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I spoke indignantly to Mrs. Tracey on the subject. She answered me coolly—“ Remember, Lady Ellerton, that I stipulated that my daughter should be considered free and disengaged till the expiration of three months; a few days will complete that period, and I promise you
that she shall then decide for herself without any control from me; till then, however, I certainly think that I have the right of directing her actions, and requiring her company in my visits whenever it pleases me."
This was all very true, and neither Aubrey nor myself would for a moment have murmured at the way in which the time and attention of Blanche were engrossed, had it appeared distressing to herself, but such was not the case. I had never seen her so apparently happy and animated as when she was receiving the attentions of Lord Montford; they gave to her the only attractions that she wanted-those of spirit and sensibility, and when he quitted her side, a sudden revulsion seemed to come over her, and she was again passive, quiet, and indifferent. These events, I saw with anguish, were working decided injury on poor Aubrey's constitution; his appetite forsook him, his sleep at night was feverish and fitful, and although he seldom mentioned the name of Blanche, I felt that she was never absent from his thoughts and heart.
One morning Lady Barlow called upon us. “ I suppose I may soon congratulate you, Lady Ellerton,” she said, “ on your fair daughter-in-law; a more beautiful viscountess will certainly never have dazzled St. James's."
“ I do not understand you,” replied I;“ if you are alluding to Lord Montford and Miss Tracey, I have no reason from either of the parties to conclude that any attachment exists between them.”
“O pardon me,” she replied; “ I have good authority for knowing that Lord Montford has written to his father on the subject, and you know so well his doting affection for his son, that you cannot imagine he will refuse his consent. People tell me that you had once a predilection for the same lady, Mr. Neville,” she continued, turning to my son;
6 but it is all best as it is; an elder son may afford to marry a slenderly-portioned beauty, but Lombard Street heiresses and welljointured widows are the fit prizes for younger brothers.”
She took her leave, happy in the wounds she had inflicted.
Aubrey seemed too much overcome for conversation, and retired to his own room. I immediately formed my resolution. It was necessary that I should have a private explanatory conversation with Blanche before the answer arrived from Lord Ellerton, which would probably sanction his son in paying his immediate addresses to her, and I sent to request that she would call upon me. She entered the room, blooming, tranquil
, and lovely as usual. “ Blanche," said I, too much agitated to employ any circumlocution in addressing her, “you are treating both my son and myself in a heartless and unfeeling manner. Why are we thus continually deprived of your society? Why do you thus exclusively devote to another that time and attention which you once gave to Aubrey alone ?"
“ Dear Lady Ellerton,” she replied, “I am sincerely sorry that
you should be displeased with me; but my mother tells' me, and I cannot but agree with her, that it is my first duty to pay obedience and respect to her; if I refused to give her my company when she wishes it, I feel that I should grieve and offend her.” “ Do not evade my inquiries, Blanche,” I answered ;
are you reluctant to make this sacrifice to your mother, or do you really consider it as any sacrifice at all ?” She blushed, and remained silent. “ Tell me,” I continued with increased energy,
« that it is your purpose at the end of ten days to declare your unchanged affection for Aubrey, and enter into an open engagement with him, and I will recal my injurious suspicions, and even ask your pardon for them.”
“ It is not my purpose,” said she, with more firmness and selfpossession than I had hitherto observed in her. “ Had I been engaged to Mr. Neville, Lady Ellerton, no temptation on earth could have persuaded me to wish even in thought to be free; and as far as my power extends, I am sure that I should have proved to him a tender and affectionate wife; but being still disengaged, I trust I am not violating any honourable feeling, when I say that I do not in future wish to be anything more to him than a friend and sister.” “ A sister I” I repeated with bitter sarcasm ;
yès, I can well fathom the reason of your change of sentiments. O Blanche ! have you not often assured me that you disliked pomp and parade—that you shunned the glare of crowded assemblies—that titles, power, and equipage possessed no charm for you ?"
“ And I assured you truly, Lady Ellerton,” she said; “ the simplicity of my taste can never alter. I feel myself far better suited for retirement than for a gay and exalted sphere."
*. Why then so palpably encourage the attentions of Lord Montford ?" I asked.
She appeared more agitated than I had ever seen her; the colour quickly deepened on her cheek, and as quickly receded from it.
