Lady Louisa, as I have before observed, had conceived a very great esteem for me: we lived together in the utmost familiarity and friendship. She had an uncommon share of understanding, and so sprightly a temper, that I was quite charmed with her. Some of those evenings that she did not devote to cards, we spent together in her apartment with great satisfaction. But I now began to observe she had lost a great part of her vivacity: an unusual thoughtfulness seemed wholly to engross her; and her eyes had so melancholy and tender a cast, that I was very sensibly affected with it.
As she seemed to allow me some share in her confidence, I one day took occasion to observe the alteration in her humor, and complained of her reserve, in not acquainting me with the cause of her affliction. "Dear miss Harriot, said she, (blushing, and pressing my hand) you have no reason to reproach me. 'Tis true, I have concealed from you an affair, on which my happiness depended; but it was because I feared you would condemn my weakness. I have wished a thousand times, that you would give me an opportunity of unloading my heart to you. Alas, I am the most unhappy creature in the world!" Her tears interrupted her here, and had so great an effect upon me, that, for some moments, I had not power to beg her to explain herself. "Would you think it, my dear, resumed she, (abruptly) I am weak enough to suffer the most tormenting disquiets for a man, who has rendered himself unworthy of my tenderness: but, in order to make you comprehend my misfortune, I must trace it from its source.
About a year and a half ago, the young earl of L---- came from his travels. I had heard great talk of the fine accomplishments of this nobleman, and had a violent inclination to see him; but, as he did not visit in our family, I could only expect to have my curiosity gratified at public places, where I sought him out with an eagerness that seemed to presage something extraordinary. I was one night at the Opera, when a gentleman came into the opposite box, whose figure in a moment fixed my attention. I could not help fancying that it was the earl of L---- and was going to ask the ladies who were with me if they knew who he was, when I observed him bow to them, and immediately after come into our box. The countess of S----, who was with me, being very well acquainted with him, informed me, in a whisper, that it was the earl of L----. My face, in an instant, was covered with blushes; and I was so conscious of the unusual disturbance in my behavior, that I trembled lest it should be taken notice of. When the opera was ended, Lord L----, who had directed most of his discourse to me, handed me to my chair. As I wished for nothing more ardently than to be able to make some impression on his heart, I drew a favorable omen from the gallant turn of his expressions to me. And I now visited Lady S---- so constantly, that I had frequent opportunities of seeing the earl of L----, who was not long before he declared a passion for me. You may imagine, my dear, pursued Lady Louisa, that, prepossessed as I was in his favor, I could not refuse him all the encouragement that was consistent with decency. He made his pretensions known to my father and mother; and I received a command from them, in form, to admit his addresses. With persons of our quality, these sort of treaties are generally concluded in a short time. Our marriage was only to be deferred till the King's return from Hanover, to which place my Lord L---- attended him. I thought myself happy beyond expression, when my lover, after an absence of six or seven months brought me back a heart, as he told me, filled with my idea.
The necessary preparations for our marriage were making, when my father informed me, that he insisted upon having five thousand pounds more with me than he had offered. This sordid behavior filled me with an excess of resentment at first; but my lover had the art to put such a gloss on it, that I insensibly restored him to my good opinion; or rather, my fatal tenderness made it impossible for me to quarrel with him However, our marriage was delayed upon this dispute, which happened just as you came here. Lord L---- visited us still frequently; but you never chanced to be with me when he came. Oh Harriot! had you ever seen this dear youth, you would allow my weakness has some excuse. About a week ago, he thought proper again to mention our marriage to my father; but he continuing still to refuse this fatal sum, my unworthy lover resigned his pretensions: and my father has given me orders to return all his letters and presents, and never to see him more.
Lady Louisa ended with a flood of tears; and then, bitterly exclaiming against the baseness of her lover, and lamenting as often the cruel obstinacy of her father, asked me, in a trembling accent, what she ought to do. "Shall I not see him once more, said she, to upbraid him with his infidelity, and treat him with the scorn and contempt he deserves?" "Ah, madam! said I, recollect yourself! The earl of L---- does not deserve that you should take the pains to reproach him. In my opinion, you ought to-treat him with the most perfect indifference, and send back his letters and presents, without giving him an opportunity to excuse his ungenerous behavior to you. If he still retains his former sentiments for you, this appearance of tranquillity on your side, will awaken his fears of losing your esteem, and force him to make some atonement for the injury he has offered your merit."
