University of Virginia Library


Page 81


“Alas! what poor ability's in me
To do him good!
Assay the power you have.”

Measure for Measure.

Ah, Belle, is that you?” said Mrs. Archer, as
Miss Linwood just at twilight stole into her aunt's
room to have a tête-à-tête with the only person in
the world with whom she had a strictly confidential
intimacy. “What is Sir Henry's answer?”

“Just such as we might have expected. He
does, to be sure, in good set terms, beg me to have
no apprehensions about my brother. But he says
it is impossible for him just now to grant me an
opportunity to speak to him in private on the subject:
`it would be quite useless,' and `he's particularly
occupied,' and all such trumpery excuses.”

“Then take my advice, Belle, and make the opportunity
he will not grant:—go to his ball this
evening. Never mind the gossip of kind friends,
who will wonder you can have the heart to appear
there when your brother is in such unfortunate
circumstances. You and I agree in the principle
of never sacrificing the greater to the less—go,
Sir Henry will not refuse you his ear when you
are before him; and if you cannot obtain all you


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desire, you may get some mitigation of poor Herbert's

“I have made up my mind—I will go.”

“You will meet Lady Anne Seton? The ball
is given in honour of her arrival, I hear.”


“You are very pensive and monosyllabic, Belle;
has any thing occurred? Have you seen Jasper
since that last critical conjuncture in your affairs?”

“No—oh, yes, he has called two or three times
with Lady Anne.”

“Then something has not occurred, which
amounts to pretty much the same thing; or, perhaps,
my dear child, you are beginning to feel a
little tremulous about this pretty and rich cousin?”

“No, aunt, I assure you that my first serious
doubt on that subject would fix my wavering judgment.”

“And your feelings?”

“They go in the same scale with my judgment.
You know that I do not expect perfection. If ever
I marry, which I think very doubtful—you may
smile aunt Mary, but I think it more than doubtful—
I shall expect faults in abundance. Heaven knows
I am no match for perfection; I only ask that they
may not be such faults as affect the vitality of the

“And you would cease to love, Isabella, where
you suspected such?”

“If I merely suspected,” replied Isabella, faltering,


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“I cannot say; but if I were sure, most

“A suspicion of ten years standing is, I should
think—” assurance doubly sure, she would have
added; but wondering at the subtleties of that
sentiment that could mystify the perceptions of the
clear-sighted Isabella Linwood, she merely said,
“it matters not what I think—you will both feel
and act right; and if you ought to get rid of the
shackles, you will not wait till they rust off.”

Mrs. Archer had never interposed her advice in
Isabella's affair with Meredith, though she watched
its progress with far more interest than if it had been
a disease that might issue in death. She thought it
was a case where she must and would work out
her own salvation; and where, at any rate, she
must be left to the free decision of her own heart.
Still she found it impossible in their confidential
womanly intercourse not to betray her own biases;
and whenever they were betrayed, Isabella felt
them the more, as they produced the only discord
in the perfect harmony of their minds. The souls
of the aunt and niece seemed to be informed by
the same spirit. They had the same independence
of mind, the same acute perception of truth through
all the adventitious circumstances and artificial
forms of society, the same restiveness under the
everlasting trifling of frivolous minds, the same
kindling at what was beautiful in thought, and the
same enthusiasm for the beautiful in action.


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After Mrs. Archer's last words to her, Isabella
sat thoughtful and silent, till her aunt reminded her
that it was quite time she should go home and
dress for Sir Henry's ball.

“I will go,” she replied, “though there is nothing
in life I detest quite so much as playing suitor to
a great man.”

“Then, my dear child, you had best come on
our side, for as long as we are colonists and wear
the yoke, sueing and obsequiousness is the necessity
of our condition.”

