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The Black Baronet; or, The Chronicles Of Ballytrain, a novel by William Carleton

Chapter 27. Lucy Calls Upon Lady Gourlay, Where She Meets Her Lover

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_ CHAPTER XXVII. Lucy calls upon Lady Gourlay, where she meets her Lover

Sir Thomas, who shams Illness, is too sharp for Mrs. Mainwaring, who visits Him--Affecting interview between Lucy and Lady Gourlay

Lucy Gourlay, anxious to relieve her father's mind as much as it was in her power to do, wrote to him the day after the visit of Ensign Roberts and old Sam to Summerfield Cottage. Her letter was affectionate, and even tender, and not written without many tears, as was evident by the blots and blisters which they produced upon the paper. She fully corroborated the stranger's explanation to her father; for although ignorant at the time that an interview had taken place between them, she felt it to be her duty toward all parties to prevent, as far as her testimony could go, the possibility of any misunderstanding upon the subject. This letter was posted in Dublin, from an apprehension lest the local post-office might furnish a clew to her present abode. The truth was, she feared that if her father could trace her out, he would claim her at once, and force her home by outrage and violence. In this, however, she was mistaken; he had fallen upon quite a different and far more successful plan for that purpose. He knew his daughter well, and felt that if ever she might be forced to depart from those strong convictions of the unhappiness that must result from a union between baseness and honor, it must be by an assumption of tenderness and affection toward her, as well as by a show of submission, and a concession of his own will to hers. This was calculating at once upon her affection and generosity. He had formed this plan before her letter reached him, and on perusing it, he felt still more determined to make this treacherous experiment upon her very virtues--thus most unscrupulously causing them to lay the groundwork of her own permanent misery.

In the meantime, Mrs. Mainwaring, having much confidence in the effect which a knowledge of her disclosure must, as she calculated, necessarily produce on the ambitious baronet, resolved to lose no time in seeing him. On the evening before she went, however, the following brief conversation took place between her and Lucy:

"My dear Lucy," said she, "a thought has just struck me. Your situation, excepting always your residence with us, is one of both pain and difficulty. I am not a woman who has ever been much disposed to rely on my own judgment in matters of importance."

"But there, my dear Mrs. Mainwaring, you do yourself injustice."

"No, my dear child."

"But what is your thought?" asked Lucy, who felt some unaccountable apprehension at what her friend was about to say.

"You tell me that neither you nor your aunt, Lady Gourlay, have ever met."

"Never, indeed," replied Lucy; "nor do I think we should know each other if we did."

"Then suppose you were, without either favor or ceremony, to call upon her--to present yourself to her in virtue of your relationship--in virtue of her high character and admirable principles--in virtue of the painful position in which you are placed--to claim the benefit of her experience and wisdom, and ask her to advise you as she would a daughter."

Lucy's eyes glistened with delight, and, stooping down, she imprinted a kiss upon the forehead of her considerate and kind friend.

"Thank you, my dear Mrs. Mainwaring," she exclaimed: "a thousand thanks for that admirable suggestion. Many a time has my heart yearned to know that extraordinary woman, of whose virtues the world talks so much, and whose great and trusting spirit even sorrow and calamity cannot prostrate. Yes, I will follow your advice; I will call upon her; for, even setting aside all selfish considerations, I should wish to know her for her own worth."

"Very well, then; I am going in to see your father to-morrow--had you not better come with me? I shall leave you at her house, and can call for you after my interview with him shall have been concluded. I shall order a chaise from the hotel to be with us in the morning, so that you may run little or no risk of being seen or known."

"That will be delightful," replied Lucy; "for I am sure Lady Gourlay will be a kind and affectionate friend to me. In seeking her acquaintance--may I hope, her friendship--I am not conscious of violating any command or duty. Ever since I recollect, it was a well-known fact, that the families, that is to say, my father and uncle, never met, nor visited--mamma knew, of course, that to keep up an intimacy, under such circumstances, would occasion much domestic disquietude. This is all I know about it; but I never remember having heard any injunction not to visit."

