All school day’s friendship childhood innocence’
We Hermia like two artificial gods
Have with our needles created both one flower,
Both on one sampler sitting on one cushion,
Both warbling of one song both in one key
As if our hands our sides, voices and minds
Had been incorporate
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Julia Mannering to Matilda Marchmont
‘How can you upbraid me, my dearest Matilda, with abatement in friendship or fluctuation in affection? Is it possible for me to forget that you are the chosen of my heart, in whose faithful bosom I have deposited every feeling which your poor Julia dares to acknowledge to herself? And you do me equal injustice in upbraiding me with exchanging your friendship for that of Lucy Bertram. I assure you she has not the materials I must seek for in a bosom confidante. She is a charming girl, to be sure, and I like her very much, and I confess our forenoon and evening engagements have left me less time for the exercise of my pen than our proposed regularity of correspondence demands. But she is totally devoid of elegant accomplishments, excepting the knowledge of French and Italian, which she acquired from the most grotesque monster you ever beheld, whom my father has engaged as a kind of librarian, and whom he patronises, I believe, to show his defiance of the world’s opinion. Colonel Mannering seems to have formed a determination that nothing shall be considered as ridiculous so long as it appertains to or is connected with him. I remember in India he had picked up somewhere a little mongrel cur, with bandy legs, a long back, and huge flapping ears. Of this uncouth creature he chose to make a favourite, in despite of all taste and opinion; and I remember one instance which he alleged, of what he called Brown’s petulance, was, that he had criticised severely the crooked legs and drooping ears of Bingo. On my word, Matilda, I believe he nurses his high opinion of this most awkward of all pedants upon a similar principle. He seats the creature at table, where he pronounces a grace that sounds like the scream of the man in the square that used to cry mackerel, flings his meat down his throat by shovelfuls, like a dustman loading his cart, and apparently without the most distant perception of what he is swallowing, then bleats forth another unnatural set of tones by way of returning thanks, stalks out of the room, and immerses himself among a parcel of huge worm-eaten folios that are as uncouth as himself! I could endure the creature well enough had I anybody to laugh at him along with me; but Lucy Bertram, if I but verge on the border of a jest affecting this same Mr. Sampson (such is the horrid man’s horrid name), looks so piteous that it deprives me of all spirit to proceed, and my father knits his brow, flashes fire from his eye, bites his lip, and says something that is extremely rude and uncomfortable to my feelings.
‘It was not of this creature, however, that I meant to speak to you, only that, being a good scholar in the modern as well as the ancient languages, he has contrived to make Lucy Bertram mistress of the former, and she has only, I believe, to thank her own good sense, or obstinacy, that the Greek, Latin (and Hebrew, for aught I know), were not added to her acquisitions. And thus she really has a great fund of information, and I assure you I am daily surprised at the power which she seems to possess of amusing herself by recalling and arranging the subjects of her former reading. We read together every morning, and I begin to like Italian much better than when we were teased by that conceited animal Cicipici. This is the way to spell his name, and not Chichipichi; you see I grow a connoisseur.
‘But perhaps I like Miss Bertram more for the accomplishments she wants than for the knowledge she possesses. She knows nothing of music whatever, and no more of dancing than is here common to the meanest peasants, who, by the way, dance with great zeal and spirit. So that I am instructor in my turn, and she takes with great gratitude lessons from me upon the harpsichord; and I have even taught her some of La Pique’s steps, and you know he thought me a promising scholar.
‘In the evening papa often reads, and I assure you he is the best reader of poetry you ever heard; not like that actor who made a kind of jumble between reading and acting, — staring, and bending his brow, and twisting his face, and gesticulating as if he were on the stage and dressed out in all his costume. My father’s manner is quite different; it is the reading of a gentleman, who produces effect by feeling, taste, and inflection of voice, not by action or mummery. Lucy Bertram rides remarkably well, and I can now accompany her on horseback, having become emboldened by example. We walk also a good deal in spite of the cold. So, upon the whole, I have not quite so much time for writing as I used to have.
‘Besides, my love, I must really use the apology of all stupid correspondents, that I have nothing to say. My hopes, my fears, my anxieties about Brown are of a less interesting cast since I know that he is at liberty and in health. Besides, I must own I think that by this time the gentleman might have given me some intimation what he was doing. Our intercourse may be an imprudent one, but it is not very complimentary to me that Mr. Vanbeest Brown should be the first to discover that such is the case, and to break off in consequence. I can promise him that we might not differ much in opinion should that happen to be his, for I have sometimes thought I have behaved extremely foolishly in that matter. Yet I have so good an opinion of poor Brown, that I cannot but think there is something extraordinary in his silence.
