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Mowbray's indifference was often a happy relief to my anxiety of temper; and I had surely reason to be grateful to him for the sacrifices he continued daily to make of his own tastes and pleasures, to forward my views.
One morning in particular, he was going to a rehearsal at Drury-lane, where I knew his heart was; but finding me very anxious to go to the Mint and the Bank with Mr. Montenero and Berenice, Mowbray, who had a relation a Bank director, immediately offered to accompany us, and procured us the means of seeing every thing in the best possible manner.
Nothing could, as he confessed, be less to his taste; and he was surprised that Miss Montenero chose to be of the party. A day spent in viewing the Mint and the Bank, it may perhaps be thought, was a day lost to love--quite the contrary; I had an opportunity of feeling how the passion of love can throw its enchantment over scenes apparently least adapted to its nature.
Before this time I had twice gone over every part of these magnificent establishments. I had seen at the Bank the spirit of order operating like predestination, compelling the will of man to act necessarily and continually with all the precision of mechanism. I had beheld human creatures, called clerks, turned nearly into arithmetical machines.
But how new did it all appear in looking at it with Berenice! How would she have been delighted if she had seen those machines, "instinct with spirit," which now perform the most delicate manoeuvres with more than human dexterity--the self-moving balance which indefatigably weighs, accepts, rejects, disposes of the coin, which a mimic hand perpetually presents!
What chiefly pleased me in Miss Montenero was the composure, the sincerity of her attention. She was not anxious to display herself: I was the more delighted when I discovered her quickness of comprehension. I was charmed too by the unaffected pleasure she showed in acquiring new ideas, and surprised by the judicious proportion of the admiration she expressed for all that was in various degrees excellent in arrangement, or ingenious in contrivance: in short....
"In short, man," as Mowbray would say, "in short, man, you were in love, and there's an end of the matter: if your Berenice had hopped forty paces in the public streets, it would have been the same with you."
That I deny--but I will go on with my story.
As we were going away, Mr. Montenero, after thanking Lord Mowbray and his cousin, the Bank director, who had shown and explained every thing to us with polite and intelligent patience, observed that the Bank was to him a peculiarly interesting sight.
"You know," said he, "that we Jews were the first inventors of bills of exchange and bank-notes--we were originally the bankers and brokers of the world."
Then, as we walked to the carriage, he continued addressing himself to his daughter, in a lowered voice, "You see, Berenice, here, as in a thousand instances, how general and permanent good often results from partial and temporary evil. The persecutions even to which we Jews were exposed--the tyranny which drove us from place to place, and from country to country, at a moment's or without a moment's warning, compelled us, by necessity, to the invention of a happy expedient, by which we could convert all our property into a scrap of paper, that could be carried unseen in a pocket-book, or conveyed in a letter unsuspected."
Berenice thanked Heaven that the times of persecution were over; and added, that she hoped any prejudice which still existed would soon die away.
Mowbray exclaimed against the very idea of the existence of such prejudices at this time of day in England, among the higher classes.
He did not recollect his own mother, I believe, when he said this; but I know I had a twinge of conscience about mine, and I did not dare to look at Mr. Montenero; nor did I know well which way to look, when his lordship, persisting in his assertion, asked Miss Montenero if she could possibly imagine that any such vulgar prejudices existed among well-bred persons. Berenice mildly answered, that she had really as yet enjoyed so few opportunities of seeing the higher classes of society in London that she could not form a judgment. She was willing to take upon trust his lordship's opinion, who must have means of knowing.
I imagined that Mr. Montenero's eye was upon me, and that he was thinking of my mother's never having made the slightest advance towards an acquaintance with his daughter. I recollected the speeches I had made on his first visit, pledging my mother to that which she had never performed. I felt upon the rack--and a pause, that ensued afterwards, increased my misery. I longed for somebody to say something--any thing. I looked for assistance to Mowbray. He repeated, confidently, that Miss Montenero might entirely rely upon what he said as to London and England--indeed he had been a good deal abroad too. He seemed to be glad to get to the continent again--I followed him as fast as I could, and inquired whether he did not think that the French and Germans were much improved in liberality, and a spirit of toleration.
