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"Ah! c'est mentir tant soit peu; j'en conviens; C'est un grand mal--mais il produit un bien."--VOLTAIRE.
The third day went off still more successfully. Dr. Wheeler called at breakfast, frightened Mr. Palmer out of his senses about his health, and convinced him that his life depended upon his immediate return to the climate of Jamaica:--so this point was decided.
Mrs. Beaumont, calculating justly that the Walsinghams would return Mr. Beaumont's visit, and come to pay their respects to Mr. Palmer this morning, settled, as soon as breakfast was over, a plan of operations which should keep Mr. Palmer out till dinner-time. He must see the charming drive which her son had made round his improvements; and she must have the pleasure of showing it to him herself; and she assured him that he might trust to her driving.
So into Mrs. Beaumont's garden-chair he got; and when she had him fairly prisoner, she carried him far away from all danger of intruding visitors. It may readily be supposed that our heroine made good use of the five or six hours' leisure for manoeuvring which she thus secured.
So frank and cordial was this simple-hearted old man, any one but Mrs. Beaumont would have thought that with him no manoeuvring was necessary; that she need only to have trusted to his friendship and generosity, and have directly told him her wishes. He was so prepossessed in her favour, as being the widow of his friend, that he was almost incapable of suspecting her of any unhandsome conduct; besides, having had little converse with modern ladies, his imagination was so prepossessed with the old-fashioned picture of a respectable widow lady and guardian mother, that he took it for granted Mrs. Beaumont was just like one of the good matrons of former times, like Lady Bountiful, or Lady Lizard; and, as such, he spoke to her of her family concerns, in all the openness of a heart which knew no guile.
"Now, my good Mistress Beaumont, you must look upon me just as my friend the colonel would have done; as a man, who has your family interests at heart just as much as if I were one of yourselves. And let me in to all your little affairs, and trust me with all your little plans, and let us talk over things together, and settle how every thing can be done for the best for the young people. You know, I have no relations in the world but your family and the Walsinghams, of whom, by-the-bye, I know nothing. No one living has any claim upon me: I can leave or give my own just as I please; and you and yours are, of course, my first objects--and for the how, and the what, and the when, I must consult you; and only beg you to keep it in mind, that I would as soon give as bequeath, and rather; for as to what a man leaves to his friends, he can only have the satisfaction of thinking that they will be the better for him after he is dead and gone, which is but cold comfort; but what he gives he has the warm comfort of seeing them enjoy whilst he is alive with them."
"Such a generous sentiment!" exclaimed Mrs. Beaumont, "and so unlike persons in general who have large fortunes at their disposal! I feel so much obliged, so excessively--"
"Not at all, not at all, not at all--no more of that, no more of that, my good lady. The colonel and I were friends; so there can be no obligation between us, nor thanks, nor speeches. But, just as if you were talking to yourself, tell me your mind. And if there are any little embarrassments that the son may want to clear off on coming of age; or if there's any thing wanting to your jointure, my dear madam; or if there should be any marriages in the wind, where a few thousands, more or less, might be the making or the breaking of a heart;--let me hear about it all: and do me the justice to let me have the pleasure of making the young folks, and the old folks too, happy their own way; for I have no notion of insisting on all people being happy my way--no, no! I've too much English liberty in me for that; and I'm sure, you, my good lady, are as great a foe as I am to all family managements and mysteries, where the old don't know what the young do, nor the young what the old think. No, no--that's all nonsense and French convent work--nothing like a good old English family. So, my dear Mistress Beaumont, out with it all, and make me one of yourselves, free of the family from this minute. Here's my hand and heart upon it--an old friend may presume so far."
This frankness would have opened any heart except Mrs. Beaumont's; but it is the misfortune of artful people that they cannot believe others to be artless: either they think simplicity of character folly; or else they suspect that openness is only affected, as a bait to draw them into snares. Our heroine balanced for a moment between these two notions. She could not believe Mr. Palmer to be an absolute fool--no; his having made such a large fortune forbad that thought. Then he must have thrown himself thus open merely to try her, and to come at the knowledge of debts and embarrassments, which, if brought to light, would lower his opinion of the prudence of the family.
