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to teach her — for Abelard was not the only man, by
many and many an one, who has enjoyed playing the
tutor to an agreeable woman — while thus he proceeded
with scientific explanation, the little deceiver, with her
eyes intelligently fixed on his, and lips that scarcely
moved, was all the time boasting to her audience before
the screen of '* How nicely she was taking in the p-o-or
d-ear deaf man ! Such a delicious case of humbug ! "
And sometimes it was Mrs. Barclay's cue to interfere,
with an admonitory finger held up at her sister, and a
hope expressed that Mr. Manley would not allow Phebe
to worry him. '^ The naughty girl has always been the
pet and plaything of the house, and we know that spoilt
children will be troublesome sometimes."

It proved no trifling advantage to Phebe Divet in her
designs upon Mr. Frere, that she was singularly young-


looking for her years. She had in fact passed that
" phase " (as the moderns have it) of female existence,
when spinsters may legally receive and pocket their own
dividends ; but her figm'e was still so girlish in its pro-
portions, and she commonly adopted such a careless child-
like manner, that strangers were constantly deceived in
her age. Frere fell into the usual error of supposing her
a young thing, still considerably in its teens, and treated
her accordingly — that is to say, with a good-humoured
familiarity which was rather caressing than respectful.
The evening of their first acquaintance was hardly over
before he called her by her Christian name ; and though,
slightly apologizing for the liberty, never more accosted
her as Miss Divet.

He liked, he said, the name of Phebe ; it had lost the
coldness of its classical derivation, and had come to
breathe the soft atmosphere of pastoral life. " An air
warm and perfumed," he repeated with a smile, his
fancy wandering as he spoke from the simplicity of
adornment which would have characterized the Phoebes
of Grecian antiquity, but have ill accorded with Divet's
little daughter, to the coquettish flutter of ribbons and
garlands, with the pipes and crooks and other toys of
the medieval Arcadia, in which the second race of
Phebes had risen and flourished — a style incomparably
better suited to the innocent yet arch-looking person be-
fore his eyes. " She could never aspire to be celebrated
in an ode," he told her, " but might be well contented
with the madrigal which supplied its place."

The Divets were highly delighted with all this. So


long as Frere's expressions seemed to imply a compli-
ment to their " pet lamb," tliey had too little delicacy of
feeling to demur at the style, however negligent, in which
his approbation was conveyed.

Whenever any thing struck them as particularly
favourable to the grand project they had in view, some
report of it soon found its way to the Patriarch ; and on
this occasion Divet incontinently shufEed off to the old
gentleman's apartments, to boast that Manley Frere was
already — " actually already " — addressing their little girl
as plain Phebe, and likening her — " only think, my dear
sir ! — he has been comparing her to — what do you sup-
pose ?" rubbing his hands vehemently — " a shepherdess !
nothing will serve him but she is like a shepherdess !
She is a clever little thing, that must be allowed —
devilish clever ! Yes, he calls her a shepherdess ! Capital,
isn't it, sir ? Admirable, by Jove ! "

" Good, good ! " came the answer, more deliberately
given. " Our young man, then, comes on favourably
you think, David ? "

" Why, in fact, my dear father, what, considering all
things, can be better ? They have scarcely been in com-
pany with each other three times, and here he is compli-
menting her in the highest style. Ha, ha ! a shepherdess !
Upon my soul, it only surprises me how quietly and
naturally every thing is coming round."

Old Divet echoed the chuckle of satisfaction, but in a
tone of moderation. Unbounded presumption of suc-
cess, even when the sun of prosperity seemed to shine
the fiercest, was not for one who had practised law


and studied life for much the best part of his ninety

^' And so he makes fine speeches to her ah'eady ? and
our little Phebe is to be his shepherdess ! Ha, ha ! She
will have a singular swain in him, David ; " and the old
fellow's sense of the ludicrous found vent in a soft laugh,
and a peculiar twinkle of his deep-set eyes. " A deaf
Corydon figuring in an eclogue would be something of
a novelty, eh ? "

"Never mind that, sir!" said Divet triumphantly.
" There's nothing like modern improvements : besides, I
remember there was a song my grandmother used to
sing us about a blind beggar of Bethnal Green. I don't
know what you may think ; but in my opinion a deaf
millionnaire is quite as poetical as such an old fogie as

" Just so, David ; you have hit the mark exactly, my
son — quite as poetical and much more to our purpose."

