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"All gone to bed but you?" said I to the footman, who opened the door.
"No, sir," said the drowsy fellow, "my lady is sitting up for you, I believe."
"Then, Mowbray, come in--come up with me to my mother, pray do, for one instant."
Before she slept, I said, he must administer an antidote to Coates's poison. While the impression was still fresh in his mind, I entreated he would say what a delightful party we had had. My mother, I knew, had such a high idea of his lordship's judgment in all that concerned gentility and fashion, that a word from him would be decisive. "But let it be to-morrow morning," said Mowbray; "'tis shamefully late to-night."
"To-night--to-night--now, now," persisted I. He complied: "Any thing to oblige you."
"Remember," said I, as we ran up stairs, "Spanish ambassador, Russian envoy, Polish Count and Countess, and an English general and his lady-- strong in rank we'll burst upon the enemy." I flung open the door, but my spirits were suddenly checked; I saw it was no time for jest and merriment.
Dead silence--solemn stillness--candles with unsnuffed wicks of portentous length. My father and mother were sitting with their backs half turned to each other, my mother leaning her head on her hand, with her elbow on the table, her salts before her. My father sitting in his arm-chair, legs stretched out, feet upon the bars of the grate, back towards us--but that back spoke anger as plainly as a back could speak. Neither figure moved when we entered. I stood appalled; Mowbray went forward, though I caught his arm to pull him back. But he did not understand me, and with ill-timed gaiety and fluency, that I would have given the world to stop, he poured forth to my mother in praise of all we had seen and heard; and then turning to my father, who slowly rose, shading his eyes from the candle, and looking at me under the hand, Lord Mowbray went on with a rapturous eulogium upon Harrington's Jew and Jewess.
"Then it is all true," said my father. "It is all very well, Harrington-- but take notice, and I give you notice in time, in form, before your friend and counsellor, Lord Mowbray, that by Jupiter--by Jupiter Ammon, I will never leave one shilling to my son, if he marry a Jewess! Every inch of my estate shall go from him to his cousin Longshanks in the North, though I hate him like sin. But a Jewess for my daughter-in-law I will never have-- by Jupiter Ammon!"
So snatching up a bougie, the wick of which scattered fire behind him, he left the room.
"Good Heavens! what have I done?" cried Mowbray.
"What you can never undo," said I.
My mother spoke not one word, but sat smelling her salts.
"Never fear, man," whispered Mowbray; "he will sleep it off, or by to-morrow we shall find ways and means."
He left me in despair. I heard his carriage roll away--and then there was silence again. I stood waiting for some explanation from my mother--she saw my despair--she dreaded my anger: in broken and scarcely intelligible, contradictory phrases, she declared her innocence of all intention to do me mischief, and acknowledged that all was her doing; but reminded me, that she had prophesied it would come to this--it would end ill--and at last, trembling with impatience as I stood, she told me all that had happened.
The fact was, that she had talked to her friend Lady de Brantefield, and some other of her dear friends, of her dread that I should fall in love with Miss Montenero; and the next person said I had fallen in love with her; and under the seal of secresy,--it was told that I had actually proposed for her, but that my father was to know nothing of the matter. This story had been written in some young lady's letter to her correspondent in the country, and miss in the country had told it to her brother, who had come to town this day, dined in company with my father, got drunk, and had given a bumper toast to "Miss Montenero, the Jewish heiress--Mrs. Harrington, jun. that is to be!"
My father had come home foaming with rage; my mother had done all she could to appease him, and to make him comprehend that above half what he had heard was false; but it had gone the wrong way into his head, and there was no getting it out again. My father had heard it at the most unlucky time possible, just after he had lost a good place, and was driven to the necessity of selling an estate that had been in his family since the time of Richard the Second. My mother farther informed me, that my father had given orders, in his usual sudden way when angry, for going into the country immediately. While she was yet speaking, the door opened, and my father, with his nightcap on, put his head in, saying, "Remember, ma'am, you are to be off at seven to-morrow--and you sir," continued he, advancing towards me, "if you have one grain of sense left, I recommend it to you to come with us. But no, I see it written in your absurd face, that you will not--obstinate madman! I leave you to your own discretion," cried he, turning his back upon me; "but, by Jupiter Ammon, I'll do what I say, by Jupiter!" And carrying my mother off with him, he left me to my pleasing reflections.