"Do you think it would have that effect?" interrupted she eagerly. Then pausing a little, "Yes, my indifference must shock him excessively: how strangely he'll be surprised, when he finds me return his trifles, without, as you observe, deigning to expostulate with him upon his falsehood. Oh, that I could, concealed, observe him! Dear miss Harriot, pursued she, (in a sudden transport) I have thought of a way how to convince myself of his perfidy. My lady has left it entirely to me to return his letters in what manner I please: suppose I send for him, and ----." "Ah, Lady Louisa, interrupted I, have you already changed your resolution?" "No, no, said she, I am still determined to act by your advice. Hear what I propose: Lord L---- shall come here by my invitation; but I will not see him myself. You must not refuse, my dear, to serve me on this occasion. You shall deliver him, from me, the pledges of his false affection, without any instances of resentment; but let him imagine, that I obey, without reluctance, the commands of my father, never to see him more. I'll conceal myself, in order to observe his behavior; and I promise you, if he receives your message with indifference, I'll drive him from my heart for ever."
As I had no aversion to the task Lady Louisa enjoined me, I promised to acquit myself of it with the utmost regard to her honor. She seemed, for some time, quite transported with her project, and dispatched away a sealed card to the earl of L----, desiring him to attend her at her father's in the evening.
When the hour approached that we expected his lordship, we both went down into the drawing-room. The countess was engaged till ten o'clock, so that we were in no fear of interruption. Lady Louisa concealed herself in a little room, that led to a pair of back-stairs; but as she had a mind to observe the changes in her lover's countenance, which she expected her message would occasion, she did not shut the door entirely: but, leaving it a little open, I placed a fire-screen before It, to prevent his getting the smallest glimpse of her, and to give her at the same time an opportunity of observing him with more ease.
She had just placed herself, when a servant opened the door, and the earl of L---- entered the room. He came forward at first with an air of tenderness and gaiety, supposing it was Lady Louisa; for I had my handkerchief that moment at my face, being sensible it was all covered with blushes, occasioned by the novelty of the part I was to act. His lordship, however, discovering his mistake upon his nearer approach, looked for a moment steadfastly upon me, and, starting back, discovered in his eyes the strongest indication of a surprise, which seized me also at the same moment; for, in the person of the earl of L----, I soon recollected the same Lord S---- I mentioned in the beginning of my history, who, by the service he had done me, while I was yet a child, had filled my young bosom with the first tender emotions it had ever felt.
Though my astonishment was not inferior to his, yet I sooner recollected myself; and fearing the consequence of renewing our acquaintance at so dangerous a juncture, when the concealed Lady Louisa would be racked with impatience to unravel the mystery, and possibly entertain some uneasy suspicions, I assumed an appearance of unconcern; and affecting not to have the least knowledge of him, "Your lordship, said I, (with a respectful air) no doubt, expected to see Lady Louisa here; but her ladyship has been pleased so far to favor me with her confidence, as to give me a commission to return these letters and jewels into your hands: and to tell your lordship, that, since it is her father's commands she should see you no more, she hopes you will not be surprised if she is resolved to pay the exactest obedience to his will, by giving up all traces of a former correspondence between herself and your lordship."
I might have gone on for half an hour in this strain, if I pleased, without interruption; for his lordship continued still in the same posture of astonishment, with his eyes fixed on my face; and, his silence giving me an opportunity to observe him with more attention, I thought I could discover much of the libertine in his looks and air, which, in my opinion, robbed him of great part of his agreeableness.