"No," replied Mrs. Mainwaring; "such an injunction would resemble that of a man who should desire his child not to forget to rise next morning, or, to be sure to breathe through his lungs. I can very well understand why such a prohibition was never given in that case. Well, then, we shall start pretty early in the morning, please God; but remember that you must give me a full detail of your reception and interview."

The next day, about the hour of two o'clock, a chaise drew up at the residence of Lady Gourlay, and on the hall-door being opened, a steady, respectable-looking old footman made his appearance at the chaise door, and, in reply to their inquiries, stated, "that her ladyship had been out for some time, but was then expected every moment."

"What is to be done?" said Lucy, in some perplexity; "or how am I to bestow myself if she does not return soon?"

"We expect her ladyship every moment, madam," replied the man; "and if you will have the goodness to allow me to conduct you to the drawing-room, you will not have to wait long--I may assure you of that."

"You had better go in, my dear," said Mrs. Mainwaring, "and I shall call for you in about an hour, or, perhaps, a little better."

It was so arranged, and Lucy went in accordingly.

We must now follow Mrs. Mainwaring, who, on inquiring if she could see Sir Thomas Gourlay, was informed by Gibson, who had got his cue, that he was not in a condition to see any one at present.

"My business is somewhat important," replied Mrs. Mainwaring, with a good deal of confidence in the truth of what she said.

Gibson, however, approached her, and, with the air of a man who was in possession of the secrets of the family, said, "Perhaps, ma'am, you come on behalf of Miss Gourlay?"

"Whatever my business may be," she replied, indignantly, "be it important or otherwise, I never communicate it through the medium of a servant; I mean you no offence," she proceeded; "but as I have already stated that it is of importance, I trust that will be sufficient for the present."

"Excuse me, ma'am," replied Gibson, "I only put the question by Sir Thomas's express orders. His state of health is such, that unless upon that subject he can see no one. I will go to him, however, and mention what you have said. He is very ill, however, exceedingly ill, and I fear will not be able to see you; but I shall try."

Sir Thomas was seated upon a sofa reading some book or other, when Gibson reappeared.

"Well, Gibson, who is this?"

"A lady, sir; and she says she wishes to see you on very important business."

"Hum!--do you think it anything connected with Miss Gourlay?"

"I put the question to her, sir," replied the other, "and she bridled a good deal--I should myself suppose it is."

"Well, then, throw me over my dressing-gown and nightcap; here, pull it up behind, you blockhead;--there now--how do I look?"

"Why, ahem, a little too much in health, Sir Thomas, if it could be avoided."

"But, you stupid rascal, isn't that a sign of fever? and isn't my complaint fulness about the head--a tendency of blood there? That will do now; yes, the plethoric complexion to a shade; and, by the way, it is no joke either. Send her up now."

When Mrs. Mainwaring entered, the worthy invalid was lying incumbent upon the sofa, his head raised high upon pillows, with his dressing-gown and night-cap on, and his arms stretched along by his sides, as if he were enduring great pain.

"Oh, Mrs. Norton," said he, after she had courtesied, "how do you do?"

"I am sorry to see you ill, Sir Thomas," she replied, "I hope there is nothing serious the matter."

"I wish I myself could hope so, Mrs. Norton."

"Excuse me, Sir Thomas, I am no longer Mrs. Norton; Mrs. Mainwaring, at your service."

"Ah, indeed! Then you have changed your condition, as they say. Well, I hope it is for the better, Mrs. Mainwaring; I wish you all joy and happiness!"

"Thank you, Sir Thomas, it is for the better; I am very happily married."

"I am glad to hear it--I am very glad to hear it; that is to say, if I can be glad at anything. I feel very ill, Mrs. Mainwaring, very ill, indeed; and this blunt, plain-spoken doctor of mine gives me but little comfort. Not that I care much about any doctor's opinion--it is what I feel myself that troubles me. You are not aware, perhaps, that my daughter has abandoned me--deserted me--and left me solitary--sick--ill; without care--without attendance--without consolation;--and all because I wished to make her happy."

