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my experiment, particularly when she farther asked whether he had been captivated at home or abroad.
“Oh!" said I, “ both ;” but, roguishly looking at her, I added, " I believe chiefly at Paris.”
Here she was certainly off her guard, for she absolutely coloured, and observed
“ I must not ask you to reveal secrets, but I think I know the lady-the Countess Montalembert ?"
“ No;" said I, with a boldness that astonished myself, “ it was a viscountess."
Whether I looked so significantly on saying this, that she discovered what I meant, I know not, but with an almost affectation of gaiety (certainly a gaiety not natural to her), she immediately said,
“Well, well, I don't wish to know; and here we have been both doing wrong; I, in prying into secrets I have no right to; you, in betraying, if indeed you
know them. I am afraid you are a very false man, Mr. De Clifford, and I shall tell your friend not to trust you. I am sorry, however, that poor Bertha has so little chance: I suppose you will, as in friendship bound, inform her of it."
If I had at all discomposed Lady Hungerford, she now had her revenge ; for, seriously hurt by this allusion to a friendship so long at an end, and feeling bitterly that I was banished for ever from the confidence I was supposed to enjoy, I faltered rather than said,
Indeed, madam, though your supposition does me honour, it is one I cannot pretend to. I have not even seen Miss Hastings these two years; and but for your kind communication I should never have dreamt I was remembered, having so little right to it, by any of the family.
My lip quivered as I said this ; all my courage, which had led me to be almost impertinent, was annihilated, and my experiment on Lady Hungerford reverberated on my own head.
Her real good-nature now came to my assistance, and she said, with the kind consideration which belonged to her,
Nay, Mr. De Clifford, this must not be; I cannot permit your humility, unaffected as I really believe it is, to make you suppose, what it is even ungrateful in you to imagine—that your early friends are so capricious or so unjust. Mr. Hastings himself, any more than his dear daughter, is not a person to throw away his opinions-favourable to-day, lost to-morrow. I told
the first moment I saw you, that they remembered you with interest, and the letters I have received from Bertha, since I informed her of our acquaintance, and your position with Lord Castleton, to say nothing of your progress, would convince you that neither she nor her father are such changeable beings as you fancy them.”
I felt myself agitated to a still greater degree by
this account, and knew not how to look, when this kind, as well as accomplished lady, thought it right to endeavour to put me more at my ease, by telling me the extent of what she knew.
“ Come,” said she, “ I see you are under constraint from doubts, and perhaps fears, of what I do or do not know. I will tell you, therefore, frankly, that I know all the night adventure with the poachers, and all that passed in the delirium occasioned by your consequent illness. I know, too, all your expressed opinions of the possibility of loving without hope, and am in possession of your pretty verses on that subject. What is more, I know all that in your agitation escaped you in your last interview with Bertha, which that feeling and just-minded girl told me, with tears in her eyes.
“ Tears !" cried I, in greater agitation than ever. 56 Tears! in such an angel, from such a cause !"
“ Yes," said Lady Hungerford, “ for the tears of benevolence (and your emotion obliges me to tell you they were no more) will easily be made to flow from a good, and particularly a youthful heart. Now do not let this plunge you into the dreadful mistake of supposing that this feeling of Miss Hastings proceeded from any thing but what I have called it, benevolence. Nor, did I think you like the common run of young men, a coxcomb, would I tell you this, or more than this—that the
tone of your last interview with her convinced her that a delirium may often indicate foregone conclusions, and though apparent madness, may be real truth."
“ And hence, no doubt,” said I, rather stiffly, 66 that a love which I had not been able to conceal, and which it would be folly to attempt to disguise from a penetration like your ladyship’s, was the cause of all that change of behaviour which I felt so cruelly at the time, and the bitterness of which has continued in memory ever since.”
I thought Lady Hungerford was a little affected at this ; but seeing the necessity for the most clear understanding on my part of what she meant, and meant not, to convey,
and impressive air, and with something like solemnity
“ I trust you are too just, and too little egotistical, to misconstrue what I said into more than what I really meant-a desire to correct an error under which you seemed to be labouring—that mine and your friends had in the least changed towards you. Having never been more than a friend—it being impossible, even if you were Lord De Clifford himself, that she could be more-Bertha is so still : and when I described her keen regrets, I may say her sorrow, at perceiving you labouring under a most unavailing passion, which might end in your misery, I meant any thing but to encourage you to think she could ever entertain it. Believe me, who possess all her confidence, this is wholly out of the question, were you even a prince of the blood.”
This, as I thought unnecessary addition, made me shudder, and I replied (moodily, and I fear proudly),
6 Your ladyship need be under no such apprehension. I perfectly well know the distance between Miss Hastings and myself; nor was it necessary to remind me of it: for, of the total absence on her part of any thing like encouragement I have even been too well convinced, to think that this distance can be overleapt.”
“ Honourably said, most distant Sir, and most lofty-minded gentleman,” replied my fair instructress ; " and, this being so, I feel perfectly safe in having made you this confidence. Do me the justice, however, to believe, that it is for your own sake I have spoken, and therefore, if I tell you that the bar against you is insuperable, you ought to thank me. In return, I hope I need not tell you that your secret with me is safe; though, indeed, no man need be ashamed of loving such a creature as Bertha. Time and absence, however, and still more, perhaps, the usual remedy of very young men-admiration of another-may do much
For the latter, at least, there is abundant scope, at this brilliant time of the year.