"Give me leave," said Mr. Montenero, "to answer for the improvement of the Germans. Fifteen years ago, I remember, when I was travelling in Germany, I was stopped at a certain bridge over the Rhine, and, being a Jew, was compelled to pay rather an ignominious toll. The Jews were there classed among cloven-footed beasts, and as such paid toll. But, within these few years, sixteen German princes, enlightened and inspired by one great writer, and one good minister, have combined to abolish this disgraceful tax. You see, my dear Berenice, your hope is quickly fulfilling--prejudices are dying away fast. Hope humbly, but hope always."
The playful tone in which Mr. Montenero spoke, put me quite at my ease.
The next day I was determined on an effort to make my mother acquainted with Miss Montenero. If I could but effect a meeting, a great point I thought would be gained. Mowbray undertook to manage it, and he, as usual, succeeded. He persuaded his mother to go to an auction of pictures, where he assured her she would be likely to meet with a Vandyke of one of her ancestors, of whose portrait she had long been in search. Lady de Brantefield engaged my mother to be of the party, without her having any suspicion that she would meet the Monteneros. We arrived in time to secure the best places, before the auction began. Neither Mr. nor Miss Montenero were there; but, to my utter discomfiture, a few minutes after we were seated, vulgar Mrs. Coates and all her tribe appeared. She elbowed her difficult way onward towards us, and nodding to me familiarly, seated herself and her Vandals on a line with us. Then, stretching herself across the august Lady de Brantefield, who drew back, far as space would permit, "Beg your pardon, ma'am, but I just want to say a word to this lady. A'n't you the lady--yes--that sat beside me at the play the other night--the Merchant of Venice and the Maid of the Oaks, was not it, Izzy? I hope you caught no cold, ma'am--you look but poorly, I am sorry to notice--but what I wanted to say, ma'am, here's an ivory fan Miss Montenero was in a pucker and quandary about." Pucker and quandary!--Oh! how I groaned inwardly!
"I was in such a fuss about her, you know, sir, that I never found out, till I got home, I had pocketed a strange fan--here it is, ma'am, if it is yours--it's worth any body's owning, I am sure."
The fan was my mother's, and she was forced to be much obliged. Lady de Brantefield, still painfully holding back, did not resume her position till some seconds had elapsed after Mrs. Coates had withdrawn her fat bust--till it might be supposed that the danger of coming into contact with her was fairly over. My mother, after a decent interval, asked me if it were possible to move to some place where they could have more air, as the crowd was increasing. Lord Mowbray and I made way for her to a seat by an open window; but the persevering Mrs. Coates followed, talking about the famous elbows of Mr. Peter Coates, on whose arm she leaned. "When Peter chooses, there's not a man in Lon'on knows the use of his elbows better, and if we'd had him, Mr. Harrington, with us at the play, the other night, we should not have given you so much trouble with Miss Montenero, getting her out."
Lord Mowbray, amused by my look of suffering, could not refrain from diverting himself further by asking a question or two about the Monteneros. It was soon apparent, from the manner in which Mrs. Coates answered, that she was not as well pleased with them as formerly.
It was her maxim, she said, to speak of the bridge as she went over it; and for her part, if she was to give her verdict, she couldn't but say Miss Montenero--for they weren't on terms to call her Miss Berry now--was a little incomprehensible sometimes.
A look of surprise from Lord Mowbray, without giving himself the trouble to articulate, was quite sufficient to make the lady go on.
"Why, if it concerned any gentleman" (glancing her ill-bred eye upon me), "if any gentleman was thinking of looking that way, it might be of use to him to know the land. Miss Montenero, then, if truth must be told, is a little touchy on the Jewish chapter."