‘To return to Lucy Bertram. No, my dearest Matilda, she can never, never rival you in my regard, so that all your affectionate jealousy on that account is without foundation. She is, to be sure, a very pretty, a very sensible, a very affectionate girl, and I think there are few persons to whose consolatory friendship I could have recourse more freely in what are called the real evils of life. But then these so seldom come in one’s way, and one wants a friend who will sympathise with distresses of sentiment as well as with actual misfortune. Heaven knows, and you know, my dearest Matilda, that these diseases of the heart require the balm of sympathy and affection as much as the evils of a more obvious and determinate character. Now Lucy Bertram has nothing of this kindly sympathy, nothing at all, my dearest Matilda. Were I sick of a fever, she would sit up night after night to nurse me with the most unrepining patience; but with the fever of the heart, which my Matilda has soothed so often, she has no more sympathy than her old tutor. And yet what provokes me is, that the demure monkey actually has a lover of her own, and that their mutual affection (for mutual I take it to be) has a great deal of complicated and romantic interest. She was once, you must know, a great heiress, but was ruined by the prodigality of her father and the villainy of a horrid man in whom he confided. And one of the handsomest young gentlemen in the country is attached to her; but, as he is heir to a great estate, she discourages his addresses on account of the disproportion of their fortune.
‘But with all this moderation, and self-denial, and modesty, and so forth, Lucy is a sly girl. I am sure she loves young Hazlewood, and I am sure he has some guess of that, and would probably bring her to acknowledge it too if my father or she would allow him an opportunity. But you must know the Colonel is always himself in the way to pay Miss Bertram those attentions which afford the best indirect opportunities for a young gentleman in Hazlewood’s situation. I would have my good papa take care that he does not himself pay the usual penalty of meddling folks. I assure you, if I were Hazlewood I should look on his compliments, his bowings, his cloakings, his shawlings, and his handings with some little suspicion; and truly I think Hazlewood does so too at some odd times. Then imagine what a silly figure your poor Julia makes on such occasions! Here is my father making the agreeable to my friend; there is young Hazlewood watching every word of her lips, and every motion of her eye; and I have not the poor satisfaction of interesting a human being, not even the exotic monster of a parson, for even he sits with his mouth open, and his huge round goggling eyes fixed like those of a statue, admiring Mess Baartram!
‘All this makes me sometimes a little nervous, and sometimes a little mischievous. I was so provoked at my father and the lovers the other day for turning me completely out of their thoughts and society, that I began an attack upon Hazlewood, from which it was impossible for him, in common civility, to escape. He insensibly became warm in his defence, — I assure you, Matilda, he is a very clever as well as a very handsome young man, and I don’t think I ever remember having seen him to the same advantage, — when, behold, in the midst of our lively conversation, a very soft sigh from Miss Lucy reached my not ungratified ears. I was greatly too generous to prosecute my victory any farther, even if I had not been afraid of papa. Luckily for me, he had at that moment got into a long description of the peculiar notions and manners of a certain tribe of Indians who live far up the country, and was illustrating them by making drawings on Miss Bertram’s work-patterns, three of which he utterly damaged by introducing among the intricacies of the pattern his specimens of Oriental costume. But I believe she thought as little of her own gown at the moment as of the Indian turbands and cummerbands. However, it was quite as well for me that he did not see all the merit of my little manoeuvre, for he is as sharp-sighted as a hawk, and a sworn enemy to the slightest shade of coquetry.
‘Well, Matilda, Hazlewood heard this same halfaudible sigh, and instantly repented his temporary attentions to such an unworthy object as your Julia, and, with a very comical expression of consciousness, drew near to Lucy’s work-table. He made some trifling observation, and her reply was one in which nothing but an ear as acute as that of a lover, or a curious observer like myself, could have distinguished anything more cold and dry than usual. But it conveyed reproof to the self-accusing hero, and he stood abashed accordingly. You will admit that I was called upon in generosity to act as mediator. So I mingled in the conversation, in the quiet tone of an unobserving and uninterested third party, led them into their former habits of easy chat, and, after having served awhile as the channel of communication through which they chose to address each other, set them down to a pensive game at chess, and very dutifully went to tease papa, who was still busied with his drawings. The chess-players, you must observe, were placed near the chimney, beside a little work-table, which held the board and men, the Colonel at some distance, with lights upon a library table; for it is a large old-fashioned room, with several recesses, and hung with grim tapestry, representing what it might have puzzled the artist himself to explain.
‘“Is chess a very interesting game, papa?”
‘“I am told so,” without honouring me with much of his notice.
‘“I should think so, from the attention Mr. Hazlewood and Lucy are bestowing on it.”
‘He raised his head “hastily and held his pencil suspended for an instant. Apparently he saw nothing that excited his suspicions, for he was resuming the folds of a Mahratta’s turban in tranquillity when I interrupted him with — “How old is Miss Bertram, sir?”
‘“How should I know, Miss? About your own age, I suppose.”
