person, the daughter of a deceased friend, to spend a few months with us.”
‘“Not a governess, for the love of Heaven, papa!” exclaimed poor I, my fears at that moment totally getting the better of my prudence.
‘“No, not a governess, Miss Mannering,” replied the Colonel, somewhat sternly, “but a young lady from whose excellent example, bred as she has been in the school of adversity, I trust you may learn the art to govern yourself.”
‘To answer this was trenching upon too dangerous ground, so there was a pause.
‘“Is the young lady a Scotchwoman, papa?”
‘“Yes” — drily enough.
‘“Has she much of the accent, sir?”
‘“Much of the devil!” answered my father hastily; “do you think I care about a’s and aa’s, and i’s and ee’s,? I tell you, Julia, I am serious in the matter. You have a genius for friendship, that is, for running up intimacies which you call such.” (Was not this very harshly said, Matilda?) “Now I wish to give you an opportunity at least to make one deserving friend, and therefore I have resolved that this young lady shall be a member of my family for some months, and I expect you will pay to her that attention which is due to misfortune and virtue.”
‘“Certainly, sir. Is my future friend red-haired?”
‘He gave me one of his stern glances; you will say, perhaps, I deserved it; but I think the deuce prompts me with teasing questions on some occasions.
‘“She is as superior to you, my love, in personal appearance as in prudence and affection for her friends.”
‘“Lord, papa, do you think that superiority a recommendation? Well, sir, but I see you are going to take all this too seriously; whatever the young lady may be, I am sure, being recommended by you, she shall have no reason to complain of my want of attention.” After a pause — “Has she any attendant? because you know I must provide for her proper accommodation if she is without one.”
‘“N— no — no, not properly an attendant; the chaplain who lived with her father is a very good sort of man, and I believe I shall make room for him in the house.”
‘“Chaplain, papa? Lord bless us!”
‘“Yes, Miss Mannering, chaplain; is there anything very new in that word? Had we not a chaplain at the Residence, when we were in India?”
‘“Yes, papa, but you was a commandant then.”
‘“So I will be now, Miss Mannering, in my own family at least.”
‘“Certainly, sir. But will he read us the Church of England service?”
‘The apparent simplicity with which I asked this question got the better of his gravity. “Come, Julia,” he said, “you are a sad girl, but I gain nothing by scolding you. Of these two strangers, the young lady is one whom you cannot fail, I think, to love; the person whom, for want of a better term, I called chaplain, is a very worthy, and somewhat ridiculous personage, who will never find out you laugh at him if you don’t laugh very loud indeed.”
‘“Dear papa, I am delighted with that part of his character. But pray, is the house we are going to as pleasantly situated as this?”
‘“Not perhaps as much to your taste; there is no lake under the windows, and you will be under the necessity of having all your music within doors.”
‘This last coup de main ended the keen encounter of our wits, for you may believe, Matilda, it quelled all my courage to reply.
‘Yet my spirits, as perhaps will appear too manifest from this dialogue, have risen insensibly, and, as it were, in spite of myself. Brown alive, and free, and in England! Embarrassment and anxiety I can and must endure. We leave this in two days for our new residence. I shall not fail to let you know what I think of these Scotch inmates, whom I have but too much reason to believe my father means to quarter in his house as a brace of honourable spies; a sort of female Rozencrantz and reverend Guildenstern, one in tartan petticoats, the other in a cassock. What a contrast to the society I would willingly have secured to myself! I shall write instantly on my arriving at our new place of abode, and acquaint my dearest Matilda with the farther fates of — her
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00