“There’s nothing I have done yet o’ my conscience, Deserves a corner; would all other women Could speak this with as free a soul as I do.” —Henry VIII'
WHILE HOPE LESLIE was deeply engaged in the object of her secret expedition, Governor Winthrop’s household was thrown into alarm at her absence.
Jennet was the only member of the family who did not admit that there was real cause of uneasiness. “Miss Hope,” she said, “was always like a crazed body of moonlight nights; there was never any keeping her within the four walls of a house.”
But a moonlight night it soon ceased to be. The clouds that had been scudding over the heavens, gathered in dark and terrific masses. A spring storm ensued; a storm to which winter and summer contribute all their elemental power — rain, lightning, wind, and hail.
Governor Winthrop naturally concluded, (for all persons not deeply interested are apt to be rational,) that Miss Leslie had taken refuge under some safe covert, and he summoned his family to their evening devotions. Both the Fletchers excused themselves, and braved the storm in quest of their lost treasure; and even old Cradock, in spite of Mrs. Grafton’s repeated suggestions that he was a very useless person for such an enter- prise, sallied forth; but all returned in the space of an hour to bring their various reports of fruitless inquiry and search. Everell remained but long enough to learn that there were no tidings of Hope, and was again rushing out of the house, when he met the object of his apprehensions at the hall
door. “Thank heaven!” he exclaimed, on seeing her, “you are safe. Where have you been? — we were all in the most distressful alarm about you.”
Hope had, by this time, advanced far enough into the entry for Everell to perceive, by the light of the lantern, that she was muffl ed in Sir Phili p G a rd iner’s cloak. His face had kindled with joy at her appearance; all light now vanished from it, and he stood eyeing Hope with glances that spoke, though his lips refused again to move; while she, without observ ing or suspecting his emotion, did not reply to him, and was only intent on disengaging herself from the cloak. “Do help me, Everell,” she said, impatiently; and he endeavoured to untie the string that fastened it, but in his agitation, instead of untying, he doubled the knot.
“Oh, worse and worse!” she exclaimed, and, without any farther ceremony, she broke the string and running back to the door, gave the cloak to Sir Philip, who stood awaiting it, till then unperceived by Everell, in the shadows of the portico.
Everell again looked at Miss Leslie in the natural expectation of some explanation, but she appeared only concerned to escape to her own apartment without any inquiries from the family. Her face was extremelv pale; and her voice, still affected by recent agitation, trembled as she said to Everell, “be kind enough to tell your father, and all of them, that 1 have come in drenched with the rain, and have gone to my own room — that I am wearied, and shall throw off my wet garments, and get to bed as soon as possible;” and then adding, a “good night, Everell,” and without awaiting any answer, she was springing up the stairs when the parlour-door was thrown open, and half-a-dozen voices exclaimed, in the same breath, “oh, Hope!” — “Hope Leslie!” — “Miss Hope Leslie! is it you?”
“Come back, my child, and tell me where you have been,” said Mr. Fletcher.
“Yes, Miss Leslie,” said Governor Winthrop, but in a tone of kindness rather than authority, “render an account of thyself to thy rulers.”
“Yes, come along Hope,” said Mrs. Grafton, “and make due apologies to Madam Winthrop. A pretty hubbub you have put her house in, to be sure— -though, 1 make no doubt, you can show' good reason for it, and also for leaving Sir Philip and me in that rantipole way, w hich I must say was
“For heaven’s sake,” said Hope to Esther, w ho had just joined her.
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“do go in and make an apology for me. Say I am wet and tired — say any thing you please, 1 care not what — will you? — that’s a dear good girl.”
“No, Hope — come in yourself — aunt Winthrop looked a little dis- pleased — you had best come — I know she will expect it.”
Thus beset, Hope dared not any longer hesitate, and with that feeling, half resolution and half impatience to have a disagreeable thing over which often impelled her, she descended the stairs as hastily as she had ascended them, and was in the parlour, confronting all the inquirers, before she had devised any mode of relieving herself from the disagreeable predicament of not being able to satisfy their curiosity.