“You would take advantage of my pride to
make me a republican. The very first rebel, if I
remember me, was he who `could not bow and
sue for grace with suppliant knee.' ”

“An arch rebel he was, but no republican; our
champions are republicans, and no rebels, since
they claim only their original and indefeasible
rights. But here come Ned and Lizzy to assert

The children were attracted by Isabella's voice.
Her hearty devotion to them made them regard her
much in the light of the good genii of an eastern
tale, who never appears without conferring some
signal happiness. “Tell me, Ned,” said she, “are
you whig or tory?”

“I used to be a tory, cousin Belle, because you
were, and I thought mamma was.”

“And now?”

“I'm for Washington; but don't you tell,” he
replied, kissing her.


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“And you, Lizzy, do you know what whig and
tory means?”

“To be sure: I know whig means the very best
man in the world, and that is Captain Lee; and I
shall always love the whigs best—”

“And I begin to love their cause best, too, my
dear children; and with this parting confession,
which pray keep to yourselves, good-bye to you

Mrs. Archer hailed the change of Isabella's sentiments
(a woman's political conclusions are rather
sentiments than opinions) as a good omen. It was
a link broken in the chain that bound her to Meredith;
and it indicated, as she thought, the weakness
of the whole chain. She thus concluded a
long revery: “Belle thinks and feels independently.
No woman in the unimpaired perfection and intensity
of love does this. Milton understood our
nature when he put those words of dependance and
tenderness into Eve's mouth:

“ `God is thy law, thou mine: to know no more,
Is woman's happiest knowledge, and her praise.' ”

The gala days of Sir Henry Clinton's reign in
New-York are still celebrated in traditionary fireside-stories,
as a brilliant period in the colonial
beau-monde. However unsuited to the times, the
exiled whigs, who were driven forth from their
homes, might have deemed this pomp, pageantry,


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feasting, and revelry; however much it might have
exasperated the Americans, who, half-starved and
half-clothed, were contending for their rights, it
served to kill the ennui of foreign officers, to bring
en scene the pretty candidates for husbands, and, in
short, to do what is done for us by the balls and
company (society?) of our own gay seasons.
Never, according to the grandmammas, was there
such abundance of the elements of a belle's happiness—such
music!—such dresses!—so many,
and such admirers!

“My dear Jasper,” said Mrs. Meredith, while
Lady Anne, in Sir Henry's antichamber, was telling
a bevy of admiring young ladies that her French
milliner had fashioned her dress after one of Maria
Antoinette's, “my dear Jasper, is not your cousin
looking perfectly lovely this evening?”

“For the first time I think her beautiful.”

“She is beautiful!—Colonel Davidson says she
is by far the prettiest woman on this side the Atlantic.”
The lady paused; and then, being in her
arguments, what is called an authority lawyer,
proceeded. “Sir Edward remarked, as he handed
me up-stairs, how superior her air is to that of the
young women here; indeed, how should they have
an air, poor things, in this demi-savage world?”

Meredith could not but smile as he compared
his cousin to that model of elegance enthroned in
his mind. He coolly replied, “Lady Anne is


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“Easy!—bless me, Jasper, Helen Ruthven is
what I call easy; and a very engaging girl is she
—but Lady Anne! Sir Henry himself remarked
her grace, her faultless proportions. There is that
troublesome St. Clair peering through the door;
he means to ask her for the first dance—pray anticipate
him, Jasper: it is her début; you will
oblige me infinitely, my son.”

“What are you and aunt caballing about?”
asked Lady Anne, approaching.

“Conspiring against the world, fair cousin. I
am entreating my mother to interpose her authority,
and command you to lead down the first dance
with me.”

“Her authority! I cannot dance with a collar
round my neck. If you wish it, authority out of
the question, I will dance with you with all my
heart. Of course you know, cousin Jasper,” she
added, as at the striking up of the music Meredith
led her into the dancing-room, “I prefer you to a
tiresome stranger.”

“You flatter me!”

“No, indeed,” replied the young lady, without
perceiving that Meredith was piqued by her unvarnished
truth, “I never flatter: one gets so tired of
flattery, that hears nothing else all day from her
admirer down to her dressing-maid. I never should
flatter where I particularly wished to please.”

