Part 6 out of 6
that corner all to themselves; I should like to go slily behind them,
and find out what they are talking about."
"Try and remember what you used to talk about to your partners in this
very room, some twenty years back, and perhaps recollection will
satisfy your curiosity," said Lady St. Eval, smiling, but faintly,
however; the names Herbert and Mary had recalled a time when those names
had often been joined before, and the silent prayer arose that their
fates might not resemble those whose names they bore, that they might be
spared a longer time to bless those who loved them.
"Twenty years back, Caroline, what an undertaking. Allan is more like
the madcap I was then, so I can better enter into his feelings of
pleasure. By-the-bye, why are not Mrs. Cameron's family here to-night? I
half expected to meet them here yesterday."
"They spend this season with Sir Walter and Lady Cameron in Scotland,"
replied Lady St. Eval. "Florence declared she would take no excuse; the
Marquis and Marchioness of Malvern, with Emily and Louis, are there
also, and Lady Alford is to join them in a week or two."
"You were there last summer, were you not?"
"We were. They are one of the happiest couples I know, and their estate
is most beautiful. Florence declares that, were Sir Walter Scott still
living, she intended to have made him take her for a heroine, her
husband for a hero, and transport them some centuries back, to figure on
that same romantic estate in some very exciting scenes."
"Had he killed Cameron's first love and rendered him desperate, and made
Florence some consoling spirit, to remove his despair, instead of making
him so unromantically enabled to conquer his passion, because
unreturned. Why I could make as good a story as Sir Walter himself; if
she will reward me liberally, I will set about it."
"It will never do, Lord Delmont, it is much too common-place," said Mrs.
Percy Hamilton, smiling. "It is a very improper question, I allow, but
who was Sir Walter's first love?"
"Do you not know? A certain friend of yours whom I torment, by declaring
she is invulnerable to the little god's arrows," he answered, joyously.
"She may be invulnerable to Cupid, but certainly not to any other kind
of love," remarked Lady St. Eval, as she smilingly pointed out to Mrs.
Percy's notice Miss Fortescue, surrounded by a group of children, and
bearing on her expressive countenance unanswerable evidences of her
interest in the happiness of all around her.
"And is it possible, after loving _her_ he could love another?" she
exclaimed, in unfeigned astonishment.
"Disagreeably unromantic, Louisa, is it not?" said Lord Delmont,
laughing heartily; "but what was the poor man to do? Ellen was
inexorable, and refused to bestow on him anything but her friendship."
"Which he truly values," interrupted Lady St. Eval. "You must allow,
Louisa, he was wise, however free from romance; the character of
Florence, in many points, very much resembles Ellen's. She is one of the
very few whom I do not wonder at his choosing, after what had passed. Do
you know, Edward, Flora Cameron marries in the spring?"
"I heard something about it; tell me who to."
She complied, and Percy and Mr. Grahame joining them, the conversation
extended to more general topics.
"Nay, Allan, dear, do not tease your sister," was Miss Fortesene's
gentle remonstrance, as Allan endeavoured, somewhat roughly, to draw
Minnie from her side, where, however, she clung with a pertinacity no
persuasion or reproach could shake.
"She will hurt Ellen," replied the boy, sturdily, "and she has no right
to take her place by you."
"But she may stand here too, there is room for us both," interrupted the
little Ellen, though she did not offer to give up her place in her
aunt's lap to her cousin.
"Go away, Allan, I choose to stand here, and aunt Ellen says I may," was
Minnie's somewhat impatient rejoinder, as she tried to push her brother
away, though her pretty little features expressed no ill-temper on the
occasion, for she laughed as she spoke.
"Aunt Ellen promised to dance with me," retorted Allan, "and so I will
not go away unless she comes too."
"With me, with me!" exclaimed Lord Manvers, bounding forward to join the
group. "She promised three months ago to dance with me."
"And how often have I not performed that promise, Master Charlie?"
replied Ellen, laughing, "even more often with you than with Allan, so I
must give him the preference first."
Her good-natured smiles, the voice which betrayed such real interest in
all that pleased her little companions, banished every appearance of
discontent. The magic power of affection and sympathy rendered every
little pleader satisfied and pleased; and, after performing her promise
with Allan, she put the final seal to his enjoyment by confiding the
little bashful Ellen to his especial care; a charge, which Myrvin
declared, caused his son to hold himself up two inches higher than he
had done yet.
"Ellen, if you do not make yourself as great and deservedly a favourite
with my children as with your brother's and Emmeline's, I shall never
forgive you," said the Earl St. Eval, who had been watching Miss
Fortescue's cheerful gambols with the children for the last half hour,
in extreme amusement, and now joined her.
"Am I not so already, Eugene?" she said, smiling that peculiar smile of
quiet happiness which was now natural to her countenance. "I should be
sorry if I thought they did not love me equally; for believe me, with
the sole exception of my little namesake and godchild, my nephews and
nieces are all equally dear to me. I have no right to make an exception
even in favour of my little Ellen, but Edward has so often called her
mine, and even Lilla has promised to share her maternal rights with me,
that I really cannot help it. Your children do not see so much of me as
Emmeline's, and that is the reason perhaps they are not quite so free
with me; but believe mo, dear St. Eval, it will not be my fault if they
do not love me."
"I do believe you," replied the Earl, warmly. "I have but one regret,
Ellen, when I see you loving and beloved by so many little creatures."
"And what may that be?"