“Verily, verily,” exclaimed Cradock, who was the only one of the groupe, not even excepting Everell, whose sympathy mastered his curi- osity — “verily, the maiden hath been in peril; she is as white as a snow- wreath, and as wet as a drowned kitten.”
“Yes, Master Cradock, quite as wet,” replied Hope, rallying her spirits, “and with almost as little discretion left, or 1 should not have entered the parlour in this dripping condition. Madam Winthrop, I beg you will have the goodness to pardon me for the trouble I have occasioned.”
“Certainly, my dear, as I doubt not you will make it plain to us that you had sufficient reason for what appears so extraordinary, as a young woman wandering off by herself after nine o’clock on Saturday night.”
Our heroine had never had the slightest experience in the nice art of diplomacy — that art that contrives to give such a convenient indis- tinctness to the boundary line between truth and falsehood. After a moment’s reflection, her course seemed plain to her. To divulge the real motive of her untimely walk, was impossible — to invent a false excuse, to her, equally impossible. She turned to Governor Winthrop and said, with a smile, that Everell, at least, thought might have softened the elder Brutus — “I surrender myself to the laws of the land, having no hope, but from the mercy of our magistrates. I have offended, I know; but I should commit a worse offence — an offence against my own conscience and heart — if I explained the cause of my absence.”
Governor Winthrop was not accustomed to have his inquisitorial rights resisted by those of his own household, and he was certainly more struck than pleased by Hope’s moral courage.
Mrs. Grafton half muttered, half spoke, what she meant to be an apology for her favourite. “It was not every body,” she said, “that thought as the Governor did about Saturday night.”
“True, true,” said Cradock, eagerly, “it is a doubtful point with divines and gifted men.”
“Master Cradock,” said the Governor, “thou art too apt to measure
e orthodoxy by thy charity. Saturday night is allowed to be, and mani- y is, holy time; and therefore to be applied, exclusively, to acts of cy and devotion.” Then turning to the impatient culprit, he added, “I am bound to say to thee, Hope Leslie, that thou dost take liberties unsuitable to thy youth, and in violation of that deference due to the rule and observances of my household, and discreditable to him who hath been entrusted with thy nurture and admonition.”
Hope received the first part of this reproof with her eyes rivetted to the floor, and with a passiveness that had the semblance of penitence; but at the implied reproach of her guardian, for whom she had an affection that had the purity of filial and the enthusiasm of voluntary love, she raised her eyes — their mild lustre, for an instant; gave place to the passage of a flash of indignation direct from her heart. Her glance met Everell’s — he stood in a recess of the window, leaning his head against the casement, looking intently on her. ‘He too suspects me of evil,’ she thought, and she could scarcely command her voice to say, as she turned and put her hand in the elder Fletcher’s, “I have done nothing to dishonour you. You believe me — do you not?”
“Yes, yes, my dear child; I must believe you, for you never deceived me — but be not so impatient of reproof.”
“I am not impatient for myself,” she said; “I care not how sternly — how harshly I am judged; but I see not why my fault, even if I had committed one, should cast a shadow upon you.”
Madam Winthrop now interposed her good offices to calm the troubled waters. “There is no shadow any where. Miss Leslie, if there is sunshine in the conscience; and I can answer for the Governor, that he will overlook the disturbance of this evening, provided you are discreet in future. But we are wrong to keep you so long in your wet garments. Robin,” she said, turning to a servant, “light a little fire in the young ladies’ room, and tell Jennet to warm Miss Leslie’s bed — let her strew a litde
sugar in the pan — an excellent thing, Mrs. Grafton, to take soreness out of the bones.”
Madam Winthrop was solicitous to remove the impression from her guests that Miss Leslie was treated with undue strictness. Hope thanked her for her kindness; and protesting that she had no need of fire, or warming-pan, she hastily bade good-night, and retired to her own apartment.
