Subscribe for ad free access & additional features for teachers. Authors: 267, Books: 3,607, Poems & Short Stories: 4,435, Forum Members: 71,154, Forum Posts: 1,238,602, Quizzes: 344

Chapter 18

Mother. What I dazzled by a flash from Cupid's mirror,
With which the boy, as mortal urchins wont,
Flings back the sunbeam in the eye of passengers--
Then laughs to see them stumble!

Daughter. Mother! no--
It was a lightning-flash which dazzled me,
And never shall these eyes see true again.
Beef and Pudding.-An Old English Comedy.

It is necessary that we should leave our hero Nigel for a time,
although in a situation neither safe, comfortable, nor creditable, in
order to detail some particulars which have immediate connexion with
his fortunes.

It was but the third day after he had been forced to take refuge in
the house of old Trapbois, the noted usurer of Whitefriars, commonly
called Golden Trapbois, when the pretty daughter of old Ramsay, the
watchmaker, after having piously seen her father finish his breakfast,
(from the fear that he might, in an abstruse fit of thought, swallow
the salt-cellar instead of a crust of the brown loaf,) set forth from
the house as soon as he was again plunged into the depth of
calculation, and, accompanied only by that faithful old drudge, Janet,
the Scots laundress, to whom her whims were laws, made her way to
Lombard Street, and disturbed, at the unusual hour of eight in the
morning, Aunt Judith, the sister of her worthy godfather.

The venerable maiden received her young visitor with no great
complacency; for, naturally enough, she had neither the same
admiration of her very pretty countenance, nor allowance for her
foolish and girlish impatience of temper, which Master George Heriot
entertained. Still Mistress Margaret was a favourite of her brother's,
whose will was to Aunt Judith a supreme law; and she contented herself
with asking her untimely visitor, "what she made so early with her
pale, chitty face, in the streets of London?"

"I would speak with the Lady Hermione," answered the almost breathless
girl, while the blood ran so fast to her face as totally to remove the
objection of paleness which Aunt Judith had made to her complexion.

"With the Lady Hermione?" said Aunt Judith--"with the Lady Hermione?
and at this time in the morning, when she will scarce see any of the
family, even at seasonable hours? You are crazy, you silly wench, or
you abuse the indulgence which my brother and the lady have shown to
you."

"Indeed, indeed I have not," repeated Margaret, struggling to retain
the unbidden tear which seemed ready to burst out on the slightest
occasion. "Do but say to the lady that your brother's god-daughter
desires earnestly to speak to her, and I know she will not refuse to
see me."

Aunt Judith bent an earnest, suspicious, and inquisitive glance on her
young visitor, "You might make me your secretary, my lassie," she
said, "as well as the Lady Hermione. I am older, and better skilled to
advise. I live more in the world than one who shuts herself up within
four rooms, and I have the better means to assist you."

"O! no--no--no," said Margaret, eagerly, and with more earnest
sincerity than complaisance; "there are some things to which you
cannot advise me, Aunt Judith. It is a case--pardon me, my dear aunt--
a case beyond your counsel."

"I am glad on't, maiden," said Aunt Judith, somewhat angrily; "for I
think the follies of the young people of this generation would drive
mad an old brain like mine. Here you come on the viretot, through the
whole streets of London, to talk some nonsense to a lady, who scarce
sees God's sun, but when he shines on a brick wall. But I will tell
her you are here."

She went away, and shortly returned with a dry--"Miss Marget, the lady
will be glad to see you; and that's more, my young madam, than you had
a right to count upon."

Mistress Margaret hung her head in silence, too much perplexed by the
train of her own embarrassed thoughts, for attempting either to
conciliate Aunt Judith's kindness, or, which on other occasions would
have been as congenial to her own humour, to retaliate on her cross-
tempered remarks and manner. She followed Aunt Judith, therefore, in
silence and dejection, to the strong oaken door which divided the Lady
Hermione's apartments from the rest of George Heriot's spacious house.