Meredith was always inferring a little more than
met the ear, winding in a labyrinthian path where


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he was not like to meet one who, like his literal
cousin, went straight-forward. “Ah, my pretty
coz, are you there?” thought he. “You would
have me understand that though you do not wear
my mother's collar, you are well enough inclined
to go where she would guide you.”

Lady Anne took the station assigned her in the
dance by the ritual of precedence; but as soon as
she moved, it was plain that, whatever rank was assigned
her, nature and art had decreed she should
there be first. Those who went before her through
the mazes of the long dance, sighed, panted, and
puffed to the imminent risk of breaking the bounds
of their whalebone prisons, or sinking under their
brocades. She, in a dress that for lightness and
grace would have suited an Ariel or a Persian dancing-girl,
moved like a bird through its own element.
There was no sign of effort or fatigue. Her eyes,
instead of being set by overpowering exertion, or
wandering like an ambitious performer's, sparkled
with animation, and her coral lips parted in a childlike
smile. She seemed to have surrendered herself
to the music, and to be a poetic manifestation
of the pleasure of motion. The observers followed
her to the foot of the dance: the dancers became
mere observers.

Lady Anne received this tribute as a matter of
course, and if she were not surprised, she was
not elated by it. Not so Mrs. Meredith; she enjoyed
it as a triumph. She had anticipated the


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sensation to be produced on the assembly, and had
made a pretty accurate estimate of that which, by
a very natural reaction, would be felt by Meredith;
and when, stationed near them, she heard the eloquent
flood of compliments he poured out,—heard
him, this time unbidden, earnestly beg his cousin's
hand for another dance, she turned away satisfied
that the first step was taken.

Every one present who might aspire to such
distinction, asked Lady Anne's hand, and each solicitation
enriched the prize to Meredith, for (if it
be allowed thus to speak of such high concernments),
he graduated even ladies' favours by their
market value.

Miss Ruthven had not been dancing herself; she
was conscious of not dancing well; but hovering
about the dance, and expressing, whenever she
caught Meredith's eye, by animated gestures and
significant glances, her admiration of his partner.
At the first opportunity she said to Lady Anne, in
a low voice, but not too low to be heard by Meredith,—“How
very glad I am that my dear friend,
Isabella Linwood, is not here.”

“And how very sorry I am!—but pray, Miss
Ruthven, why are you glad?”

“Oh, you know—you faultless creature, I am
sure you know.”

“Indeed, I cannot conjecture.”

“Then, if I must tell, one does not like to see
one's friends outshone. Isabella Linwood has so


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long been the brightest star in our firmament. Ah,
Mr. Meredith, sic transit!—as you learned in
the tongues say.”

Meredith made no reply, for at this moment he
caught Isabella's eye as she entered the room, leaning
on Sir Henry's arm. She was dressed in a
white silk gown, without any ornament or decoration
whatever, save a rich Brussels lace veil, which
she had put on partly to screen and partly to
apologize for her very simple and rather inappropriate

Ah, console te mon amie!” exclaimed Lady
Anne, touching Miss Ruthven's arm with her fan,
“look at that peerless creature, and tell me now
whose light will wax dim. I like my own looks
as well, I am sure, as anybody else likes them,
but I can see that I am quite une chose terrestre
compared with Isabella Linwood—n'est ce pas
mon cousin

Les choses terrestres are best adapted to the
sphere for which they are created,” said Meredith,
turning, with a bitter smile, from what he thought
a very cold salutation from Miss Linwood, to begin
the second dance with Lady Anne.

Isabella stood for a moment with the rest, admiring
and wondering at Lady Anne's performance;
then, intent on the object which alone brought
her to Sir Henry's, she begged five minutes' audience
in the library. “There she goes,” thought
Mrs. Meredith, taking a long breath, as if relieved


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from a load, “I knew it would make her very uncomfortable.”

