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Jowered, as if, curiosity being satisfied, I had a right to no more.
At length, my lord himself entered, and by presenting me to several of his guests, gave me a sort of passport to all, and relieved me from the embarrassment of feeling alone in a crowd. What struck me was, that he seemed under no sort of consciousness from having allowed his company to be so long assembled without him ; nor did they in the smallest degree appear to think that, being a minister, it was out of the common course of things. I had now been introduced to several lords and gentlemen, and several ladies and gentlewomen, but the inveterate immovability of the English character displayed itself even in this miserable quarter of an hour before dinner ; for, as to that repast, nobody seemed to recollect for what purpose he or she was invited; an equanimity which rather surprised me. There was an evident pause for something, which I could not expound.
At length it was explained by the arrival of a lady, seemingly of superior order, and really worth waiting for-a being of no ordinary quality or pretensions, in whom the very first glance of the eye and the first vibration of the ear discovered a marked difference and superiority as to dress, manners, and general ton de société, which threw all others into shade. Though not absolutely young, she was eminently beautiful, or rather
handsome, and her form and manner of that peculiar cast to set off impressively the richness of her attire, in which her diamonds seemed only a natural part of herself.
Had this lady been merely outwardly beautiful, I might have been tempted to have exclaimed with Prior
“O! what perfections must that person share,
Who fairest is esteem'd where all are fair !” But her beauty was the least of her attractions, for her first bloom was past. Yet though, perhaps, thirty years of age, there was a set of features which spoke such nobleness, combined with such frankness, such modest intelligence, and at the same time such self-possession, the effect of constant intercourse with, or rather of presiding in, good company, that you would have been sorry to have exchanged the woman for the girl: for she had all the sparkle of a girl's first impression, with all the ease of deportment which none but a woman can display.
As I was lately from Oxford, and not very long from school, perhaps a little mythological pedantry may be forgiven me, though now a minister's secretary, when I thought I saw in this superior lady the majesty of Juno, the grace of Venus, and the sense of Minerva.*
* In my old age I am tempted to suppress this observation, as pedantic schoolboy nonsense; but as I was scarcely at years of discretion when I made it, I let it stand.
It is the observation, I think, of Chesterfield, that in every company or society there is always some one person who takes a lead-one who by a sort of tacit consent is distinguished from the rest, and whom, par excellence, all are disposed to consider and obey as the lord or lady of the ascendant for the time being. Such certainly was this eminent person.
She seemed to know everybody in the room, and be perfectly at her ease with them; was particularly so with Lord Castleton, who I found was her uncle, and gracious with Granville, who was most profound in his attention to her. This she appeared to receive with good-will, but as if it was entirely her due ; and while I was wondering with myself who this queen could be so surrounded by subjects-judge my surprise, when Lord Castleton advancing, presented me to her as his niece, Lady Hungerford.
From the mere glimpse I had had of her in Binfield churchyard, muffled in her walking disguise, no wonder if I could not recollect her; but now the truth rushed upon me, and association made her of ten times more consequence even than she was from herself alone. Could I indeed forget that interesting bust, in that too interesting surreptitious visit to the summer-house at Foljambe Park ?
Yet she wanted not this association to create in me the most pure admiration, which indeed I only shared in common with all others who knew her:
To account for this, let me indulge my readers and myself with a more detailed memorial of her.
Nobly allied, and the widow of a viscount, of great personal influence ; with moreover a large jointure, which gave her great command of the matériel for display in the fashionable world : had she no further pretensions than these, she must have taken a high station in high society. But she had others of a still higher character.
Still what may be thought young; very handsome, though of maturer beauty ; very elegant, very accomplished, and with no small portion of talent (particularly for observing all that was passing around her), she felt herself a great centre of attraction in various circles, whether of the idle or busy, the literary or political, the elegant or rational.
What was a great aid to this, she was of a frank and friendly nature, and would rather do good than ill; and though with wit, sufficient to make folly ridiculous where it intruded, yet never seeking, unless he deserved it, to make any person uncomfortable.
Hence, she was really courted for more than her mere fashion, and while all admired the peculiar ease and fascination of her manner, they gave her still more credit for her talents and sense. Young men were particularly fond of cultivating her acquaintance, and she in return was pleased (as
indeed no one had better means) to bring young men forward in good society.
Lord Castleton, I afterwards found, was very proud of her, often calling her “ that superior woman, my
niece.” Of such a person, who would suppose that the decayed gentleman, the Yorkshire farmer's son, could ever obtain the commonest notice, especially on a first introduction ? But so it was, and by means which perhaps may seem still more surprising ;to explain which, let us proceed by steps.
In times long gone by, now talked of as we talk of romance-York and Lancaster to wit-the Lord Hungerford, decapitated as a Lancasterian by Edward IV., left a daughter, Mary, who being restored in blood by Henry VII., carried her grandfather's title of Hungerford, together with his estates, into the family of Hastings, by her marriage with George, first Earl of Huntingdon.
The connection thus produced between the two families was never forgotten among its most remote branches to the latest time; so that the late viscount, and of course his accomplished wife, were perfectly well known to the family of Foljambe Park.
This was marked by an annual visit while the viscount was alive, and still more by having produced a warm and mutual affection between Bertha and Lady Hungerford, begun in the childhood of