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nervous about her negotiation, Lady Moreton exclaimed, “If you have got an atom of feeling in you, Mrs. Roberts, you must pity me about that wet blanket of a girl. In your whole life now did you ever see a creature look and move as she does It would be bad enough, I dare say, for any body, high or low, rich or poor, but think what it must be to me! But it is no good to talk of it to you, or to any body else who does not live in my own style, and who does not know what it is to have gone on as I have done with every living soul, taking care that I should not be plagued; for even poor gouty Lord Moreton was for ever and ever ordered by the physicians to go here, there, and every where, according as they thought it would best suit me. Every body, all through my life, has always known my happy, cheerful temper, and how I hated beyond all things on God's earth, to be bored and plagued. I believe there are some people that don’t mind it. Every body is not made alike, you know, it is folly to fancy it; and Sir Christopher Harrington deserves to be burnt for daring to torment me in this way.” These words, though uttered in the sharpest possible key, fell like balm on the spirit of Mrs. Roberts, and seemed to render the undertaking so delightsully easy, that she sat exhibiting her satisfaction by a smile that became more bland and more broad every moment, despite the increasing asperity of the gay-hearted dowager. During the first part of her ladyship's speech, her ladyship's eyes had been fixed upon the tapestry portrait of her favorite dog, which she was assiduously working in a large frame that stood before her, but at length condescending to raise her eyes to the person she addressed, and whose private business, by the way, she had utterly forgotten, she perceived the strangely inappropriate expression of her countenance, and stopping short for a moment, staring at her with her needle suspended, and with rather an alarming frown upon her brow, she said, “What in the world may you be smiling and simpering at, I should like to know? There is no accounting for difference of tastes, my good madam, but my cousin Sophy and myself, I believe, think this young lady's arrival rather a crying than a laughing matter.” “My dearest Lady Moreton —my dearest Lady Forton " exclaimed the frighten
ed Mrs. Roberts in reply, “I should break my heart—I should indeed!—I am quite sure I should break my heart, if you could either of you think me capable of smiling at what must naturally make you both feel so very far from pleased. I did smile, I am quite aware of that; I did smile, my dear ladies, and the cause for which I smiled was, that my sole and only reason for coming here this morning, was in the hope that I had thought of something which might perhaps relieve you from your disagreeable difficulties about this poor, melancholy-looking young lady. I could not help smiling as I thought that perhaps I might have the exceeding great good luck and happiness of being useful to you.” “How, ma'am " returned Lady Moreton, rather drily. “I confess that I can't very well see what use you are likely to be of to me in this matter.” These words were by no means very encouraging in themselves, but the commentary which Mrs. Roberts' sharp glance caught from the eyes of Lady Forton, was less so still, for they expressed both ridicule and pride with a degree of distinctness which proved them to be very fine eyes indeed. Had poor Mrs. Roberts been as free from embarrassments at that moment as she had been six months or so before, she would probably have grown exceedingly red in the face as she looked and listened, and would have made a sudden and indignant exit, notwithstanding the imposing rank and station of her companions. But now, oor woman, she would as soon have thought of boxing their honorable ears, as of manifesting in the very least degree her annoyance. To Lady Forton indeed she did endeavor to turn a blind eye, but it never entered her head to attempt turning a deaf ear to her more important cousin. Very judiciously changing her own aspect from gay to sentimental, she replied, “I am not at all surprised to hear you say so, Lady Moreton, for few things could appear less likely than that such an idea as I have now called upon you to communicate, should ever have entered my head. But you are not aware, dear lady, I am quite sure that you are not aware, how deeply impressive your manner is, when you describe your own feelings! I saw, and I felt to my fingers' ends, the sort of heavy dragging weight which this unfortunate young lady's arrival had thrown upon you; and when I went home, I could not help saying to myself, again and again, that it was one of the most perverse and unlucky things that ever had happened; for that ninety-nine people out of a hundred might have had the very same thing happen to them, without caring three straws about it; while to your ladyship, it seemed positively like putting an extinguisher upon the very brightest candle in the world.” The simile was a very happy one, and Lady Moreton felt it to be so. She smiled, and nodded at her cousin, till the beautiful flaxen ringlets which depended from beneath her blond cap, danced, as it were, with satisfaction. “That is true, Sophy, isn't it, let who will have said it !” she observed, and then added, “You could not have hit the truth better, my good friend, if you had been King Solomon, or the Queen of Sheba either. It is an extinguisher, and put out I shall be, as sure as you sit there to say it, unless I can find some means of throwing it away before I am turned to snuff. So now you may go on, if you will, and you need not be afraid to tell us whatever may have come into your head about it. Whether it turns out to be wisdom or folly, it can't do any harm, if we choose