Lord Mowbray urged Mrs. Coates on with "How, for instance?" "Oh, how! why, my lord, a hundred times I've hurt her to the quick. One can't always be thinking of people's different persuasions you know--and if one asked a question, just for information's sake, or made a natural remark, as I did t'other day, Queeney, you know, just about Jew butchers, and pigeons--'It's a pity,' said I, 'that Jews must always have Jew butchers, Miss Berry, and that there is so many things they can't touch: one can't have pigeons nor hares at one's table,' said I, thinking only of my second course; 'as to pork, Henny,' says I, 'that's a coarse butcher's meat, which I don't regret, nor the alderman, a pinch o' snuff'--now, you know, I thought that was kind of me; but Miss Montenero took it all the wrong way, quite to heart so, you've no idear! After all, she may say what she pleases, but it's my notion the Jews is both a very unsocial and a very revengeful people; for, do you know, my lord, they wouldn't dine with us next day, though the alderman called himself."
My mother was so placed that she could not avoid hearing all that Mrs. Coates said to Lord Mowbray; and though she never uttered a syllable, or raised her eyes, or moved the fan she held in her hand, I knew by her countenance the impression that was made on her mind: she would have scorned, on any other subject of human life or manners, to have allowed the judgment of Mrs. Coates to weigh with her in the estimation of a single hair; yet here her opinion and idears were admitted to be decisive.
Such is prejudice! thought I. Prejudice, even in the proudest people, will stoop to accept of nourishment from any hand. Prejudice not only grows on what it feeds upon, but converts every thing it meets with into nourishment.
How clear-sighted I was to the nature of prejudice at this moment, and how many reflections passed in one instant, which I had never made before in the course of my life!--Meantime Mrs. Coates had beckoned to her son Peter, and Peter had drawn near, and was called upon by his mother to explain to my lord the cause of the coolness betwixt the alderman and Mr. Montenero: "It was," she said, "about the Manessas, and a young man called Jacob."
Peter was not as fluent as his mother, and she went on. "It was some money matter. Mr. Montenero had begun by acting a very generous part, she understood, at first, by way of being the benevolent Jew, but had not come up to the alderman's expectations latterly, and had shown a most illiberal partiality to the Manessas, and this Jacob, only because they was Jews; which, you know," said Mrs. Coates, "was very ungentleman-like to the alderman, after all the civilities we had shown the Monteneros on their coming to Lon'on--as Peter, if he could open his mouth, could tell you."
Peter had just opened his mouth, when Mr. Montenero appearing, he closed it again. To my inexpressible disappointment, Miss Montenero was not with her father. Mr. Montenero smiled the instant he caught my eye, but seeing my mother as he approached, he bowed gravely, and passed on.
"And never noticed me, I declare," said Mrs. Coates: "that's too good!"
"But Miss Montenero! I thought she was to be here?" cried Mowbray.
Mrs. Coates, after her fashion, stretching across two of her daughters, whispered to the third, loud enough for all to hear, "Queeney, this comes of airs!--This comes of her not choosing for to go abroad with me, I suppose."
"If people doesn't know their friends when they has 'em," replied Queeney, "they may go farther and fare worse: that's all I have to say."
"Hush!" said Peter, giving his sister a monitory pinch--"can't you say your say under your breath? he's within seven of you, and he has ears like the devil."
"All them Jews has, and Jewesses too; they think one's always talking of them, they're so suspicious," said Mrs. Coates. "I am told, moreover, that they've ways and means of hearing."
To my great relief, she was interrupted by the auctioneer, and the sound of his hammer. The auction went on, and nothing but "Who bids more? going!-- going!--who bids more?" was heard for a considerable time. Not being able to get near Mr. Montenero, and having failed in all my objects, I grew excessively tired, and was going away, leaving my mother to the care of Mowbray, but he stopped me. "Stay, stay," said he, drawing me aside, behind two connoisseurs, who were babbling about a Titian, "you will have some diversion by and by. I have a picture to sell, and you must see how it will go off. There is a painting that I bought at a stall for nothing, upon a speculation that my mother, who is a judge, will pay dear for; and what do you think the picture is? Don't look so stupid--it will interest you amazingly, and Mr. Montenero too, and 'tis a pity your Jewess is not here to see it. Did you ever hear of a picture called the 'Dentition of the Jew?'"
"You'll see, presently," said Mowbray.
"But tell me now," said I.
"Only the drawing the teeth of the Jew, by order of some one of our most merciful lords the kings--John, Richard, or Edward."