All was tumult in my mind: one moment I stood motionless in utter despair, the next struck with some bright hope. I walked up and down the room with hasty strides--then stopped short again, and stood fixed, as some dark reality, some sense of improbability--of impossibility, crossed my mind, and as my father's denunciation recurred to my ear.
A Jewess!--her religion--her principles--my principles!--And can a Jewess marry a Christian? And should a Christian marry a Jewess? The horrors of family quarrels, of religious dissensions and disputes between father and child, husband and wife--All these questions, and fears, and doubts, passed through my imagination backwards and forwards with inconceivable rapidity-- struck me with all the amazement of novelty, though in fact they were not new to me. The first moment I saw her, I was told she was a Jewess; I was aware of the difficulties, and yet I had never fixed my view upon them: I had suffered myself to waive the consideration of them till this moment. In the hope, the joy, the heaven of the first feelings of the passion of love, I had lost sight of all difficulties, human or divine; and now I was called upon to decide in one hour upon questions involving the happiness of my whole life. To be called upon before it was necessary too--for I was not in love, not I--at least I had formed no idea of marrying, no resolution to propose. Then bitterly I execrated the reporters, and the gossipers, and the letter-writing misses, whose tattling, and meddling, and idleness, and exaggeration, and absolute falsehood, had precipitated me into this misery. The drunken brute, too, who had blundered out to my father that fatal toast, had his full share of my indignation; and my mother, with her presentiments--and Mowbray, with his inconceivable imprudence--and my father, with his prejudices, his violence, and his Jupiter Ammon--every body, and every thing I blamed, except myself. And when I had vented my rage, still the question recurred, what was to be done? how should I resolve? Morning was come, the grey light was peeping through the shutters: I opened the window to feel the fresh calm air. I heard the people beginning to stir in the house: my father and mother were to be called at half after six. Six struck; I must decide at least, whether I would go with them or not. No chance of my father sleeping it off! Obstinate beyond conception; and by Jupiter Ammon once sworn, never revoked. But after all, where was the great evil of being disinherited? The loss of my paternal estate, in this moment of enthusiasm, appeared a loss I could easily endure. Berenice was an heiress--a rich heiress, and I had a small estate of my own, left to me by my grandfather. I could live with Berenice upon any thing--upon nothing. Her wishes were moderate, I was sure--I should not, however, reduce her to poverty; no, her fortune would be sufficient for us both. It would be mortifying to my pride--it would be painful to receive instead of to give--I had resolved never to be under such an obligation to a wife; but with such a woman as Berenice!--I would submit-- submit to accept her and her fortune.
Then, as to her being a Jewess--who knows what changes love might produce? Voltaire and Mowbray say, "qu'une femme est toujours de la religion de son amant."
At this instant I heard a heavy foot coming down the back stairs; the door opened, and a yawning housemaid appeared, and started at the sight of me.
"Gracious! I didn't think it was so late! Mistress bid me ask the first thing I did--but I didn't know it was so late--Mercy! there's master's bell--whether you go or not, sir?"
"Certainly not," said I; and after having uttered this determination, I was more at ease. I sat down, and wrote a note to my father, in the most respectful and eloquent terms I could devise, judging that it was better to write than to speak to him on the subject. Then I vacated the room for the housemaid, and watched in my own apartment till all the noises of preparation and of departure were over; and till I heard the sound of the carriage driving away. I was surprised that my mother had not come to me to endeavour to persuade me to change my determination; but my father, I heard, had hurried her into the carriage--my note I found on the table torn down the middle.
I concluded that my cousin Longshanks was in a fair way to have the estate; but I went to bed and to sleep, and I was consoled with dreams of Berenice.
Mowbray was with me in the morning before I was dressed. I had felt so angry with him, that I had resolved a hundred times during the night that I would never more admit him into my confidence--however, he contrived to prevent my reproaches, and dispel my anger, by the great concern he expressed for his precipitation. He blamed himself so much, that, instead of accusing, I began to comfort him. I assured him that he had, in fact, done me a service instead of an injury, by bringing my affairs suddenly to a crisis: I had thus been forced to come at once to a decision. "What decision?" he eagerly asked. My heart was at this instant in such immediate want of sympathy, that it opened to him. I told him all that had passed between my father and me, told him my father's vow, and my resolution to continue, at all hazards, my pursuit of Berenice. He heard me with astonishment: he said he could not tell which was most rash, my father's vow, or my resolution.