At the door of this sanctuary it is necessary to pause, in order to
correct the reports with which Richie Moniplies had filled his
master's ear, respecting the singular appearance of that lady's
attendance at prayers, whom we now own to be by name the Lady
Hermione. Some part of these exaggerations had been communicated to
the worthy Scotsman by Jenkin Vincent, who was well experienced in the
species of wit which has been long a favourite in the city, under the
names of cross-biting, giving the dor, bamboozling, cramming, hoaxing,
humbugging, and quizzing; for which sport Richie Moniplies, with his
solemn gravity, totally unapprehensive of a joke, and his natural
propensity to the marvellous, formed an admirable subject. Farther
ornaments the tale had received from Richie himself, whose tongue,
especially when oiled with good liquor, had a considerable tendency to
amplification, and who failed not, while he retailed to his master all
the wonderful circumstances narrated by Vincent, to add to them many
conjectures of his own, which his imagination had over-hastily
converted into facts.

Yet the life which the Lady Hermione had led for two years, during
which she had been the inmate of George Heriot's house, was so
singular, as almost to sanction many of the wild reports which went
abroad. The house which the worthy goldsmith inhabited, had in former
times belonged to a powerful and wealthy baronial family, which,
during the reign of Henry VIII., terminated in a dowager lady, very
wealthy, very devout, and most unalienably attached to the Catholic
faith. The chosen friend of the Honourable Lady Foljambe was the
Abbess of Saint Roque's Nunnery, like herself a conscientious, rigid,
and devoted Papist. When the house of Saint Roque was despotically
dissolved by the fiat of the impetuous monarch, the Lady Foljambe
received her friend into her spacious mansion, together with two
vestal sisters, who, like their Abbess, were determined to follow the
tenor of their vows, instead of embracing the profane liberty which
the Monarch's will had thrown in their choice. For their residence,
the Lady Foljambe contrived, with all secrecy--for Henry might not
have relished her interference--to set apart a suite of four rooms,
with a little closet fitted up as an oratory, or chapel; the whole
apartments fenced by a stout oaken door to exclude strangers, and
accommodated with a turning wheel to receive necessaries, according to
the practice of all nunneries. In this retreat, the Abbess of Saint
Roque and her attendants passed many years, communicating only with
the Lady Foljambe, who, in virtue of their prayers, and of the support
she afforded them, accounted herself little less than a saint on
earth. The Abbess, fortunately for herself, died before her munificent
patroness, who lived deep in Queen Elizabeth's time, ere she was
summoned by fate.

The Lady Foljambe was succeeded in this mansion by a sour fanatic
knight, a distant and collateral relation, who claimed the same merit
for expelling the priestess of Baal, which his predecessor had founded
on maintaining the votaresses of Heaven. Of the two unhappy nuns,
driven from their ancient refuge, one went beyond sea; the other,
unable from old age to undertake such a journey, died under the roof
of a faithful Catholic widow of low degree. Sir Paul Crambagge, having
got rid of the nuns, spoiled the chapel of its ornaments, and had
thoughts of altogether destroying the apartments, until checked by the
reflection that the operation would be an unnecessary expense, since
he only inhabited three rooms of the large mansion, and had not
therefore the slightest occasion for any addition to its
accommodations. His son proved a waster and a prodigal, and from him
the house was bought by our friend George Heriot, who, finding, like
Sir Paul, the house more than sufficiently ample for his
accommodation, left the Foljambe apartments, or Saint Roque's rooms,
as they were called, in the state in which he found them.

About two years and a half before our history opened, when Heriot was
absent upon an expedition to the Continent, he sent special orders to
his sister and his cash-keeper, directing that the Foljambe apartments
should be fitted up handsomely, though plainly, for the reception of a
lady, who would make them her residence for some time; and who would
live more or less with his own family according to her pleasure. He
also directed, that the necessary repairs should be made with secrecy,
and that as little should be said as possible upon the subject of his
letter.

When the time of his return came nigh, Aunt Judith and the household
were on the tenter-hooks of impatience. Master George came, as he had
intimated, accompanied by a lady, so eminently beautiful, that, had it
not been for her extreme and uniform paleness, she might have been
reckoned one of the loveliest creatures on earth. She had with her an
attendant, or humble companion, whose business seemed only to wait
upon her. This person, a reserved woman, and by her dialect a
foreigner, aged about fifty, was called by the lady Monna Paula, and
by Master Heriot, and others, Mademoiselle Pauline. She slept in the
same room with her patroness at night, ate in her apartment, and was
scarcely ever separated from her during the day.

