Several days passed smoothly awayLord Aspenly was a perfect paragon of politeness; but although his manner invariably assumed a peculiar tenderness whenever he approached Miss Ashwoode, yet that young lady remained in happy ignorance of his real intentions. She saw before her a grotesque old fop, who might without any extraordinary parental precocity have very easily been her grandfather, and in his airs and graces, his rappee and his rouge (for his lordship condescended to borrow a few attractions from art), and in the thousand-and-one et ceteras of foppery which were accumulated, with great exactitude and precision, on and about his little person, she beheld nothing more than so many indications of obstinate and inveterate celibacy, and, of course, interpreted the exquisite attentions which were meant to enchain her young heart, merely as so much of that formal target practice in love's archery, in which gallant single gentlemen of seventy, or thereabout, will sometimes indulge themselves. Emily Copland, however, at a glance, saw and understood the nature of Lord Aspenly's attentions, and she saw just as clearly the intended parts and the real position of the other actors in this somewhat ill-assorted drama, and thereupon she took counsel with herself, like a wise damsel, and arrived at the conclusion, that with some little management she might, very possibly, play her own cards to advantage among them.
We must here, however, glance for a few minutes at some of the subordinate agents in our narrative, whose interposition, nevertheless, deeply, as well as permanently, affected the destinies of more important personages.
It was the habit of the beautiful Mistress Betsy Carey, every morning, weather permitting, to enjoy a ramble in the grounds of Morley Court; and as chance (of course it was chance) would have it, this early ramble invariably led her through several quiet fields, and over a stile, into a prettily-situated, but neglected flower-garden, which was now, however, undergoing a thorough reform, according to the Dutch taste, under the presiding inspiration of Tobias Potts. Now Tobias Potts was a widower, having been in the course of his life twice disencumbered. The last Mrs. Potts had disappeared some five winters since, and Tobias was now well stricken in years; he possessed the eyes of an owl, and the complexion of a
p.84turkey-cock, and was, moreover, extremely hard of hearing, and, withal, a man of few words; he was, however, hale, upright, and burlyperfectly sound in wind and limb, and free from vice and childrenhad a snug domicile, consisting of two rooms and a loft, enjoyed a comfortable salary, and had, it was confidently rumoured, put by a good round sum of money somewhere or other. It therefore struck Mrs. Carey very forcibly, that to be Mrs. Potts was a position worth attaining; and accordingly, without incurring any suspicionfor the young women generally regarded Potts with awe, and the young men with contemptshe began, according to the expressive phrase in such case made and provided, to set her cap at Tobias.
In this, his usual haunt, she discovered the object of her search, busily employed in superintending the construction of a terrace walk, and issuing his orders with the brevity, decision, and clearness of a consummate gardener.
Good-morning, Mr Potts, said the charming Betsy. Mr. Potts did not hear. Good-morning, Mr. Potts, repeated the damsel, raising her voice to a scream.
Tobias touched his hat with a gruff acknowledgment. Well, but how beautiful you are doing it, shouted the handmaid again, gazing rapturously upon the red earthen rampart, in which none but the eye of an artist could have detected the rudiments of a terrace, it's wonderful neat, all must allow, and indeed it puzzles my head to think how you can think of it all; it is now, raly elegant, so it is.
Tobias did not reply, and the maiden continued, with a sentimental air, and still hallooing at the top of her voice.
Well, of all the trades that isand big and little, there's a plenty of themthere's none I'd choose, if I was a man, before the trade of a gardener.
No, you would not, I'm sure, was the laconic reply.
Oh, but I declare and purtest I would though, bawled the young woman; for gardeners, old or young, is always so good-humoured, and pleasant, and fresh-like. Oh, dear, but I would like to be a gardener.
Not an old one, howsomever, growled Mr. Potts.
Yes, but I would though, I declare and purtest to goodness gracious, persisted the nymph; I'd rather of the two perfer to be an old gardener (this was a bold stroke of oratory; but Potts did not hear it); I'd rather be an old gardener, she screamed a second time; I'd rather be an old gardener of the two, so I would.
That's more than I would, replied Potts, very abruptly, and with an air of uncommon asperity, for he silently cherished a lingering belief in his own juvenility, and not the less
p.85obstinately that it was fast becoming desperatea peculiarity of which, unfortunately, until that moment the damsel had never been apprised. This, therefore, was a turn which a good deal disconcerted the young woman, especially as she thought she detected a satirical leer upon the countenance of a young man in crazy inexpressibles, who was trundling a wheelbarrow in the immediate vicinity; she accordingly exclaimed not loud enough for Tobias, but quite loud enough for the young man in the infirm breeches to hear,
As she approached the stile we have mentioned, she thought she distinguished what appeared to be the inarticulate murmurings of some subterranean voice almost beneath her feet. A good deal startled at so prodigious a phenomenon, she stopped short, and immediately heard the following brief apostrophe delivered in a rich brogue:
Aiqually beautiful and engagingvartuous Betsy Careylisten to the voice of tindher emotion.
The party addressed looked with some alarm in all directions for any visible intimation of the speaker's presence, but in vain. At length, from among an unusually thick and luxuriant tuft of docks and other weeds, which grew at the edge of a ditch close by, she beheld something red emerging, which in a few moments she clearly perceived to be the classical countenance of Larry Toole.
The Lord purtect us all, Mr. Toole. Why in the world do you frighten people this way? ejaculated the nymph, rather shrilly.