"This, Sir Thomas," replied Mrs. Mainwaring, avoiding a direct reply as to her knowledge of Lucy's movements, "is, I presume, with reference to her marriage with Lord Dunroe."

"Oh yes; young women will not, now-a-days, allow a parent to form any opinion as to what constitutes their happiness; but I cannot be angry with Lucy now; indeed, I am not. I only regret her absence from my sick bed, as I may term it; for, indeed, it is in bed I ought to be."

"Sir Thomas, I, came to speak with you very seriously, upon the subject of her union with that young nobleman."

"Ah, but I am not in a condition, Mrs. Mainwaring, to enter upon such a topic at present. The doctor has forbidden me to speak upon any subject that might excite me. You must excuse me, then, madam; I really cannot enter upon it. I never thought T loved Lucy so much;--I only want my child to be with me. She and I are all that I are left together now; but she has deserted me at the last moment, for I fear I am near it."

"But, Sir Thomas, if you would only hear me for a few minutes, I could satisfy you that--"

"But I cannot hear you, Mrs. Mainwaring; I cannot hear you; I am not in a state to do so; I feel feverish, and exceedingly ill."

"Five minutes would do, Sir Thomas."

"Five minutes! five centuries of torture! I must ring the bell, Mrs. Mainwaring, if you attempt to force this subject on me. I should be sorry to treat you rudely, but you must see at once that I am quite unable to talk of anything calculated to disturb me. I have a tendency of blood to the head--I am also nervous and irritable. Put it off, my dear madam. I trust you shall have another and a better opportunity. Do ring, and desire Lucy to come to me."

Mrs. Mainwaring really became alarmed at the situation of the baronet, and felt, from this request to have his daughter sent to him, which looked like delirium, that he was not in a state to enter upon or hear anything that might disappoint or disturb him. She consequently rose to take her leave, which she did after having expressed her sincere regret at his indisposition, as she termed it.

"I wish it was only indisposition, Mrs. Mainwaring, I wish it was. Present my respects to your husband, and I wish you and him all happiness;" and so with another courtesy, Mrs. Mainwaring took her leave.

After she had gone, Gibson once more attended the bell.

"Well, Gibson," said his master, sitting up and flinging his nightcap aside, "did you see that old grindress? Zounds and the devil, what are women? The old mantrap has got married at these years! Thank heaven, my grandmother is dead, or God knows what the devil might put into her old noddle."

"Women are very strange cattle, certainly, sir," replied Gibson, with a smirk, "and not age itself will keep them from a husband."

"Lucy--Miss Gourlay, I mean--is with her; I am certain of it. The girl was always very much attached to her, and I know the sly old devil has been sent to negotiate with me, but I declined. I knew better than to involve myself in a controversy with an old she prig who deals in nothing but maxims, and morals, and points of duty. I consequently sent her off in double quick time, as they say. Get me some burgundy and water. I really am not well. There is something wrong, Gibson, whatever it is; but I think it's nothing but anxiety. Gibson, listen. I have never been turned from my purpose yet, and I never shall. Miss Gourlay must be Countess of Cullamore, or it is a struggle for life and death between her and me; either of us shall die, or I shall have my way. Get me the burgundy and water," and Gibson, with his sleek bow, went to attend his orders.

Mrs. Mainwaring having some purchases to make and some visits to pay, and feeling that her unexpectedly brief visit to Sir Thomas had allowed her time for both, did not immediately return to call upon Lucy, fearing that she might only disturb the interview between her and Lady Gourlay.