My Lord L---- had suffered me to lay the letters and jewels (which consisted of a very fine necklace and ear rings) upon the table, without offering to take them up; so much had his attention been engaged. "I don't know, madam, said he, (at last) whether you have been able to recollect me; but I am sure I am not mistaken, when I believe you to be Miss Harriot Stuart." I found it was in vain to hope I could dissemble my knowledge of him any longer; and, after a short pause, I told him, smiling, That it was true I remembered something of his lordship's face; and his mentioning my name, convinced me I had seen him before. `'Can you not remember where, miss?" said he, with an expressive look. "Yes, my lord, said I, (willing to let the listening anxious Lady Louisa know how our acquaintance began) thoughyour title is different from that of my Lord S----, who assisted me, while I was yet a child, to escape from a very great danger at a little theatre in Westminster; yet I cannot help imagining you are the same nobleman, to whom I was so much obliged." "My title, replied he, is only changed to that of my father's, who has been dead these four years; and I am surprised you did not remember it: for I am certain, as you have often heard me mentioned here, you must recollect it belonged to the father of that happy youth, who had the good fortune to do you an inconsiderable service, which you have been so generous not to forget. But how, continued he, (while I trembled at the tone with which he had spoke these last words) how could you be so long in recollecting my person! If any thing could have kept yours from my knowledge, it would have been these thousand additional charms, with which a few years have adorned you. But yet, pursued he, (offering to take my hand) the sound of that enchanting voice would have brought you to my memory, had it been possible for me to forget you."
You may easily imagine, dear Amanda, how unpleasing such discourse must be to poor Lady Louisa! As for myself, my confusion was inexpressible: I would have given, that moment, worlds, if I had had them, to have been relieved from this perplexing situation. I felt all Lady Louisa's pains; and dreading, by this beginning, the continuance of a conversation, so torturing both to her and myself, I endeavored to put an end to it, by telling his lordship, that, since I had executed my commission, I must beg leave to retire.
"Is it possible, said he, that you are so extremely insensible of the pleasure I take in thus meeting you so unexpectedly, as to deny me a few moments conversation! Ah, miss Stuart, how unkind is this! But I am determined, pursued he, you shall not leave me till I have convinced you, that my heart, which was first devoted to you, burns this moment with an ardor infinitely greater than that those lovely eyes first kindled in it. How, beyond imagination, happy has this meeting made me!" "For heaven's sake, my lord, interrupted I, (forcing my hand out of his, which he had all this while struggled to keep) do not oblige me to listen to such discourses as these! I will not stay a moment longer." "Tell me only, replied he, when or where I shall see you, and I'll leave you this moment. By heaven, I shall not enjoy any rest till I see you again."
He had scarce uttered these words when I heard Lady Louisa sigh aloud, and immediately fall down, as I concluded, in a swoon. The earl of L---- starting at the noise, and possibly imagining the occasion, was running to the place from whence he heard it, when I stops him; eager to preserve the unfortunate Lady Louisa from being discovered in a situation, which would have convinced him of the undeserved affection she still felt for him. "Oh fly, my lord! said I. Will you ruin me by your stay!" "Heavens! cried he, what can you mean by these words! I ruin you, my lovely angel! Who is in this room? Why are you so much alarmed?" "Leave me now, my lord, said I; and I promise you, upon my honor, you shall see me to-morrow." "Well, said he, (kissing my hand by force) I'll obey you then, upon that condition: but remember to keep your word." In saying this, he retired; and I eagerly ran to Lady Louisa, whom I found extended on the ground, in a fainting fit. I raised her immediately; and, after rubbing her temples with a little Hungary-water she came to herself.
I was in so much confusion at what had happened, that I could only ask how she did, without entering into the ungrateful subject of her lover's behavior. However, I imagined that she seemed to expect I should first speak; for she continued silent, with her eyes fixed on the ground, for some minutes: at last, raising them, and observing the jewels and papers lying still upon the table, "What, said she, (sighing) did my Lord L---- refuse to take those things? But, now I remember, he was too much taken up with his meeting you, to trouble himself about slighter matters." "You heard all that passed, madam, returned I, and must be sensible that I was no way accessory to this meeting." "Why, miss Harriot, interrupted her ladyship, I hope you don't imagine I am at all concerned in your meeting, or shall take the pains to reflect whether it was chance or design. I only know, that my Lord L---- has treated me with great contempt; and that I stumbled upon a very improper person to deliver my message to him. However, let us speak no more upon the subject: I shall fall upon another method to restore him these things."
