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My mother returned almost as quickly as my impatience expected, and from afar I saw that Mr. Montenero was in the carriage with her. My heart did certainly beat violently; but I must not stop to describe, if I could, my various sensations. My mother, telling Mr. Montenero all the time that she would tell him nothing, had told him every thing that was to be told: I was glad of it--it spared me the task of detailing Lord Mowbray's villany. He had once been my friend, or at least I had once been his--and just after his death it was a painful subject. Besides, on my own account, I was heartily glad to leave it to my father to complete what my mother had so well begun.
He spoke with great vehemence. I stood by, proud all the time to show Mr. Montenero my calmness and self-possession; while Fowler, who was under salutary terror of my father, repeated, without much prevarication, all the material parts of her confession, and gave up to him Lord Mowbray's letters. Astonishment and horror at the discovery of such villany were Mr. Montenero's first feelings--he looked at Lord Mowbray's writing again and again, and shuddered in silence, as he cast his eyes upon Fowler's guilty countenance. We all were glad when she was dismissed.
Mr. Montenero turned to me, and I saw tears in his eyes.
"There is no obstacle between us now, I hope," said I, eagerly seizing the hand which he held out to me.
Mr. Montenero pressed me in his arms, with the affection of a parent.
"Heyday! heyday!" said my father, in a tone between pleasure and anger,-- "do you at all know what you are about, Harrington?--remember!"
"Oh! Mr. Montenero," said my mother, "speak, for Heaven's sake, and tell me that you are perfectly convinced that there was no shadow of truth."
"Nonsense! my dear, I beg your pardon, Mrs. Harrington," said my father,-- "to be sure he is convinced, he is not an idiot--all my astonishment is, how he could ever be made to believe such a thing!"
Mr. Montenero answered my mother and my father alternately, assuring my mother that he was quite convinced, and agreeing with my father that he had been strangely imposed upon. He turned again to me, and I believe at the same instant the same recollections occurred to us both--new light seemed to break upon us, and we saw in a different point of view a variety of past circumstances. Almost from the moment of my acquaintance with Berenice, I could trace Lord Mowbray's artifices. Even from the time of our first going out together at Westminster Abbey, when Mr. Montenero said he loved enthusiasm, how Mowbray encouraged, excited me to follow that line. At the Tower, my kneeling in raptures to the figure of the Black Prince--my exaggerated expressions of enthusiasm--my poetic and dramatic declamation and gesture--my start of horror at Mowbray's allusion to the tapestry- chamber and the picture of Sir Josseline--my horror afterwards at the auction, where Mowbray had prepared for me the sight of the picture of the Dentition of the Jew--and the appearance of the figure with the terrible eyes at the synagogue; all, I now found, had been contrived or promoted by Lord Mowbray: Fowler had dressed up the figure for the purpose. They had taken the utmost pains to work on my imagination on this particular point, on which he knew my early associations might betray me to symptoms of apparent insanity. Upon comparing and explaining these circumstances, Mr. Montenero further laid open to me the treacherous ingenuity of the man who had so duped me by the show of sympathy and friendship. By dexterous insinuations he had first excited curiosity--then suggested suspicions, worked every accidental circumstance to his purpose, and at last, rendered desperate by despair, and determined that I should not win the prize which he had been compelled to resign, had employed so boldly his means and accomplices, that he was dreadfully near effecting my ruin.
While Mr. Montenero and I ran over all these circumstances, understanding each other perfectly, but scarcely intelligible to either my father or mother, they looked at us both with impatience and surprise, and rejoiced when we had finished our explanations--and yet, when we had finished, an embarrassing minute of silence ensued.
My mother broke it, by saying something about Miss Montenero. I do not know what--nor did she. My father stood with a sort of bravadoing look of firmness, fixing himself opposite to me, as though he were repeating to himself, "If, sir!--If--By Jupiter Ammon! I must be consistent."
Mr. Montenero appeared determined not to say any more, but something seemed to be still in reserve in his mind.
"I hope, Mr. Montenero," said I, "that now no obstacle exists."
"On my part none," replied Mr. Montenero; "but you recollect--"
"I recollect only your own words, my dear sir," cried I. "'either my daughter and you must never meet again, or must meet to part no more'--I claim your promise."
"At all hazards?" said Mr. Montenero.
"No hazards with such a woman as Berenice," said I, "though her religion--"
"I would give," exclaimed my father, "I would give one of my fingers this instant, that she was not a Jewess!"
"Is your objection, sir, to her not being a Christian, or to her being the daughter of a Jew?"