to take the trouble of listening to it.” “Heaven forbid I should do any harm, when I really wish to do nothing but good,” replied Mrs. Roberts, with a sort of grave propriety of manner, that seemed to bespeak attention and respect, whether what she were about to say were approved or not. “It has occurred to me, Lady Moreton,” she continued, “that I might, without the slightest inconvenience to myself, be of use to you in this matter. As the mother of two daughters, just introduced into society, I have naturally laid aside all thoughts of amusement for myself, and am devoted wholly and solely to them. This being the case, the having a third young person to watch over, and take into company, would be positively no evil at all. My introductions here, and indeed at every court in Europe, are of the very best, and most influential kind; and as it is our intention to show our children, before marriage shall have clipped their young wings, all that is best worth seeing throughout the fashionable world, we should really consider it rather an advantage than otherwise, to have just such an addition to our party as your niece, Miss Harrington. My girls are still, in the most praiseworthy manner, pursuing their various accomplishments, and it would be an encouragement and pleasure to them,
to have a companion in their studies. . We shall leave Paris on a tour to Baden-Baden in a very few days, after which we shall proceed to Italy; and if your ladyship will intrust your young relation to my care, I shall have much pleasure in undertaking the charge.” Mrs. Roberts ceased, and the ladies Moreton and Forton looked at each other steadily for a minute or two. A twinge of feeling, not very strong indeed, but in which something, a little approaching to a conscientious doubt, made a part, caused this unusual suspension of speech in the elder lady. The younger one was silent, because she chose that her cousin should speak first, and because, in fact, she had no intention of pronouncing any opinion on the subject at all, unless she found it necessary to do so, in order to obtain what she was quite determined should be the final result; such, indeed, being the invariable custom of the Lady Forton, who detested the burden of responsibility, almost as much as she liked having in all things her own way, and never interfered in any of Lady Moreton's arrangements, unless she perceived some reason to fear that they were not precisely such as she approved. Then came the word in good time, which invariably settled the question as she chose that it should be settled. Lady Forton's prodigiously large black eyes were as far as possible from having no speculation in them; in fact, they speculated in all sorts and manners of ways from morning to night; and now they were speculating, or at any rate assisting her to speculate on the meaning of the shadow of doubt, which the fair round face of her cousin exhibited. The opinions of Lady Forton had seldom any of the alloy of doubt in them, and on the present occasion they were so instantaneously and resolutely decided upon, that not all the compunctious meditations of all the aunts in the world could have sufficed to shake them for an instant Lady Forton hated the sight of Bertha Harrington. She hated the sound of her voice. She hated her noiseless movements. She hated her well-descended name. She hated both her present and her probable fortune—for she saw in each and every item something that militated against her own well-being and consequence. Lady Forton had been very beautiful; she was very handsome still, and she clung to this fading remnant of former triumph with a degree of tenacity that might fairly be compar
ed to that of a wretch, who felt himself sinking, and knew that if he sunk he must perish. No artist that ever lived, with all his acute sensibility to beauty, past, present, and suture, could have been more awake to the perception of the latent loveliness of poor Bertha's pale young face, than was this heartless, unprincipled, faded old coquette; and from the moment when the poor motherless girl first encountered the broad, full, acutely-examining eye of this amiable personage, the period of her residence in the elegant atmosphere of her presence was limited to the shortest possible time that might be found necessary for the process of removing her. It might have cost time, and it might have cost trouble, and it might have cost the risk of many other disagreeable consequences besides, but the certainty of her ultimate success was in no degree weakened by such considerations; and it was for this reason that Lady Forton was enabled to listen with so much composure to a proposal so every way agreeable. And every way agreeable it assuredly was for it was likely to remove the hated object soon, and far, and lastingly—yes, lastingly—for it would evidently be the interest of the Roberts family to keep her; and who knew better than Lady Forton the enormous strength of this argument? So the Lady Forton waited patiently for the Lady Moreton to speak, equally certain that whether she said yes or no, Bertha Harrington would very speedily disappear. “I am sure it is very obliging of you, Mrs. Roberts, very obliging indeed,” said Lady Moreton, at length; “and I really do not see any reason why we should not think about it. That, you know, can't do any harm to either of us in any way. Wise people, I have heard, always do think about things before they reject, as well as before they accept an offer. And I see no reason, I am sure, why my cousin and I should not set ourselves to think a little about what you have been so obliging as to propose. There is no great hurry, I imagine. We need not decide to-day, nor to-morrow either, I suppose? It is a sort of thing that of course you know one ought be very cautious about.” It may be doubted whether amidst all the numerous variety of sayings and doings which might have entered Lady Moreton's head on the subject of handing over the guardianship of her niece to a family of perfect strangers, any thing could possibly
