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All this was confirmed to me afterwards by himself, and, on leaving the room, I had the delight not only of receiving an angelic look of kindness from Bertha as she passed, but a direct appeal to my opinion, whether the thought in the new stanzas were not charming ? Moreover, this was crowned by an observation, that I had not called again upon her father.
I went home, plunged in a sea of delight, and could not sleep that night for joy.
The next day, Mr. Granville called again, and gladdened me by reporting what many, but particularly Bertha, thought of the stanzas. They were pathetic, generous, she said, delicate, and full of devotion, which could scarcely fail, she thought, to win the object of them.
What an agitating recital for me! Granville knew not the flame he was fanning, or the firmness he was undermining in relating this, “Let me tell you, however," said he, “ that my honesty underwent no slight trial with my delightful kinswoman, who would have it, spite of my asseverations to the contrary, that I was the author; and concluded, playfully (you know how frank she is), that she was glad that the verses were not made upon her, for she should be in danger.”
My cheek became instantly all fire at this account, which luckily Mr. Granville, having moved to the window to look at a passing carriage, did not perceive; but I was in still greater danger when he added, “ By the way, Miss Hastings thought you very ungallant yesterday, considering how intimate you had formerly been at Foljambe Park, and won
dered at your keeping so aloof in the same room, but supposed you
grown fine at Oxford. She owned, however, you were the cleverest man in the world at saving a lady from a fall in a ball-room."
Granville having thus unconsciously set fire to a train, the mischief or extent of which he could not foresee, left me in a sort of trance, from which for very many
minutes I did not recover. When I awoke, it is astonishing what a confusion Í felt in my brain. Surprise, pleasure, uncertainty, hope, timidity, doubt, fluctuation, resolution-in short, like the booby Silvius* (who seems no booby either as to his own case), I was “all made of passion, wishes, adoration, duty, observance, humbleness, patience, and impatience."
My thoughts of flight were alternately renewed and suspended. The lover, as well as the drowning man, catches at a straw. From Granville's account it was plain I had a portion of— I was going to say her favour-but no ! even the Lover's Hope could not fabricate that so I contented myself with calling it good-will; and did not her cheerful, kind nature bestow good-will on every one, even Mansell ?
But then, what could I expect by remaining ? To be looked down upon! to be told to keep my distance ! not by her, but by her brother, perhaps her father! Forbid it pride! Forbid it prudence! Forbid it the noble name of Clifford, however decayed !
Yet to fly, to lose all mastery over myself ! to live a coward in my own esteem ! a slave! an exile ! forbid
* As You Like It.
it the same pride and noble name ! forbid it everything that was manly, firm, or independent !
Unable to decide, or even to think; unnerved by Granville's information, though only of a very common-place matter, meaning at best little, perhaps nothing, I again sought my dear brook, sure, at least, of there finding solitude and leisure for my deliberations.
But I was disappointed ; it was solitude no longer. And how was it broken in upon ? The romantic Granville had found it out as well as myself, though he had not, like myself, wooed it for the sake of retirement. In fact, upon his discovering its pleasantness, he had tempted the very persons I was striving to avoid to recreate themselves in its shade and seclusion, while their more busy relatives, the sheriff and Mr. Hastings, were moiling in the service of their country, in a hot court of justice. Accordingly, he had persuaded Bertha, chaperoned by her aunt, Mrs. Mansell, and accompanied by both her cousins, to pass half an hour in that cool retreat.
What a rencontre was here! No escaping if I would! Unwilling if I could.
Bertha, in a simple flowered gown, and that most becoming of all the parts of female attire, a walking bonnet, was more attracting than ever, because more like one of my own degree. This perhaps I could have withstood; but her pleased look, and the manner in which she ejaculated, as if they had escaped unintentionally, the words, “O! Mr. De Clifford, this is quite unexpected, and very apropos"-put all thought but of unmixed devotion to flight.
She soon explained what her exclamation meant, by saying, “ Do you know there has been a great dispute between my aunt and cousin, Mrs. and Miss Mansell, and Mr. Granville, on the effect which his stanzas (for we all say they are his), which so pleased us yesterday, might, or ought to have on the lady addressed ; and, to be sure, there never was such an appropriate place for such a discussion as this. It is a poem itself; and if I were to stay here, I think I could make verses too."
My suspicions were all up in arms at this speech, for the place, as I have said, had generated the verses in question but two days before.
“But first," continued Bertha, “let me introduce you to my aunt, Mrs. Mansell, and my cousin, Lucinda, and then they will go on with their argument with Mr. Granville."
So saying, and the introduction having passed, Granville, who quite laughed at the interest which the ladies seemed to take in it, returned to the subject. 6 Mrs. Mansell and her daughter, my cousin there,” said he, “ have the cruelty and injustice to say that the man who could secretly nurse his love, without encouragement or hope, must be a very simple or poorspirited wretch, not worth thinking about. I, on the contrary, applaud and like him for his modesty, and think that to have loved in secret, and persevered at humble distance, with no other ground for his hope than his wishes, denotes both a stronger and a purer devotion. Anybody can love whose love is returned ; but his must be attachment indeed, who, like Petrarch,
can cherish it without even declaring it, much less knowing whether, if declared, it would ever be accepted. What say you?”
“May I ask,” said I, with some hesitation, “which side Miss Hastings has taken ???
“ Perhaps she will tell you,” cried Granville, rather mischievously; “but neither I nor these ladies can get her to declare her opinion, which she pretends to be on account of her inexperience, and the difficulty and delicacy of the question ; and yet in a month more she will be seventeen, and is to come out.”
“If I were to be twenty,” observed Bertha, “I ought rather to be a listener than an arguer upon such a subject.”
“ Your modesty ought not to let you off,” said Granville, “particularly as it is a question for the ladies alone to decide. The men can know nothing of it. Indeed, for that we have our cousin Mansell's authority there (pointing to him), who says he knows nothing about the matter."
66 And I don't wish to know," said Mansell, gruffly; “ nay, I think the whole thing stuff and nonsense.”
“ There I believe you," observed Bertha ; “but I do also wish that I knew the author of the stanzas, and that we had him here ; he would at least tell us what he meant himself, and whether, as Lucinda says, the supposition of mere gratuitous hope is impossible because unnatural. But I still think that Mr, Granville, who we all know is so romantic, is the author himself, though he tells us he got the lines from a friend. Who is that friend ? Do we know him ?"?