Page images
PDF
EPUB

I confess I was not quite of that opinion-I hated to see women do anything but sit still and hear their own praises ; even the exertion necessary to the display of accomplishments I considered too great for the delicate creatures who adorn the world. However, I made a sort of affirmative noise, and Harriet, who seemed to foresee a lengthened sitting, from the joyous and social temper of her father, made what is called a move; she went through the ceremonies previously observed by her respected mother, and I performed the same offices regarding the candle as I had executed for the elder lady, the only difference being, that when, instead of a cross repulsive frown which Mrs. Wells had bestowed upon me in return, I received one of Harriet's gentlest and sweetest smiles, my little finger somehow became strangely entangled with hers in the handle of the candlestick-I extricated it, and we shook hands—she kissed her father's forehead and cheek, and retired. Little did I anticipate the sequel.

“ That's as good a girl as ever lived, Gurney,” said her father, as she shut the door—“ help yourself—she has not a fault that I know of."

I bowed assent.

Are you really going to leave us?” said he ; "you find us dullwhat are you going to do after you return to town?”

I told him my future plans, and we were insensibly drawn into a lengthened conversation, which lasted upwards of an hour, as it subsequently proved; during which time we had drunk a very considerable quantity of whisky toddy, which my excellent host had undertaken to make, not only for himself, but me. I had called a halt with the brandy and water, which he advised me never to drink weak, as deleterious ; and after that, upon his earnest persuasion, I submitted myself to be toddyized according to his will and pleasure.

It was about one o'clock in the morning. I recollect the candles on the table had grown very short, and the wicks remarkably long, when, while preparing my third tumbler, Mr. Wells recurred to what, it was clear, was a very favourite subject.

“ I wonder, Gurney, you don't marry,” said he; “rely upon it, as I said at supper, there is nothing gives a man a place in the world so respectably as an early marriage-just taste that; is it strong enough? no, a leetle drop more-it settles a man -is it good ?”

“ Excellent," said I, sipping what appeared to me to be aqua-fortis and sugar, but which, from its colourless appearance, looked as weak as water.

“ Have you ever turned the subject over in your mind ?" said Wells“ever seriously thought of fixing ?"

“ Sometimes I have,” said I-and the face and figure of Mrs. Fletcher Green flitted before my eyes—“ but I see no chance, even if I resolved upon the measure, of realizing my wish."

Why so, Gilbert? why so ?---you don't drink, man, eh-why so?" “Why, you see, Sir,” said I,“ I have no fortune adequate to the support of an establishment, and I -"

“ Fortune !” said mine host, swallowing a comfortable draught of his own mixture—“ what has fortune to do with it? You have a profession, if you choose to follow it; as a single man you have no need of more income than you have, and therefore you do not pursue it; if you had a wife, you would.”

[ocr errors]

« I might,” said I, “ but there are very few parents, I suspect, who would permit me to marry their daughters upon such a principle.

" I differ with you there, Gurney,” said Mr. Wells; my notion is, give a girl a good husband—and I call a clever, honourable man a good husband-hang the money,-give her a good husband, and a man that she loves, and all will go well—it will be all sunshine, and shine the sun does alike upon the cottage or the palace."

“ It is not every man who entertains such liberal principles as you do,” said I.

“ Well, but what does that matter ?” replied my friend. Comecome, finish that glass, and let me make you another-see, I have finished mine, eh? What, as I say, signifies that? One parent of these opinions is enough, if that parent finds one young man of his way of thinking. Now, for instance, supposing any man were to make an offer to my dear child, Harriet,—the sweetest girl in the world I thinka treasure to any human being who may be happy enough to win her,

--if she liked him and said Aye, do you think I should say No, because - he was not rich? Give me your tumbler.”

Saying which he replenished the huge vessel which I had thrice emptied.

"But perhaps," continued he, " Harriet is not after your taste, and you would say in reply to my observation, that it was quite natural I should be glad to take the first that came-but that is not the case. Harriet has not been unwooed, although she has not yet, that I know of, been won. Of course, tastes differ; and although I think her everything that is amiable, you may not.”

“ Indeed, Sir," said I, with sincere warmth, “ I have the highest opis Enion of Miss Wells; nobody can admire her more than I do; nobody can more justly appreciate her excellent qualities."

“ 'Pon your life!” said Mr. Wells; “really—are you serious ? Why thei—why the deuce don't you come to the point ?-you know my feelings on the subject--why not marry her ?"

“ Sir,” said I, startled at the course the conversation had taken, and seeing through a sort of halo round the candles two Messrs. Wells sitting opposite to me, “ I never ventured to allow myself to think of such a thing. I

“But why not, my dear friend,” said hem" have you tasted the new glass, eh?-come, you don't like it-taste and try, eh? Why not think of Harriet, hey?"

