Poems & Short Stories: 4,271
Forum Members: 70,634
Forum Posts: 1,033,546
And over 2 million unique readers monthly!
Love sweetest lies concealed in night.--T. MOORE.
The Major rode up to the Great House to announce that he would only give his answer after having conferred with both his daughter and the suitor.
With tears in her beautiful blue eyes, Lady Belamour demanded why her dear cousin Harry could not trust the Urania he had known all her life to decide what was for the happiness of the sweet child whom she loved like her own.
She made him actually feel as if it were a cruel and unmerited suspicion, but she did not over come him. "Madam," he said, "it would be against my orders, as father of a family, to give my child away without doing my poor best for her."
There, in spite of all obstacles suggested and all displeasure manifested, he stuck fast, until, without choosing to wait till a shower of sleet and rain was over. Vexation and perplexity always overset his health, and the chill, added to them, rendered him so ill the next morning that Betty knew there was no chance of his leaving his room for the next month or six weeks; and she therefore sent a polite and formal note to the Great House explaining that he could not attend to business.
This brought upon her the honour of a visit from the great lady herself. Down came the coach-and-four, and forth from it came Lady Belamour in a magnificent hoop, the first seen in those parts, managing it with a grace that made her an overwhelming spectacle, in contrast with Betty, in her close-fitting dark-grey homespun, plain white muslin apron, cap, kerchief, and ruggles, scrupulously neat and fresh, but unadorned. The visit was graciously designed for "good cousin Harry," but his daughter was obliged, not unwillingly, though quite truly, to declare him far too suffering with pain and fever.
"La, you there, then," said the lady, "that comes of the dear man's heat of temper. I would have kept him till the storm was over but he was far too much displeased with his poor cousin to listen to me. Come, cousin Betty, I know you are in all his counsels. You will bring him to hear reason."
"The whole affair must wait, madam, till he is able to move."
"And if this illness be the consequence of one wet ride, how can he be in a condition to take the journey?"
"You best know, madam whether a father can be expected to bestow his daughter in so strange a manner without direct communication either with her or with the other party."
"I grant you the idea is at first sight startling, but surely he might trust to me; and he knows Amyas Belamour, poor man, to be the very soul of honour; yes, and with all his eccentricity to have made no small impression on our fair Aurelia. Depend upon it, my dear Betty, romance carried the day; and the damsel is more enamoured of the mysterious voice in the dark, than she would be of any lusty swain in the ordinary light of day."
"All that may be, madam, but she is scarce yet sixteen, and it is our duty to be assured of her inclinations and of the gentleman's condition."
"You will not trust me, who have watched them both," said Lady Belamour, with her most engaging manner. "Now look here, my dear, since we are two women together, safe out of the hearing of the men, I will be round with you. I freely own myself imprudent in sending your sister to Bowstead to take charge of my poor little girls, but if you had seen the little savages they were, you would not wonder that I could not take them home at once, nor that I should wish to see them acquire the good manners that I remembered in the children of this house; I never dreamt of Mr. Belamour heeding the little nursery. He has always been an obstinate melancholic lunatic, confined to his chamber by day, and wandering like a ghost by night, refusing all admission. Moreover my good Aylward had appeared hitherto a paragon of a duenna for discretion, only over starched in her precision. Little did I expect to find my young lady spending all her evenings alone with him, and the solitary hermit transformed into a gay and gallant bachelor like the Friar of Orders Gray in the song. And since matters have gone to such a length, I, as a woman who has seen more of the world than you have, my dear good Betty, think it expedient that the Friar and his charmer should be made one without loss of time. We know her to be innocence itself, and him for a very Sidney for honour, but the world--"
"It is your doing, madam," exclaimed Betty, passionately, completely overset by the insinuation; "you bid us trust you, and then confess that you have exposed my sweet sister to be vilely slandered! Oh my Aurelia, why did I let you out of my sight?" she cried, while hot tears stood in her eyes.
"I know your warmth, my dear," said Lady Belamour with perfect command of temper; "I tell you I blame myself for not having recollected that a lovely maiden can tame even a savage brute, or that even in the sweet rural country walls have ears and trees have tongues. Not that any harm is done so far, nor ever will be; above all if your good father do not carry his romantic sentiments so far as to be his ruin a second time. Credit me, Betty, they will not serve in any world save the imaginary one that crazed Don Quixote. What advantage can the pretty creature gain? She is only sixteen, quite untouched by true passion. She will obtain a name and fortune, and become an old man's idol for a few years, after which she will probably be at liberty by the time she is of an age to enjoy life."