While the Divete thus exulted over the development
of their plans, Miss Palliser was curling her lip of scorn.
" He treats her like a child," she said, " and condescends
to her as he would to a mere baby."

" True," was George Barclay's reply ; " but if you had
seen as much of the world as I have, you would know
that it is precisely of such children and such babies that
men desire to take to themselves partners for life."

From such short and unsatisfying conferences with a
sympathizer, whose merits, except in one particular, were
very questionable — who often differed from her opinions,
and ended by violating her finer sense of right or pro-


priety — Miss Palliser always turned to Lucy Ainsworth
as her only real confidant.

The cousins met but seldom, years having latterly
passed without affording them the opportunity of re-
newing their personal intercourse, and exchanging face
to face, the youthful confidences in which their friend-
ship had originated.

Estimating character with an instinct of intelligence
almost too quick and unerring, and a judgment ever
verging towards the harsh, a nearer association with this
cousin might have disappointed Maria, for her taste was
growing every day more morbidly fastidious. But the
style of her correspondent was sensible and affectionate,
and in that leaning towards the sympathy of our kind
which is so common to humanity, that even Miss Pal-
liser's boasted self-sufiSciency could not check the natural
impulse. She had invested Lucy Ainsworth (a kind and
intelligent woman, but never an enthusiast) with just the
qualities which seemed to constitute her as a meet depo-
sitory for the secret emotions of a heart which none
beside herself had ever fathomed ; fanciful at times, and
wild and deeply imbued as these feelings were with the
despondency of a scepticism, which it was to be hoped
that circumstances rather than any natural tendency had
bred and fostered.

" I never," she said, " have had the patience or reso-
lution to keep a diary, though my letters to you bear
very much the same character : not that I profess to tell
even you all that passes through my brain ; yet if these
letters of mine could be compared with the generality of



journals, it might be found that I am, on the whole, as
open and honest with my cousin Lucy as most people
are with themselves. Knowing the deceitfulness of the
human heart, we cannot suppose that there are many
whose daily memorial of their lives is the perfectly un-
biassed and sincere thing they profess to make it ; for, to
be sincere, it must be a transcript of the writer's very self.
In it he must drag to light the secrets of his inmost soul,
suffering no natural remorse or sense of shame to restrain
him; any reservation or self-deceit would cause a fiawinthe
crystal mirror which he is holding before his eyes. There
must be a strict analysis of motives — base though they
may have been — ay, basest of the base ! and a noting
down in the plainest terms of every defeat that has fol-
lowed his faint efforts at bettering his wretched nature.
" Lucshe called " this freak " of the Colonel's,
^'so foreign to his usual deliberate habits; and there
are people who, having formed a character for consistency,
would do well not to transgress it unnecessarily. How
often have I heard him say — for he makes no scruple of
repeating a pet aphorism pretty often — that * surprises
were foolish things ; ' and now he is practising upon me
the very thing he despises I "

There had been time only to scribble this ungrateful
paragraph, but not to repent of it, when, lo ! there came
a drumming at Miss Palliser's door as of twenty full-
sized knuckles, instead of the moderate allowance
commonly apportioned to woman ; while the voice of
cousin Sally thundered to her not to " shilly-shally about
dressing up in her best beseems ; for you know, my


dear," said she, putting her shrewd yet good-humoured
face within the doorway — " you know as well as I do,
that Ben Hussey would rather have you come down to
him in a grogram gown and a stuff apron, than the
Queen of Sheba all bedizened to meet King Solomon."

Maria, hastening to seal her letter, answered she was
quite ready, and, with a forced vivacity that sat very
awkwardly upon her, kept talking much faster than
usual ; amongst other irrelevant matters, asking Mrs.
Sarah, as they went together down-stairs, " What was
the meaning of the word grogram ? What sort of
stuff could it be ? Was it what they used to wear
for penitential garments ? And did cousin Sally really
think Colonel Hussey would like her to meet him in
sackcloth and ashes ? "

There was something so unlike herself in the sound
of Miss Palliser's laugh, that the old lady, in her gruff
but sensible way, requested her " not to talk such non-
sense," and so they completed their descent from the
upper story.

