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free-free as air ? Unless indeed she too has set her affection where it is not returned; but thatthat's impossible !"
“ I believe so," said Lady Hungerford. “ But let me probe you, and deeply too, in a question which I will not ask if you are afraid of it; for I tell you
it will try you." “ If it be any thing,” replied I, firmly, “ which concerns Miss Hastings' happiness—if it reveal that her affections are both pledged and requited—believe me, though my life depended upon it, I would rejoice.”
“ Nobly resolved, and nobly uttered," replied Lady Hungerford; “ and I am sure my dear Bertha would feel all its generosity, could she know it. But tell me if I am really to understand what it imports, that you could see her married with composure, and be yourself happy po .“ With composure, I will not say,” returned I ; “ but as happy as I am now-nay more, to think that her own happiness was secured, I am very sure of myself when I answer, yes.”
“ I am very sure,” replied the frank and winning lady, “ that you yourself deserve all the happiness you have missed, and if that will console you, that your own heart is not unworthy of Bertha's. Were the thing not absolutely impossible, and willed by fate so to be, I could even wish you success; nor, I am free to say, is there any thing in your birth, still less with your mind, and the prospects you have
your worldly situation, which would prevent my doing so. But fate, as I have said, has so willed it, and must be obeyed. The thing, were you an emperor, is quite out of question.”
I felt all the kindness and condescension of this speech, and only longed to kiss the fair hand which touched my arm in the eagerness with which she supported it by action. I felt it, however, as a complete death-warrant, and so I told her, adding my entreaty that all the mystery which seemed, particularly of late, to hang about the subject might be cleared up.
“ It would,” I said, “ go farther than any thing else to settle
my mind for ever. As it is," I added, “ the uncertainty, the mystery, are far more insupportable than the unequivocal assurance of her hand and heart being betrothed.”
Lady Hungerford, smiling at the energy with which I said this, observed, that she thought Rousseau himself could not have expressed his feelings more warmly. Better, however, to forget, instead of nursing them, which it was too plain I was doing.
“ Your ladyship need not fear for me,” replied I, “ provided only that the fact is, as I have gathered it from all quarters—that the execution is ordered, and that there are no hopes of a reprieve."
At this she looked hesitatingly, and at length observed,
“ I do not mean to say, that what
have supposed, and seem so to wish, is the absolute fact; nor am I at liberty to say a word more; but if it were (whether this is, or is not, bravado), let me ask, what really would become of your affection ?"
“ Madam," answered I, “I would hug it to my heart, and carry it with me to the grave."
The amiable woman was moved with this in a manner as remarkable as unexpected. Her cheek flushed, tears glistened in her eyes, and this queen of fashion, this observed of the drawing-room, and ornament of the presence, became an absolute daughter of nature in her simplest and most amiable form. How wrong are upstart railers to suppose that either men or women are necessarily hardened because their lot is cast among the great.*
Finding that the agitation produced did not subside, she said, with a smile which almost contradicted her words,
“ You must go, for 'tis in vain to counsel, and. almost to blame you. These conversations do me
* This reflection, just in itself, is supported by a trait in a very great person, so pleasing, that I cannot help transcribing it. When the Dauphin of France was attacked by the smallpox, in 1752, his wife passed days and nights by his bed-side. Poupe, a blunt physician, called in, and being a stranger to the court, did not know her, and thought she was a hired nurse. “Parbleu,” said he, “voila la meilleure garde que j'ai vue. Comment vous appelle-t-on, ma bonne ?”—Mems. de la Housset.
Catalogues are made of the crimes of royal persons; why not of their virtues ?
no good, and must not be renewed. Go; and God bless you."
With that she gave me her hand, which with all her kindness she had never done before, and I left her in a tumultof curiosity as well as of anxiety; for, while I considered this conversation more than ever decisive of my fate, there was a mystery about it, which I would have given more than I was worth to unravel.
That day there was another great dinner at Lord Castleton's, very different from the last I described, as having been so honoured by the attendance of the illustrious Paragraph. In my then frame of mind, perhaps this was the best thing that could have happened, to divert it from the consuming thoughts which my interview with Lady Hungerford had generated. But my thoughts, not at all prepared to wander into the world, were centered more than ever in the comparatively little spot which contained all that, in my mind at least, that world could boast of, that was worth pure suing
I would, therefore, far more readily have shut myself up with Granville, who called upon me an hour before dinner, to whom I related all that had passed with Lady Hungerford, and whom I in vain sounded, and at last entreated, as one in confidence of the family, to supply what Lady Hungerford thought it her duty to refuse me.
“I have long," said I, thought there was some mystery hanging over this too fascinating being-fascinating, you know, to others as well as to me, but whose addresses she refused. At her age, and with her great part in the world, if she choose to play it, to remain shut up within so small, though seemingly so magic a circle as Foljambe, from which, as if spell-bound, she does not issue, never coming to London, or approaching the court, which she seems formed to adorn as well as a rural shrine ; her father, though old, not being any obstacle to this from want of health or even inclination :-all this surely must appear as marvellous to you as to me, unless you have a key to it."
“ You forget,” said he (endeavouring, as I thought, to parry my question), the domestic calamity they suffered, not so long ago as for its effect to have subsided. With all his faults, Mr. Hastings loved his son, and she her brother, so much so, that although not in the same degree, we might almost compare her feelings to those of the lady Olivia in Twelfth Night, who also lost a brother,
'For whose dear love, They say she hath abjured the sight And company of men.'”
“ Were this only the first year of that sad catastrophe,” I replied, “the reason might suffice; but even Olivia, it should appear, did not remain a re