These females took possession of the nunnery of the devout Abbess,
and, without observing the same rigorous seclusion, according to the
letter, seemed wellnigh to restore the apartments to the use to which
they had been originally designed. The new inmates lived and took
their meals apart from the rest of the family. With the domestics Lady
Hermione, for so she was termed, held no communication, and
Mademoiselle Pauline only such as was indispensable, which she
dispatched as briefly as possible. Frequent and liberal largesses
reconciled the servants to this conduct; and they were in the habit of
observing to each other, that to do a service for Mademoiselle
Pauline, was like finding a fairy treasure.

To Aunt Judith the Lady Hermione was kind and civil, but their
intercourse was rare; on which account the elder lady felt some pangs
both of curiosity and injured dignity. But she knew her brother so
well, and loved him so dearly, that his will, once expressed, might be
truly said to become her own. The worthy citizen was not without a
spice of the dogmatism which grows on the best disposition, when a
word is a law to all around. Master George did not endure to be
questioned by his family, and, when he had generally expressed his
will, that the Lady Hermione should live in the way most agreeable to
her, and that no inquiries should be made concerning their history, or
her motives for observing such strict seclusion, his sister well knew
that he would have been seriously displeased with any attempt to pry
into the secret.

But, though Heriot's servants were bribed, and his sister awed into
silent acquiescence in these arrangements, they were not of a nature
to escape the critical observation of the neighbourhood. Some opined
that the wealthy goldsmith was about to turn papist, and re-establish
Lady Foljambe's nunnery--others that he was going mad--others that he
was either going to marry, or to do worse. Master George's constant
appearance at church, and the knowledge that the supposed votaress
always attended when the prayers of the English ritual were read in
the family, liberated him from the first of these suspicions; those
who had to transact business with him upon 'Change, could not doubt
the soundness of Master Heriot's mind; and, to confute the other
rumours, it was credibly reported by such as made the matter their
particular interest, that Master George Heriot never visited his guest
but in presence of Mademoiselle Pauline, who sat with her work in a
remote part of the same room in which they conversed. It was also
ascertained that these visits scarcely ever exceeded an hour in
length, and were usually only repeated once a week, an intercourse too
brief and too long interrupted, to render it probable that love was
the bond of their union.

The inquirers were, therefore, at fault, and compelled to relinquish
the pursuit of Master Heriot's secret, while a thousand ridiculous
tales were circulated amongst the ignorant and superstitious, with
some specimens of which our friend Richie Moniplies had been
_crammed_, as we have seen, by the malicious apprentice of worthy
David Ramsay.

There was one person in the world who, it was thought, could (if she
would) have said more of the Lady Hermione than any one in London,
except George Heriot himself; and that was the said David Ramsay's
only child, Margaret.

This girl was not much past the age of fifteen when the Lady Hermione
first came to England, and was a very frequent visitor at her
godfather's, who was much amused by her childish sallies, and by the
wild and natural beauty with which she sung the airs of her native
country. Spoilt she was on all hands; by the indulgence of her
godfather, the absent habits and indifference of her father, and the
deference of all around to her caprices, as a beauty and as an
heiress. But though, from these circumstances, the city-beauty had
become as wilful, as capricious, and as affected, as unlimited
indulgence seldom fails to render those to whom it is extended; and
although she exhibited upon many occasions that affectation of extreme
shyness, silence, and reserve, which misses in their teens are apt to
take for an amiable modesty; and, upon others, a considerable portion
of that flippancy, which youth sometimes confounds with wit, Mistress
Margaret had much real shrewdness and judgment, which wanted only
opportunities of observation to refine it--a lively, good-humoured,
playful disposition, and an excellent heart. Her acquired follies were
much increased by reading plays and romances, to which she devoted a
great deal of her time, and from which she adopted ideas as different
as possible from those which she might have obtained from the
invaluable and affectionate instructions of an excellent mother; and
the freaks of which she was sometimes guilty, rendered her not
unjustly liable to the charge of affectation and coquetry. But the
little lass had sense and shrewdness enough to keep her failings out
of sight of her godfather, to whom she was sincerely attached; and so
high she stood in his favour, that, at his recommendation, she
obtained permission to visit the recluse Lady Hermione.