Saying this, she went up to her own apartment, to which I accompanied her. At the door she turned and made me a formal courtesy: I took the hint, and retired immediately, not a little mortified at the alteration in her behavior. But when I reflected on the too just cause she had for uneasiness, I was not capable of feeling any resentment for the unjustifiable suspicions she seemed to entertain of me.
I am afraid you'll be apt to imagine, from what I have said of my prevailing foible, that the sentiments Lord L---- expressed for me, were not able to give me much concern, notwithstanding my friendship for Lady Louisa; and yet, I assure you, my friend, you are much mistaken. I conceived so great a dislike to him, for his sordid and ungenerous treatment of that young lady, that I could not prevail upon myself to believe he was capable of feeling a delicate passion for any one. Besides, as I have before observed, his every look and action had so much of the libertine, that I should have thought it highly imprudent to have conversed with him, upon any account. His rank and fortune made the sentiments he avowed for me, dangerous to my reputation; and I there fore determined, notwithstanding the promise which the necessity there was for sending him away extorted from me, to avoid all opportunities of seeing him.
In the morning Lady Louisa sent to let me know, that she expected me in her own apartment. As soon as I went in, she dismissed her woman, and asked me, with some appearance of confusion, if I could pardon the ill-humor she was in when we parted. "If you discovered any ill-humor to me, madam, replied I, you certainly thought I merited it; and, in that case, I am rather to clear myself of any disingenuity you suspect me of, than to expect an apology from your ladyship." "But, dear miss, interrupted she, give me the satisfaction to know when, and in what manner, you became acquainted with the earl of L----. I can't help being surprised, that you never acknowledged to me you knew him, when I mentioned him to you!" "I see, madam, answered I, that it will be difficult to persuade your ladyship that I might be acquainted with my Lord S---- before I went abroad, and yet have no knowledge of the earl of L----." "'Tis strange, resumed she, that you should never have heard his father's title!" "Possibly, madam, said I, I may have heard it; but 'tis certain, it was so entirely lost to my remembrance, that I never imagined Lord S----, with whom I had some acquaintance while I was a child, could be the earl of L----, whom you desired I should see. And your ladyship must be certain, from his behavior, that we had neither of us seen one another since my return to England." "Well, miss, said she, I was not questioning you about that. His behavior, as you say, might have convinced me too, that, if you have not seen him since you came to England, you were, at least, very particularly acquainted before you left it."
Though the peevish manner in which Lady Louisa spoke, assured me her mind was still tainted with suspicions to my prejudice; yet I assumed all the good-humor I was capable of, and related very exactly the occasion of my first knowing Lord L----, suppressing only some little circumstances, which, I feared, would give her pain. She paused, after I had ended my little narration, for a minute or two; and then asked me, what my lord said at parting, and if he had mentioned nothing of her. 'Twas here, my dear Amanda, that, affecting to act from prudent artifice, as I thought, and forsaking that simplicity that was natural to me, I drew upon myself a suspicion I did not deserve, which, nevertheless, I could never clear myself of.
Though my concern for Lady Louisa, and the fear of her being discovered, was the cause of my promising Lord L---- that I would see him again, in order to oblige him to go; yet I could not prevail upon myself to mention this circumstance to Lady Louisa, which I feared would increase her distrust of me, and possibly make her apprehend that I really designed to keep a correspondence with the earl of L----. I therefore took no notice of it; and we parted for that day, without any great appearances of resentment on Lady Louisa's side: though I thought I could observe a certain coldness and reserve in her manner, which was very unusual.
This accident had contributed to increase my disgust against staying any longer in the countess's house; and I was thinking how to excuse my leaving her before the winter was ended, when the insolent Repoli, finding me alone one day in a room, which I used frequently to visit, because they were working tapestry in it, made me a frank declaration of love: and, supposing I was too much charmed with his fine person to be able to deny him, seemed to expect that his offer would fill me with infinite satisfaction.
As much confounded as I was at first with this unexpected assurance, I recollected myself soon enough to damp his triumph, before he had much time to indulge it; and choosing to express my contempt of him rather by scorn than anger, I had the pleasure to see the haughty Swiss grow pale with rage and disappointment. He went out of the room, muttering some words I could not understand, just as an elderly gentlewoman, who taught the young ladies embroidery, entered it.