“ I do not know why I should blush to speak the truth,” said she ; " and you, Lady Ellerton, who so justly regard and value one of your sons, cannot surely be blind to the merits and attractions of the other. A short time
that I had never felt what the romantic call love. I could not say so now; if Lord Montford should honour me by offering me his hand, I would accept it, not for the sake of his rank and wealth, but for himself; and were he suddenly deprived of these advantages, I would accept it with even more joy than at present, because my feelings for him are not founded on gratified vanity, on triumphant ambition, or on sisterly good-will, but on ardent and disinterested affection.”
A heavy fall in the adjoining room prevented my reply. Alas! my poor Aubrey, who had been sitting reading there when Blanche entered, had been unable to resist the temptation of remaining an unsuspected auditor of our conversation, and the last declaration of Blanche was too much for him. A bitter trial, indeed, it must have proved to him to discover that the brother who had been his rival from his birth, had so completely and triumphantly won the warm affections of the calm, serene girl, who had never for himself shown
or felt more than the regard of a sister. I rushed into the room : my worst fears were realised ; Aubrey had broken a blood-vessel; the blood was gushing in torrents from his mouth. I instinctively felt that all hope was fled. I summoned assistance; the physician, who lived within a few doors of us, was immediately procured. The moment he came, his countenance told me that he knew the accident to be fatal. Aubrey, speechless and insensible, was conveyed to bed. Blanche returned home to mourn the direful effects of her instability and weakness; and I knelt by the pillow of my son, uttering wild and convulsive sobs.
In a few minutes Lady Barlow entered the room; the servants, who persisted in imagining her my fond and faithful friend, had sent for her. She shrank back for a moment, as if fearful lest I should reproach her; but she had no cause for apprehension; all my indignation was turned against myself. I knew my son to be the rightful Lord Montford, and had he been introduced into society as such, he would have been eagerly courted and welcomed by Mrs. Tracey, and his admiration would no sooner have been declared to her daughter, than their engagement would have been publicly declared. who had deprived him of his rightful station in the world? The mother, who would have gladly sacrificed her life to save his. Lady Barlow's callous feelings were evidently moved: she had been guided in her conduct by the malicious wish of mortifying Aubrey and myself, but she had not contemplated the dreadful result; and when she looked on the ghastly and pallid face of the unfortunate young man before her, remorse touched her heart, and she shed a few natural tears. In less than an hour all was over ; my Aubrey had no returning moment of consciousness; not a look or word greeted his fond mother, to furnish her with a precious theme of after recollection. My grief then found words. I threw myself on the lifeless body, declared that this scene of horror was all my work, and reproached myself as the murderer of my only son. The physician looked amazed'; but Lady Barlow hinted to him that my senses were evidently failing me, and I soon verified her words. I was carried in a state of insensibility to my chamber, and recovered at length, not to consciousness, but to wild, incoherent ravings.
Above a fortnight elapsed before I was restored to the full powers of my mind. Lady Barlow, during that time, took up her residence in my house, and established herself as my chief nurse. She afterwards told me that when my husband came down to Hastings, which he did immediately on receiving tidings of the death of his son, she peremptorily refused him admission to my room, apprehensive lest he should detect “ method in my madness. To the servants she said, that it was not at all extraordinary I should speak of Aubrey as my only son, and disown Lord Montford, since I had never been fond of the latter; and the recent events must of course have tended to irritate me against him. She related to me these manœuvres, as if they gave her a claim to my gratitude. I did not feel the least thankful to her, for I was aware that my exposure and disgrace would be a matter of no grief to her ; but that being herself identified with the deception, she was fearful on her own account lest it should be exposed.
Oct. 1838.-VOL. XXIII.--NO. XC.
She had the gratification, moreover, of being quoted in all the circles of Hastings as the model of a true and devoted friend, who readily quitted all the gaieties she was enjoying, to watch by the sick-bed of a delirious sufferer. The corpse of my poor Aubrey had been removed to Ashburn Park, and the funeral had taken place while I was unconscious of passing events.