“Ah,” thought Meredith, as following Isabella
with his eyes he blundered in the dance—“there
is something of the terrestre in that movement—I
will profit by it.”

“Quite as terrestrial as the rest of us,” thought
Helen Ruthven, and as she stationed herself next
to Mrs. Meredith, and made some very acceptable
remarks about Miss Linwood, she felt like a political
manœuvrer, who having started rival candidates,
flatters himself he shall run in to the goal
between them.

“To what am I indebted for this grace, Miss
Linwood,” asked Sir Henry, rather to relieve Isabella
than to inform himself of what he already

“I am here a beggar, Sir Henry.”

“In your brother's behalf?—I understand,—a
very painful subject, my dear young lady,—I feel,
on my honour I do, the deepest sympathy with your
father. You are aware that I have done all in my
power for the misguided young man, and that he
has not accepted my overtures.”

“And that his refusal is the warrant of his
honour—is it not, Sir Henry.”

“Why, there are many modifications of this
principle of honour. You would not hold a thief
bound by his oath to his comrades, if he were offered
pardon and enrolment among honest men as
his reward for abandoning them?”


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An indignant reply rose to Isabella's lips, but
she remembered in time that she came as a suitor,
and saying that she would not waste Sir Henry's
time with arguing on a subject on which they must
utterly differ, she went straight to her point. “You
must, sir,” she said, “believe that my brother came
to the city for the motive he avows, and for no

“What proof have I of this?” asked Sir Henry,
with a tormenting smile.

“The word of a man of truth.”

“And the faith of an all-believing girl. This
may be very sufficient evidence in a cour d'amour
—it would hardly suffice in a court-martial. But
proceed, my dear Miss Linwood, and tell me precisely
your wishes. You may rely on my desire
to serve you.”

Sir Henry's tone was earnest and sincere, and
Isabella was encouraged. “My brother,” she said,
“has, thank Heaven, shown himself equal to bearing
well the adverse turns of a soldier's fortune.
He endures manfully his imprisonment in the dark,
filthy, crowded prison allotted to the Americans—
the honest yeomen of the land. He suffers, without
complaint, Sir Henry, the petty tyranny of the
atrocious keeper of these poor men.”

“Tut, tut, my dear,—it is the fortune of war.”

Isabella had again to quell her pride, before she
could command her voice to proceed with due humility.
“All he asks, Sir Henry, all that I ask


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for him, is, that you will put him on the footing of
a prisoner of war, and thus relieve him from an imputation
that compels General Washington to withhold
all interference in his behalf, and to leave him
here a degraded man, suffering for an act of rashness
what is alone due to crime.”

“It is impossible, my dear girl—you overrate my
powers—I am responsible—”

“To God—so are we all, Sir Henry, and happiest
are those who have most of such deeds as I
ask of you to present at his tribunal. But are you
not supreme in these provinces? and may you not
exercise mercy without fearing that man shall miscall

“My powers, thanks to my gracious sovereign,
are ample; but you have somewhat romantic notions
of the mode of using them. I am willing to
believe—or rather,” he added with a gracious
smile, “to believe that you believe your brother's
story to be a true one; but, Miss Linwood, this
view of the ground must not alter, to speak en
our demonstration. We are bound, as I
have communicated to you, through our friend Mr.
Jasper Meredith—we are bound, by the policy of
war, to avail ourselves of the accident, if it be one,
that enables us plausibly to impute to Washington
an act held dishonourable in all civilized

“Then, in plain English,” said Isabella, with a
burst of indignation this time irrepressible, “the


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`policy of war' compels you to profess to believe
a falsehood, in order to stain a spotless name.”

Sir Henry made no reply, but strided with folded
arms up and down the apartment. A glance at
his irritated countenance recalled Isabella to herself.
“Forgive me, Sir Henry,” she said, if, feeling
only that my poor brother is a victim to this horrible
`policy of war,' I have spoken more boldly than
was fitting a humble, miserable suitor.”