‘“Older, I should think, sir. You are always telling me how much more decorously she goes through all the honours of the tea-table. Lord, papa, what if you should give her a right to preside once and for ever!”
‘“Julia, my dear,” returned papa, “you are either a fool outright or you are more disposed to make mischief than I have yet believed you.”
‘“Oh, my dear sir! put your best construction upon it; I would not be thought a fool for all the world.”
‘“Then why do you talk like one?” said my father.
‘“Lord, sir, I am sure there is nothing so foolish in what I said just now. Everybody knows you are a very handsome man” (a smile was just visible), “that is, for your time of life” (the dawn was overcast), “which is far from being advanced, and I am sure I don’t know why you should not please yourself, if you have a mind. I am sensible I am but a thoughtless girl, and if a graver companion could render you more happy — ”
‘There was a mixture of displeasure and grave affection in the manner in which my father took my hand, that was a severe reproof to me for trifling with his feelings. “Julia,” he said, “I bear with much of your petulance because I think I have in some degree deserved it, by neglecting to superintend your education sufficiently closely. Yet I would not have you give it the rein upon a subject so delicate. If you do not respect the feelings of your surviving parent towards the memory of her whom you have lost, attend at least to the sacred claims of misfortune; and observe, that the slightest hint of such a jest reaching Miss Bertram’s ears would at once induce her to renounce her present asylum, and go forth, without a protector, into a world she has already felt so unfriendly.”
‘What could I say to this, Matilda? I only cried heartily, begged pardon, and promised to be a good girl in future. And so here am I neutralised again, for I cannot, in honour or common good-nature, tease poor Lucy by interfering with Hazlewood, although she has so little confidence in me; and neither can I, after this grave appeal, venture again upon such delicate ground with papa. So I burn little rolls of paper, and sketch Turks’ heads upon visiting cards with the blackened end — I assure you I succeeded in making a superb Hyder-Ally last night — and I jingle on my unfortunate harpsichord, and begin at the end of a grave book and read it backward. After all, I begin to be very much vexed about Brown’s silence. Had he been obliged to leave the country, I am sure he would at least have written to me. Is it possible that my father can have intercepted his letters? But no, that is contrary to all his principles; I don’t think he would open a letter addressed to me to-night, to prevent my jumping out of window to-morrow. What an expression I have suffered to escape my pen! I should be ashamed of it, even to you, Matilda, and used in jest. But I need not take much merit for acting as I ought to do. This same Mr. Vanbeest Brown is by no means so very ardent a lover as to hurry the object of his attachment into such inconsiderate steps. He gives one full time to reflect, that must be admitted. However, I will not blame him unheard, nor permit myself to doubt the manly firmness of a character which I have so often extolled to you. Were he capable of doubt, of fear, of the shadow of change, I should have little to regret.
‘And why, you will say, when I expect such steady and unalterable constancy from a lover, why should I be anxious about what Hazlewood does, or to whom he offers his attentions? I ask myself the question a hundred times a day, and it only receives the very silly answer that one does not like to be neglected, though one would not encourage a serious infidelity.
‘I write all these trifles because you say that they amuse you, and yet I wonder how they should. I remember, in our stolen voyages to the world of fiction, you always admired the grand and the romantic, — tales of knights, dwarfs, giants, and distressed damsels, oothsayers, visions, beckoning ghosts, and bloody hands; whereas I was partial to the involved intrigues of private life, or at farthest to so much only of the supernatural as is conferred by the agency of an Eastern genie or a beneficent fairy. You would have loved to shape your course of life over the broad ocean, with its dead calms and howling tempests, its tornadoes, and its billows mountain-high; whereas I should like to trim my little pinnace to a brisk breeze in some inland lake or tranquil bay, where there was just difficulty of navigation sufficient to give interest and to require skill without any sensible degree of danger. So that, upon the whole, Matilda, I think you should have had my father, with his pride of arms and of ancestry, his chivalrous point of honour, his high talents, and his abstruse and mystic studies. You should have had Lucy Bertram too for your friend, whose fathers, with names which alike defy memory and orthography, ruled over this romantic country, and whose birth took place, as I have been indistinctly informed, under circumstances of deep and peculiar interest. You should have had, too, our Scottish residence, surrounded by mountains, and our lonely walks to haunted ruins. And I should have had, in exchange, the lawns and shrubs, and green-houses and conservatories, of Pine Park, with your good, quiet, indulgent aunt, her chapel in the morning, her nap after dinner, her hand at whist in the evening, not forgetting her fat coach-horses and fatter coachman. Take notice, however, that Brown is not included in this proposed barter of mine; his good-humour, lively conversation, and open gallantry suit my plan of life as well as his athletic form, handsome features, and high spirit would accord with a character of chivalry. So, as we cannot change altogether out and out, I think we must e’en abide as we are.’
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00