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"Un volto senza senno, Un petto senza core, un cor senz' alma, Un' alma senza fede." --GUARINI.
"Here's glorious news of Captain Walsingham!" cried young Beaumont; "I always knew he would distinguish himself if he had an opportunity; and, thank God! he has had as fine an opportunity as heart could wish. Here, mother! here, Mr. Palmer, is an account of it in this day's paper! and here is a letter from himself, which Mr. Walsingham has just sent me."
"Oh, give me the letter," cried Mrs. Beaumont, with affected eagerness.
"Let me have the paper, then," cried Mr. Palmer. "Where are my spectacles?"
"Are there any letters for me?" said Sir John Hunter. "Did my newspapers come? Albina, I desired that they should be forwarded here. Mrs. Beaumont, can you tell me any thing of my papers?"
"Dear Amelia, how interesting your brother looks when he is pleased!" Albina whispered, quite loud enough to be heard.
"A most gallant action, by St. George!" exclaimed Mr. Palmer. "These are the things that keep up the honour of the British navy, and the glory of Britain."
"This Spanish ship that Captain Walsingham captured the day after the engagement is likely to turn out a valuable prize, too," said Mrs. Beaumont. "I am vastly glad to find this by his letter, for the money will be useful to him, he wanted it so much. He does not say how much his share will come to, does he, Edward?"
"No, ma'am: you see he writes in a great hurry, and he has only time, as he says, to mention the needful."
"And is not the money the needful?" said Sir John Hunter, with a splenetic smile.
"With Walsingham it is only a secondary consideration," replied Beaumont; "honour is Captain Walsingham's first object. I dare say he has never yet calculated what his prize-money will be."
"Right, right!" reiterated Mr. Palmer; "then he is the right sort. Long may it be before our naval officers think more of prize-money than of glory! Long may it be before our honest tars turn into calculating pirates!"
"They never will or can whilst they have such officers as Captain Walsingham," said Beaumont.
"By St. George, he seems to be a fine fellow, and you a warm friend," said Mr. Palmer. "Ay, ay, the colonel's own son. But why have I never seen any of these Walsinghams since I came to the country? Are they ashamed of being related to me, because I am a merchant?"
"More likely they are too proud to pay court to you because you are so rich," said Mr. Beaumont. "But they did come to see you, sir,--the morning you were out so late, mother, you know."
"Oh, ay, true--how unfortunate!"
"But have not we horses? have not we carriages? have not we legs?" said Mr. Palmer. "I'll go and see these Walsinghams to-morrow, please God I live so long: for I am proud of my relationship to this young hero; and I won't be cast off by good people, let them be as proud as they will--that's their fault--but I will not stand on idle ceremony: so, my good Mistress Beaumont, we will all go in a body, and storm their castle to-morrow morning."
"An admirable plan! I like it of all things!" said Mrs. Beaumont. "How few, even in youth, are so active and enthusiastic as our good friend! But, my dear Mr. Palmer--"
"But I wish I could see the captain himself. Is there any chance of his coming home?"
"Home! yes," said Beaumont: "did you not read his letter, sir? here it is; he will be at home directly. He says, 'perhaps a few hours after this letter reaches you, you'll see me.'"
"See him! Odds my life, I'm glad of it. And you, my little Amelia," said Mr. Palmer, tapping her shoulders as she stood with her back to him reading the newspaper; "and you, my little silent one, not one word have I heard from you all this time. Does not some spark of your father's spirit kindle within you on hearing of this heroic relation of ours?"
"Luckily for the ladies, sir," said Sir John Hunter, coming up, as he thought, to the lady's assistance--"luckily for young ladies, sir, they are not called upon to be heroes; and it would be luckier still for us men, if they never set themselves up for heroines--Ha! ha! ha! Miss Beaumont," continued he, "the shower is over; I'll order the horses out, that we may have our ride." Sir John left the room, evidently pleased with his own wit.
"Amelia, my love," said Mrs. Beaumont, who drew up also to give assistance at this critical juncture, "go, this moment, and write a note to your friend Miss Walsingham, to say that we shall all be with them early to-morrow: I will send a servant directly, that we may be sure to meet with them at home this time; you'll find pen, ink, and paper in my dressing-room, love."