Miss Downing lingered for a moment after her, and ventured to say, in a low timid tone, “that she trusted her uncle Winthrop would harbour no displeasure against her friend — she was sure that she had been on some errand of kindness; for, though she might sometimes indulge in a blame- able freedom of speech, she had ever observed her to be strict in all duties and offices of mercy.”
“You are right — right — marvellously right, Miss Downing,” cried Cradock, exultingly rubbing his hands — and then added, in a lower tone, “a discerning young woman. Miss Esther.”
“Humph!” said Mrs. Grafton, “I don’t see any thing so marvellously right in what Miss Esther says — it’s what every body knows, who knows Hope, that she never did a wrong thing.”
Governor Winthrop suppressed a smile, and said to the good lady, “we should take heed, my worthy friend, not to lay too much stress on doing or not doing — not to rest unduly on duties and performances, for they be unsound ground.”
Mrs. Grafton might have thought if she had enough such ground to stand on, it were terra hrma to her; but, for once, she had the discretion of silence.
Neither Everell nor his father spoke, probably because they felt more than all the rest; and Madam Winthrop, feeling the awkwardness of the scene, mentioned the hour, and proposed a general dispersion.
Everell followed Miss Downing to the staircase. “One word, Miss Downing,” he said — Esther turned her face towards him, her pale face, for that instant illuminated — “did you,” he asked, “in your apology for your friend, speak from knowledge or from generous faith?”
“From faith,” she replied, “but not generous faith, for it was founded on experience.”
Everell turned, disappointed, away. ‘Faith,’ he thought, ‘there might
be without sight — but faith against sight, never.’ “Trifles light as air” are proverbially momentous matters to lovers. Everell had too noble a mind to indulge in that fretful jealousy which is far more the result of egregious self-love than love of another. But he had cherished for Hope a consecrat- ing sentiment — he had invested her with a sacredness which the most refined, the purest, and most elevated love throws around the object of its devotion.
“On magic ground that castle stoode,
And fenc’d with many a spelle.”
e re these “spelles” to be dissolved by the light of truth? ‘Why should ,’ thought Everell, ‘who seemed so pure that she might dwell in light — so artless, confiding, and fearless — why should she permit herself to be ja bscured by mystery? If her meeting with Sir Philip Gardiner was acciden- Ssdv why not say so? But what right have I to scan her con- duct? What right to expect an explanation? It is evident
she feels nothing more for me than the familiar affection of her childhood. How she talked to me this evening of Esther Downing! — ‘if she had a brother, she would select her friend from all the world for his wife’ — ‘Esther was not precise, she was only discreet’ — ‘she was not formal, but timid.’ Perhaps she sees I love her, and thus delicately tries to give a different bent to my affections; but that is impossible — every hope — every purpose has been concentrated in her. My affections may be
blighted, but they cannot be transferred Perhaps it is true, as some
satirists say, that a woman’s heart is wayward, fantastic, and capricious. This vagrant knight has scarcely turned his eyes from Hope since he first saw her, and I know he has addressed the most presumptuous flattery to her. Perhaps she favours his pretensions. I shrink even from his gazing on her, as if there were something sullying in the glance of his eye; and yet she violates the customs of the country — she braves severe displeasure — to walk alone w ith him — with him she is insensible to a gathering storm. He is incapable of loving her — -he is intoxicated w ith her beauty — he seeks
her fortune Her fortune! I had forgotten that my father made that
a bar between us. Fortune! — I never thought of any thing so mean as wealth in connexion with her. I would as soon barter my soul, as seek any woman for fortune — and Hope Leslie! — oh, I should as soon think of the
dowry of a celestial spirit, as of your being enriched by the trappings of fortune.”
These disjointed thoughts, and many others that would naturally spring up in the mind of a young lover, indicated the ardor, the enthusiasm, the disinterestedness of Everell’s passion, and the restless and fearful state into which he had been plunged by the events of the evening.
While he was pursuing this train of fancies, in which some sweetness mingled with the bitter, Esther had followd Hope to her apartment, and having shut the door, turned on her friend a look of speaking inquiry and expectation, to which Hope did not respond, but continued in a hurried manner to disrobe herself, throwing her drenched shawl on one side, and her wet dress on the other.