"And your father is gone, actually gone," cried Mowbray; "and, in spite of his Jupiter Ammon, you stand resolved to brave your fate, and to pursue the fair Jewess?"
"Even so," said I: "this day I will know my fate--this day I will propose for Miss Montenero."
Against this mad precipitation he argued in the most earnest manner.
"If you were the first duke in England, Harrington," said he, "with the finest estate, undipped, unencumbered, unentailed; if, consequently, you had nothing to do but to ask and have any woman for a wife; still I should advise you, if you meant to secure the lady's heart as well as her hand, not to begin in this novice-like manner, by letting her see her power over you: neither woman nor man ever valued an easy conquest. No, trust me, keep your mind to yourself till the lady is dying to know it--keep your own counsel till the lady can no longer keep hers: when you are sure of her not being able to refuse you, then ask for her heart as humbly as you please."
To the whole of this doctrine I could not, in honour, generosity, or delicacy accede. Of the wisdom of avoiding the danger of a refusal I was perfectly sensible; but, in declaring my attachment to Miss Montenero, I meant only to ask permission to address her. To win her heart I was well aware must be a work of time; but the first step was to deserve her esteem, and to begin by conducting myself towards her, and her father, with perfect sincerity and openness. The more I was convinced of my father's inflexibility, the more desperate I knew my circumstances were, the more I was bound not to mislead by false appearances. They would naturally suppose that I should inherit my father's fortune--I knew that I should not, if--
"So, then," interrupted Mowbray, "with your perfect openness and sincerity, you will go to Mr. Montenero, and you will say, 'Sir, that you are a Jew, I know; that you are as rich as a Jew, I hope; that you are a fool, I take for granted: at all events, I am a madman and a beggar, or about to be a beggar. My father, who is a good and a most obstinate Christian, swore last night by Jupiter Ammon, the only oath which he never breaks, that he will disinherit me if I marry a Jewess: therefore, I come this morning to ask you, sir, for your daughter, who is a Jewess, and as I am told, a great heiress--which last circumstance is, in my opinion, a great objection, but I shall overcome it in favour of your daughter, if you will be pleased to give her to me. Stay, sir, I beg your pardon, sir, excuse the hurry of the passions, which, probably, you have long since forgotten; the fact is, I do not mean to ask you for your daughter,--I came simply to ask your permission to fall in love with her, which I have already done without your permission; and I trust she has, on her part, done likewise; for if I had not a shrewd suspicion that your Jessica was ready, according to the custom of Jews' daughters, to jump out of a two-pair of stairs window into her lover's arms, madman as I am, I could not be such an idiot as to present myself before you, as I now do, sir, suing in forma pauperis for the pleasure of becoming your son-in-law. I must further have the honour to tell you, and with perfect sincerity and consideration let me inform you, sir, that my Christian father and mother having resolved never to admit a Jewish daughter-in-law to the honours of the maternal or paternal embrace, when your daughter shall do me the favour to become my wife, she need not quit your house or family, as she cannot be received into mine. Here, sir, I will rest my cause; but I might farther plead--'"
"Plead no more for or against me, Mowbray," interrupted I, angrily turning from him, for I could bear it no longer. Enthusiasm detests wit much, and humour more. Enthusiasm, fancying itself raised above the reach of ridicule, is always incensed when it feels that it is not safe from its shafts.
Mowbray changed his tone, and checking his laughter, said seriously, and with an air of affectionate sympathy, that, at the hazard of displeasing me, he had used the only means he had conceived to be effectual to prevent me from taking a step which he was convinced would be fatal.
I thanked him for his advice, but I had previously been too much piqued by his raillery to allow his reasons even their due weight: besides, I began to have a secret doubt of the sincerity of his friendship. In his turn, he was provoked by my inflexible adherence to my own opinion; and perhaps, suspecting my suspicion, he was the more readily displeased. He spoke with confidence, I thought with arrogance, as a man notoriously successful in the annals of gallantry, treating me, as I could not bear to be treated, like a novice.