The singular mode of life which that lady observed; her great beauty,
rendered even more interesting by her extreme paleness; the conscious
pride of being admitted farther than the rest of the world into the
society of a person who was wrapped in so much mystery, made a deep
impression on the mind of Margaret Ramsay; and though their
conversations were at no time either long or confidential, yet, proud
of the trust reposed in her, Margaret was as secret respecting their
tenor as if every word repeated had been to cost her life. No inquiry,
however artfully backed by flattery and insinuation, whether on the
part of Dame Ursula, or any other person equally inquisitive, could
wring from the little maiden one word of what she heard or saw, after
she entered these mysterious and secluded apartments. The slightest
question concerning Master Heriot's ghost, was sufficient, at her
gayest moment, to check the current of her communicative prattle, and
render her silent.

We mention this, chiefly to illustrate the early strength of
Margaret's character--a strength concealed under a hundred freakish
whims and humours, as an ancient and massive buttress is disguised by
its fantastic covering of ivy and wildflowers. In truth, if the damsel
had told all she heard or saw within the Foljambe apartments, she
would have said but little to gratify the curiosity of inquirers.

At the earlier period of their acquaintance, the Lady Hermione was
wont to reward the attentions of her little friend with small but
elegant presents, and entertain her by a display of foreign rarities
and curiosities, many of them of considerable value. Sometimes the
time was passed in a way much less agreeable to Margaret, by her
receiving lessons from Pauline in the use of the needle. But, although
her preceptress practised these arts with a dexterity then only known
in foreign convents, the pupil proved so incorrigibly idle and
awkward, that the task of needlework was at length given up, and
lessons of music substituted in their stead. Here also Pauline was
excellently qualified as an instructress, and Margaret, more
successful in a science for which Nature had gifted her, made
proficiency both in vocal and instrumental music. These lessons passed
in presence of the Lady Hermione, to whom they seemed to give
pleasure. She sometimes added her own voice to the performance, in a
pure, clear stream of liquid melody; but this was only when the music
was of a devotional cast. As Margaret became older, her communications
with the recluse assumed a different character. She was allowed, if
not encouraged, to tell whatever she had remarked out of doors, and
the Lady Hermione, while she remarked the quick, sharp, and retentive
powers of observation possessed by her young friend, often found
sufficient reason to caution her against rashness in forming opinions,
and giddy petulance in expressing them.

The habitual awe with which she regarded this singular personage,
induced Mistress Margaret, though by no means delighting in
contradiction or reproof, to listen with patience to her admonitions,
and to make full allowance for the good intentions of the patroness by
whom they were bestowed; although in her heart she could hardly
conceive how Madame Hermione, who never stirred from the Foljambe
apartments, should think of teaching knowledge of the world to one who
walked twice a-week between Temple Bar and Lombard Street, besides
parading in the Park every Sunday that proved to be fair weather.
Indeed, pretty Mistress Margaret was so little inclined to endure such
remonstrances, that her intercourse with the inhabitants of the
Foljambe apartments would have probably slackened as her circle of
acquaintance increased in the external world, had she not, on the one
hand, entertained an habitual reverence for her monitress, of which
she could not divest herself, and been flattered, on the other, by
being to a certain degree the depository of a confidence for which
others thirsted in vain. Besides, although the conversation of
Hermione was uniformly serious, it was not in general either formal or
severe; nor was the lady offended by flights of levity which Mistress
Margaret sometimes ventured on in her presence, even when they were
such as made Monna Paula cast her eyes upwards, and sigh with that
compassion which a devotee extends towards the votaries of a trivial
and profane world. Thus, upon the whole, the little maiden was
disposed to submit, though not without some wincing, to the grave
admonitions of the Lady Hermione; and the rather that the mystery
annexed to the person of her monitress was in her mind early
associated with a vague idea of wealth and importance, which had been
rather confirmed than lessened by many accidental circumstances which
she had noticed since she was more capable of observation.

It frequently happens, that the counsel which we reckon intrusive when
offered to us unasked, becomes precious in our eyes when the pressure
of difficulties renders us more diffident of our own judgment than we
are apt to find ourselves in the hours of ease and indifference; and
this is more especially the case if we suppose that our adviser may
also possess power and inclination to back his counsel with effectual
assistance. Mistress Margaret was now in that situation. She was, or
believed herself to be, in a condition where both advice and
assistance might be necessary; and it was therefore, after an anxious
and sleepless night, that she resolved to have recourse to the Lady
Hermione, who she knew would readily afford her the one, and, as she
hoped, might also possess means of giving her the other. The
conversation between them will best explain the purport of the visit.


Sir Walter Scott