A world of thought may be entertained even in
coming down an ordinary staircase at an ordinary pace.
The foot must plod step by step till it reaches the solid
floor or the stone pavement ; but where is the limit
assigned for the brain which gives the impulse to that
foot ? What measured gradation or final resting-place
shall ever be found for that ? Waking or sleeping it
must still work on, and each round of the mental
ladder be formed of some human thought, implying the
power of transgression — if not the very act itself.


To judge by Maria's expression as she effected this
short transit to the presence of her betrothed, she might
have been suspected of forming some important reso-
lution in which his interests were specially involved.
But her disposition, though perverted, was not devoid of
generosity, and it was somewhat to the credit of the
human nature she was so prone to depreciate, that the
meeting of this morning, instead of heightening the
irritability caused by Colonel Hussey's sudden appearance,
served materially to allay it. Indeed, it would have
argued a want of the very commonest elements of
feminine sensibility, had she encountered his warm
greeting without some touch of compunction for the
ungrateful sentiments so lately harboured against him —
him, who had never in thought, word, or deed, evinced
one disloyal thought towards her !

She had been so busy for some time past cavilling at
every foible of his, and magnifying his least defect, that
the Colonel's better qualities were vanishing fast out of
her remembrance ; so that, when she met him speaking
and moving exactly in his usual fashion, and as he was
wont to do when his company had been the most accept-
able to her, and had constituted, without doubt, the
pleasantest solace of her isolated condition — then the
impression of those old times (for old they seemed to
her now) came back and settled upon her heart ;
and, even as she lamented and excused the obduracy of
that heart, it grew softer, and more susceptible of less
selfish imaginings.

In this critical point of their intimacy. Colonel


Hussey's quiet manners stood him in excellent stead.
Had he approached his faltering mistress in the character
of an impassioned adorer, he would have been insuffer-
able to her, but she was spared that trial ; for though the
absence which had partially alienated her had served but
to heighten his true affection, his mode of address was
still that of a tender and devoted friendship, displayed in
all things that could minster to the welfare and gratifi-
cation of its object, rather than by the demonstrations of
a sighing swain.

But perhaps what touched Maria more than every thing
else in the behaviour of her affianced husband, was the
perfect and implicit reliance with which he regarded
her, she knowing all the while how grievously she was
deceiving him. The signs of that great change which
had actually past over her since their last meeting, her
absent manner and hurried articulation, were not entirely
lost upon him, but his observations never took the form
of jealousy or distrust ; himself incapable of a thought
unfaithful to his Maria, the good Colonel never for an
instant suspected her of infidelity towards himself.

For the first time in her acquaintance with Colonel
Hussey, ^liss Palliser tacitly acknowledged herself the
inferior being ; she had never thought his face remarkable
for expression, yet this day she could not look steadily
upon it, but felt her eyes ever sinking abashed beneath
his gaze, as it rested upon her, beaming with such trustful,
calm security ; nor, as he went on quietly chatting with

her, could she observe how much his thoughts had been

occupied by her, and how, in the preparations for their


marriage and subsequent voyage, her satisfaction and
convenience bad been ever bis cbief concern, witbout
applying to berself tbe unintentional reproacb, and
wishing, in sad sincerity, that she were better able to
reward the unmerited devotion of so kind a nature.

Mr. Frere, who had been abroad all the morning, did
not return home till long after the Colonel's arrival ; yet
even liis entrance failed to turn the rational course of
her reflections, or materially disturb the good resolutions
she had been forming.

The very slight link of sympathy which had seemed
to connect Maria with this interesting and unfortunate
man, when on that one happy day she had walked by
his side as liis interpreter and adviser — this sweet im-
pression of mutual understanding — was never to be
renewed ; another had taken her place. The Divets,
who, to do them justice, were seldom backward in kind-
ness to their poor neighbours (though a certain bustle
and love of publicity was apt to herald their good deeds),
had accompanied their deaf guest to the scene of the
conflagration ; and there, at the ruined village, Miss
Palliser could picture to herself how effectually, and yet
with a show of perfect simplicity, he and Phebe had
been coupled and associated together ; that ready little
person filling the gentle office that she had found so
strangely sweet — and filling it, no doubt, so well — with
such clever alacrity — such easy bright-eyed cheerfulness !

