« PreviousContinue »
proceeded, “You know that pretty little box called Woodbine Lodge, which you admired so much for its situation : it is mine, I lent it to young Mendlesham, who is just quitting it; so that I can let you have it, and I am sure if you would take it, it would be a blessed exchange. I obliged him with it, because his father was an old chum of mine, and I never ceased fretting, and wishing him out of it from the moment he got in it. He used it as a hunting lodge, but it would not be too small for two ladies; and there Matilda might have her harp, and you might have
your books and drawings ; it is only a walk across the park, so that I should be near enough sometimes to drop in upon you, and forget, in your society, the miserable forlorn condition of solitary man.”
Mrs. Melbourne easily saw into Sowerby's real motive for wishing her and Matilda to give up London ; which was, by fixing them near him, to secure some compensation for the loss of Clara's society, whom he had vainly hoped to induce to live with him. The gentle nun, now her health was reestablished, considered every hour she spent away from her convent as a crime; and Sowerby saw himself about to be deprived, at once, of the little female society that had chased away the gloom from his solitary hearth, just as he began to acquire a taste for its charms. Could Mrs. Melbourne behold this constant and active friend of her adversity sinking under the gloom and depression induced by desertion and disappointment? She read his feelings; and, without taking counsel with any one, or communicating the conflicts that rent her heart, she, with unpretending greatness at once made her election. " 'Tis but one pang more, she said, “and surely I who have endured so many may easily learn to bear it.”
To fix herself in the neighbourhood of the Rocks was to tear open the rounds of her widowed heart; yet still, the idea of its being a sacrifice, a sacrifice too for a man, whom it was impossible a mind perhaps, perhaps, to a degree of artificial refinement, could regard with partiality, added, perhaps, a secret charm to her resolution, in the opinion of a woman firm and energetic in all her decisions as Mrs. Melbourne. However de fective in manner, his late conduct had evinced the sterling goodness of his heart. To make the widow and child of his friend for get, in his attentions, the loss they had sustained, seemed the chief object of his life; and a remembrance of Melbourne, that shone in almost every word he addressed them, and in his most indifferent actions, imparted to them an interest that a inore courteous and polished deportment might have failed to inspire. These circumstances Mrs. Melbourne represented to Sir Harold in the communication she made to him respecting her wish to give up the house in town. To speak of the obligations of friendship and gratitude was to speak conviction to the amiable Baronet. He highly approved of the motives that determined her conduct. And as for Mr. Sowerby, when once he had arranged her removal, he was so anxious to secure the house for her, and seemed so eager to prevent his friend Mendlesham from changing his mind, that he might have appeared to an in
different observer, already weary of the long abode she had made at his own.
Clara entreated she might have every moment of the company of her friends till the hour arrived for her departure; but Sowerby would have hurried them immediately into the new house, though he confessed himself it was in want of some repairs; and when they objected to the smell of paint, or the feel of damp mortar, flew into as great a passion with the weakness and fastidiousness of the sex, as if they had proposed the most unreasonable objection in the world.
Mrs. Melbourne good-humouredly rallied him on his impatience to turn them away; “ I understand your friend,” said she, “made a kennel of every room in the house. You will not surely have the inhumanity to move us 'till those holes are stopped up that his canine favorites gnawed through the doors, or rather 'till you have put up new ones.
“ There are no holes," muttered Sowerby, and, when obliged to confess there were, he still would not allow it as a sufficient reason for delay.
“ The doors are mended, the
shutters are fast, the rooms are painted, the paint is dry, there are no dogs, and now will you take possession ?” Who would have imagined that this obliging requisition was only the singular manner in which this mixture of misanthropy and benevolence endeavoured to secure the company of two most valuable women, whom he wished for life as his neighbours.
Mrs. Melbourne knew it, and while she smiled at his uncourtly demonstrations of anxiety, felt that they proceeded from sincere solicitude for her comfort and convenience. And when he roughly reproached her for not hastening the removal of various articles to her new house, or vented his spleen in some of his usual exclamations against the procrastination of women, she ceased to complain of his whimsical peculiariarities, wlien she recollected the motive for all this bustling impatience. He was a friend, whose generosity and kindness were not to be questioned ; although, from some strange caprice or absurd notion of petty economy, he inight give his guests black tea instead of green; or wear his favourite old black coat