"I flatter myself, no man is less a coxcomb with regard to women than I am," Lord Mowbray modestly began; "but if I were inclined to boast, I believe it is pretty generally allowed in town, by all who know any thing of these things, that my practice in gallantry has been somewhat successful--perhaps undeservedly so; still, in these cases, the world judges by success: I may, therefore, be permitted to think that I know something of women. My advice consequently, I thought, might be of use; but, after all, perhaps I am wrong: often those who imagine that they know women best, know them least."
I replied that I did not presume to vie with Lord Mowbray as a man of gallantry; but I should conceive that the same precepts, and the same arts, which ensured success with women of a certain class, might utterly fail with women of different habits and tastes. If the question were how to win such and such an actress (naming one who had sacrificed her reputation for Mowbray, and another, for whom he was sacrificing his fortune), I should, I said, implicitly follow his advice; but that, novice as I was in gallantry, I should venture to follow my own judgment as to the mode of pleasing such a woman as Miss Montenero.
"None but a novice," Mowbray answered, laughing, "could think that there was any essential difference between woman and woman." Every woman was at heart the same. Of this he was so much convinced, that though he had not, he said, any absurd confidence in his own peculiar powers of pleasing, he was persuaded, that if honour had not put the trial quite out of the question on his part, he could as easily have won the fair Jewess as any other of her sex.
My indignation rose.
"Honour and friendship to me, my lord, are out of the question: forgive me, if I own that I do not think your lordship would there have any chance of success."
"At all events you know you are safe; I cannot make the trial without your permission." "Your lordship is perfectly at liberty, if you think proper, to make the trial."
"Indeed!--Are you in earnest?--Now you have put it into my head, I will think of it seriously."
Then in a careless, pick-tooth manner, he stood, as if for some moments debating the matter with himself.
"I have no great taste for matrimony or for Jewesses, but a Jewish heiress in the present state of my affairs--Harrington, you know the pretty little gipsy--the actress who played Jessica that night, so famous in your imagination, so fatal to us both--well, my little Jessica has, since that time, played away at a rare rate with my ready money--dipped me confoundedly--'twould be poetic justice to make one Jewess pay for another, if one could. Two hundred thousand pounds, Miss Montenero is, I think they say. 'Pon my sincerity, 'tis a temptation! Now it strikes me--if I am not bound in honour--"
I walked away in disgust, while Mowbray, in the same tone, continued, "Let me see, now--suppose--only suppose--any thing may be by supposition-- suppose we were rivals. As rivals, things would be wonderfully fair and even between us. You, Harrington, I grant, have the advantage of first impressions--she has smiled upon you; while I, bound in honour, stood by like a mummy--but unbound, set at liberty by express permission--give me a fortnight's time, and if I don't make her blush, my name's not Mowbray!-- and no matter whom a woman smiles upon, the man who makes her blush is the man. But seriously, Harrington, am I hurting your feelings? If what is play to me is death to you, I have done. Bind me over again to my good behaviour you may, by a single word. Instead of defying me, only swear, or, stay--I won't put you to your oath--say candidly, upon your honour, Lord Mowbray puts you in fear of your love."
"I neither defy you nor fear you, my lord!" said I, with a tone and look which at any other time Lord Mowbray, who was prompt enough to take offence, would have understood as it was meant. But he was now determined not to be provoked by any thing I could say or look. Standing still at ease, he continued, "Not fear me!--Not bind me in honour!--Then I have nobody's feelings to consult but my own. So, as I was considering, things are marvellously nicely balanced between us. In point of fortune, both beggars--nearly; for though my father did not disinherit me, I have disinherited myself. Then our precious mothers will go mad on the spot, in white satin, if either of us marry a Jewess. Well! that is even between us. Then religious scruples--you have some, have not you?"
"I have, my lord."
"Dry enough--there I have the advantage--I have none. Mosque--high church-- low church--no church--don't let me shock you. I thought you were for universal toleration; I am for liberty of conscience, in marriage at least. You are very liberal, I know. You're in love, and you'd marry even a Jewess, would not you, if you could not contrive to convert her? I am not in love, but shall be soon, I feel; and when once I am in love!--I turn idolater, plump. Now, an idolater's worse than a Jew: so I should make it a point of conscience to turn Jew, to please the fair Jewess, if requisite."
"My lord, this trifling I can bear no longer; I must beg seriously that we may understand each other."