Lucy, as the servant said, was shown up to the drawing-room, where she amused herself as well as she could, by examining some fine paintings, among which was one of her late uncle. The features of this she studied with considerable attention, and could not help observing that, although they resembled collectively those of her father, the deformity of the one eye only excepted, yet the general result was strikingly different. All that was harsh, and coarse, and repulsive in the countenance of her father, was here softened down into an expression of gentleness, firmness, and singular candor, whilst, at the same time, the family likeness could not for a moment be questioned or mistaken.

Whilst thus occupied, a foot was heard, as if entering the drawing-room, and naturally turning round, she beheld the stranger before her. The surprise of each was mutual, for the meeting was perfectly unexpected by either. A deep blush overspread Lucy's exquisite features, which almost in a moment gave way to a paleness that added a new and equally delightful phase to her beauty.

"Good heavens, my dear Lucy," exclaimed the stranger, "do I find you here! I had heard that the families were estranged; but on that very account I feel the more deeply delighted at your presence under Lady Gourlay's roof. This happiness comes to me with a double sense of enjoyment, from the fact of its being unexpected."

The alternations of red and white still continued as Lucy replied, her sparkling eye chastened down by the veil of modesty as she spoke: "I am under Lady Gourlay's roof for the first time in my life. Indeed, I have come here to make an experiment, if I may use the expression, upon the goodness of her heart. The amiable lady with whom I now reside suggested to me to do so, a suggestion which I embraced with delight. I have been here only a few minutes, and await her ladyship's return, which they tell me may be expected immediately."

"It would indeed be unfortunate," replied the stranger, "that two individuals so nearly connected by family, and what is more, the possession of similar virtues, should not be known to each other."

This compliment brought a deeper tinge of color to Lucy's cheek, who simply replied, "I have often wished most sincerely for the pleasure--the honor, I should say--of her acquaintance; but unfortunately the ill-feeling that has subsisted between the families, or rather between a portion of them, has hitherto prevented it. If I were now under my father's roof a visit here were out of the question; but you know, Charles, I cannot, and I ought not, to inherit his resentments."

"True, my dear Lucy, and I am glad to see you here for many, many reasons. No, your father's resentments would perish for want of nurture in a heart like yours. But, Lucy, there is a subject in which I trust we both feel a dearer and a deeper interest than that of family feud. I am aware of this hateful union which your father wishes to bring about between you and this Lord Dunroe. I have been long aware of it, as you know; but need I say that I place every reliance, all honorable confidence, in your truth and attachment?"

He had approached, and gently taking her hand in his as he spoke, he uttered these words in a tone so full at once of tenderness and that sympathy to which he knew her sufferings on this point had entitled her, that Lucy was considerably affected, although she restrained her emotions as well as she could.

"If it were not so," she replied, in a voice whose melody was made more touchingly beautiful by the slight tremor which she endeavored to repress, "if it were not so, Charles, I would not now be a fugitive. from my father's roof."

The stranger's eye sparkled with the rapturous enthusiasm of love, as the gentle girl, all blushes, gave expression to an assurance so gratifying, so delicious to his heart.

"Dearest Lucy," said he, "I fear I am unworthy of you. Oh, could you but know how those words of yours have made my heart tremble with an excess of transport which language fails to express, you would also know that the affection with which I love you is as tender, as pure, as unselfish, as ever warmed the heart of man. And yet, as I said, I fear it is unworthy of you. I know your father's character, his determination, the fierce force of his will, and the energy with which he pursues every object on which he sets his heart or ambition. I say I know all this, and I sometimes fear the consequences. What can the will of only one pure, gentle, and delicate heart avail against the united powers of ambition, authority, persuasion, force, determination, perhaps violence? What, I repeat, can a gentle heart like yours ultimately avail against such a host of difficulties? And it is for this reason that I say I am unworthy of you, for I fear--and you know that perfect love casteth out all fear."

"My dear Charles, if love were without fear it would lose half its tenderness. An eternal sunshine, would soon sicken the world. But as for your apprehensions of my solitary heart failing against such difficulties as it must encounter, you seem to omit one slight element in calculating your terrors, and that simple element is a host in itself."