dured it with perfect composure, quite certain that a very few words from her, would cause it to be accepted in defiance of pretty nearly any obstacle that could possibly arise—but at this mention of delay she was terrified. It affected her nerves, as the hearing preparations for applying the rack might affect those of a prisoner who knew himself, for a time, in the power of an enemy, though his ultimate release was sure; and determined to avoid the only evil which still seemed to threaten her, she said, with an air of ripe decision, which seemed to be the result of the most mature deliberation: “If you will take my advice, cousin, you will not suffer any delay whatever to intervene between the proposal of this plan, and the acceptance of it. Your niece is falling into habits of such pernicious illhumor and idleness, that, in my judgment, every hour is of importance. You are not aware what habit is to a mind of that class. Mrs. Roberts has shown herself a woman of great good sense in considering, when making this proposal, the very great advantage to her own daughters of having a companion in their studies. I really do not see how you can justify it to yourself to keep this miserable, melancholy, idle girl here for a single hour longer, when you have the power of placing her with cheerful young ladies, who will soon cure both her melancholy and her idleness by their example. Of course, you must do as you like, my dear cousin, but I really have said thus much from a sense of duty.” “It is just like yourself, cousin Sophy,” replied Lady Moreton, looking excessively comforted; “and I do not believe there is a woman in the world so well calculated in every way to give advice as you are. So then, my dear, good Mrs. Roberts, I will venture to say at once that you are quite welcome to have Bertha, by way of a trial, if you like it. I had better say trial, you know, cousin Sophy, because that always leaves one the power to change if desirable, and it may be better too in the writing about it to Sir Christopher.” - “There can be no objection to your calling it a trial if you like it,” replied Lady Forton, with a quiet little smile, “and l don't think Sir. Christopher is the least likely to be troublesome to you by his over anxiety.” “No, indeed! good-for-nothing, impertinent man,” returned the countess; “I don't believe he cares a straw about her. Not one quarter as much as you do, my dear, kind Sophy; but, nevertheless, you know it will be necessary for us to write something.” “There will be no great difficulty in doing that,” replied Lady Forton, “and I should therefore say that your best plan would be to fix the day and hour of the young lady's departure immediately.” To say that Mrs. Roberts was pleased, is a very weak phrase by which to describe her sensations, and yet she was not altogether satisfied. A disagreeable doubt had crossed her brain as to the terms on which this unwelcome niece was to be disposed of, and the Lady Forton seemed to be driving on at so vehement a pace towards the conclusion of the affair, that she felt there was no time to be lost in making it understood that the advantage of the companionship to her daughters was not quite the only remuneration she expected for taking the troublesome young lady off their hands. Nevertheless, it went to her very heart to do any thing likely to check the rapid progress of an affair which she so anxiously wished to conclude, and it was therefore with evident reluctance that she said: “We shall be quite ready to receive the poor, dear, melancholy, young lady, whenever it suits you to send her; but Sir Christopher must of course be aware, that the father of a large family, though certainly a man of very good fortune, would not be justified in making such an arrangement as this without a proper remuneration.” “Good gracious me, Mrs. Robins!” exclaimed Lady Moreton, “do you really suppose that we meant to ask you and your husband to take in my niece, and Sir Christopher Harrington's daughter upon charity? I should like to know how such an idea as that could have ever entered your head " “No, indeed, your ladyship, it never did enter my head,” replied the frightened Mrs. Roberts. “I only thought that in all matters of business, it was best to let every thing be quite clearly understood.” “Oh dear, yes, ma'am—quite rightperfectly right beyond all doubt—that if you fancied there was any danger you should guard against it. But all this is nonsense and folly,” added her ladyship, with sudden impatience, “I think you
heard me say the other day, that her father allowed her five hundred a-year. You may just take it and make the most of it—only taking care, if you please, that the girl is not left without having money enough in her pocket to dress herself decently. You must let her have one hundred out of the five for that, if you please to remember, and as for the other four hundred, you may set up a coach-and-six with it, if you like; and never alarm yourself or your family with any fears that I should wish to pilfer any part of it.” And here Lady Moreton laughed a little, and Lady Forton laughed a little, too; and Mrs. Roberts hardly knew whether to be most glad or most sorry that she had said any thing about the money at all. However, this doubtful state of mind was very speedily changed to self-congratulation and self-applause, when, having taken her leave, with the understanding that Miss Harrington was to come to her before dinner on the following day, she once more found herself sitting opposite to her two anxious daughters in the carriage that was to convey her and her news to her admiring husband.