"It will be a companion to the old family picture of the Jew and Sir Josseline," continued Mowbray; "and this will make the vile daub, which I've had the luck to pick up, invaluable to my mother, and I trust very valuable to me."
"There! Christie has it up! The dear rascal! hear him puff it!"
Lady de Brantefield put up her glass, but neither she nor I could distinguish a single figure in the picture, the light so glared upon it.
Christie caught her ladyship's eye, and addressed himself directly to her. But her ladyship was deaf. Mowbray pressed forward to her ear, and repeated all Christie roared. No sooner did she understand the subject of the picture than she turned to her son, to desire him to bid for her; but Mowbray substituted Topham in his stead: Topham obeyed.
"Who bids more?"
A bidder started up, who seemed very eager. He was, we were told, an engraver.
"Who bids more?"
To our surprise, Mr. Montenero was the person to bid more--and more, and more, and more. The engraver soon gave up the contest, but her ladyship's pride and passions rose when she found Mr. Montenero continued to bid against her; and she persisted, till she came up to an extravagant sum; and still she desired Colonel Topham to bid on.
"Beyond my expectation, faith! Both mad!" whispered Mowbray. I thought so too. Still Mr. Montenero went higher.
"I'll go no higher," said Lady de Brantefield; "you may let it be knocked down to that person, Colonel." Then turning to her son, "Who is the man that bids against me?"
"A Jewish gentleman, ma'am, I believe."
"A Jew, perhaps--gentleman, I deny; no Jew ever was or ever will be a gentleman. I am sure our family, since the time of Sir Josseline, have had reason enough to know that."
"Very true, ma'am--I'll call for your carriage, for I suppose you have had enough of this."
Mowbray carried me with him. "Come off," said he; "I long to hear Montenero descant on the merits of the dentition. Do you speak, for you can do it with a better face."
Mowbray seemed to be intent merely upon his own diversion; he must have seen and felt how reluctant I was: but, taking my arm, he dragged me on to Mr. Montenero, who was standing near a window, with the picture in his hand, examining it attentively. Mowbray pushed me on close behind Mr. Montenero--the light now falling on the picture, I saw it for the first time, and the sight struck me with such associated feelings of horror, that I started back, exclaiming, with vehement gestures, "I cannot bear it! I cannot bear that picture!"
Mr. Montenero turned, and looked at me with surprise.
"I beg pardon, sir," said I; "but it made me absolutely--"
"Sick," said Mr. Montenero, opening the window, as I leaned back against the wall, and the eyes of all present were fixed upon me. Ashamed of the exaggerated expression of my feelings, I stood abashed. Mr. Montenero, with the greatest kindness of manner, and with friendly presence of mind, said he remembered well having felt actually sick at the sight of certain pictures. "For instance, my lord," said he, addressing himself to Lord Mowbray, "the famous picture of the flaying the unjust magistrate I never could look at steadily."
I recovered myself--and squeezing Mr. Montenero's hand to express my sense of his kind politeness, I exerted myself to talk and to look at the picture. Afraid of Mowbray's ridicule, I never once turned my eyes towards him--I fancied that he was laughing behind me: I did him injustice; he was not laughing--he looked seriously concerned. He whispered to me, "Forgive me, my dear Harrington--I aimed at mamma--I did not mean to hurt you."
Before we quitted the subject, I expressed to Mr. Montenero my surprise at his having purchased, at an extraordinary price, a picture apparently of so little merit, and on such a disgusting subject.
"Abuse the subject as much as you please," interrupted Mowbray; "but as to the merit of the painting, have the grace, Harrington, to consider, that Mr. Montenero must be a better judge than you or I."
"You are too good a judge yourself, my lord," replied Mr. Montenero, in a reserved tone, "not to see this picture to be what it really is, a very poor performance." Then turning to me in a cordial manner, "Be assured, Mr. Harrington, that I am at least as clear-sighted, in every point of view, as you can possibly be, to its demerits."
"Then why did you purchase it?" was the question, which involuntarily recurred to Mowbray and to me; but we were both silent, and stood with our eyes fixed upon the picture.