"He is but five-and-forty!" said Betty.
"Well, if she arouse him to a second spring, there will be few women who will not envy her."
"You may colour it over, madam," said Betty, drawing herself up, "but nothing can conceal the fact that you confess yourself to have exposed my innocent helpless sister to malignant slander; and that you assure me that the only course left is to marry the poor child to a wretched melancholic who has never so much as seen her face."
"You are outspoken, Miss Delavie," said Lady Belamour, softly, but with a dangerous glitter in her blue eyes. "I pardon your heat for your father's sake, and because I ascribe it to the exalted fantastic notions in which you have been bred; but remember that there are bounds to my forbearance, and that an agent in his state of health, and with his stubborn ideas, only remains on sufferance."
"My father has made up his mind to sacrifice anything rather than his child," cried Betty.
"My dear girl, I will hear you no more. You are doing him no service," said Lady Belamour kindly. "You had better be convinced that it is a sacrifice, or an unwilling one, before you treat me to any more heroics."
Betty successfully avoided a parting kiss, and remained pacing up and down the room to work off her indignation before returning to her father. She was quite as angry with herself, as with my Lady, for having lost her temper, and so given her enemy an advantage, more especially as when her distress became less agitating, her natural shrewdness began to guess that the hint about scandal was the pure fruit of Lady Belamour's invention, as an expedient for obtaining her consent. Yet the mere breath of such a possibility of evil speaking was horror to her, and she even revolved the question of going herself to Bowstead to rescue her sister. But even if the journey had been more possible, her father was in no condition to be left to Harriet's care, and there was nothing to be done except to wait till he could again attend to the matter, calm herself as best she could, so as not to alarm him, and intercept all dangerous messages.
Several days had passed, and though the Major had not left his bed, he had asked whether more had been heard from my Lady, and discussed the subject with his daughter, when a letter arrived in due course of post. It was written in a large bold hand, and the signature, across a crease in the paper, was in the irregular characters that the Major recognised as those of Mr. Belamour.
"DEAR AND HONOURED SIR,
"Proposals have been made to you on my Behalf for the Hand of your fair and amiable Daughter, Miss Aurelia Delavie. I am well aware how preposterous and even shocking they may well appear to you; yet, let me assure you, on the Faith of a Man of Honour that if you will entrust her to me, wretched Recluse though I be, and will permit her to bear my Name, I will answer for her Happiness and Welfare. Situated as I am, I cannot enter into further explanations; but we are old Acquaintance, though we have not met for many Years, and therefore I venture to beg of you to believe me when I say that if you will repose Confidence in me, and exercise Patience, I can promise your admirable Daughter such Preferment as she is far from expecting. She has been the Blessing of my darkened Life, but I would never have presumed to ask further were it not that I have no other Means of protecting her, nor of shielding her from Evils that may threaten her, and that might prove far worse than bearing the Name of
"Your obedient Servant to command,
"Bowstead Park, Dec. 3rd, 1737."
"Enigmatical!" said Betty.
"It could hardly be otherwise if he had to employ a secretary" said her father. "Who can have written for him?"
"His friend, Dr. Godfrey, most probably," said Betty. "It is well spelt as well as indited, and has not the air of being drawn up by a lawyer."
"No, it is not Hargrave's hand. It is strange that he says nothing of the settlements."
"Here is a postscript, adding, 'Should you consent, Hargrave will give you ample satisfaction as to the property which I can settle on your daughter.'"
"Of that I have no doubt," said the Major. "Well, Betty, on reflection, if I were only secure that no force was put on the child's will, and if I could exchange a few words face to face with Amyas Belamour, I should not be so utterly averse as I was at first sight. She is a good child, and if she like him, and find it not hard to do her duty by him, she might be as happy as another. And since she is out of our reach it might save her from worse. What say you, child?"
"That last is the strongest plea with me," said Betty, with set lips.
They took another evening for deliberation, but there was something in the tone of the letter that wrought on them, and it ended in a cautious consent being given, on the condition of the father being fully satisfied of his daughter's free and voluntary acquiescence.
"After all," he said to Betty, "I shall be able to go up to Bowstead for the wedding, and if I find that her inclinations have been forced, I can take her away at all risks."
|Art of Worldly Wisdom Daily|
In the 1600s, Balthasar Gracian, a jesuit priest wrote 300 aphorisms on living life called "The Art of Worldly Wisdom." Join our newsletter below and read them all, one at a time.
Shakespeare wrote over 150 sonnets! Join our Sonnet-A-Day Newsletter and read them all, one at a time.