« PreviousContinue »
Hereabouts the unfortunate lady relapsed into a state of insensibility, and the note which she had previously clenched in her hand, and about which she evinced such earnest solicitude, fell from her grasp.
“Susan,' said Mary, as it tumbled on the floor. “Mary,' said Susan, nodding her head. “Susan,' said Jenny—' I say Whereupon they began signalling to each other to take advantage of their mistress's absence' to inform themselves of the contents of the billet. The sympathies of mischief and curiosity combined were at work, and, without the waste of another word, the domestic Graces of the unconscious Venus were busily occupied : one in greedily swallowing with her eyes the intelligence so anxiously coveted, and the other two grouped so as to prevent Miss Pennefather seeing what was going on if she should happen suddenly to open her swain-killing eyes.
“Susan took upon herself the active and responsible part of the performance, and picking up the note, which they knew to be of Niss Maloney's writing, and read, sotto voce, what follows: “MY DEAREST FRIEND,
“Your constant and long-continued kindness to me makes it doubly painful to me to take the decided step which, nevertheless, I have resolved upon. I would not for the world oppose your wishes or incur your displeasure; but the crisis is at hand, and therefore I am forced to act promptly. My heart is so devotedly attached and so immutably engaged to another, that it would be worse than hypocrisy even to permit your nephew to be introduced to me in the character of an avowed lover. In cases such as these, discussions only excite and promote angry feelings. I have made my own decision, and will abide by it, let what may be the consequences. Before this reaches you I shall have placed my fate beyond the chance of alteration-two days hence you shall have further particulars. In the mean time assure yourself that I am safe and happy, and always affectionately yours,
6 Millicent MALONEY.' “ • That's it, is it?' said Mary, rubbing her mistress's temples with Eau de Cologne.
“ That's it,' rejoined Jenny, as she chafed her mistress's hands; and a pretty it, it is, too.' "Can you guess who?' whispered Susan.
“ Hush! Hem!-do you feel yourself a little better, Ma'am ?' said Jenny, finding Miss Pennefather coming to,' as she called it.
“Jane,' said Miss Pennefather, gasping for breath; I never can be better. Tell me, where's the note ?'
«« Where's the note, Susan ?' said Jane. 66 What note ?” said Susan. “Do you mean that bit of paper doubled up down there ?” said
“Yes, child, yes!' said Miss Pennefather; that's it; give it me Do you know anything at all about it?' «« It, Ma'am!' said Mary.
What, Ma'am ?' said Susan. «• What do you mean, Ma'am ?' said Jenny. “Why, about Miss Millicent's going off," said Miss Pennefather.
«Off!' exclaimed Susan. "Going!' cried Mary. “Going off!' screamed Jenny. “Off! repeated the lady. This note tells me that she has left me -fled-run away, in short. But can nobody guess who the man is ?' “Man !' exclaimed the three maids at once.
“Yes—man!' said Miss Pennefather emphatically. She is gone away with a man.'
“". Dear me!' said Susan.
“ Have you seen nobody about the house lately?" said Miss Pennefather.
“No,' was the general reply, with an exception made by Susan, of John Bartram, the old man known as the 'helper,' and who did the work of all the regular servants.
“Nonsense,' said the lady. 'Oh, no, no; there is some fly-away Irishman in the case, I have no doubt. Just like her mother-no care —no thought. What am I to do with my poor nephew? What am I to say? How am I to excuse myself? I can't dine-I can't sit up. Susan, go and tell Simmons to give my love to Mr. Philip, and say I am too unwell to go down to dinner; beg him to dine, and - but then what will he think? You had better let Simmons tell him-no, go yourself -go yourself, and explain why I cannot dine with him. Say I shall, I hope, be better in the evening, and will talk over matters with him, and—if he should ask about Millicent, why-you know what I have told you, and so-make him understand-break it to him—it is better than trusting Simmons—besides, I cannot tell him myself. Oh, Millicent, Millicent-foolish, headstrong girl!'”
Susan, of course, obeyed her mistress's commands, although the mission to which she was appointed was, in fact, one of considerable delicacy and no little difficulty. Susan, who was an extremely pretty black-eyed girl, took the precaution, before she proceeded to the interview with the Lieutenant, to run into Miss Pennefather's dressing-room in order to give her jetty ringlets a fresh twirl round her finger, and settle the little fanciful cap which she wore on her head. It is impossible to trace the exact current of female minds; but, however absurd it may appear, Susan, at the moment, felt the possibility of such a thing happening as the Lieutenant, being in the extremity of his despair for the loss of the mistress, drawn suddenly into violent admiration of the maid.