The two young ladies, who had been pretty sufficiently frightened by their mamma's confidential revelations relative to the state of her debts and resources, hailed her, and the information she brought, with a great deal of charming young enthusiasm, and listened with more than patience to her narrative of all the difficulties she encountered, and the admirably skilful manner in which she had contrived to conquer them. To her husband the manner of her communication was different. It did not accord with her notions of well-ordered domestic arrangements that the slow intellect of an elderly gentleman, in the always awkward, and often invidious position of master of the family, should be made acquainted with all the minor manoeuvrings by which the ark of his conjugal and paternal felicity was kept afloat.
“All that is necessary for your father to know he shall hear from me, girls,” she said, “so take care not to allude before him to any thing I am telling you now. He would neither make head nor tail of it, and I should be bothered to death with questions that might lead to answers which could do nothing but mischief.”
The young ladies promised discretion, and then retired to their own room to cogitate, téte-à-tête, on the possible advantages, and probable plagues of having a girl to take about with them. “Her being a girl of birth and fashion must certainly be an advantage, you know,” observed Agatha, “and, on the whole, I suppose it is quite as well that she should not be a beauty.” “Yes, Agatha, we may thank Heaven for that,” replied her sister Maria, “for of all the tiresome things I can fancy, the having to take about a beauty miss, in leading strings, must be the worst We must take care, however, to make her dress herself well, because there is something creditable in that ; and as she is such a mere child, I think it will be neither more nor less than our duty to make her lay out her money profitably.” “I quite agree with you,” replied Agatha. “Only fancy that brat having a hundred-a year to spend on her dress We must never, you know, attempt the same style of things; we must keep to the graceful, becoming, fanciful line, and make her spend her money in rich solid dresses, fine furs, you know, and great broad lace; and as we are, thank Heaven beyond contradiction, a monstrous deal better-looking than she will ever be, we may trust the men for finding out that looking elegant and looking rich, is not always the same thing.” “Oh yes! you are quite right,” cried Maria, gaily, “I am not in the least alarmed about her hundred a-year for dress; besides, if she is not absolutely a brute, she must make us presents sometimes. I don't mean that I want any body to give me dresses or bonnets, I am sure I should quite hate it. I like to choose my own things myself. Nobody knows what suits me so well as I do my own self—nobody, if they really wished it ever so much, could ever understand about complexion, and eyes, and general effect, as one does one's self. What this girl ought to do is, to give us a trinket or two now and then. The merest child knows the difference between a good brooch or bracelet, and a shabby one, and that is the only kind of present I should ever think of accepting.” “I quite agree with you,” again said the sensible Agatha, in an accent which conveyed authority. “There never can be anything unladylike in accepting things of that kind, but I should be exceedingly sorry to find myself driven to wish—even to wish —for wearing apparel, unless it was a
scarf or a shawl perhaps, or something of
that sort, you know, which can hardly be classed as clothes. There is something so horrid in the very sound of presents of clothes, that I would almost rather go naked than accept any thing of the sort. This, however, is all idle talk, Maria, for we know nothing on earth of this intimate new friend, but that she is no beauty, and looks as solemn as an owl. And it is quite nonsense to attempt guessing whether she has any generosity of character or not. But there is a consideration, Maria, that is a great deal more to the purpose, and that is, whether we shall be able to coax mamma into making papa increase our allowance.” “Dear knows you are right there, Agatha! And I, for one, shall never know any real comfort till it is done,” replied Maria, solemnly. “I don't at all mean to say that we have any reason to complain of mamma about getting dresses for us, and I must say that I think she has managed exceedingly well, considering how very close papa seems to keep his money. But that is altogether a different thing from finding one's dresses one's self. And then you see that mamma gets into such dreadful scrapes about paying for the things | Poor dear soul! I don't mean to say she can help it, but don't you think it would be a great deal better for her, and take a monstrous deal of anxiety off her mind, if we had an allowance, that was really an allowance, for dress; for thirty pounds a-year in Paris, or any where else where one has to go out, is a positive joke, you know.” “A joke? To be sure it is a joke, and mamma knows that as well as we do. But I by no means feel certain that she would like to make any alteration,” replied Agatha; “mamma is extremely clever, we all know that, and clever people always do like to keep the management of every thing in their own hands. This is quite natural, and I dare say in her situation I might, very likely, do the same thing myself. So I make no complaints on that score, though I might like well enough to have it altered. But what I do complain of, Maria, is mamma's deceiving herself into believing that the abominable heavy bills of Mademoiselle Amabel are chiefly for us. It is no such thing. It is positively no such thing. Mamma's turbans, with the birds and the gold lace—and then her velvet things, and all the rest of it, run away with ten times as much as our light trumpery dancing dresses.” “I have no doubt you are right, Agatha.