"Which is?"

"Love for you, dear Charles. I know you may probably feel that this avowal ought to be expressed with more hesitation, veiled over by the hypocrisy of language, disguised by the hackneyed forms of mere sentiment, uttered like the assertions of a coquette, and degraded by that tampering with truth which makes the heart lie unto itself. Oh, yes!--perhaps, Charles, you may think that because I fail to express what I feel in that spirit of ambiguity which a love not confident in the truth, purity, and rectitude of its own principles must always borrow--that because my heart fails to approach yours by the usual circuitous route with which ordinary hearts do approach--yes, you may imagine for all these reasons that my affection is not--but--" and here she checked herself--"why," she added, with dignity, whilst her cheeks glowed and her eyes sparkled, "why should I apologize for the avowal of a love of which I am not ashamed, and which has its strongest defence in the worth and honor of its object?"

Tears of enthusiasm rushed down her cheeks as she spoke, and her lover could only say, "Dearest Lucy, most beloved of my heart, your language, your sentiments, your feelings--so pure, so noble, so far above those commonplaces of your sex, only cause me to shrink almost into nothing when I compare or contrast myself with you. Let, however, one principle guide us--the confidence that our love is mutual and cannot be disturbed. I am for the present placed in circumstances that are exceedingly painful. In point of fact, I am wrapped in obscurity and shadow, and there exists, besides, a possibility that I may not become, in point of fortune, such a man as you might possibly wish to look upon as your husband."

"If you are now suffering your fine mind, Charles, to become unconsciously warped by the common prejudices of life, I beseech you to reflect upon the heart to which you address yourself. Society presents not a single prejudice which in any degree aids or supports virtue, and truth, and honor, that I do not cherish, and wish you to cherish; but if you imagine that you will become less dear to me because you may fail to acquire some of the artificial dignities or honors of life, then it is clear that you know not how to estimate the spirit and character of Lucy Grourlay."

"I know you will be severely tried, my dear Lucy."

"Know me aright, Charles. I have been severely tried. Many a girl, I am sorry to say, would forget Dunroe's profligacy in his rank. Many a girl, in contemplating the man, could see nothing but the coronet; for ambition--the poorest, the vainest, and the most worthless of all kinds of ambition--that of rank, title, the right of precedence--is unfortunately cultivated as a virtue in the world of fashion, and as such it is felt. Be it so, Charles; let me remain unfashionable and vulgar. Perish the title if not accompanied by worth; fling the gaudy coronet aside if it covers not the brow of probity and honor. Retain those, dear Charles--retain worth, probity, and honor--and you retain a heart that looks upon them as the only titles that confer true rank and true dignity."

The stranger gave her a long gaze of admiration, and exclaimed, deeply affected,

"Alas, my Lucy, you are, I fear, unfit for the world. Your spirit is too pure, too noble for common life. Like some priceless gem, it sparkles with the brilliancy of too many virtues for the ordinary mass of mankind to appreciate."

"No such thing, Charles: you quite overrate me; but God forbid that the possession of virtue and good dispositions should ever become a disqualification for this world. It is not so; but even if it were, provided I shine in the estimation of my own little world, by which I mean the affection of him to whom I shall unite my fate, then I am satisfied: his love and his approbation shall constitute my coronet and my honor."

The stranger was absolutely lost in admiration and love, for he felt that the force of truth and sincerity had imparted an eloquence and an energy to her language that were perfectly fascinating and irresistible.

"My dear life," said he, "the music of your words, clothing, as it does, the divine principles they utter, must surely resemble the melody of heaven's own voices. For my part, I feel relaxed in such a delicious rapture as I have never either felt or dreamt of before--entranced, as it were, in a sense of your wonderful beauty and goodness. But, dearest Lucy, allow me to ask on what terms are you with your father? Have you heard from him? Have you written to him? Is he aware of your present residence?"