There was some aching of the heart as this vision
crossed Maria, yet it had jts ^use in drawing her closer
still to her unsuspecting lover, pointing liim out as her


sole stay and support ; the only real friend she had to
look to for the reciprocation of those human sympathies
which she was tardily learning to appreciate ; therefore
she checked the sigh that was bursting from her bosom
as an offence against him, and for herself a luxury too
great to be indulged.

A more common mind than Maria's misrht have
sought comfort in reflecting that if her fancy had gone
astray for once, the error, short-lived and quickly repented,
was far transcended by that most absurd delusion which
her host and his daughters were so seduously nursing ;
but to Maria, the bare possibility of being justly compared
in conduct or feeling with any of the Divets, was but
another cause for self-condemnation. And we may
observe, in further illustration of this sentiment of aver-
sion, that within the range of imaginable topics, there
was not one which threatened so seriously to lower her
esteem for Colonel Hussey, and her faith in his prin-
ciples and propriety, as the indulgence he uniformly
displayed towards the designs and unblushing conduct
of liis relations. It struck her as a circumstance no less
strange than unlucky, that they should differ thus widely
on a subject to her so peculiarly interesting, and one
the discussion of which it was scarcely possible for her to
escape. Miss Palliser forgot that it was because the sub-
ject peculiarly touched her feelings, that she was rendered
so sensitive about the Colonel's opinions. Many a
matter of taste or feeling might have been discovered,
affording as complete an opposition of sentiment between
herself and her future husband as this ; but, being quec-

VOL. L s


tions of perfect indifference to her, they were suffered to
pass into oblivion, without care or comment. Here a
partiality acknowledged only to her own heart, and her
correspondent Lucy Ainsworth, caused her to be doubly
observant, and, wherever the Colonel was concerned, little
less than hypercritical.

Her lover bore on ordinary occasions the impress of a
gentleman, yet something verging on positive vulgarity
affected his tone of thought and expression whenever he
referred to the deaf guest ; and Miss Palliser would have
gone miles to avoid the mortification of hearing the Colo-
nel make what he called " the agreeable " to Frere. With
overstrained gesticulation and misplaced emphasis, he
would commence in a consequential key some rigmarole
about himself and his future destination, including some
notice of the yellow fever at Gibraltar, and interspersed
with sundry allusions to his own state of indigestion and
dyspepsia ; which hard word producing a wondering look
from Frere, fully justified the unanimous interference of
the whole family — cousin Sally vociferating her loudest —
to make it intelligible, while Kezia's slate and Phebe's
pretty fingers came equally into play.

From a slight dialogue thus carried on, the good Colo-
nel turned to his betrothed, and in a tone of infinite
content and complacency said, ^' And so, my love, I find
you make it out better with poor Frere than you ex-
pected. Ah, Maria ! " and he regarded her with an arch
yet approving smile, " I shall oblige you to confess, after
all, that I comprehend you better than you do yourself.
I was sure you would find good-humour and patience


enougli to meet any occasion where such qualities were
demanded — quite sure ; " and taking a hand of his fair
friend in one of his, while he gently and deliherately
patted it with the other (a favourite mode with the good
Colonel of expressing the overflowings of his manly ten-
derness), he added — " When was my Maria ever deficient
in kindness and compassion towards the unfortunate ? "

" I have little occasion for the exercise of any such
virtues/' she coldly replied. " Mr. Frere has a fund of
acquirements that render him quite independent, and
place him very far above any efforts / could make to
amuse him."

'^Poor fellow!" said the Colonel complacently — "I
am glad to hear it. Yes, I remember hearing he was a
good linguist, and pottered a little in botany and that
kind of thing. But, for all that, I am given to understand
that our deaf friend shows no objection to the assistance
of a certain fair lady in passing away the dull hours of
the day."

Miss Palliser answered the Colonel's knowing smile
with a curl of her contemptuous lip. " If you allude to
the matrimonial designs which this family have formed
with regard to him, I think both you and they will
shortly discover how foolishly their time has been wasted
in the pursuit."