Mrs. Ellis, for that was her name, was a woman of good sense, and the most friendly disposition in the world. She discovered a particular fondness for me all the while I was in the house, having opportunities of conversing with me very often, as I delighted extremely in learning to embroider, which she took great pains to teach me. "Has Mr. Repoli been speaking to you, miss? said she. Can it be you that he is vowing vengeance against!" "What, replied I, (laughing) is the furious Swiss in a fighting humor? I have given him, indeed, a very severe affront; but, thank heaven, I run no danger of a challenge." "Ah, my dear young lady, returned she, take care of yourself, I beseech you. Repoli is the most dangerous man in the world to quarrel with. His countrymen are remarkable for the keenness of their anger, and eager thirst of revenge. Repoli is distinguished for possessing those bad qualities in a very great degree. His temper is dark, cruel, and designing; and, from all that I can learn of his character, capable of the most daring acts of villainy to gratify his revenge, which is his predominant passion."
"Why sure, Mrs. Ellis, replied I, (a little startled) you don't think he'll poison me, do you? I wonder the countess entertains a man of such dangerous principles in her house!" "The countess, said the old gentlewoman, is often apt to misplace her favors; and Mr. Repoli is not the only instance of it. Besides, the young viscount dotes upon him, and that is sufficient to make him almost absolute here. I know, miss, pursued she, that what I now say would cost me my place, if it came to the countess's ear; but I love you, and think it my duty to put you upon your guard. My lady is your mortal enemy: she has been informed, that the chaplain is in love with you; and I am persuaded you'll shortly find the effects of her resentment."
The countess's regard for her chaplain had been whispered about for some time, and no one in the house could possibly be ignorant of it, as her ladyship's behavior to him was indeed very extraordinary. I had, therefore, no difficulty in comprehending Mrs. Ellismeaning; but as I had always treated that gentleman with great indifference, I thought I had no reason to apprehend any ill consequence from it. I would fain have persuaded Mrs. Ellis to tell me, how she came by her knowledge of her lady's sentiments with regard to me; but in this she begged to be excused: "Not, added she, that I think you would make any ill use of it. My confidence in your generosity, forbids me to suspect you; and, to say the truth, miss, I am under no great terrors upon that account. Thank heaven, my dependence is not upon the countess's favor: I do not pretend to that sort of merit, which entitles me to it. I cannot stoop to the grossest flattery and adulation. My behavior, ever since I came to the house, has been decent and respectful; but I have the ill fortune, if I may term it so, to be liked by no one in it, but my lord and the young ladies."
The old gentlewoman being in a talking strain, continued to give me some very useful hints concerning my behavior, if I had intended to stay much longer in the house. She concluded her discourse with entreating me again to take care of Repoli, who, she assured me, was one of the most profligate fellows in the world. 'Twas easy to see, by Mrs. Ellisrepeated cautions against him, that she thought him capable of forming some settled design against me: but, as she did not explain herself fully in this respect, I forbore to press her any farther; contenting myself with the resolution I had formed to leave this detested house, where I had been treated so unworthily. For I was now convinced, that Lady Cecilia had basely imposed upon me; and that my hopes of procuring any settlement by her means, which would put it in my power to make some addition to the small fortune of my Dumont, were no longer to be depended upon.
I was sitting alone in my chamber, a day or two after this, the family being all gone to the earl of O----'s, when, hearing somebody rap gently at the door, I rose and opened it; and seeing, to my great surprise, Repoli there, I was going to shut it again in a violent rage, when the villain rushed in, and, in an instant fastening it, immediately seized me in his arms: but before he had time to stop my mouth with his handkerchief, which he attempted to do, I had recovered from my astonishment, and cried out as loud as I possibly could. The infamous Repoli, hearing somebody run across the gallery, unfastened the door, and hurried away, having vented a dreadful execration; and two moments after Mrs. Ellis came in, to whom I related the astonishing insolence he had been guilty of. "Alas, dear miss, said she, I had a frightful presage of this from the principles I have heard the villain avow; but I could not imagine he would dare to make such an attempt here. You may judge, by this, of his influence." "I am resolved, returned I, to be gone to-morrow: I will stay no longer in a house where such enormous vices are allowed. But, thoughthe countess should resolve to protect this monster, ought I not to acquaint her with his infamous designs?" "I am of opinion, miss, said Mrs. Ellis, that you will find but little redress; and her ladyship will be apt to turn your complaint into ridicule, and possibly make some ill-natured reflections on you: for, I believe, she would not disoblige her darling son, by turning his favorite away, thoughhe was to make such an attempt upon one of her relations." I was determined, however, to quit the house the next day, and acquaint the countess, that that was one of my reasons for doing so.