"My excellent friend, to be candid with you," she began, "there is no need of your generosity at present, to relieve my son from any embarrassments; for I know that he has no debts whatever. And I am confident he will make my jointure every thing, and more than every thing, I could desire. And, as to marriages, my Amelia is so young, there's time enough to consider."
"True, true; and she does well to take time to consider. But though I don't understand these matters much, she looks mightily like the notion I have of a girl that's a little bit in love."
"In love! Oh, my dear sir! you don't say so--in love?"
"Why, I suppose I should not say in love; there's some other way of expressing it come into fashion since my time, no doubt. And even then, I know that was not to be said of a young lady, till signing and sealing day; but it popped out, and I can't get it back again, so you must even let it pass. And what harm? for you know, madam, without love, what would become of the world?--though I was jilted once and away, I acknowledge--but forgive and forget. I don't like the girl a whit the worse for being a little bit tender-hearted. For I'm morally certain, even from the little I have heard her say, and from the way she has been brought up, and from her being her father's daughter, and her mother's, madam, she could not fix her affections on any one that would not do honour to her choice, or--which is only saying the same thing in other words--that you and I should not approve."
"Ah! there's the thing!" said Mrs. Beaumont, sighing.
"Why now I took it into my head from a blush I saw this morning, though how I came to notice it, I don't know; for to my recollection I have not noticed a girl's blushing before these twenty years--but, to be sure, here I have as near an interest, almost, as if she were my own daughter--I say, from the blush I saw this morning, when young Beaumont was talking of the gallop he had taken to inquire about Captain Walsingham, I took it into my head that he was the happy man."
"Oh! my dear sir, he never made any proposals for Amelia." That was strictly true. "Nor, I am sure, ever thought of it, as far as ever I heard."
The saving clause of "as far as ever I heard," prevented this last assertion from coming under that description of falsehoods denominated downright lies.
"Indeed, how could he?" pursued Mrs. Beaumont, "for you know he is no match for Amelia; he has nothing in the world but his commission. No; there never was any proposal from that quarter; and, of course, it is impossible my daughter could think of a man who has no thoughts of her."
"You know best, my good madam; I merely spoke at random. I'm the worst guesser in the world, especially on these matters: what people tell me, I know; and neither more not less."
Mrs. Beaumont rejoiced in the simplicity of her companion. "Then, my good friend, it is but fair to tell you," said she, "that Amelia has an admirer."
"A lover, hey! Who?"
"Ah, there's the misfortune; it is a thing I never can consent to."
"Ha! then now it is out! There's the reason the girl blushes, and is so absent at times."
A plan now occurred to Mrs. Beaumont's scheming imagination which she thought the master-piece of policy. She determined to account for whatever symptoms of embarrassment Mr. Palmer might observe in her daughter, by attributing them to a thwarted attachment for Sir John Hunter; and Mrs. Beaumont resolved to make a merit to Mr. Palmer of opposing this match because the lover was a baronet, and she thought that Mr. Palmer would be pleased by her showing an aversion to the thoughts of her daughter's marrying a sprig of quality. This ingenious method of paying her court to her open-hearted friend, at the expense equally of truth and of her daughter, she executed with her usual address.
"Well, I'm heartily glad, my dear good madam, to find that you have the same prejudices against sprigs of quality that I have. One good commoner is worth a million of them to my mind. So I told a puppy of a nephew of mine, who would go and buy a baronetage, forsooth--disinherited him! but he is dead, poor puppy."
"Poor young man! But this is all new to me," said Mrs. Beaumont, with well-feigned surprise.
"But did not you know, my dear madam, that I had a nephew, and that he is dead?"
"Oh, yes; but not the particulars."