He was surprised, and altering his tone said, " Why,
even the Patriarch considers the thing all but settled, for
he told me so himself when I went to pay my respects
to him just before dinner ; and look at them— just look
at them now — Maria ! What do you say to that, eh ?"


But Miss Palliser refused to see any thing suspicious
in what the Colonel referred to — Phebe busily talking to
Frere with her little hands, and he looking down upon
her with that air of civil superiority, which Maria thought
was never more evident than when he came in contact
with this ai-tful girl ; answering her a careless word now
and then, and occasionally smiling at what she said, or
perhaps at the glance of her arch little eyes. The
Colonel's mistress drew herself up disdainfully — "An
ordinary man," she said, " might be in danger; but there
is too much both of pride and delicacy in ]\Ir. Frere to
allow of his becoming the dupe of Phebe Divet."

" Humph !" the Colonel stiffly rejoined; "Mr. Frere may
do a worse thing for himself than marry my cousin Phebe."

"As she is your cousin," said Maria softening her
tone, " and as I am profiting by the hospitality of her
family, I must take heed how I express myself; but I
think I know what you would say if you were to s^ any
other family acting like the Divets — leaguing together
to ensnare a man of Mr. Frere's rank and fortune, and
especially one whose circumstances ought to give him a
pecuhar claim on their protection as well as respect. I
am sure you would consider that he, of all persons,
should be held sacred from such interested designs."

"But don't you see, my love, that it is this very
peculiarity in the circumstances of poor Frere that places
the question with regard to him and Phebe out of the
common line of argument.^ Supposing him to be
enjoying all his faculties hke other people, there could
bo but one opinion on the subject; but with disadvaa-


tages like liiSj poor fellow ! he may be reckoned only too
lucky if lie should get such a nice little wife as Phebe
Divet to take care of him. Depend on it, Maria, that is
the view that will be universally taken of this matter.
Why, even you yourself, my dear girl,'* and here the
pa ttings, which had subsided during the heat of discussion,
were resumed with such spirit that it required all ]\Iiss
Palliser's resolution not to draw her hand away.

" I do full justice to the generosity of your nature, and
am persuaded you would cling to the man of your choice
througli every accident that might befall him— nobody
acquainted with my Maria can doubt her stability; but
put yourself for a moment— just for a moment — in Phebe's
place, and fancy what it would be to have to twiddle
your fingers as she is now doing all day long, or speak
through a tube, or shout like Mrs. Sarah. Ah, Maria,
Maria!" and the Colonel laughed triumphantly, "I see
you shrink at the bare mention of such a life, and the
recapitulation of such sad duties. And no wonder, my
love : amiable as you are, you need not be afraid of con-
fessing a feeling which must be natural to all your sex.
So, with that conviction on our minds," added the
Colonel cheerfully, "let us not grudge poor Manley
Frere the lucky chance that has fallen to his lot, or
inquire too narrowly into the motives and views of the
good-natured girl who volunteers to make liim happy.
And, prejudice apart, Maria, we must allow that she
manages our deaf friend to perfection-^eh ? See how
the little rogue humours and plays about him ! Ha, ha !
Yery well, Miss Phebe ! very well, indeed !"


"Isn't she admirablej Ben?" said Divet, who had
fidgeted up to the lovers near enough to catch some-
thing of the Colonel's applause. " Doesn't she do it
capitally ? Twists and turns him whichever way she
likes, by Jove ! And now she is taking his dogs in hand.
Bravo, bravo ! The little vixen adapts every thing to her
purpose — turns every thing so neatly to account. Upon
my soul her abilities perfectly astonish me — they do,
indeed ! "

" Yes," said Miss Palliser, as David shuffled off again ;
" the very animals in this house — the innocent, uncon-
scious animals — are made subservient to the plots and
double-dealing that is carried on in it ! ''

In explanation of which caustic remark, it must be
mentioned that, as a likely means of attracting Frere's
attention to herself, Phebe Divet had constituted herself
preceptress to the two dogs, his constant companions — had

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Online LibrarySallie Bingham Center for Women's History and CultThe three chances (Volume 1) → online text (page 16 of 21)