"Can you conceive, Mr. Montenero," cried my father, "that after all I have seen of you--all you have done for me--can you conceive me to be such an obstinately prejudiced brute? My r prejudices against the Jews I give up-- you have conquered them--all, all. But a difference of religion between man and wife--"
"Is a very serious objection indeed," said Mr. Montenero; "but if that be the only objection left in your mind, I have the pleasure to tell you, Mr. Harrington," addressing himself to me, "that your love and duty are not at variance: I have tried you to the utmost, and am satisfied both of the steadiness of your principles and of the strength of your attachment to my daughter--Berenice is not a Jewess."
"Not a Jewess!" cried my father, starting from his spat: "Not a Jewess! Then my Jupiter Ammon may go to the devil! Not a Jewess!--give you joy, Harrington, my boy!--give me joy, my dear Mrs. Harrington--give me joy, excellent--(Jew, he was on the point of saying) excellent Mr. Montenero; but, is not she your daughter?"
"She is, I hope and believe, my daughter," said Mr. Montenero smiling; "but her mother was a Christian; and according to my promise to Mrs. Montenero, Berenice has been bred in her faith--a Christian--a Protestant."
"A Christian! a Protestant!" repeated my father.
"An English Protestant: her mother was daughter of--"
"An English Protestant!" interrupted my father, "English! English! Do you hear that, Mrs. Harrington?"
"Thank Heaven! I do hear it, my dear," said my mother. "But, Mr. Montenero, we interrupt--daughter of--?"
"Daughter of an English gentleman, of good family, who accompanied one of your ambassadors to Spain."
"Of good family, Mr. Harrington," said my mother, raising her head proudly as she looked at me with a radiant countenance: "I knew she was of a good family from the first moment I saw her at the play--so different from the people she was with--even Lady de Brantefield asked who she was. From the first moment I thought--"
"You thought, Mrs. Harrington," interposed my father, "you thought, to be sure, that Miss Montenero looked like a Christian. Yes, yes; and no doubt you had presentiments plenty."
"Granted, granted, my dear; but don't let us say any more about them now."
"Well, my boy! well, Harrington! not a word?"
"No--I am too happy!--the delight I feel--But, my dear Mr. Montenero," said I, "why--why did not you tell all this sooner? What pain you would have spared me!"
"Had I spared you the pain, you would never have enjoyed the delight; had I spared you the trial, you would never have had the triumph--the triumph, did I say? Better than all triumph, this sober certainty of your own integrity. If, like Lord Mowbray--but peace be to the dead! and forgiveness to his faults. My daughter was determined never to marry any man who could be induced to sacrifice religion and principle to interest or to passion. She was equally determined never to marry any man whose want of the spirit of toleration, whose prejudices against the Jews, might interfere with the filial affection she feels for her father--though he be a Jew."
"Though"--Gratitude, joy, love, so overwhelmed me at this moment, that I could not say another syllable; but it was enough for Mr. Montenero, deeply read as he was in the human heart.
"Why did not I spare you the pain?" repeated he. "And do you think that the trial cost me, cost us no pain?" said Mr. Montenero. "The time may come when, as my son, you may perhaps learn from Berenice--"
"The time is come!--this moment!" cried my father; "for you see the poor fellow is burning with impatience--he would not be my son if he were not."
"That is true, indeed!" said my mother.
"True--very likely," said Mr. Montenero, calmly holding me fast. "But, impetuous sir, recollect that once before you were too sudden for Berenice: after you had saved my life, you rushed in with the joyful news, and--"
"Oh! no rushing, for mercy's sake, Harrington!" said my mother: "some consideration for Miss Montenero's nerves!"
"Nerves! nonsense, my dear," said my father: "what woman's nerves were ever the worse for seeing her lover at her feet? I move--and I am sure of one honourable gentleman to second my motion--I move that we all adjourn, forthwith, to Mr. Montenero's."
"This evening, perhaps, Miss Montenero would allow us," said my mother.
"This instant," said Mr. Montenero, "if you will do me the honour, Mrs. Harrington."
"The carriage," said my mother, ringing.
"The carriage, directly," cried my father to the servant as he entered.
"Here's a fellow will certainly fly the moment you let him go," said my father.
And away I flew, with such swiftness, that at the foot of the stairs I almost fell over Jacob. He, not knowing any thing of what had happened this morning, full of the events of the preceding night, and expecting to find me the same, began to say something about a ring which he held in his hand.
"That's all settled--all over--let me pass, good Jacob."
Still he endeavoured to stop me. I was not pleased with this interruption. But there was something so beseeching and so kind in Jacob's manner that I could not help attending to him. Had the poor fellow known the cause of my impatience, he would mot certainly have detained me. He begged me, with some hesitation, to accept of a ring, which Mr. Manessa his partner and he took the liberty of offering me as a token of their gratitude. It was not of any great value, but it was finished by an artist who was supposed to be one of the best in the world.