Whether it is that the tone of submission is that
which Heaven has ordained for women, and that
which is the natural vehicle of a lofty sense of superiority
is a falsetto in which she rarely succeeds,
we cannot say; but true it is, that the moment Isabella's
voice faltered, Sir Henry's brow relaxed,
and condescending to her weakness, he said, “It
can hardly be expected, Miss Linwood, that a
young lady should comprehend a subject quite out
of her line—we will, therefore, if you please, waive
its farther discussion, and return to the drawing-room.”

“Excuse me, Sir Henry, I cannot go back to
the drawing-room,” replied Isabella, in spite of her
efforts bursting into tears,—“I came here solely
for the purpose of obtaining something for poor
Herbert, and I have utterly failed.” It is not in
man—a gentleman and a soldier, to be unmoved
by the tears, the real distress of a young and
beautiful woman. Sir Henry too, to his friends—
to those of his own household (we have it on poor
Andre's testimony), was generous and kind hearted.


Page 95

“My dear girl,” he said, “pray do not make yourself
so unhappy. You know not how much your
brother is already indebted to you—if he were not
fenced about by such friends, your father on one
side, and yourself and your devoted knight on the
other—do not blush, my dear young lady—he would
have fared much worse than he has, I assure you.
He has only to suffer durance with patience—our
bark is worse than our bite, and, believe me, the
war cannot last much longer.”

“And he must remain in prison while the war

“I fear so.”

“Then, for mercys' sake, Sir Henry, grant us one
favour. My father is old. His health and fortune,
as you know, are shattered. This cruel war severed
him from his only son, and drew down on poor
Herbert the displeasure which has ended in all this
wretchedness. Something may be saved from the
wreck, their disjointed affections may be re-united
if—if they are permitted to meet?”

“If your father wished to visit your brother, he
would have asked permission—it certainly would
not have been refused.”

Isabella well knew that her father, after having
once (to use his favourite phrase) set his foot down,
would not make so violent a recession as such a
step demanded; but not choosing to allude to his
infirmities, and anxious to secure for Herbert a
greater alleviation than a single interview, she
availed herself of an obvious reason. “My father,”


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she said, “is still confined to his apartment. He
cannot go to Herbert—if Herbert might come to

“This would be indeed an extraordinary departure
from all form and precedence.”

“Yes; but it would be the very essence of kindness,
which is better than all form and precedence.
Oh, Sir Henry, have you not sometimes sleepless
hours in the silent watches of the night; and will
not then the thought that you have solaced an old
man, your friend, and restored peace and love to
his habitation, be better than the memory of victories—dear
Sir Henry, will it not?”

“I should be too happy to oblige you—it would
be a very great pleasure; but indeed, indeed, my
dear Miss Isabella, this is an extraordinary proposition.”

“So much the better fitting you to accede to it;
you who have the power to depart from the vulgar
beaten track. You may have little reason to remember
with pleasure this vexatious war, Sir
Henry; but the good you have done by the way
will be like the manna of the wilderness.”

Isabella had touched the right cord. “Well,
my dear Miss Belle, tell me precisely what you
want, and what security you can give that my trust
will not be abused.”

“I want an order from you to Cunningham,
directing him to permit my brother to leave the
prison in the evening between any hours you shall


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see fit to assign; and for your security, Sir Henry,
I can offer the surest, the word not only of a man
of honour, as you have said there are many and
uncertain modifications of that principle, but the
word of a man bound to you by every tie of gratitude
and good faith.”

“You have persuaded me, my dear, against my
better reason, it may be, but you have persuaded
me; and to-morrow, after our cabinet-council, I
will send you the order.”

