University of Virginia Library


Page 192


Chi puo dir com' egli arde é in picciol fuoco.

Meredith left Mrs. Archer's in a state of feverish
excitement. He paced up and down the street,
trying by projects for the future to drive away the
memory of the past. The thought of his degradation
before Isabella Linwood was insupportable;
and the recollection that Eliot Lee had bestowed
the stinging epithet of villain on him in her presence,
roused his strongest passions and stimulated
him to revenge. He turned his steps towards Sir
Henry Clinton's. “I shall but do a common
duty,” he said, “in giving information that a rebel
officer, high in Washington's favour, is in disguise
in the city—I shall, indeed, be summarily avenged,
if Tryon should requite on Lee's head the death
of Palmer.” The man to whom his thoughts adverted
was he in relation to whom Putnam had
addressed to Tryon the famous laconic note.



—Nathan Palmer, a lieutenant in the service
of your king, has been taken in my camp as a
spy, condemned as a spy, and will be hung as a spy.

“P. S.—He has been hanged.”


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The thought of such a catastrophe changed Meredith's
purpose. He had no taste for tragedy. He
believed that Eliot's visit to the city had relation
only to Bessie, and shrinking from adding such an
item to his account with her as the betrayal of her
natural protector, he turned back and retraced his
way homeward, meditating a retaliation better suited
than revenge to his shallow character. Passions
flow from deep sources. Meredith's relations with
Isabella were far more interesting to him than the
life or death of Eliot Lee, or his poor sister; and in
trying to devise some balm for his wounded vanity,
he hit upon an expedient on which he immediately
resolved. This alluring expedient was none else
than an immediate engagement with Lady Anne
Seton; which, being antedated but by a few hours,
would demonstrate to Isabella Linwood that he,
and not she, had first thrown off the shackles; and
would leave for ever rankling in her proud bosom
the tormenting recollection that she had involuntarily
confessed she loved him, as he had tauntingly
said, “a thought too late.”

His decision made, he hastened home, dwelling
with the most soothing complacency on his recent
meeting with his cousin on the banks of the Hudson,
and smiling as he thought how delighted she
would be at his profiting by her hint, in thus soon
offering to be joint tenant of her love-built American


Page 194

“Where is my cousin?” he asked, as he entered
the drawing-room, and found his mother sitting

“Where she eternally is,” replied his mother,
throwing down her book and eyeglass, and rising
with the air of one who has borne a vexation till
it is no longer supportable; “it is the most inexplicable
infatuation; the girl seems absolutely bewitched
by Isabella Linwood.”

“But Miss Linwood is not at home this evening.
I left her at her aunt Archer's.”

“At Mrs. Archer's?—you were with her there,

Meredith replied smiling, and without attempting
to evade his mother's probing eye, “Yes, I was
there, but much against my will, for I had hoped
to pass this evening with you and my cousin.”

“Thank you, my son, thank you. I flattered
myself that all was settled in your mind—definitively
settled—when you so gallantly assured
Anne that you soon should be `irretrievably in
love,' leaving her to supply the little hiatus which
no girl, in like case, would fail to fill with her
own name. And now I will be perfectly frank
with you, Jasper—indeed, if there is any thing on
which I pride myself, it is frankness. You understood
the intimation in the Italian stanza I gave
you from the carriage this afternoon?” Meredith
bowed. “It conveyed a little history in a few words,
my son; I have simply aimed to be `la stella,' by


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which you, a wise and skilful `nocchiero,' should,
taking advantage of fair winds and favourable tides,
guide your vessel into port. But why speak in
figures when we perfectly understand one another?
Our dear little Anne—a sweet attractive creature,
is she not?—was left to my guardianship, or
rather matronship, for your poor uncle was so very
thoughtless as to vest me with no authority to control
her fortune, or her choice of a husband.”

“Bless my soul! is it possible?”

“Too true, indeed. You now perceive in what
embarrassing circumstances I was placed. This
pretty girl on my hands, with her immense and unencumbered
property; nothing short of the utmost
prudence and energy on my part could save her
from being the prey of fortune-hunters (alas! for
poor human nature!—the lady uttered this without
a blush)—rest assured, Jasper, that nothing would
have induced me in these perilous times to cross
the Atlantic, but my duty to my orphan niece.”