"No," she replied; "he is not aware of my present residence, but I have written to him. I wished to set his mind at rest as well as I could, and to diminish his anxiety as far as in me lay. Heaven knows," she added, bursting into tears, "that this unnatural estrangement between father and daughter is most distressing. I am anxious to be with papa, to render him, in every sense, all the duties of a child, provided only he will not persist in building up the superstructure of rank upon my own unhappiness. Have you seen him?" she inquired, drying her eyes, a task in which she was tenderly assisted by the stranger.

"I saw him," he replied, "for a short time;" but the terms in which he explained the nature of the interview between himself and the baronet were not such as could afford her a distinct impression of all that took place, simply because he wished to spare her the infliction of unnecessary pain.

"And now, Lucy," he added, "I feel it necessary to claim a large portion of your approbation."

She looked at him with a smile, but awaited his explanation.

"You will scarcely credit me when I assure you that I have had a clew to your place of residence, or concealment, or whatever it is to be termed, since the first morning of your arrival there, and yet I disturbed you not, either by letter or visit. Thus you may perceive how sacred your lightest wish is to me."

"And do you imagine that I am insensible to this delicate generosity?" she asked--"oh, no; indeed, I fully appreciate it; but now, Charles, will you permit me to ask how, or when, or where you have been acquainted with my aunt Gourlay, for I was not aware that you had known each other?"

"This, my dear Lucy," he replied, smiling, "you shall have cleared up along with all my other mysteries. Like every riddle, although it may seem difficult now, it will be plain enough when told."

"It matters not, dear Charles; I have every confidence in your truth and honor, and that is sufficient."

He then informed her briefly, that he should be under the necessity of going to France for a short space, upon business of the deepest importance to himself.

"My stay, however," he added, "will not be a very long one; and I trust, that after my return, I shall be in a position to speak out my love. Indeed, I am anxious for this, dear Lucy, for I know how strong the love of truth and candor is in your great and generous heart. And yet, for the sake of one good and amiable individual, or rather, I should say, of two, the object of my journey to France will not be accomplished without the deepest pain to myself. It is, I may say here, to spare the feelings of the two individuals in question, that I have preserved the strict incognito which I thought necessary since my arrival in this country."

"Farewell until then, my dear Charles; and in whatever object you may be engaged, let me beg that you will not inflict a wanton or unnecessary wound upon a good or amiable heart; but I know you will not--it is not in your nature."

"I trust not," he added, as he took his leave. "I cannot wait longer for lady Gourlay; but before I go, I will write a short note for her in the library, which will, for the present, answer the same purpose as seeing her. Farewell, then, dearest and best of girls!--farewell, and be as happy as you can; would that I could say, as I wish you, until we meet again."

And thus they separated.

The scene that had just taken place rendered every effort at composure necessary on the part of Lucy, before the return of Lady Gourlay. This lady, strange as it may seem, she had yet never seen or met, and she now began to reflect upon the nature of the visit she had made her, as well as of the reception she might get. If it were possible that her father had made away with her child on the one hand, could it be possible, on the other, that Lady Gourlay would withhold her resentment from the daughter of the man who had made her childless? But, no; her generous heart could not for a moment admit the former possibility. She reasoned not from what she had felt at his hands, but as a daughter, who, because she abhorred the crime imputed to him, could not suppose him capable of committing it. His ambition was all for herself. Neither, she felt, would Lady Gourlay, even allowing for the full extent of her suspicions, confound the innocent daughter with the offending parent. Then her reputation for meekness, benevolence, patience, charity, and all those virtues which, without effort, so strongly impress themselves upon the general spirit of social life, spoke with a thousand tongues on her behalf. Yes, she was glad she came; she felt the spirit of a virtuous relationship strongly in her heart; and in that heart she thanked the amiable Mrs. Mainwaring for the advice she had given her.