“Oh, no—to-night, Sir Henry,” urged Isabella,
with her characteristic decision, determining to
leave nothing to the possible influence of a cabinet-council
or a treacherous to-morrow; “to-night, if
you would make me completely happy. Here
on the table is pen, ink, and paper; and here is a
chair—sit down, and write three lines, and I will
go home with them, and fall down on my knees,
and pray God to bless you for ever and ever.”

If Sir Henry had been told one hour before that
he should be persuaded to such an act, he might
have exclaimed with Hazael—“Am I a dog,” that
I should be thus managed! But, like many other
great men, he yielded to a superior mind, albeit in
the form of woman. He wrote the order, taking
care to qualify it by requiring Cunningham to
guard young Linwood's egress and ingress from
observation, and stipulating that he should be atattended
by Cunningham himself, the most formidable
of the bulldog race of jailers.


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“Now,” said Sir Henry, after Isabella, with a
transport of gratitude, had received the order, and
was about to take her leave, “you must not run
away—you, of all others, are bound to grace a fête
given to Jasper Meredith's cousin—you owe me

“And most gratefully will I pay you all I can
of the debt I owe you, Sir Henry,” she replied,
giving him her hand, and returning to the drawing-room.
The consciousness of the advantage she
had gained, the buoyant spirit of youth, that having
taken one step from the starting point believes the
race won, lit up her eye and cheek with their
natural brightness. If a mask had fallen from her
face, the change would not have been more startling
to some of her observers, nor more puzzling
to others.

“I do marvel, cousin Jasper,” said Lady Anne,
when they were driving home, “that you have
never fallen in love with Isabella Linwood!”

“And how do you know that I have not?” he
asked, willing to try the ground of her conclusions.

“How! bless me, do you think I am stone-blind?
—you have not danced with her—you have scarcely
spoken to her this evening, when she appeared so
perfectly irresistible.”

“I fancy, my dear,” interposed Mrs. Meredith,
“that your cousin Jasper, like other men of his
stamp, prefers a person less prononcée—more
quiescent—more ductile than Miss Linwood.”


Page 99

“You mean, aunt, not shining with a light of her
own—more of a reflector.”

“Pardon me, my dear Lady Anne, you interrupted
me. I was going on to say, that men who
are conscious of eminent talents, prefer those who,
not ambitious to shine, will amuse and sooth their
hours of relaxation.”

“Lesser lights—I understand you perfectly,”
said Lady Anne, cutting in to escape her aunt's
tedious circumlocution: “do tell me, Jasper,” she
continued, “if you observed how changed Miss
Linwood appeared when she returned to the drawing-room?
I was dancing with that tiresome colonel,
and you were talking to me.”

“I was talking with you—how could I observe

“Miss Linwood mistakes,” said Mrs. Meredith,
“in assuming such violent contrasts—in making
such sudden transits from grave to gay. He is a
poor artist who resorts to glaring lights and deep
shadows to set off his pictures—she wants toning

The mother was not more at fault in her expressed
opinion, whether sincere or not, than her
son was in his mental inference from the sudden
change in Isabella's deportment. None are more
fallible in their judgment than people of the world,
and simply because they make no allowance for
truth as a basis of action. Notwithstanding Meredith's
disclaimer, he had observed, and narrowly,


Page 100
the change so obvious, and thus had reasoned upon
it:—“Isabella was piqued at my devotion to my
cousin; she was, for no woman is above these little
vanities, vexed at Lady Anne's superlative dancing;
but she soon rallied, and determined to appear
high as the stars above me, and all these matters.
Her pride is invincible; it is quite time to
show her that her power is not. Women are destined
to be the `lesser lights.' I have most generously
committed myself, while she has remained as
silent, if not as cold, as a statue; therefore I am at
liberty to retreat, if I should—at any future time—
choose to do so. When I am with her, I feel her
full supremacy; but away from her, on reflection,
I can perceive that an alliance with my cousin
might, in the end, be quite—that is, very tolerable,
and vastly more eligible (and in these times that
must be thought of) than this long, long dreamed-
of marriage with Isabella Linwood.”