Whist! most evangelical iv women, exclaimed Larry in a low key, and looking round suspiciouslywhisht! or we are ruined.
La! Mr. Laurence, what are you after? rejoined the damsel, with a good deal of asperity. I'll have you to know I'm not used to talk with a man that's squat in a ditch, and his head in a dock plant. That's not the way for to come up to an honest woman, sirno more it is.
I'd live ten years in a ditch, and die in a dock plant, replied Larry with enthusiasm, for one sight iv you.
And is that what brought you here? replied she, with a toss of her head. I purtest some people's quite overbearing, so they are, and knows no bounds.
Stop a minute, most beautiful bayin'for one instant minute pay attintion, exclaimed Mr. Toole, eagerly, for he perceived that she had commenced her retreat. Tare an' owns! divine crature, it's not goin you are?
I have no notions, good or bad, Mr. Toole, replied the
p.86young lady, with great volubility and dignity, and no idaya in the wide world for to be standing here prating, and talking, and losing my time with such as youif my business is neglected, it is not on your back the blame will light. I have my work, and my duty, and my business to mind, and if I do not mind them, no one else will do it for me; and I am astonished and surprised beyant telling, so I am, at the impittence of some people, thinking that the likes of me has nothing else to be doing but listening to them discoorsing in a dirty ditch, and more particular when their conduct has been sich as some people's that is old enough at any rate to know better.
The fair handmaiden had now resumed her retreat; so that Larry, having raised himself from his lowly hiding-place, was obliged to follow for some twenty yards before he again came up with her.
Wait one half secondstop a bit, for the Lord's sake, exclaimed he, with most earnest energy.
Well, wonst for all, Mr. Laurence, exclaimed Mistress Carey severely, what is your business with me?
Jist this, rejoined Larry, with a mysterious wink, and lowering his voicea letter to the young mistress from here he glanced jealously round, and then bringing himself close beside her, he whispered in her earfrom Mr. O'Connorwhishtnot a wordinto her own hand, mind.
The young woman took the letter, read the superscription, and forthwith placed it in her bosom, and rearranged her kerchief.
Never fearnever fear, said she, Miss Mary shall have it in half an hour. And how, added she, maliciously, is Mr. O'Connor? He is a lovely gentleman, is not he?
He's uncommonly well in health, the Lord be praised, replied Mr. Toole, with very unaccountable severity.
Well, for my part, continued the girl, I never seen the man yet to put beside himunless, indeed, the young master may be. He's a very pretty young manand so shocking agreeable.
Mr. Toole nodded a pettish assent, coughed, muttered something to himself, and then inquired when he should come for an answer.
I'll have an answer to-morrow morningmaybe this evening, pursued she; but do not be coming so close up to the house. Who knows who might be on our backs in an instant here? I'll walk down whenever I get it to the two mulberries at the old gate; and I'll go there either in the morning at this hour, or else a little before supper-time in the evening.
Mr. Toole, having gazed rapturously at the object of his
p.87tenderest aspirations during the delivery of this address, was at its termination so far transported by his feelings, as absolutely to make a kind of indistinct and flurried attempt to kiss her.
Well, I purtest, this is overbearing; exclaimed the virgin; and at the same time bestowing Mr. Toole a sound box on the ear, she tripped lightly toward the house, leaving her admirer a prey to what are usually termed conflicting emotions.
When Sir Richard returned to his dressing-room at about noon, to prepare for dinner, he had hardly walked to the toilet, and rung for his Italian servant, when a knock was heard at his chamber door, and, in obedience to his summons, Mistress Carey entered.
Well, Carey, inquired the baronet, as soon as she had appeared, do you bring me any news?
The lady's-maid closed the door carefully.
News? she repeated. Indeed, but I do, Sir Richardand bad news, I'm afeard, sir. Mr. O'Connor has written a great long letter to my mistress, if you please, sir.
Have you gotten it? inquired the baronet, quickly.
Yes, sir, rejoined she, safe and sound here in my breast, Sir Richard.
Your young mistress has not opened itor read it? inquired he.
Oh, dear! Sir Richard, it is after all you said to me only the other day, rejoined she, in virtuous horror. I hope I know my place better than to be fetching and carrying notes and letters, and all soarts, unnonst to my master. Don't I know, sir, very well how that you're the best judge what's fitting and what isn't for the sight of your own precious child? and wouldn't I be very unnatural, and very hardened and ungrateful, if I was to be making secrets in the family, and if any ill-will or misfortunes was to come out of it? I purtest I nevernever would forgive myselfneverno more I oughtnever.
Here Mistress Carey absolutely wept.
Give me the letter, said Sir Richard, drily.
The damsel handed it to him; and he, having glanced at the seal and the address, deposited the document safely in a small leathern box which stood upon his toilet, and having locked it safely therein, he turned to the maid, and patting her on the cheek with a smile, he remarked,
Be a good girl, Carey, and you shall find you have consulted your interest best.
Here Mistress Carey was about to do justice to her own disinterestedness in a very strong protestation, but the baronet checked her with an impatient wave of the hand, and continued,
p.88Say not on any account one word to any person touching this letter, until you have your directions from me. Staythis will buy you a ribbon. Good-byebe a good girl.
So saying, the baronet placed a guinea in the girl's hand, which, with a courtesy, having transferred to her pocket, she withdrew rather hurriedly, for she heard the valet in the next room.