“Why, Sir,” said I, in a faltering tone,“ if I ever did think upon the subject, it would be absurd in me to put forward my pretensionsshe would never consent."

“Do you think not, Gilbert ?" exclaimed he; " then I think very differently-) do, by Jove-I think she is very fond of you; and I think that the cause of my old lady's snappishness to-night is her having made the discovery. I can see through a mill-stone as well as my neighbours- I could have told her that myself a fortnight ago-but what does it matter? why should I interfere? I said to myself if Harriet like Gilbert, and Gilbert like Harriet, I am sure I have no objection, eh ?-come, you don't drink.”

“Sir," said I, “I really am not conscious

[ocr errors]

re-appearance in the parlour. I instinctively rose-reeled a little round

“ Conscious,” said Wells; come, none of your nonsense. Old birds, Master Gilbert, are not to be caught with chaff. Do you

make me believe that either my girl or you care three straws what the moon is made of? or that when you go out in the garden astronomizing, you look at any stars but her eyes ? No, no—the fact is, she is very fond of you, and you are very

fond of her.” “ I have already expressed my opinion of Harriet," said I,“ and certainly am not disposed to retract a word I have said.”

“ You are a good fellow,” said Wells, “ a fine honourable fellow; and I like to hear you call her Harriet.”

" You are too kind,” continued I; " but whatever those feelings may be, I am quite sure it would be useless for me to expect a return.”

“ Useless !” interrupted he;" why useless? I tell you the girl is over head and ears in love with you. Now, that's the truth.”

“ In that case,” said I, “ my happiness would be complete."

“ Would it !” exclaimed the animated father—"then, by Jove, you shall secure immediate felicity. Wait a moment-finish your toddy. You shall have the confession from her own lips.”

“ The ladies are gone to bed,” said I, somewhat startled at the promptitude of his proceeding.

“ No matter," replied he, lighting his candle, “ nothing like the time present-strike while the iron's hot. We'll see who's right-finish your toddy-that's all. I'll be back in a few minutes."

And away he went, sure enough, leaving me in a sort of maze—a kind of wonderment at what possibly could have brought about the event which had just occurred, and what would be the next step in the proceeding.

In a minute I heard my excellent friend in the room overhead—(his own bed-chamber)--a slight murmuring followed his arrival ; presently I heard the sound of feet pattering and paddling over the floor; then I heard them along a lobby, at the end of which was Harriet's apartment. Everything was still—it was two o'clock in the morning. I heard the door of her room open-I heard my friend again in his own room; then I heard some more scufiling and pattering about, and the door of Harriet's room shut-and then came a pause—and a I finished my glass of toddy. I could not go away, for Wells said he was coming back again. What I was to stay for I knew not; yet that jocose vein in which I indulged in other days, I contented myself with quoting Gay in a whisper to myself, and muttered

“ The wretch of toddy may be happy to-morrow." Little did I think how close at hand my happiness was.

I had—what with listening and wondering-fallen into a purgatorial state of intermediacy between sleeping and waking, when I was recalled to the entire possession of my senses, (under the operation, always be it understood, of the happy compound which my excellent host had so admirably made, and so liberally administered,) by the opelling of the dinner-room door, and the appearance of Mr. Wells, of Mrs. Wells, and of Miss Wells; the two latter evidently in a state of amiable dishabille,--the elder lady looking excessively good natured, and the younger one seeming ready to sink under the effects of her extraordinary

murmuring-and

in

- saved myself by catching the back of my chair-and saw, what I never expected to see, two Harriets; as this duplication had previously occurred with regard to her respectable father, I was a good deal puzzled.

“Sit down, dear Gilbert," said Wells. Sally, my love," continued che, addressing his better half, “Gilbert has declared his feelings towards HarrietWho's right now, old lady ?—He loves her, and she

“ Dear Papa,” said poor Miss Wells, “ what do you mean?”

“ I mean all that is good,” replied Wells. “ Sarah, my love, let us step into the drawing-room for a few minutes, and Gilbert will tell her E what he means."

I

mean, Sir," said I

I know what you mean, my dear fellow—you have told me that : already,” said Papa. “Ask her the question—that's all.”

" And don't be long, Mr. Gurney,” said Mrs. Wells," for I am afraid the poor dear girl should catch cold.”

And, having made their speeches, this respectable couple disappeared in a moment. I winked my eyes--they were gone– I concluded through the door-way, but, for all I saw of their exit, they might have gone up the chimney. When they were fairly out of the room, Harriet--who seemed to me to be quite aware of my extraordinary and unusual elevation of spirits-said, in her gentlest tone of voice,“ What does all this mean, · Gilbert-why have you sent for me?-I am only half awake—but it does seem most extraordinary-why are we here?