Mrs. Beaumont drew Amelia's arm within hers, and, dictating kindest messages for the Walsinghams, led her out of the loom. Having thus successfully covered her daughter's retreat, our skilful manoeuvrer returned, all self-complacent, to the company. And next, to please the warm-hearted Mr. Palmer, she seemed to sympathize in his patriotic enthusiasm for the British navy: she pronounced a panegyric on the young hero, Captain Walsingham, which made the good old man rub his hands with exultation, and which irradiated with joy the countenance of her son. But, alas! Mrs. Beaumont's endeavours to please, or rather to dupe all parties, could not, even with her consummate address, always succeed: though she had an excellent memory, and great presence of mind, with peculiar quickness both of eye and ear, yet she could not always register, arrange, and recollect all that was necessary for the various parts she undertook to act. Scarcely had she finished her eulogium on Captain Walsingham, when, to her dismay, she saw close behind her Sir John Hunter, who had entered the room without her perceiving it. He said not one word; but his clouded brow showed his suspicions, and his extreme displeasure.
"Mrs. Beaumont," said he, after some minutes' silence, "I find I must have the honour of wishing you a good morning, for I have an indispensable engagement at home to dinner to-day."
"I thought, Sir John, you and Amelia were going to ride?"
"Ma'am, Miss Beaumont does not choose to ride--she told me, so this instant as I passed her on the stairs. Oh! don't disturb her, I beg--she is writing to Miss Walsingham--I have the honour to wish you a good morning, ma'am."
"Well, if you are determined to go, let me say three words to you in the music-room, Sir John: though," added she, in a whisper intended to be heard by Mr. Palmer, "I know you do not look upon me as your friend, yet depend upon it I shall treat you and all the world with perfect candour."
Sir John, though sulky, could not avoid following the lady; and as soon as she had shut all the doors and double-doors of the music-room, she exclaimed, "It is always best to speak openly to one's friends. Now, my dear Sir John Hunter, how can you be so childish as to take ill of me what I really was forced to say, for your interest, about Captain Walsingham, to Mr. Palmer? You know old Palmer is the oddest, most self-willed man imaginable! humour and please him I must, the few days he is with me. You know he goes on Tuesday--that's decided--Dr. Wheeler has seen him, has talked to him about his health, and it is absolutely necessary that he should return to the West Indies. Then he is perfectly determined to leave all he has to Amelia."
"Yes, ma'am; but how am I sure of being the better for that?" interrupted Sir John, whose decided selfishness was a match for Mrs. Beaumont's address, because it went without scruple or ceremony straight to his object; "for, ma'am, you can't think I'm such a fool as not to see that Mr. Palmer wishes me at the devil. Miss Beaumont gives me no encouragement; and you, ma'am, I know, are too good a politician to offend Mr. Palmer: so, if he declares in favour of this young hero, Captain Walsingham, I may quit the field."
"But you don't consider that Mr. Palmer's young hero has never made any proposal for Amelia."
"Pshaw! ma'am--but I know, as well as you do, that he likes her, and propose he will for her now that he has money."
"Granting that; you forget that all this takes time, and that Palmer will be gone to the West Indies before they can bring out their proposal; and as soon as he is gone, and has left his will, as he means to do, with me, you and I have the game in our own hands. It is very extraordinary to me that you do not seem to understand my play, though I explained the whole to Albina; and I thought she had made you comprehend the necessity for my seeming, for this one week, to be less your friend than I could wish, because of your title, and that odd whim of Palmer, you know: but I am sure we understand one another now."
"Excuse me," said the invincible Sir John: "I confess, Mrs. Beaumont, you have so much more abilities, and finesse, and all that sort of thing, than I have, that I cannot help being afraid of--of not understanding the business rightly. In business there is nothing like understanding one another, and going on sure grounds. There has been so much going backwards and forwards, and explanations and manoeuvres, that I am not clear how it is; nor do I feel secure even that I have the honour of your approbation."
"What! not when I have assured you of it, Sir John, in the most unequivocal manner?"