Esther took a silver whistle from the toilet, and was opening the door to summon Jennet with its shrill call, when Hope, observing her intention, cried out, “If you love me, Esther, don’t call Jennet to-night; I wish at least to be spared her croaking.”
“As you please,” replied Esther, quietly reclosing the door; “1 thought Jennet had best come, and take care of your apparel, as, if your mind was not otherwise occupied, you would not choose to leave it in such disorder.” While Esther spoke, she stood by the toilet, smoothing her kerchief, and restoring it to the laundress’ folds.
“Yes,” said Hope, “1 prefer any disorder to the din of Jennet’s tongue. I cannot, Esther — / cannot always be precise.”
“Precision, I kn'ow'T'is not interesting,” said Esther, with a slight tremulousness of voice; “but if you had a little more of it, Hope, it would save yourself, and your friends a vast deal of trouble.”
“Now, do not you reproach me, Esther! — that is the drop too much!” said Hope, turning her face to the pillow, to hide the tears that gushed from her eyes: “I know 1 am vexed and cross — but I did not mean that you was too precise;- — I do not know what 1 meant. 1 feel oppressed and wearied — and I want sympathy, and not reproof.”
“Unburthen your heart then, to me,” said Esther, kneeling by the bed-side, and throwing her arm over Hope: “most gladly would 1 pay back the debt of sympathy I owe you.”
“And never, dear Esther, did a poor creditor receive a debt more joyfully than I should this. But others are concerned in my secret; a sacred
promise requires me to preserve it inviolate. The Governor, and your aunt, and all of them might have known — and, most of all, Everell” — she continued, raising herself on her elbow — “they might have known, that 1 should not have been roaming about such a pitiless night as this, without good reason; — and Everell, I am sure, knows that I despise the silliness of making a secret out of nothing. I don’t care so much for the rest; but it was very, very unkind of Everell! — I am sure my heart has been always open as the day to him.”
Perhaps Miss Downing was not quite pleased with Hope’s discrimi- nating between the censure of Everell, and the rest of the family; for she said, with more even than her ordinary gravity — “There is but one thing, Hope, that ought to make you independent of the opinion of any of your friends.”
“And what is that?”
“The acquittal of your conscience.”
“My conscience! — Oh, my dear Esther, no mother Lois, nor grand- mother Eunice, ever had a more quiet conscience than I have at this moment; — and I really wish that my tutors, governors — good friends all — would not think it necessary to keep quite so strict a guard over me.”
“Hope Leslie,” said Esther, “you do allow yourself too much liberty of thought and word: you certainly know that we owe implicit deference to our elders and superiors; — we ought to be guided by their advice, and governed by their authority.”
“Esther, you are a born preacher,” exclaimed Hope, with a sort of half sigh, half groan of impatience. “Nay, my dear friend, don’t look so horridly solemn: 1 am sure, if I have wounded your feelings, I deserv e to be preached to all the rest of my life. But really I do not entirely agree with you about advice and authority. As to advice, it needs to be very carefully administered, to do any good, else it’s like an injudicious patch, which, you know, only makes the rent worse; — and as to authority, I would not be a machine, to be moved at the pleasure of anybody that happened to be a little older than myself. I am perfectly willing to submit to Mr. Fletcher, for he never” — and she smiled at her own sophistry — “he never requires submission. Now, Esther, don’t look at me so, as if I was little better than one of the wicked. Come, kiss me good night; and when you say your prayers, Esther, remember me, for I need them more than you think.”
This last request was made in a plaintive tone, and with unaffected seriousness, and Esther turned away to perform the duty, with a deep feeling of its necessity; for Hope, conscious of her integrity, had perhaps been too impatient of rebuke; and if to a less strict judge than Esther, she seems to have betrayed a little of the spoiled child, to her she appeared to be very far from that gracious state, wherein every word is weighed before it is uttered, and every action measured before it is performed.