A gentle and diffident tap at the door interrupted the course of her reflections; and the next moment, a lady, grave, but elegant in appearance, entered. She courtesied with peculiar grace, and an air of the sweetest benignity, to Lucy, who returned it with one in which humility, reverence, and dignity, were equally blended. Neither, indeed, could for a single moment doubt that an accomplished and educated gentlewoman stood before her. Lucy, however, felt that it was her duty to speak first, and account for a visit so unexpected.

"I know not," she said, "as yet, how to measure the apology which I ought to make to Lady Gourlay for my presence here. My heart tells me that I have the honor of addressing that lady."

"I am, indeed, madam, that unhappy woman."

Lucy approached her, and said, "Do not reject me, madam; pardon me--love me--pity me;--I am Lucy Gourlay."

Lady Gourlay opened her arms, exclaiming, as she did it, in a voice of the deepest emotion, "My dear niece--my child--my daughter if you will;" and they wept long and affectionately on each other's bosoms.

"You are the only living individual," said Lucy, after some time, "whom I could ask to pity me; but I am not ashamed to solicit your sympathy. Dear, dear aunt, I am very unhappy. But this, I fear, is wrong; for why should I add my sorrows to the weight of misery which you yourself have been compelled to bear? I fear it is selfish and ungenerous to do so."

"No, my child; whatever the weight of grief or misery which we are forced, perhaps, for wise purposes, to bear, it is ordained, for purposes equally wise and beneficent, that every act of sympathy with another's sorrow lessens our own. Dear Lucy, let me, if you can, or will be permitted to do so, be a loving mother to you, and stand to my heart in relation to the child I have lost; or think that your own dear mother still survives in me."

This kindness and affection fairly overcame Lucy, who sat down on a sofa, and wept bitterly. Lady Gourlay herself was deeply affected for some minutes, but, at length, resuming composure, she sat beside Lucy, and, taking her hand, said: "I can understand, my dear child, the nature of your grief; but be comforted. Your heart, which was burdened, will soon become lighter, and better spirits will return; so, I trust, will better times. It is not from the transient and unsteady, and too often painful, incidents of life, that we should attempt to draw consolation, but from a fixed and firm confidence in the unchangeable purposes of God."

"I wish, dear Lady Gourlay--dear aunt--"

"Yes, that is better, my love."

"I wish I had known you before; of late I have been alone--with none to advise or guide me; for, she, whose affectionate heart, whose tender look, and whose gentle monition, were ever with me--she--alas, my dear aunt, how few know what the bitterness is--when forced to struggle against strong but misguided wills, whether of our own or others'; to feel that we are without a mother--that that gentle voice is silent forever; that that well in the desert of life--a mother's heart--is forever closed to us; that that protecting angel of our steps is departed from us--never, never to return."

As she uttered these words in deep grief, it might have been observed, that Lady Gourlay shed some quiet but apparently bitter tears. It is impossible for us to enter into the heart, or its reflections; but it is not, we think, unreasonable to suppose that while Lucy dwelt so feelingly upon the loss of her mother, the other may have been thinking upon that of her child.

"My dear girl," she exclaimed, "let the affectionate compact which I have just proposed be ratified between us. My heart, at all events, has already ratified it. I shall be as a mother to you, and you shall be to me as a daughter."

"I know not, my dear aunt," replied Lucy, "whether to consider you more affectionate than generous. How few of our sex, after--after--that is, considering the enmities--in fact, how a relative, placed as you unhappily are, would take me to her heart as you have done."

"Perhaps, my child, I were incapable of it, if that heart had never been touched and softened by affliction. As it is, Lucy, let me say to you, as one who probably knows the world better, do not look, as most young persons like you do, upon the trials you are at present forced to suffer, as if they were the sharpest and heaviest in the world. Time, my love, and perhaps other trials of a still severer character, may one day teach you to think that your grief and impatience were out of proportion to what you then underwent. May He who afflicts his people for their good, prevent that this ever should be so in your case; but, even if it should, remember that God loveth whom he chasteneth. And above all things, my dear child, never, never, never despair in his providence. Dry your eyes, my love," she added, with a smile of affection and encouragement, that Lucy felt to be contagious by its cheering influence upon her; "dry your tears, and turn round to the light until I contemplate more clearly and distinctly that beauty of which I have heard so much."