It was singular that the only person to whom in this affair Mrs. Beaumont spoke the real truth should not believe her. Sir John Hunter continued obstinately suspicious and incredulous. He had just heard that his uncle Wigram, his rich uncle Wigram, was taken ill, and not likely to recover. This intelligence had also reached Mrs. Beaumont, and she was anxious to secure the baronet and the Wigram fortune for her daughter; but nothing she could say seemed to satisfy him that she was not double-dealing. At last, to prove to him her sincerity, she gave him what he required, and what alone, he said, could make his mind easy, could bring him to make up his mind--a written assurance of her approbation of his addresses to Amelia. With this he was content; "for," said he, "what is written remains, and there can be no misunderstandings in future, or changing of minds."
It was agreed between these confidential friends, that Sir John should depart, as it were, displeased; and she begged that he would not return till Mr. Palmer should have left the country.
Now there was a numerous tribe of hangers-on, who were in the habit of frequenting Beaumont Park, whom Mrs. Beaumont loved to see at her house; because, besides making her feel her own importance, they were frequently useful to carry on the subordinate parts of her perpetual manoeuvres. Among these secondary personages who attended Mrs. Beaumont abroad to increase her consequence in the eyes of common spectators, and who at home filled the stage, and added to the bustle and effect, her chief favourites were Mr. Twigg (the same gentleman who was deputed to decide upon the belt or the screen) and Captain Lightbody. Mr. Twigg was the most, elegant flatterer of the two, but Captain Lightbody was the most assured, and upon the whole made his way the best. He was a handsome man, had a good address, could tell a good story, sing a good song, and make things go off well, when there was company; so that he was a prodigious assistance to the mistress of the house. Then he danced with the young ladies when they had no other partners; he mounted guard regularly beside the piano-forte, or the harp, when the ladies were playing; and at dinner it was always the etiquette for him to sit beside Miss Beaumont, or Miss Hunter, when the gentlemen guests were not such as Mrs. Beaumont thought entitled to that honour, or such as she deemed safe companions. These arrangements imply that Captain Lightbody thought himself in Mrs. Beaumont's confidence: and so he was to a certain degree, just enough to flatter him into doing her high or low behests. Whenever she had a report to circulate, or to contradict, Captain Lightbody was put in play; and no man could be better calculated for this purpose, both from his love of talking, and of locomotion. He galloped about from place to place, and from one great house to another; knew all the lords and ladies, and generals and colonels, and brigade-majors and aides-de-camp, in the land. Could any mortal be better qualified to fetch and carry news for Mrs. Beaumont? Besides news, it was his office to carry compliments, and to speed the intercourse, not perhaps from soul to soul, but from house to house, which is necessary in a visiting country to keep up the character of an agreeable neighbour. Did Mrs. Beaumont forget to send a card of invitation, or neglect to return a visit, Lightbody was to set it to rights for her, Lightbody, the ready bearer of pretty notes, the maker always, the fabricator sometimes, of the civilest speeches imaginable. This expert speechifier, this ever idle, ever busy scamperer, our heroine dispatched to engage a neighbouring family to pay her a morning visit the next day, just about the time which was fixed for her going to see the Walsinghams. The usual caution was given. "Pray, Lightbody, do not let my name be used; do not let me be mentioned; but take it upon yourself, and say, as if from yourself, that you have reason to believe I take it ill that they have not been here lately. And then you can mention the hour that would be most convenient. But let me have nothing to do with it. I must not appear in it on any account."
In consequence of Captain Lightbody's faithful execution of his secret instructions, a barouche full of morning visitors drove to the door, just at the time when Mrs. Beaumont had proposed to set out for Walsingham House. Mrs. Beaumont, with a well-dissembled look of vexation, exclaimed, as she looked out of the window at the carriage, "How provoking! Who can these people be? I hope Martin will say I am not at home. Ring--ring, Amelia. Oh, it's too late, they have seen me! and Martin, stupid creature! has let them in."
Mr. Palmer was much discomfited, and grew more and more impatient when these troublesome visitors protracted their stay, and proposed a walk to see some improvements in the grounds.