A few days after my recovery I quitted Hastings, and reached Ashburn Park by slow stages. Lord Ellerton received me with the most soothing kindness; and I found that he had ordered a splendid monument to be erected to the memory of the son whom he perhaps felt conscious he had never sufficiently loved or valued in life. It will very likely be supposed that my aversion to Lord Montford was increased by the late circumstances; but such was not the case. He assured me earnestly and solemnly—and I had never detected him in a falsehood—that so far from believing his brother to be attached to Blanche Tracey, the rumour had not even reached him that he had bestowed passing attentions on her ; and when the disastrous event took place, that caused all particulars to be known, he wrote a letter to Mrs. Tracey, severely blaming her conduct in the affair, and saying that such distressing reminiscences would hereafter be so connected with the sight of her daughter and herself, that he must beg that all future intercourse between them might cease. Mrs. Tracey immediately quitted Hastings, and went over to France with her unhappy and repentant daughter. Lord Montford also censured Lady Barlow for her conduct; but she firmly maintained that she was as ignorant of the real state of the case as he was, and as Mrs. Tracey was not present to contradict her, and I did not feel disposed to do so, he exonerated her from all blame.
Deeply as I wept over the untimely fate of my poor boy, I derived a sweet consolation from the knowledge that he was prepared for death-that he loved, believed, and trusted in his Saviour, and that through his mediation he was now enjoying an heritage far more precious than that of which I had deprived him. My Aubrey had executed a will as soon as he was of age, directing that the estate which I had presented to him should revert to me in the event of his death. Lord Ellerton desired me to retain the rents for my own use; and my power of bestowing charity being greatly enlarged, I passed much of my time in visiting and relieving the poor and afflicted. My husband's manner to me, since the death of our son, had been unremittingly kind and tender, and the affection of our early years seemed reviving in the hearts of each of us. I also took a greater pleasure in reading the Scriptures and religious books, and the world spoke of me as the pattern of all that was exemplary. I certainly became more and more anxious to act as a Christian should do, more fervent in prayer, more conscious of my own wickedness, and less severe on the faults of others. It may justly be objected to me, that I ought to have made the confession of my past sins one of the first evidences of my improved principles. I often contemplated such a measure; but when I reflected that no confession could repair the evil that had been wrought, and that my husband's peace and happiness would be the certain sacrifice, I reconciled myself to the preservation of silence.
By this line of conduct I showed that I was only partially enlightened and awakened. A true Christian would have felt that an open disclosure of the whole truth was alike due to God and man.
My Aubrey had been dead two years and a half; it was the middle of October, and a large party was assembled at Ashburn Park, among whom were my brother and sister-in-law, and two of their sons. Time had soothed my grief, I had quite discarded all fear of detection, and I presumptuously flattered myself that I might yet end my days in peace and honour. One day Lord Montford appeared at dinner with a slight cut on his forehead, and 'explained to us that it was owing to a fall from his horse, which happily had not caused any more serious effect.
“ I was beyond my companions at the time,” said he, “but I was not suffered to remain long unassisted; the accident took place in the sight of several hovels, and their inhabitants all ran out immediately to the rescue.”
“ But,” said Philip Neville, laughingly, “ you must not forget to mention the fair dame who was weeping over you when we rode up.”.
“ I wish I could leave the fragment of your tale unfinished,” said Lord Montford,
my friends might then elevate this unknown lady into a beautiful heroine of romance; but I will tell the simple fact. I was stunned for a minute by my fall; when I recovered, a woman was bending over me, and uttering exclamations of grief, and her tears dropped rapidly on my face; when she found I was able to rise, she repeatedly kissed my hand, and I know not with what further manifestations of tenderness she might have favoured me, had not my friends rode up, and gathered round me, and I then lost sight of her.”
“Dear me! quite maternal fondness, I declare,” said Mrs. Neville, glancing at me with a sneer. She merely meant to utter a covert sarcasm on my want of tenderness towards the viscount, but her words conveyed a sting which she did not anticipate. I could not doubt that this woman was the mother of Lord Montford. I inquired what kind of
appearance. “Between forty and fifty, I should think," he replied ; “poorly but decently dressed, and bearing the remains of beauty, although pale and sickly."
This description exactly answered to that which Aubrey had given of the woman who had accused herself of injuring him even before his birth. I could not doubt that she was again in the neighbourhood, but I remembered that she had spoken to Aubrey of a solemn vow which forbade her to explain herself to him, and I could only hope that she would continue to adhere to it. I made inquiries through my
maid respecting the inhabitants of the hovels mentioned by Lord Montford, and discovered that the woman answering to his description was named Ruth Hammond ; that her husband and herself had only lately come to settle there, although they had occasionally visited the neighbourhood for a short time, and that he was a man of very indifferent character, suspected of poaching and other dishonest practices. I was soon disposed to believe that he well deserved that character ; for although we had previously been occasionally annoyed