"No; the particulars I never talk of--not to the poor dog's credit. It's well he's dead, for if he had lived, I am afraid I should have forgiven him. No, no, I never would. But there is no use in thinking any more of that. What were we saying? Oh, about your Amelia--our Amelia, let me call her. If she is so much attached, poor thing, to this man, though he is a baronet, which I own is against him to my fancy, yet it is to be presumed he has good qualities to balance that, since she values him; and young people must be young, and have their little foolish prepossessions for title, and so forth. To be sure, I should have thought my friend's daughter above that, of such a good family as she is, and with such good sense as she inherits too. But we have all our foibles, I suppose. And since it is so with Amelia, why do let me see this baronet-swain of hers, and let me try what good I can find out in him, and let me bring myself, if I can, over my prejudices. And then you, my dear madam, so good and kind a mother as you are, will make an effort too on your part; for we must see the girl happy, if it is not out of all sense and reason. And if the man be worthy of her, it is not his fault that he is a sprig of quality; and we must forgive and forget, and give our consent, my dear Mrs. Beaumont."
"And would you ever give your consent to her marrying Sir John Hunter?" cried Mrs. Beaumont, breathless with amazement, and for a moment thrown off her guard so as to speak quite naturally. The sudden difference in her tone and manner struck even her unsuspicious companion, and he attributed it to displeasure at this last hint.
"Why, my very dear good friend's wife, forgive me," said he, "for this interference, and for, as it seems, opposing your opinion about your daughter's marriage, which no man has a right to do--but if you ask me plump whether I could forgive her for marrying Sir John Hunter, I answer, for I can speak nothing but the truth, I would, if he is a worthy man."
"I thought," said Mrs. Beaumont, astonished, "you disinherited your own nephew, because he took a baronet's title against your will."
"Bless you! no, my dear madam--that did displease me, to be sure--but that was the least cause of displeasure I had. I let the world fancy and say what they would, rather than bring faults to light.--But no more about that."
"But did not you take an oath that you would never leave a shilling of your fortune to any sprig of quality?"
"Never! my dearest madam! never," cried Mr. Palmer, laughing. "Never was such a gander. See what oaths people put into one's mouth."
"And what lies the world tells," said Mrs. Beaumont.
"And believes," said Mr. Palmer, with a sly smile.
The surprise that Mrs. Beaumont felt was mixed with a strange and rapid confusion of other sentiments, regret for having wasted such a quantity of contrivance and manoeuvring against an imaginary difficulty. All this arose from her too easy belief of secret underhand information.
Through the maze of artifice in which she had involved affairs, she now, with some difficulty, perceived that plain truth would have served her purpose better. But regret for the past was not in the least mixed with any thing like remorse or penitence; on the contrary, she instantly began to consider how she could best profit by her own wrong. She thought she saw two of her favourite objects almost within her reach, Mr. Palmer's fortune, and the future title for her daughter: no obstacle seemed likely to oppose the accomplishment of her wishes, except Amelia's own inclinations: these she thought she could readily prevail upon her to give up; for she knew that her daughter was both of a timid and of an affectionate temper; that she had never in any instance withstood, or even disputed, her maternal authority; and that dread of her displeasure had often proved sufficient to make Amelia suppress or sacrifice her own feelings. Combining all these reflections with her wonted rapidity, Mrs. Beaumont determined what her play should now be. She saw, or thought she saw, that she ought, either by gentle or strong means, to lure or intimidate Amelia to her purpose; and that, while she carried on this part of the plot with her daughter in private, she should appear to Mr. Palmer to yield to his persuasions by degrees, to make the young people happy their own way, and to be persuaded reluctantly out of her aversion to sprigs of quality. To be sure, it would be necessary to give fresh explanations and instructions to Sir John Hunter, through his sister, with the new parts that he and she were to act in this domestic drama. As soon as Mrs. Beaumont returned from her airing, therefore, she retired to her own apartment, and wrote a note of explanation, with a proper proportion of sentiment and verbiage, to her dear Albina, begging to see her and Sir John Hunter the very next day. The horse, which had been lamed by the nail, now, of course, had recovered; and it was found by Mrs. Beaumont that she had been misinformed, and that he had been lamed only by sudden cramp. Any excuse she knew would be sufficient, in the present state of affairs, to the young lady, who was more ready to be deceived than even our heroine was disposed to deceive. Indeed, as Machiavel says, "as there are people willing to cheat, there will always be those who are ready to be cheated."
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