Susan's heart fluttered terribly as she approached the dining-parlour in which Merman had been “left alone in his glory;" Simmons having taken the precaution of having the “soup and fish” taken back to the kitchen to wait for further orders. Susan tapped at the door-a precautionary habit sedulously inculcated in all decent families—the in" of Lieutenant Merman brought her face to face with that distinguished officer.
When the door opened Merman was discovered standing with his back to the fire munching the piece of bread which had been deposited on the side of his plate, and which, in the then ravenous state of his appetite, he could no longer resist.
“'I beg your pardon, Sir,' said Susan, dropping a sort of theatrical half-curtsey, but my mistress begs you will not wait dinner for her. She will come down in the evening, when she hopes to be better.'
« « And Miss Maloney ?' said Merman, inquiringly.
“ • Why, Sir,' said Susan, colouring deeply, “Miss Maloney, Sir,is—that's it, Sir "66 It!-what?' said the Lieutenant.
Why, Sir,' said Susan, 'that's the reason my mistress is not well enough to come down.'
“What ?' again said the soldier. « • Miss Millicent, Sir, is gonc
out.' 6. Gone out!' said Merman.
What, in the snow ?' i "I don't know, I'm sure, Sir,' said Susan ; 'but-she is gone.'
Alone?' said Merman. "' I can't say, Sir,' said Susan; but my mistress seems to think not.'
"Are we to wait till she returns ?' asked Merman.
“ « Oh dear no !' said the maiden. I believe, if you were, you'd have to wait a long time.'
"• What do you mean?' said Merman. • Come here : tell me is Miss Maloney gone on a visit, or “ No, Sir,' said Susan : 'don't be angry, Sir; we all know what
you are come here for, and so did Miss Millicent, and so, Sir,—don't tell my Mistress that I told you all,-Miss Millicent has run away with somebody else ;-don't be in a passion, don't.'
« « Passion ! exclaimed the Lieutenant. Of all things in the world that could have happened, it is to me the most delightful. I never saw her, and couldn't care for her. Now, by Jove, I am free to choose whom I like.'
“That's very true, Sir,' said Susan, biting her lips to make them redder than usual. The look which the pretty girl put on immediately reminded the Lieutenant that he was treating her more confidentially than, considering their relative positions, was either necessary or becoming, by expressing in so unreserved a manner the satisfaction which he felt at the defection of his intended wife.
‘My mistress begs you will eat your dinner, Sir,' said Susan. “ I'll endeavour,' said Merman; but give my love to her, and ask her if I may send her something; and—will you tell the butler that I'm ready..
Susan bobbed an assenting curtsey, and left the room perfectly satisfied that her mistress's nephew was not likely to die for love, at least upon the present occasion.
It turned out in the sequel that Miss Millicent Maloney had left her heart in the Emerald Isle, and that the gentleman who had it in his keeping had been summoned to England as soon as Miss Laura Pennefather had expressed her determination with regard to Merman. There was nothing objectionable about the lady's favourite, except that worldly blemish—a want of fortune. And all Merman's present anxieties were directed to the immediate conclusion of his affair with Fanny Wells, while his aunt's irritation of feeling towards Millicent continued, fearing, naturally enough, that time and her natural affections would soften her anger and relax her resolution of cutting her off entirely. Here, however, the light infantry officer was defeated : Laura could forget and forgive, or rather it may be said she forgave because she could not forget; and, at the termination of the Lieutenant's visit, his aunt gave him to understand that if she remained in her present mind he would, at her death, receive a moiety of the sum intended for him if his marriage with Millicent had taken place.
This made a vast difference in his position. The diminution of the amount of his expected fortune by one-half, the contingency, too, by which he was to run his life against that of a quiet, moderate lady of regular habits and a good constitution, were serious drawbacks: however, all he could do under the circumstances he did, and the moment he was free, wrote to Wells, stating candidly all the circumstances of the case, and offering himself, such as he was, for the acceptance of his daughter.
It was in this position of affairs that Wells sought my advice and an opinion whether, considering that Merman had actually retired, and gone avowedly to marry another woman, Fanny could, consistently with the dignity of her character, receive him again, and consent to become his wife, because the other lady would not have him ?