Lucy obeyed her with all the simplicity of a child, and turned round so as to place herself in the position required by the aunt; but whilst she did so, need we say that the blushes followed each other beautifully and fast over her timid but sparkling countenance?

"I do not wonder, my dear girl, that public rumor has borne its ample testimony to your beauty. I have never seen either it or your figure surpassed; but it is here, my dear," she added, placing her hand upon her heart, "where the jewel that gives value to so fair a casket lies."

"How happy I am, my dear aunt," replied Lucy, anxious to change the subject, since I know you. The very consciousness of it is a consolation."

"And I trust, Lucy, we shall all yet be happy. When the dispensations ripen, then comes the harvest of the blessings."

The old footman now entered, saying: "Here is a note, my lady," and he presented one, "which the gentleman desired me to deliver on your ladyship's return."

Lady Gourlay took the note, saying: "Will you excuse me, my dear niece?--this, I believe, is on a subject that is not merely near to, but in the innermost recesses of my heart."

Lucy now took that opportunity on her part of contemplating the features of her aunt; but, as we have already described them elsewhere, it is unnecessary to do so here. She was, however, much struck with their chaste but melancholy beauty; for it cannot be disputed, that sorrow and affliction, while they impair the complexion of the most lovely, very frequently communicate to it a charm so deep and touching, that in point of fact, the heart that suffers within is taught to speak in the mournful, grave, and tender expression, which they leave behind them as their traces. As Lucy surveyed her aunt's features, which had been moulded by calamity into an expression of settled sorrow--an expression which no cheerfulness could remove, however it might diminish it, she was surprised to observe at first a singular degree of sweetness appear; next a mild serenity; and lastly, she saw that that serenity gradually kindled into a radiance that might, in the hands of a painter, have expressed the joy of the Virgin Mother on finding her lost Son in the Temple. This, however, was again succeeded by a paleness, that for a moment alarmed Lucy, but which was soon lost in a gush of joyful tears. On looking at her niece, who did not presume to make any inquiry as to the cause of this extraordinary emotion, Lady Gourlay saw that her eyes at least were seeking, by the wonder they expressed, for the cause of it.

"May the name," she exclaimed, "of the just and merciful God be praised forever! Here, my darling, is a note, in which I am informed upon the best authority, that my child--my boy, is yet alive--and was seen but very recently. Dear God of all goodness, is my weak and worn heart capable of bearing this returning tide of happiness!"

Nature, however, gave way; and after several struggles and throbbings, she sank into insensibility. To ring for assistance, to apply all kinds of restoratives; and to tend her until she revived, and afterwards, were offices which Lucy discharged with equal promptitude and tenderness.

On recovering, she took the hand of the latter in hers, and said, with a smile full of gratitude, joy, and sweetness, "Our first thanks are always due to God, and to him my heart offers them up; but, oh, how feebly! Thanks to you, also, Lucy, for your kindness; and many thanks for your goodness in giving me the pleasure of knowing you. I trust that we shall both see and enjoy better and happier days. Your visit has been propitious to me, and brought, if I may so say, an unexpected dawn of happiness to the widowed mother's heart."

Lucy was about to reply, when the old footman came to say that the lady who had accompanied her was waiting below in the chaise. She accordingly bade her farewell, only for a time she said, and after a tender embrace, she went down to Mrs. Mainwaring who respectfully declined on that occasion to be presented to Lady Gourlay, in consequence of the number of purchases she had yet to make, and the time it would occupy to make them. _

Read next: Chapter 28. Innocence And Affection Overcome By Fraud And Hypocrisy

Read previous: Chapter 26. The Priest Returns Sir Thomas's Money And Pistols

Table of content of Black Baronet; or, The Chronicles Of Ballytrain


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