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Lady Belfont,” said Mr. Darling, again smiling, “has six daughters, some of them waxing old ; Mount Wilkins is a fine place, and Mr. Wilkins himself, though so rich, is scarcely yet past his meridian.”
“ If that is the reason," returned Mr. Hastings, with sternness, much the worse ;” and he again had recourse to his box, and became indeed so thoughtful, that Mr. Darling, with great deference, took his leave.
What had passed only increased my humility before this (to me) august person. It is certain that I never before thought myself in so awful a presence, or so strongly felt the rush of emotions of different kinds which filled my heart. The modern grandee, before whom I stood, by his gravity of look, and the sort of solemnity of voice in which he uttered his sentences, created in me a respect so profound, that I scarcely ventured to look up; but the animated sylph who stood beside him threw such expression into a complexion of breathing roses, and eyes which seemed absolutely to laugh, that fear would have been lost in reciprocal buoyancy and gladness, had her father been away, or had I been any other than the humble creature I felt myself.
I never thought of my inferiority of lot to any one before; I had not been dazzled by Sir Harry, or his ladies, or their Hall house, though also a fine place. What did impress me, was the long, long distance which seemed to intervene between my condition and that of the family I was now in, and especially of the lovely creature who had so instantly won me.
All this was far different from the Goffs. In them, though rich enough, I saw little of what I thought personal superiority ; but in Mr. Hastings, though without a title, I beheld a man who boasted, or at
least felt, that he had blood in his veins equal to the highest and most ancient in the kingdom. That blood was in itself a source of elevation equal to the most splendid title that could be conferred upon him. He cared not for honours, and had notions of his own concerning them; for he was fond of the saying, that though the king could make a duke, he could not make a gentleman.
It was hence that, intrenched in his family seat, from which he seldom stirred, and always substituting George III. for Elizabeth, he thought “ the old courtier of the queen” (allowing a little for the difference of manners) a model character for an English country gentleman. Hence the plan I have noticed for the early education of his son; and hence, too, his aversion to those of his neighbours who lived at such places as Mount Wilkins, and whom he contemptuously called the nouveaux riches.
In one respect, however, although Mr. Hastings was any thing but belonging to these as a class, he did not disdain to owe much of his fortune to the same sources of wealth as theirs; for it was derived from a wealthy ancestor, who, in the time of Charles II., held a proprietory government in one of the colonies, and had invested successfully immense sums in plantations in Barbadoes. These, however, were all managed by agents; he seemed to have nothing to do with them except to receive their proceeds, which he did to a very considerable amount, and hence the grandeur that surrounded him, for the estate of Foljambe, after abstracting the house and park, was by no means large.
With all his grandeur, however, and though he gave way to it, he was a man, as I afterwards found,
deeply imbued with religion, at least according to his own notion of it; and though towards his fellowcreatures he was sufficiently distant, before his God he was the humblest of men, and so impressed with the final justice of Providence, that he was full of fears lest the prosperity he enjoyed in his fortune and his children, and the pride he took in both, should be one day severely visited. No more, he would say, than he should deserve. Thus, by what seems an inconsistency in his character, his happiness was by no means without alloy.
It may be supposed that this knowledge of Mr. Hastings arose from after discoveries of mine, and could not be discerned on a first acquaintance by a youth of eighteen. Nevertheless, I was sufficiently struck with the difference between his real and high gentility, and the common demeanour to which I had been accustomed ; and when he shook my hand, and said, he was glad to see his son's favourite friend and schoolfellow, and not the less for being a Clifford and a Bardolfe, who were of the true old nobility, I own I felt a timidity mixed with elation at this, which I had never experienced before Sir Harry or Crackenthorpe, -the only great men I had ever yet encountered.
This feeling was, however, mingled with another of a pleasanter nature; for the graceful girl, who had so dazzled me when greeting her brother, had laid hold of her father's hand, and under that protection seemed not unwilling to meet my eye, while her's surveyed me with a modest freedom which she had not hitherto ventured upon; and when her father pronounced the words " his son's favourite friend, and a Clifford and a Bardolfe,” she seemed pleased, and proved it with a
smile, the radiancy of which, through ten thousand vicissitudes which have happened since, has dwelt in my memory with unremitting intenseness.
What forcibly struck me was, the fond deference and attachment combined which Bertha shewed to her father, for every kind word he spoke, and every approving smile he gave her; which were not a few, for she seemed his darling. Indeed, with all his reserve of manner to every one else, his children seemed both of them the prime objects of his interest, in shewing which he was pleasingly tender and confiding.
Still I was miserably conscious of my inferiority to the whole family, but particularly when, I looked at the elegance as well as bloom of Bertha. Bloom I had seen, but never that fascination of manner, which, though I had been hitherto a stranger to it, seemed in her no more than natural, and to have been born with her. This was all heightened by the evident superiority of every thing that surrounded her.
Had she been a farmer's daughter, or even Sir Harry's, I might have been at my ease, or at least have indulged in fearless admiration. But here that admiration was at once accompanied by a sense of despair, as astonishing as it was unaccountable.
I looked at her as a being of higher order, such as was unapproachable by me, or at least such as I never dared approach. All about her - her aspect, her ease, and even her attire, light, airy, and elegant--attracted me in a manner I cannot describe. Surely in simple and natural elegance Bertha excelled all others of her delightful age and sex, and it formed, of her outward appearance, the most engaging charm.
But, as I have said, all about her conspired to fill me with humility as well as interest. Even the furni.
ture of the room (at which, that she seemed so much at home with it, I was booby enough to be surprised), its ornaments, gilding, musical instruments, and family pictures, seemed to bespeak a greatness, and consequence, such as I had no business with. There was palpably a distance between us, which, come what might, I felt could never be surmounted.
But if these were the feelings occasioned by the comparison of myself with the daughter of an untitled though rich and high-born English gentleman, how were they heightened, when I accidentally discovered that Bertha's maternal descent was still more illustrious than her paternal. I say accidentally, because it arose from a few words casually dropt by her maid, Mrs. Margaret, who thought fit to tell me sometimes I was a nice gentleman, and to do the honours of particular parts of the place, which she might find me admiring alone. A summer-house in the garden was one of these, over the portico of which I was struck with two coats of arms in marble, on two shields joined together, seemingly of fifty quarterings each ; but, surmounting one of them, my attention was most arrested by a
-a foreign one indeed, but still a crown. “ Ah!" said Mrs. Margaret, “I see you don't know what that is; but these are the family arms; that on the left is master's, and they say he comes from the old kings of England; but that on the right, with a crown upon it, was my lady's, because in Germany the princesses wear crowns.”
“Was your late lady then a princess ? ” asked I, in astonishment.
“What, did you not know that ?" asked Mrs. Margaret. “I thought Mr. Charles must have told you all about that.”