"Gentlemen, if you will do me the honour to dine with me to-morrow," said Mr. Montenero, "you shall know the purpose for which I bought this picture."
We accepted the invitation; Mowbray waited for to-morrow with all the eagerness of curiosity, and I with the eagerness of a still more impatient passion.
I pass over my mother's remonstrances against my dining at the Monteneros'; remonstrances, strengthened as they were in vehemence, if not in reason, by all the accession of force gathered from the representations and insinuations of Mrs. Coates.
The next day came. "Now we shall hear about the dentition of the Jew," said Mowbray, as we got to Mr. Montenero's door.
And now we shall see Berenice! thought I.
We found a very agreeable company assembled, mixed of English and foreigners. There was the Spanish ambassador and the Russian envoy--who, by-the-by, spoke English better than any foreigner I ever heard; a Polish Count, perfectly well bred, and his lady, a beautiful woman, with whom Mowbray of course was half in love before dinner was over. The only English present were General and Lady Emily B----. We soon learned, by the course of the conversation, that Mr. Montenero stood high in the estimation of every individual in the company, all of whom had known him intimately at different times of his life, and in different countries. The general had served in America during the beginning of the war; he had been wounded there, and in great difficulties and distress. He and his lady, under very trying circumstances, had been treated in the most kind and hospitable manner by Mr. Montenero and his family. With that true English warmth of gratitude, which contrasts so strongly and agreeably with the natural reserve of English manner and habits, the general and his wife, Lady Emily, expressed their joy at having Mr. Montenero in England, in London, among their own friends.
"My dear, Mr. Montenero must let us introduce him to your brother and our other friends--how delighted they will be to see him! And Berenice!--she was such a little creature, General, at the time you saw her last!--but such a kind, sweet, little creature!--You remember her scraping the lint!"
"Remember it! certainly."
They spoke of her, and looked at her, as if she was their own child; and for my part, I could have embraced both the old general and his wife. I only wished that my mother had been present to receive an antidote to Mrs. Coates.
"Oh! please Heaven, we will make London--we'll make England agreeable to you--two years! no; that won't do--we will keep you with us for ever--you shall never go back to America."
Then, in a low voice, to Mr. Montenero, the general added, "Do you think we have not an Englishman good enough for her?"
I felt the blood rush into my face, and dreaded that every eye must see it. When I had the courage to raise my head and to look round, I saw that I was perfectly safe, and that no creature was thinking about me, not even Mowbray, who was gallanting the Polish lady. I ventured then to look towards Berenice; but all was tranquil there--she had not, I was sure, heard the whisper. Mr. Montenero had his eye upon her; the father's eye and mine met--and such a penetrating, yet such a benevolent eye! I endeavoured to listen with composure to whatever was going on. The general was talking of his brother-in-law, Lord Charles; a panic seized me, and a mortal curiosity to know what sort of a man the brother-in-law might be. I was not relieved till the dessert came on the table, when, apropos to something a Swedish gentleman said about Linnaeus, strawberries, and the gout, it appeared, to my unspeakable satisfaction, that Lord Charles had the gout at this instant, and had been subject to it during the last nine years. I had been so completely engrossed by my own feelings and imaginations, that I had never once thought of that which had previously excited our curiosity-- the picture, till, as we were going into another room to drink coffee, Mowbray said to me, "We hear nothing of the dentition of the Jew: I can't put him in mind of it."
"Certainly not," said I. "There is a harp; I hope Miss Montenero will play on it," added I.
After coffee we had some good music, in different styles, so as to please, and interest, and join in one common sympathy, all the company, many of whom had never before heard each other's national music. Berenice was asked to play some Hebrew music, the good general reminding her that he knew she had a charming ear and a charming voice when she was a child. She had not, however, been used to sing or play before numbers, and she resisted the complimentary entreaties; but when the company were all gone, except the general and his lady, Mowbray and myself, her father requested that Berenice would try one song, and that she would play one air on the harp to oblige her old friends: she immediately complied, with a graceful unaffected modesty that interested every heart in her favour--I can answer for my own; though no connoisseur, I was enthusiastically fond of good music. Miss Montenero's voice was exquisite: both the poetry and the music were sublime and touching. No compliments were paid; but when she ceased, all were silent, in hopes that the harp would be touched again by the same hand. At this moment, Mr. Montenero, turning to Lord Mowbray and to me, said, "Gentlemen, I recollect my promise to you, and will perform it--I will now explain why I bought that painting which you saw me yesterday so anxious to obtain."
