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as I am told escaped me in my frenzy, were the genuine effusions of a mind awake, they will do me an injustice which they themselves might be sorry for.”
During this address Bertha stood with her head declined, and her eyes bent upon the ground. She seemed, however, all ear, her colour heightened, and she breathed quick. But whatever of interest this shewed, her reply proved that it was of no flattering sort, couched, as it was, in terms more formal than I had ever heard from her, except in the very first days of our acquaintance. Yet her own justice and candour appeared in every word of it.
“ I will not, Sir, said she, affect to be ignorant of what you allude to. Both my father and my-. self were almost immediately apprized of it; but I trust, under the lamentable circumstances you were in, you cannot impute to us the injustice of supposing that either your reason knew, or your will approved of, what you must be aware, were it otherwise, would fill us all with uneasiness, and you with regret. No; without canvassing the language you are pleased to use concerning yourself, of presumption and audacity, pray think better of us than to suppose we could accuse you of doing, or even thinking, when possessed of your reason, any thing which that reason would, I am sure, forbid you to imagine.”
Though this was said with her eyes still averted (for though I gazed upon her countenance, yet I could not catch them), it was said firmly and without hesitation, and seemed so complete an extinction of
every hope of her favour (if ever I had encouraged one), that it quite decided me in my resolution to return instantly to Oxford, and, if possible, to renounce memory
till I became a new man. I own I felt rather in bitterness, yet far from blaming her. But though the petulance I had so unworthily felt was gone, I was not the less mournful when, as I thought it right, I attempted to take my leave. The Gresset, too, which
hand clasped in my pocket, I prepared to surrender ; not from resentment, nor even as poor Ophelia had felt, that the giver had proved unkind—for with unkindness I was just enough to think that Bertha had nothing to do—but purely because to retain it would be dangerous to myself, and I could neither keep nor bestow it elsewhere. I therefore, though, I fear, not without faltering, submissively, yet distantly, thanked her for doing me justice.
“ Nevertheless,” said I, “though you are kind enough to allay any fear I might have had that one so unworthy could have raised, as it were, his thoughts to heaven
“O! Mr. De Clifford,” interrupted Bertha, “ why this ? Indeed you must not breathe a word in this style. I have no pretensions to be so addressed, and surely I have given you no room to think I expect it.”
“Enough, Madam,” said I ; “I stand corrected ; and if it offend you to tell you how much more than any thing that ever befel me I have valued the kindness you and your family have shewn me; how much it has depressed me to see the necessity of taking leave of you for ever, if only to spare you all future appre
hension of what you have, I fear, deemed impertinent; believe that I am sufficiently punished for it by the change of look and tone which at this moment I observe, and with which, for these last few hours, I cannot but feel I have been regarded. But this makes no difference in the grateful and devoted feelings of honour and esteem with which I have ever viewed both
and yours. I leave you, Madam, and will not tax Mr. Hastings' friendship to renew the honour he has done me, by inviting me again ; happy if I can by this put an end to any fears of his or yours,
have entertained them, which the levity and inconsiderateness of servants may
have occasioned.” During this speech, Bertha seemed so astounded, that when I here paused, she could not reply. Her colour came and went, and she hardly yet raised her eyes so as to see that I had taken my book from my pocket to present to her.
When she saw it in my hand, a look of surprise, curiosity, and doubt as to my intention, flitted across her countenance, and she evidently waited with interest to be told what I meant by producing the well-known book.
I left her not in uncertainty, but, presenting it, observed, “ Perhaps no miser's treasure was ever so dear to him as this book has been to me. been my pride, my pleasure, my companion, and my friend. In no change of scene, in no one hour of the day, and hardly of the night, have I ever been without it. It has solaced and exhilarated many a melancholy moment, when far away, hopeless of seeing you again, and weighed down with a sense of my own compara
It has ever
tive humbleness, I have thought of the beautiful giver of it, and of the condescending frankness with which it was given. That delight has, I fear, now left me to return no more. I seem to have offended the giver, or at least she seems estranged from me. Perhaps for me it is as well. It may be better, indeed, that I should look no more upon it; but while in my possession, to lay it aside would I know be impossible; therefore it is best to restore it to its original owner.” Miss Hastings was here much overcome ;
she breathed thick and fast, and looked greatly moved ; yet her collectedness did not desert her. She was surprised, perhaps grieved, but her dignity remained; and though affected as I have described, there seemed no re-action of feeling (if I may so call it) towards me. She received the book from my hand with something like tremor, and I observed a tear fall upon it as she laid it on the table. But quickly recovering
“ Is it possible,” said she, “ that I can have been so misconstrued in any thing I have said or done, as to be thought, as I evidently am, unjust and capricious ? I beseech you, Mr. De Clifford, not to believe me so light, as either to give or withdraw my esteem lightly. I well recollect the pleasure I had in being allowed to present you, as the friend of him who is lost to us, with this poor book. I never thought, or wished, to have it returned ; and if it has been so valuable to you, I am sure that is not a reason why the wish should now occur, But if the delight you say you received from it has passed away, it is not for me to refute your opinions, or refuse to receive it back.”
Here she looked earnestly at the book as it lay on the table, and a tear again evidently trembled in her eye. Resuming, she went on:
“ You talk, Mr. De Clifford, of leaving us to-morrow. My father cannot oppose it, if you your duty elsewhere, or what has happened here, requires it; of which you alone are the judge. All I can sayand I do so most sincerely-is to hope that you may not travel before your strength is equal to it. If really, however, you feel strong enough, we cannot oppose your wish. But never can we forget our obligations to you, in coming so promptly and so kindly to support my sinking brother, and afterwards ourselves;though that was too soon rendered powerless by the lamentable accident under which you have so much suffered. That it should have happened to you while my father's guest, enhances our concern ; and coming, too, so close after the most unhappy of all calamities
Here her feelings got the better of her; and whatever formality had before appeared, from whatever cause, she forgot it all in this allusion, thus surprised from her, as to her brother's fate. A sort of convulsive sigh prevented her from going on, till at length she added:
- No: no one felt for us under this mournful event more than you, Mr. De Clifford; and yet vour interest about us has produced calamity to yourself; wounds to your person, and unhappiness, it should seem, to your mind. Whatever you have fancied as to changes, which circumstances, I think, might account for, do