"But, my good Mistress Beaumont," said he, "you know we are engaged to our cousin Walsingham this morning; and if you will give me leave, I will go on before you with Mr. Beaumont, and we can say what detains you,"
Disconcerted by this simple determination of this straight-forward, plain-spoken old gentleman, Mrs. Beaumont saw that farther delay on her part would be not only inefficacious, but dangerous. She now was eager to be relieved from the difficulties which she had herself contrived. She would not, for any consideration, have trusted Mr. Palmer to pay this visit without her: therefore, by an able counter-movement, she extricated herself not only without loss, but with advantage, from this perilous situation. She made a handsome apology to her visitors for being obliged to run away from them. "She would leave Amelia to have the pleasure of showing them the grounds."
Mrs. Beaumont was irresistible in her arrangements. Amelia, disappointed and afraid to show how deeply she felt the disappointment, was obliged to stay to do the honours of Beaumont Park, whilst her mother drove off rejoicing in half the success, at least, of her stratagem; but even as a politician she used upon every occasion too much artifice. It was said of Cardinal Mazarin, he is a great politician, but in all his politics there is one capital defect--"C'est qu'il veut toujours tromper."
"How tiresome those people were! I thought we never should have got away from them," said Mrs. Beaumont. "What possessed them to come this morning, and to pay such a horrid long visit? Besides, those Duttons, at all times, are the most stupid creatures upon the face of the earth; I cannot endure them; so awkward and ill-bred too! and yet of a good family--who could think it? They are people one must see, but they are absolutely insufferable."
"Insufferable!" said Mr. Palmer; "why, my good madam, then you have the patience of a martyr; for you suffered them so patiently, that I never should have guessed you suffered at all. I protest I thought they were friends and favourites of yours, and that you were very glad to see them."
"Well, well, 'tis the way of the world," continued Mr. Palmer; "this sort of--what do you call it? double-dealing about visitors, goes on every where, Madam Beaumont. But how do I know, that when I go away, you may not be as glad to get rid of me as you were to get away from these Duttons?" added he, in a tone of forced jocularity. "How do I know, but that the minute my back is turned, you may not begin to take me to pieces in my turn, and say, 'That old Palmer! he was the most tiresome, humoursome, strange, old-fashioned fellow; I thought we should never have got rid of him?"
"My dear, dear sir, how can you speak in such a manner?" cried Mrs. Beaumont, who had made several vain attempts to interrupt this speech. "You, who are our best friend! is it possible you could suspect? Is there no difference to be made between friends and common acquaintance?"
"I am sure I hope there is," said Mr. Palmer, smiling.
There was something so near the truth in Mr. Palmer's raillery, that Mrs. Beaumont could not take it with as much easy unconcern as the occasion required, especially in the presence of her son, who maintained a provoking silence. Unhappy indeed are those, who cannot, in such moments of distress, in their own families, and in their nearest connexions, find any relief from their embarrassments, and who look round in vain for one to be responsible for their sincerity. Mrs. Beaumont sat uneasy and almost disconcerted. Mr. Palmer felt for his snuff-box, his usual consolation; but it was not in his pocket: he had left it on his table. Now Mrs. Beaumont was relieved, for she had something to do, and something to say with her wonted politeness: in spite of all remonstrance from Mr. Palmer, her man Martin was sent back for the snuff-box; and conjectures about his finding it, and his being able to overtake them before they arrived at Walsingham house, supplied conversation for a mile or two.
"Here's Martin coming back full gallop, I vow," said Miss Hunter, who could also talk on this topic.
"Come, come, my good lady," said Mr. Palmer, (taking the moment when the young lady had turned her back as she stretched out of the carriage for the pleasure of seeing Martin gallop)--"Come, come, my good Mrs. Beaumont, shake hands and be friends, and hang the Duttons! I did not mean to vex you by what I said. I am not so polite as I should be, I know, and you perhaps are a little too polite. But that is no great harm, especially in a woman."
Martin and the snuff-box came up at this instant; and all was apparently as well as ever. Yet Mrs. Beaumont, who valued a reputation for sincerity as much as Chartres valued a reputation for honesty, and nearly upon the same principle, was seriously vexed that even this transient light had been let in upon her real character. To such accidents duplicity is continually subject.
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