"That they are not some of them your own, my dear girl. I cannot tell
you how I regret the fact, of which each year the more and more
convinces me, that you are determined ever to remain single. There are
very few in my list of female friends so fitted to adorn the marriage
state, very few who would make a better mother, and I cannot but regret
there are none on whom you seem inclined to bestow those endearing and
"Regret it then no more, my dear St. Eval," replied Ellen, calmly, yet
with feeling. "I thank you for that high opinion which I believe you
entertain of me, too flattering as it may be; but cease to regret that I
have determined to live an old maid's life. To me, believe me, it has no
terrors. To single women the opportunities of doing good, of making
others happy, are more frequent than those granted to mothers and wives;
and while such is the case, is it not our own fault if we are not happy?
I own that the life of solitude which an old maid's includes, may, if
the heart be so inclined, be equally productive of selfishness,
moroseness of temper, and obstinacy in opinion and judgment, but most
fervently I trust such will never be my attributes. It can never be
while my beloved aunt and uncle are spared to me, which I trust they
will be for many, many years longer; and even should they be removed
before I anticipate, I have so many to love me, so many to dearly love,
that I can have no time, no room for selfishness."
"Do not mistake me, Ellen," St. Eval replied, earnestly; "I do not wish
to see you married because I dread your becoming like some single women;
with your principles such can never be. Your society--your influence
over the minds of our children--is far too precious to be lightly wished
removed, as it would be were you to marry. It is for your own sake,
dearest Ellen, I regret it, and for the sake of him you might select,
that you, who are so fitted to enjoy and to fulfil them, can never know
the pleasures attendant on the duties of a happy wife and mother; that
by a husband and child, the dearest ties of earth, you will go down to
the grave unloved."
"You are right, St. Eval, they are the dearest ties on earth; but
pleasures, the pleasures of affection, too, are yet left to us, who may
never know them. Think you not, that to feel it is my place to cheer and
soothe the declining years of those dear and tender guardians of my
infancy must bring with it enjoyment--to see myself welcomed by smiles
of love and words of kindness by all my brothers and sisters--to see
their children flock around me as I enter, each seeking to be the first
to obtain my smile or kiss--to know myself of service to my
fellow-creatures, I mean not in my own rank, but those beneath me--to
feel conscious that in every event of life, particularly in sickness or
in sorrow, if those I so love require my presence, or I feel I may give
them comfort or sympathy, at least I may fly to them, for I shall have
no tie, no dearer or more imperious duty to keep me from them--are not
these considerations enough to render a single life indeed one of
happiness, St. Eval? Even from this calm, unruffled stream of life can I
not gather flowers?"
"You would gather them wherever you were placed, my dear and
noble-minded Ellen," said the Earl, with a warmth that caused her eye to
glisten. "You are right: with a disposition such as yours, I have no
need to regret you have so steadfastly refused every offer of marriage.
My girls shall come to you in that age when they think matrimony is the
only chance of happiness, and you shall teach them felicity dwells not
so much in outward circumstances as in the temper of the mind. Perhaps,
after all, Ellen, you are happier as it is. You might not find such a
husband as I would wish you, and I should be sorry to see your maternal
cares rewarded as were poor Mrs. Greville's."
"I rather think, in the blessedness of the present the past is entirely
forgotten," observed Ellen, thoughtfully. "There are cares and sorrows
attendant on the happiest lot; but if a mother does her duty, in my
opinion she seldom fails to obtain her recompense, however long
"You are right, my Ellen," said Mrs. Hamilton, who had been listening to
the conversation some little time unobserved. "There are many sorrows
and many cares inseparable from maternal love, but they are forgotten,
or only remembered to enhance the sweetness of the recompense that ever
follows. Do you not think, to see my children, as I do now around me,
walking in that path which alone can lead to eternal life, and leading
their offspring with them, bringing up so tenderly, so fondly their
children as heirs of immortality, and yet lavishing on me, as on their
father, the love and duty of former years--is not this a precious
recompense for all which for them I may have done or borne? Even as I
watched the departing moments of my Herbert, as I marked the triumphant
and joyful flight of his pure spirit to his heavenly home,--even then
was I not rewarded? I saw the fruit of those lessons I had been
permitted through grace to inculcate; his last breath blessed me, and
was not that enough? Oh, my beloved children, let no difficulties deter
you, no temptation, no selfish suffering prevent your training up the
lovely infants now gambolling around you, in the way that they should
go;--solemn is the charge, awful the responsibility, but sweeter far
than words can give it, the reward which either in life or death will
then be yours."
"Ah, could we perform our parts as you have yours, dearest mother, then
indeed might we hope it," exclaimed the Countess St. Eval and Mrs.
Myrvin at the same moment, as they drew closer to their mother, the eyes
of both glistening with emotion as they spoke.
"And if we do reap the happiness of which you spoke, to whom shall we
owe it, mother?" demanded Percy, feelingly; for he too, attracted by his
mother's emotion, had joined the group. "Whose care, under God's
blessing, has made us as we are, and taught us, not only by precept but
example, how to conduct ourselves and our children? yours and my
father's; and if indeed in after years our children look up to us and
bless us as we do you, oh, my mother, the remembrance of you will mingle
with that blessedness, and render it yet purer."
"Truly have you spoken, my son," said Mr. Hamilton, whose little
companions had about half an hour before been transported to their
nursery. "While sharing with your dear mother the happiness arising from
your conduct, my children, often and often has the remembrance of my
mother entered my heart to chasten and enhance those feelings. Gratitude
to her, reverence of her memory, have mingled with the present joy, and
so will it be with you. Your parents may have descended to the grave
before your children can be to you what you have been to us, but we
shall be remembered. Long, long may you feel as you think on your
mother, my beloved children, and teach your offspring to venerate her
memory, that the path of the just is indeed as a shining light, which
shineth more and more unto the perfect day."