He rang the bell, and desired a servant to bring in the picture which he had purchased at the auction, and to desire Jacob to come with it. As soon as it was brought in, I retired to the farther end of the room. In Mowbray's countenance there was a strange mixture of contempt and curiosity.
Mr. Montenero kindly said to me, "I shall not insist, Mr. Harrington, on your looking at it; I know it is not to your taste."
I immediately approached, resolved to stand the sight, that I might not be suspected of affectation.
Berenice had not yet seen the painting: she shrunk back the moment she beheld it, exclaiming, "Oh, father! Why purchase such a horrible picture?"
"To destroy it," said Mr. Montenero. And deliberately he took the picture out of its frame and cut it to pieces, repeating, "To destroy it, my dear, as I would, were it in my power, every record of cruelty and intolerance. So perish all that can keep alive feelings of hatred and vengeance between Jews and Christians!"
"Amen," said the good old general, and all present joined in that amen. I heard it pronounced by Miss Montenero in a very low voice, but distinctly and fervently.
While I stood with my eyes fixed on Berenice, and while Mowbray loudly applauded her father's liberality, Mr. Montenero turned to Jacob and said, "I sent for my friend Jacob to be present at the burning of this picture, because it was he who put it in my power to prevent this horrid representation from being seen and sold in every print-shop in London. Jacob, who goes every where, and sees wherever he goes, observed this picture at a broker's shop, and found that two persons had been in treaty for it. One of them had the appearance of an amateur, the other was an artist, an engraver. The engraver was, I suppose, the person who bid against Colonel Topham and me; who the other gentleman was, and why he bought in to sell it again at that auction, perhaps Jacob knows, but I have never inquired."
Then, with Jacob's assistance, Mr. Montenero burned every shred of this abominable picture, to my inexpressible satisfaction.
During this auto-da-fè, Jacob cast a glance at Mowbray, the meaning of which I could not at first comprehend; but I supposed that he was thinking of the fire, at which all he had in the world had been consumed at Gibraltar. I saw, or thought I saw, that Jacob checked the feeling this recollection excited. He turned to me, and in a low voice told me, that Mr. Montenero had been so kind as to obtain for him a lucrative and creditable situation in the house of Manessa, the jeweller; and the next day he was to go to Mr. Manessa's, and to commence business.
"So, Mr. Harrington, you see that after all my misfortunes, I am now established in a manner far above what could have been expected for poor Jacob--far above his most sanguine hopes. Thanks to my good friends."
"And to your good self," said I.
I was much pleased with Mowbray at this instant, for the manner in which he joined in my praise of Jacob, and in congratulations to him. His lordship promised that he would recommend his house to all his family and friends.
"What a contrast," said Mowbray, as soon as Jacob had left the room, "there is between Jacob and his old rival, Dutton! That fellow has turned out very ill--drunken, idle dog--is reduced to an old-iron shop, I believe--always plaguing me with begging letters. Certainly, Harrington, you may triumph in your election of Jacob."
I never saw Berenice and her father look so much pleased with Mowbray as they did at this instant.
Of the remainder of the evening I recollect nothing but Berenice, and of my staying later than I ought to have done. Even after the general and his wife had departed some time, I lingered. I was to go home in Mowbray's carriage, and twice he had touched my shoulder, telling me that I was not aware how late it was. I could not conceive how he could think of going so early.
"Early!" He directed my eye to the clock on the chimneypiece. I was ashamed to see the hour. I apologized to Mr. Montenero. He replied in a manner that was more than polite--that was quite affectionate; and his last words, repeated at the head of the stairs, expressed a desire to see me again frequently.
I sprang into Mowbray's carriage one of the happiest men on earth, full of love, hope, and joy.
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