"Trifling!--Never was more serious in my life. I'd turn Jew--I'd turn any thing, for a woman I loved."
"Have you, or have you not, my lord, any intention of addressing Miss Montenero?"
"Since I have your permission--since you have put it in my head--since you have piqued me--frankly--yes."
"I thank you for your frankness, my lord; I understand you. Now we understand each other," said I.
"Why, yes--and 'tis time we should," said Mowbray, coolly, "knowing one another, as we have done, even from our boyish days. You may remember, I never could bear to be piqued, en honneur; especially by you, my dear Harrington. It was written above, that we were to be rivals. But still, if we could command our tempers--I was the hottest of the two, when we were boys; but seeing something of the world, abroad and at home, has done wonders for me. If you could coolly pursue this business as I wish, in the comic rather than the heroic style, we might still, though rivals, be friends--very good friends."
"No, my lord, no: here all friendship between us ends." "Be it so," said Lord Mowbray: "then sworn foes instead of sworn friends--and open war is the word!"
"Open war!--yes--better than hollow peace."
"Then a truce for to-day; to-morrow, with your good leave, I enter the lists."
"When you please, my lord."
"Fearful odds, I own. The first flourish of trumpets, by that trumpeter of yours, Jacob, has been in favour of the champion of the Jew pedlars; and the lady with bright Jewish eyes has bowed to her knight, and he has walked the field triumphantly alone; but Mowbray--Lord Mowbray appears! Farewell, Harrington!"
He bowed, laughing, and left me. 'Twas well he did; I could not have borne it another second, and I could not insult the man in my own house--anger, disdainful anger, possessed me. My heart had, in the course of a few hours, been successively a prey to many violent conflicting passions; and at the moment when I most wanted the support, the sympathy of a friend, I found myself duped, deserted, ridiculed! I felt alone in the world, and completely miserable.
A truce for this day was agreed upon. I had a few hours' time for reflection--much wanted. During this interval, which appeared to me a most painful suspense, I had leisure to reconsider my difficulties. Now that I was left to my own will entirely, should I decide to make an immediate declaration? As I revolved this question in my thoughts, my mind altered with every changing view which the hopes and fears of a lover threw upon the subject. I was not perfectly well informed as to the material point, whether the Jewish religion and Jewish customs permitted intermarriages with Christians. Mowbray's levity had suggested alarming doubts: perhaps he had purposely thrown them out; be that as it would, I must be satisfied. I made general inquiries as to the Jewish customs from Jacob, and he, careful to answer with propriety, kept also to general terms, lest he should appear to understand my particular views: he could tell me only, that in some cases, more frequently on the continent and in America than in England, Jews have married Christian women, and the wives have continued undisturbed in their faith; whether such marriages were regularly permitted or not, Jacob could not say--no precedent that he could recollect was exactly a case in point. This difficulty concerning religion increased, instead of diminishing, in magnitude and importance, the more my imagination dwelt upon it--the longer it was considered by my reason: I must take more time before I could determine. Besides, I was curious--I would not allow that I was anxious--to see how Miss Montenero would conduct herself towards Lord Mowbray--a man of rank--a man of fashion--supposed to be a man of fortune--known to be a man of wit and gallantry: I should have an opportunity, such as I had never before had, of seeing her tried; and I should be able to determine whether I had really obtained any interest in her heart. On this last point particularly, I could now, without hazard of a mortifying refusal, or of a precipitate engagement, decide. Add to these distinct reasons, many mixed motives, which acted upon me without my defining or allowing them in words. I had spoken and thought with contempt of Lord Mowbray's chance of success; but in spite of my pride in my own superiority of principle and character, in spite of my confidence in Berenice and in myself, I had my secret, very secret, quailings of the heart. I thought, when it came to the point, that it would be best to wait a little longer, before I hazarded that declaration which must bring her to direct acceptance or rejection; in short, I determined not to throw myself at her feet precipitately. I took Mowbray's advice after all; but I took it when I had made it my own opinion: and still I rejoiced that my resistance to the arrogant manner in which Lord Mowbray had laid down the law of gallantry, had produced that struggle of the passions, in the height of which his mask had fallen off. I never could decide whether the thought of becoming my rival really struck him, as he said it did, from the pique of the moment; or whether he only seized the occasion to declare a design he had previously formed: no matter--we were now declared rivals.
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