AUTHOR OF BLUE-STOCKING HALL.
IN THREE VOLUMES.
WHO IS SHE?
HENRY COLBURN AND RICHARD BENTLEY,
NEW BURLINGTON STREET.
J. B. NICHOLS AND SON,
25, Parliament Street.
WHO IS SHE?
"As a stranger give it welcome." Hamlet.
The following story is founded on facts which came within the knowledge of the writer. The precise point at which truth ends, and fiction begins, it is not necessary to divulge; but in an age when an avidity for the stimulus of real adventure seems in a great degree to have superseded the love of mere romance, it may not be uninteresting to state that the heroine of the following pages is not altogether a creature of imagination.
"Oh! this is trim!"—Troilus and Cressida.
At not more than a stone's throw from a neat market town, in a certain shire of England, lived Francis Hartland, Esq. in a well-built square house, which was separated from the King's high road, by a lawn of twenty acres. Round this lawn a double row of handsome elms lined a ring fence, and formed the outer boundary, in that part next the house, of a bank covered with all sorts of shrubs, which sloped in a gradually inclined plane, from the shining laurel to the dwarf cistus, and met a broad belt of gravel, hard and smooth as marble, through which no upstart weed ever dared to force its way. This walk was fringed by a border of flowers, in such variety of glowing tints, that lawn and all might be aptly compared to a robe of green velvet, trimmed with a phylactery of broidered work, worthy of Sheba's Queen in all her glory, while the whole exhibited such precision and nicety in the keeping, as to suggest the idea that its owner, in league with the fairies, possessed some secret charm against every noxious reptile and devouring fly.
This Snuggery was not the hereditary right of Mr. Hartland, but was purchased for valuable consideration, and he came to live in it, nobody knew from whence, or how incited.
His appearance did not afford rich material for romance; for he was a sleek, mild, contented looking man of forty odd, with an open countenance. A spacious forehead of pipe-clay whiteness, from which his hair was making annual recession, surmounted a nose of latinostrous projection, eyes of rather the "lack lustre" character, and cheeks of roseate hue, or perhaps more truly, though less poetically, of brick-dust dye; while the toute ensemble received decoration from a set of teeth which seemed as if they had been newly chiselled from the finest block of ivory ever imported from the land of Ophir. But curiosity can find browsing even where food is most scantily provided; and accordingly nothing could surpass the sensation produced by Mr. Hartland's arrival at Henbury Lodge. The industry and zeal set in motion by this event were rewarded at length to a certain extent by information that the new comer was related to a noble house, and possessed a clear independent property of twelve hundred a year. Farther deponent sayeth not; but it usually happens that where truth ends, generous fiction takes up the tale, and a thousand stories were soon in circulation. That which excited most interest, and was therefore most frequently repeated, though entirely divested of foundation, gave to understand that a matrimonial disappointment had driven him from the scene of mortification, and induced his removal to a region in which he might hope to forget its sting.
Mr. Hartland's manner and appearances unquestionably contradicted this surmise; but no matter for that. We know that stubborn facts are accustomed to bend to theory in cases more impracticable than this; and therefore, though we may object to the idea that features which seemed to be moulded for the seat of a perennial smile, had ever been "sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought," no such incongruity was perceived in the market-town of which our narrative makes mention; and not only was Mr. Hartland believed to have suffered all the pangs and penalties of slighted passion; but by degrees a certain name, locality, height, complexion, and many other particulars, came to be added respecting the cruel fair one, with such variance as suited the character of each reporter.
The honest truth of the matter was, that Mr. Hartland came to his present independence late in life, and regulated his mind till then, by the pole-star maxim, which he imbibed with his alphabet, that the worst of all poor things was a poor marriage. His father died before he was born; and his mother, who understood the art of making one pound perform the work of two in any other hands, had contrived to educate her darling and only child, by exercising the closest economy; but, strange to say, instead of placing him in any profession by which he might support himself, and repay her for the sacrifices she had made, she preferred keeping him at home, and it was her pride and delight, that whatever were the privations which she endured, her son should know no want. Young Hartland had his horse, while his mother assured him that she chose to walk; his boots and shoes shone like mirrors, his hat was glossy as a raven's wing, and his whole wardrobe appointed with as much care as if he only waited for his legal majority to step into a good estate.
But one and twenty years had looked at themselves in the glass of one and twenty more, ere any change occurred; and then the heirship to a comfortable property put him in possession of easy circumstances only just three months before death deprived him of her with whom he had passed his days. This event rendered his home intolerable, and ability to quit the scene of his loss coinciding with inclination to do so, Mr. Hartland sought in all directions for an eligible residence. Being a man of orderly and clock-work