“And the remote prospect of benefiting me, my
dear mother.”

Mrs. Meredith was too intent on the interesting
subject upon which she was entering, to notice the
sarcasm her son had not the grace to suppress.
“I had my anxieties,” she continued, “I frankly
confess to you, I had my anxieties before I arrived
about Miss Linwood, and—some few I have had

Mrs. Meredith paused and fixed her eyes on


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Jasper. “On my honour you have not the slightest
ground for them,” he said.

She proceeded. “Miss Linwood is in some respects
a superior young person—she has not the—
the—the talent of Helen Ruthven—nor the—the
—the grace of Lady Anne (no wonder the perplexed
diplomatist hesitated for a comparative that
should place Isabella Linwood below these young
ladies); but, as I said, she is a superior young person—a
remarkable looking person, certainly; at
least, she is generally thought so. I do not particularly
like her style—tenderness and manageableness,
like our dear Anne's, are particularly becoming
in a female. Miss Linwood is too lofty—one
does not feel quite comfortable with her. On the
whole, I consider it quite fortunate you did not form
an attachment in that quarter—prudence must be
consulted—not that I would be swayed by prudential
considerations—certainly not—no one thinks
more than I do of the heart; but when, as in your
case, Jasper, the taste and affections accord with a
wise consideration of—of—”

Fortune, my dear mother?”

“Yes, Jasper, frankly, fortune—I esteem it a remarkably
happy circumstance. Your own fortune
may or may not be large. The American portion
of it depends upon contingencies, and therefore it
would have been rash for you to have encumbered
yourself with a ruined family; for, as I am informed,
the Linwoods have but just enough to subsist decently


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upon from day to day. It is true, they
keep up a respectable appearance. Anne, by-the-way,
tells me they get up the most delicious petits
there. It is amazing what pride will do!
—what sacrifices some people make to appearances!”

“There must be something else than mere table
luxuries to make these suppers so attractive to my

“Undoubtedly; for as to that, you know, we have
every thing that money can purchase in this demi-savage
country; to be sure, Anne might have a
foolish, girlish liking for Miss Linwood, but then I
am quite confident—I hesitate, for if there is any
thing on which I pride myself, it is being scrupulous
towards my own sex in affairs of the heart;
but I betray nothing, for though you are perfectly
free from coxcombry, you are not blind, and you
must have seen—”

“Not seen, but hoped, my dear mother,” replied
Meredith, with a smile that indicated assurance
doubly sure.

“Hope is the fitting word for you—but your
hope may be my certainty. I betray no secrets.
Anne has not been confidential, but the dear child
is so transparent—”

“She seems, however, to have been rather
opaque in this Linwood attachment.”

“Yes, I confess myself baffled there—you may
have opened a vein of conquetry, Jasper. I know


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not what it means, but it can mean nothing to alarm
us. It is very odd, though—there is nothing there
to gratify her, and every thing here. This very
evening Governor Tryon called with the young
prince, to propose to get up a concert for her. By-the-way,
a pretty youth is Prince William!—he left
this bouquet for Lady Anne. The honourable Mr.
Barton and Sir Reginald were here too, and the
Higbys—and there she is, mewed up with that old
fretful Mr. Linwood. She must think, Jasper, you
are not sufficiently devoted to her.”

“She shall not think so in future.”

“Hark, there is the carriage!—I sent her word
that I was not well. In truth, her absence has
teased me into a headache, and my own room will
be the best place for me.” Thus concluding her
tedious harangue, the lady made a hasty retreat;
and before Lady Anne had exchanged a salutation
with Meredith, and thrown aside her hat and cloak,
her aunt's maid appeared with a message from this
“frank” lady, importing her sense of Lady Anne's
kindness in coming home, and informing her that
prudence obliged her to abstain from seeing her
niece till morning.

“I am very sorry!” said Lady Anne, heaving a
deep sigh, sinking down in the arm-chair her aunt
had just left, resting her elbow on it, and looking
pensively in the fire.

“You need not be so deeply concerned, my kind
cousin; my mother is not very ill,” said Meredith,


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with difficulty forbearing a laugh at the disparity
between the cause and the effect on his apparently
sympathizing cousin.