Mrs. Ellis informed me in the morning, that Lady Cecilia had been with her lady in the dressing-room some time. She had scarce done speaking, when a footman came to tell me, that the countess desired to speak with me. I followed him instantly, not being able to imagine the meaning of this message; and was beginning to fancy Lady Cecilia had really done something in my affairs, when the countess, meeting me as I entered the room, threw the door after me, with a force that almost shook the house: and while my astonishment at this action, and the fury which sat upon her face, kept me silent, she loaded me with the most injurious expressions, calling me jilt, prostitute, and all the names that infamy could deserve.
"Can it be possible, madam, said I, (recovering from my surprise) that it is to me you direct this language!" "Yes, interrupted she, 'tis to you I speak! You who, at these early years, have dishonored yourself and your family, and have dared to make even my house the scene of your guilt." "Oh my God! cried I, (almost beside myself with rage) what can this mean! Who has dared to asperse me in this barbarous manner? If you have any sense of justice and humanity, tell me, madam, I charge you, who are my accusers. Bring them before me: let them mention to my face, this guilt you reproach me with." "No, interrupted the cruel countess, (with a scornful smile) you shall never have that satisfaction." "What, resumed I, shall I hear myself charged with the vilest of crimes, and not know who accuses me! Hear me, madam, pursued I, (throwing myself, in a transport of grief, upon the ground, and catching hold of her gown, while she was endeavoring to get from me) either bring the wretches that have fixed this scandal on me before my face, or I shall think you have invented it yourself, for some private ends. I condescend to ask it on my knees, do justice to an unhappy young creature, whose character is all her dependence! Suffer me to clear myself! I ask no more! Bring the wretch before me!"
I had scarce breath to utter these last words; grief and indignation worked so forcibly upon my spirits, that I was no longer able to support the shock. I quitted my hold, and sunk almost breathless upon the floor; and, had I not been relieved by a deluge of tears, I believe the strong emotions of my soul would have been fatal to me. The countess rung her bell, upon which the housekeeper entered the room: the same person who had acquired her favor by being, in reality, what she desired I should be thought to be. "Take up that young dissembler, said she to this chaste person; don't let her grovel in the ground, with her tragic airs. Who would believe, continued she, (addressing herself still to the housekeeper) that all that innocence in her countenance is feigned! Would not one be almost persuaded she could not be guilty!"
"How dare you, madam, replied I, (pushing away the housekeeper, and rising in a rage) how dare you continue to load me thus with scandalous reproaches, yet deny what I have so ardently begged, the knowledge of my accusers! But your inhuman malice is too plain: I know the cause; and I am tempted to believe you sent the horrid ruffian into my chamber, to make me guilty indeed. But know, madam, whatever force your high rank and fortune may give to your base aspersions on my fame, truth and innocence will still be too hard for you. My past conduct has been not only irreproachable, but worthy praise: and, to your everlasting confusion, my future behavior shall prove the falsehood of your censures. And since I am sensible the greatest revenge I can possibly take, for the wrong you do me, is to prove myself innocent, I will not be content with the private testimony of an unblameable life and a clear conscience; I will, for once, affect ostentation, to make that virtue remarkable, which you will endeavor, in vain, to blemish."
The countess, who seemed ready to expire with rage at the freedom of my language, was going to reply, when her lord came into the room. "What is the matter, for heaven's sake, madam? said he to his lady. What means all this noise and confusion, miss Harriot! pursued he to me. Will you not tell me the occasion of it?" "No, my lord, answered I, her ladyship can best inform you. I am going this moment out of your house, where I have reason to repent I ever came." Saying this, I flung out of the room, and went up to my own chamber; desiring a servant who was in waiting in one of the outer rooms, to get me a coach to the door. A minute or two afterwards, Lady Louisa's woman brought me a billet, which was as follows:
You cannot wonder, miss, that I have not appeared in your cause, at a time when my friendship might possibly have been of some service. The treacherous part you acted by me, justifies the most unfavorable censures that can be made on you. Read the enclosed, and blush, if you are able.