The point, I admit, was one of considerable delicacy, but as far as I could see, or indeed suggest, it seemed to me most particularly to rest upon Wells's objection to the change of fortune, and Fanny's feelings towards the Lieutenant: at all events, my proposition was, that if Wells was himself not hostile to the marriage for financial reasons, Fanny should be left entirely to herself to decide according to her wishes and inclinations.
Mrs. Wells was outrageously indignant at the proposition, which she considered in the light of a downright insult, and did not hesitate to appropriate to the absent officer the epithets of “ fortune-hunter," “coxcomb,” and “impudent fellow.” Fanny, however, did not join in the cry against him, but maintained that all he did was perfectly disinterested, and that he had consented to give her up only to save her from the necessity of making sacrifices, and exposing herself to difficulties and inconveniencies which she was ready to encounter for the sake of her dear Philip. With great dutifulness, however, she declared her willingness to be guided by her father, a proof of her obedience which lost some of its merit in my eyes, from knowing which way it was most probable the Rector would decide, when there was a prospect of marrying off a daughter
Things were thus proceeding, when, having forewarned poor Harriet of the dangerous state of Tom Falwasser's health, I anxiously awaited the arrival of intelligence from Sniggs. With the morning came worse accounts of the boy, and by the post came the following letter from his elder sister :
“ Montpelier, Bath. “ Dear Uncle.- Pappy is most anxious to hear about Tom, and wondered why you did not write ; but when I told him you did not know where to direct to him, he was quite satisfied: pray let him hear about my brother. Pappy has got the pretty cottage Mrs. Brandybal} talked of next to our school, and seems very happy. Mrs. Brandyball is very attentive and kind to him, and very good to us; indeed, neither Jane nor I do anything but what we please. We are mostly in at the cottage, for Pappy likes us to be as much with him as we can. Pappy says that when Tom gets well he is to come to us here, and then perhaps after the Easter holidays we shall all go to some other place, for I should not be very much surprised if our governess was to give up her school. Pappy says it must be so fatiguing to her, and thinks that she would have quite enough to do to superintend the education of me and Jane.
“I hope dear aunty and the little boy are quite well, and dear Fanny and Bessy. I should be delighted to hear from the latter. Give my love, and Jane sends hers. Pappy desires to be kindly remembered, and hopes you will let him hear soon.
“Yours, dear Uncle, affectionately,
“Kate Falwasser.” I was not in a humour to think much of myself when I received this despatch, for my mind was fully occupied with the fate of poor Tom; but certainly, as the communication-by proxy-of an affectionate brother, the self-proposed godfather of my child, bis infant nephew, never was anything less satisfactory. To expect Cuthbert to have exerted himself to the extent of favouring me with an autograph letter might have been too much, but to find no word, no syllable from him, allusive to my wife or child, or his intentions respecting his sponsorial proposition, nor indeed any hint or expression tending to make me fancy
occupied the smallest share of his attention, was beyond my expectation. That it was painful I admit, and if I had been in a state to think about it, it would have awakened a thousand feelings, which perhaps it was as well should not be called into play. It was evident that Mrs. Brandyball's influence was rapidly increasing, and the artless manner in which Kate mentioned the probability of her giving up the fatigue of general tuition, to devote her time and talents to the exclusive improvement of my two half nieces, convinced me that all my worst anticipations were eventually to be realised.
To Harriet I merely communicated the fact that I had heard from Cuthbert—for I could not venture to apprize her of the nature of his letter. She, dear soul, was so full of kindness, so feelingly alive to my interests, and had devoted herself so entirely for my sake to him, that I am sure she would feel deeply and bitterly the tone and spirit of Kate's letter. In fact, I do not think, since the day of my beloved mother's death, a day always present to my memory, I ever felt so perfectly miserable as on this.
With one o'clock-the hour of luncheon-came Sniggs, and his report was such as to convince me that no hope remained of saving the boy; it then struck me that I would wait until the event occurred, and immediately afterwards start for Bath to break the news to Cuthbert; then I resolved upon writing, anticipating in my letter the worst which might happen. Sniggs worried me with technicalities, and the smell of the camphor with which he was highly perfumed reminded me of the danger likely to be incurred by his visit; for although the whole establishment had been rendered proof against the infection, still the baby was yet unarmed, and when I saw him deliberately sit down to help