"Willingly, Jacob," said I; "and it comes at the happiest moment--if you will allow me to present it, to offer it to a lady, who--"
"Who will, I hope," said my father, appearing at the top of the stairs, "soon be his bride."
Jacob saw Mr. Montenero's face behind me, and clasping his, hands, "The very thing I wished!" cried he, opening the house-door.
"Follow us, Jacob," I heard Mr. Montenero say, as we stepped into the carriage; "follow us to the house of joy, you who never deserted the house of mourning."
The ring, the history of it, and the offering it to Berenice, prepared my way in the happiest manner, and prevented the danger, which Mr. Montenero feared, of my own or my father's precipitation. We told her in general the circumstances that had happened, but spared her the detail.
"And now, my beloved daughter," said Mr. Montenero, "I may express to you all the esteem, all the affection, all the fulness of approbation I feel for your choice."
"And I, Miss Montenero!--Let me speak, pray, Mrs. Harrington," said my father.
"By and by," whispered my mother; "not yet, my love."
"Ay, put the ring on her finger--that's right, boy!" cried my father, as my mother drew him back.
Berenice accepted of the ring in the most gracious, the most graceful manner.
"I accept this with pleasure," said she; "I shall prize it more than ever Lady de Brantefield valued her ring: as a token of goodness and gratitude, it will be more precious to me than any, jewel could be; and it will ever be dear to me," added she, with a softened voice, turning to her father, "very dear, as a memorial of the circumstances which have removed the only obstacle to, our happiness."
"Our," repeated my father: "noble girl! Above all affectation. Boy, a truce with your transports! She is my own daughter--I must have a kiss."
"For shame, my dear," said my mother; "you make Miss Montenero blush!"
"Blushes are very becoming--I always thought yours so, Mrs. Harrington-- that's the reason I have given you occasion to blush for me so often. Now you may take me out of the room, madam. I have some discretion, though you think you have it all to yourself," said my father.
I have some discretion, too, hereditary or acquired. I am aware that the moment two lovers cease to be miserable, they begin to be tiresome; their best friends and the generous public are satisfied to hear as little as possible concerning their prosperous loves.
It was otherwise, they say, in the days of Theagenes and Chariclea.
"How! will you never be satisfied with hearing?" says their historian, who, when he came to a prosperous epoch in their history, seems to have had a discreet suspicion that he might be too long; "Is not my discourse yet tedious?"
"No," the indefatigable auditor is made to reply; "and who is he, unless he have a heart of adamant or iron, that would not listen content to hear the loves of Theagenes and Chariclea, though the story should last a year? Therefore, continue it, I beseech you."
"Continue, I beseech you:" dear flattering words! Though perhaps no one, at this minute, says or feels this, I must add a few lines more--not about myself, but about Mr. Montenero.
In the moment of joy, when the heart opens, you can see to the very bottom of it; and whether selfish or generous, revengeful or forgiving, the real disposition is revealed. We were all full of joy and congratulations, when Mr. Montenero, at the first pause of silence, addressed himself in his most persuasive tone to me.
"Mr. Harrington--good Mr. Harrington--I have a favour to ask from you."
"A favour! from me! Oh! name it," cried I: "What pleasure I shall have in granting it!"
"Perhaps not. You will not have pleasure--immediate pleasure--in granting it: it will cost you present pain."
"Pain!--impossible! but no matter how much pain if you desire it. What can it be?"
"That wretched woman--Fowler!"
I shuddered and started back.
"Yes, Fowler--your imagination revolts at the sound of her name--she is abhorrent to your strongest, your earliest, associations; but, Mr. Harrington, you have given proofs that your matured reason and your humanity have been able to control and master your imagination and your antipathies. To this power over yourself you owe many of your virtues, and all the strength of character, and, I will say it, the sanity of mind, my son, without which Berenice--"
"I will see--I will hear Fowler this instant," cried I. "So far I will conquer myself; but you will allow that this is a just antipathy. Surely I have reason to hate her."
"She is guilty, but penitent; she suffers and must suffer. Her mistress refuses ever to see her more. She is abandoned by all her family, all her friends; she must quit her country--sails to-morrow in the vessel which was to have taken us to America--and carries with her, in her own feelings, her worst punishment--a punishment which it is not in our power to remit, but it is in our power to mitigate her sufferings--I can provide her with an asylum for the remainder of her miserable old age; and you, my son, before she goes from happy England, see her and forgive her. 'It is the glory of a man to pass by an offence.' Let us see and forgive this woman. How can we better celebrate our joy--how can we better fill the measure of our happiness, than by the forgiveness of our enemies?"
"By Jupiter Ammon," cried my father, "none but a good Christian could do this!"
"And why," said Berenice, laying her hand gently on my father's arm, "and why not a good Jew?"
* * * * * * * * * * * *
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