I had opened this billet with so much precipitation, that I never minded a paper which fell out of it; but, having read it through, I hastily looked on the ground, and seeing a letter directed to me in an unknown hand, upon my opening it, and casting my eyes at the bottom, I saw it signed L----. My face was, in an instant, covered with blushes! My Lord L----, in the first lines, reproached me with breaking my promise, in not giving him an opportunity of seeing me the next day: complained of the cruel disappointment; and, in the most ardent terms imaginable, begged me to let him know where he could see me. I would scarce give myself time to finish this letter: I again read over Lady Louisa's injurious billet; and, wholly engrossed by my resentment for the reproaches it contained, I threw away both the letters with an air of disdain. And being told that instant, that the coach waited, I went immediately down stairs, leaving the woman to carry the letters back again to her lady, if she pleased; for I saw her take them up.
I ordered the coachman to drive to Lady Cecilia's; resolved to try whether I could prevail upon her to explain herself upon this dark affair. I had the good fortune to hear she was alone, and, upon sending in my name, was admitted immediately. "Well, miss, said she, (putting on a severe countenance) what is your business with me?" "I am afraid, madam, replied I, that your ladyship will think my business very impertinent; but, however trifling it may appear to you, 'tis certainly of some consequence to me. I would fain be informed, madam, what reason the countess has for fixing the most barbarous aspersion upon me, which, if believed, must inevitably ruin my character, and make me despised by all who have any pretensions to virtue and modesty."
"The countess, replied her ladyship, has very sufficient reasons for thinking you lost to every principle of honor. Can a girl, like you, pretend to either modesty or virtue, who could invite a young fellow into her chamber, fasten the door upon him, and make him the most indecent advances? Certainly, child, if you are not yet a prostitute, you bid fair for being one in a very little time. You begin early, indeed, to run the race of infamy." "Then it should seem, madam, answered I, (very calmly) that my accuser is that very young fellow, who had the grace to slight the advances I made him!" "Yes, interrupted she, he has done us the favor to discover the wicked inclinations which lie hid under that appearance of innocence and virtue, and make me ashamed of having taken such a one under my protection." "But, madam, answered I, such an accusation from the mouth of Repoli, (for I think it can be no other than him you mean) would find difficulty in meeting with belief from persons less severely virtuous than the countess and your ladyship. Such instances of sublime chastity in young men, in this degenerate age, are very rare!" "He did not like you, interrupted her ladyship, (blushing with anger at the sarcastic manner in which I spoke) and he had too great a respect for my sister to dishonor a person under her protection. But, pursued she, (lowering her voice, as if conscious of the dignity of the person of whom she spoke) there was some one else, whom you had spread your impudent snares for." "I know what your ladyship means, madam, said I, (smiling maliciously:) and since there was a necessity for producing a Joseph in the house, in order to fix a guilt, something resembling Potipher's wife, upon me, methinks it would have sat better upon the reverend gentleman your ladyship hints at, than a young abandoned libertine like Repoli; whose aversion to me did not commence, till I had discovered the utmost contempt and scorn for the insolent addresses he presumed to make me, and which hardly any one in the house is ignorant of. As for the rest, madam, I refer your ladyship to Mrs. Ellis, who can inform you of the villainous attempt this mirror of chastity made on my honor. But I beg your ladyship's pardon, for supposing you will give yourself any further trouble to come at the truth of this affair. The story is mighty consistent, and will meet, no doubt, with great credit. But your ladyship, indeed, will draw some advantage from believing and propagating it; as it will free you from a person, whom your ladyship, no doubt, considers as a troublesome dependent, and silence any reflections that might otherwise be made, on the breaking a promise I never solicited the performance of." Saying this, I left the room immediately; not without having first observed the tempest of rage which was gathering on her brow, and which would have possibly vented itself in something more cruel and injurious than what I had yet heard.