“Upon my word,” said I, endeavouring to see through what appeared to be a thick fog, and trying to speak plain, despite of what seemed some grievous impediment, “I don't know, Harriet; your father,"—there I faltered, and she began to cry. I“ mooned” out, that my sympathetic ignorance of the object of our dialogue had wounded her feelings-I would not have given her a moment's pain for a gold-mine. “ Your father," I resumed,“ told me that—,” hereabouts I forgot what he had

“ that—if I were to-offer myself to you as a husband—you would not refuse me.”

The look she gave me I never shall forget—it was like the sun clearing away the morning mist: there was a mixture of pleasure-of surprise-of doubt-of melancholy in the expression of her countenance, well suited to our extraordinary position-she gazed at me for a moment steadily.

Gilbert,” said she, sobbing, “ I am sure you have too much honour, too much kindness, too much feeling to say this if you are not in earnest; is it for this I have been brought here? What can I say? Oh! my wild, thoughtless father - my pride—my - what does it mean--you would not trifle with me?"

How could I ?-a warm-hearted, amiable, excellent girl ; and oh! how like volcanoes covered with snow are the cold-mannered, placid, quiet creatures, whose fire is all within! She was alone with me—her feelings excited a train fired-my feelings brought out, like the doubtful colouring of some suspected master, by the varnish of Weils’s toddythe result was inevitable.

" Harriet,” said I, catching her round the waist, and “ sealing," after my usual fashion, the preliminaries on her lips, “ your father is mistaken, you will not-I know you will not_accept me!"

She said not a word. Her head dropped on my shoulder, and her

told me,

hand rested in mine. I sealed again-the door opened, and in walked Mr. and Mrs. Wells !

“ I told you so, Gilbert—I told you so," said Wells. Harriet disentangled herself from my bold embrace, and, followed by Mrs. Wells, quitted the room; not however before the elderly lady had patted my head in a most flattering manner.

“ I told you so, Gurney,” said Wells. “ Come, one more glasshealth, happiness, and prosperity-son-in-law, pledge me!”

By the ingenious contrivance of a spirit-lamp under his huge silver kettle, Wells retained enough of the caloric to keep it up at a proper temperature, even though the servants were gone to bed. I bowed assent, for I confess I was rather overcome; and we commenced our fresh and last glass standing, or rather sitting, in an extremely different relation to each other, than we had done earlier in the evening, when Harriet and I were on the gravel-walk talking about the moon, and my respectable friend was in the bosquet listening to us.

The conversation did not flow rapidly or freely; the “Of course, Gilbert, you will come to breakfast,” sounded more like a claim than an invitation—a result, rather than an impulse; and as for talking of Harriet, now irrevocably my own, it seemed to me a matter of impossibility. Wells once or twice patted my shoulder, and once took my hand into his, and sipped a sort of paternal “ God bless you, my boy,” to which I replied in the same spirit; and so we went on until it was three o'clock, and the sun which had set while I was yet wholly disengageda Platonic friend of Miss Wells—a bachelor free as a bee, to sip and rove, and rove and sip-had risen upon me, a pledged and accepted lover. It seemed strange-rather pleasant, but extremely wrong; however, I thought silence the safest course, and therefore held my tongue; and when I was quietly“ let out" by my intended father-inlaw, to make my way to the house of my neglected and much-injured friends, with whom I fancied myself staying, he gave me just such a pat on the shoulder as his exemplary lady had bestowed upon my head, and I found myself, in a bright summer morning, measuring the breadth rather than the length of my road to Woodbridge's hospitable mansion.

This may hereafter seem improbable and unnatural, but, nevertheless, it is true—it is a fact-an incident which, as will appear in the sequel, led to many others. I confess, as I wended my way from Wells's, I began to reflect and to think, but with that sort of maudlin wisdom with which men are possessed under similar circumstances. However, I wound up all my calculations with one conclusive remark made to myself

, but in an audible voice-“ What is done cannot be undone-Harriet is mine for ever!" and I clasped my hands, and stamped my feet as I went along, as if she were there, and saw and heard me.

I reached Woodbridge's house-the family had been buried in sleep for hours—I felt ashamed at being so late, and when I slipped and stumbled on the staircase, consoled myself with thinking I did it on purpose. I entered my room, and threw myself on the bed; and there I lay, overcome by sleep and fatigue of mind—nor did I wake until my servant came to fetch my clothes, when I was disturbed by the noise he made, and found myself, at nine o'clock in the morning, recumbent on the quilt, dressed as I was when I came home, and betrothed to Miss Harriet Wells.

« PreviousContinue »