“Ill!” exclaimed Lady Anne, starting, “I did
not suppose that she was ill.”

“Then why, in the name of Heaven, that deep

“There are many causes of sighs, cousin

“To you, Lady Anne, so young, so gifted, so
lovely, so beloved.”

“That should be happiness!” she replied, covering
her face with her hands to hide the tears that,
in spite of all the anti-crying tendencies of her
nature, gushed from her eyes.

“Those dimpled hands,” thought Meredith,
“hiding so childishly her melting face, might move
an anchoret; but they move not me. I am too
pampered—to know that I have been loved by Isabella
Linwood, with all the bitter, cursed mortification
that attends it, is worth a world of such triumphs
as this. Poor Bessie—I remember too!
but, allons, I will take the good `the gods provide,'
since I cannot have that which they deny. Cousin—”

“Did you speak to me, Jasper?”

“Now, by my life,” thought Meredith, “my
words are congealed—they will not flow to such
willing ears.”

“I am playing the fool,” exclaimed Lady Anne,


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suddenly rising and dashing off her tears. “Good
night, Jasper—I have betrayed myself—no, no, I
did not mean that—pray forget my weakness—I
am nervous this evening for the first time in my
life, and I know nothing of managing nerves—
good night, Jasper!”

Meredith seized her hand and held her back.
“Indeed, my sweet coz, you must not go now.”

“Must not go! Why not?” she replied, excessively
puzzled by the expressive smile that
hovered on his lips.

“Why not! Because you are too much of an
angel to shut your heart so suddenly against me
after allowing me a glimpse at the paradise within.”

“What do you mean?” she asked, now beginning,
from Meredith's manner, and from the well-tutored
expression of his most sentimental eyes, to
have some dim perception of his meaning, and to
be disconcerted by it.

“Dear Anne, did you not, with your own peculiar,
enchanting ingenuousness, say you had betrayed
yourself? Never was there a sweeter—
a more welcome treachery.” He fell on his knee,
and pressed her hand to his lips.

“For the love of Heaven, Jasper,” she cried,
snatching her hand away, “tell me what I have
said or done.”

“Nothing that you should not, dearest cousin;
your betrayal, as you called it, was, I know, involuntary,
and for that the dearer.”


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“Are you in earnest, Jasper?”

“In earnest! most assuredly; and do you, Lady
Anne, like all your sex, delight in torturing your
captives?—your captive I certainly am, for life.”

The truth was now but too evident to Lady
Anne; but she was so unprepared for it, her mind
had been so wholly preoccupied, that it seemed to
her the marvellous result of some absurd misunderstanding.
At first she blushed, and stammered,
and then, following her natural bent, laughed

To Meredith, this appeared a childish artifice
to shelter her mortification at having made, in
military phrase, a first demonstration. His interest
was stimulated by this slight obstacle; and
rallying all his powers, he began a passionate declaration
in the good set terms “in such cases made
and provided;” but Lady Anne cut him off before
he had finished his peroration. “This is a most
absurd business, Jasper; I entreat you never to
speak of it again. Aunt, or somebody, or something,
has misled you—misled you certainly are.
I never in my life thought of you in any other
light, than as a very agreeable cousin, nor ever
shall. I am very sorry for you, Jasper; but really,
I am not in fault, for I never, by word or look,
could have expressed what I never felt. Good
night, Jasper.” She was running away, when she
turned back to add, “Pray, say nothing of this to
my aunt, and let us meet to-morrow as we have


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always met before.” She then disappeared, and
left Meredith baffled, mortified, irritated, and most
thoroughly awakened from his dreams. Her face,
voice, and manner, were truth itself; and rapidly
reviewing their past intercourse, and carefully
weighing the words that had misled him, he came
to the conclusion that he had been partly misguided
by his mother, and partly the dupe of his previous
impressions. The measure of his humiliations
was filled up.

But his vanity survived the severe and repeated
blows of that evening. Vanity has a wonderful
tenacity of life: it resembles those reptiles that
feed greedily on every species of food, the most
delicate and the grossest, and that can subsist on
their own independent vitality.