« PreviousContinue »
provided, so thoroughly can ignorant and perverted views of religion corrupt every principle of morality and right feeling.
Such was the miserable bigotry of the times that many were contaminated by those prejudices who, from their rank and education, ought to have entertained more liberal notions, nor could an exception be made in favour of the inmates of Orchard Place, Mrs. Colyton in particular, who inherited much of the Puritan narrowness of mind, stigmatizing her neighbours with the opprobious terms which then formed the current vocabulary of every staunch Protestant. These sentiments which were equally ungenerous and unjust, whether applied to the Sheltons in particular, or to the Catholics at large, were destined to be partially corrected by a trivial accident. Richard, the invalid son, having fainted away while riding in an open carriage near Hales Court, was carried into the house, whence the sudden increase of his illness would not allow him to be safely removed for three days.
days. During the whole of this time
he was tended with such an affectionate sedulity by the Shelton family, all of whom, as well as their servants, testified the tenderest and most delicate sympathy with the sufferer, that even Mrs. Colyton was disabused of her groundless rancour, the mother triumphed over the fanatic, Christianity in its enlarged sense superseded the narrow feeling of sectarianism, and she sincerely felt the gratitude she expressed, when she declared that each individual at Hales Court had indeed acted the part of the good Samaritan.
So reluctantly, however, do we abandon our prejudices, and so complacently do we attribute to others our own failings, that she made this concession in favour of one Roman Catholic family, an argument for additional bitterness against the rest, treating the Sheltons as an exception from an acknowledged rule, and observing that the mass of the Papists, having here and there a better example set before them, were the more inexcusable for cherishing such a blind, bigoted, remorseless animosity against the Protestants.
From this period the two families commenced visiting, each succeeding interview serving still more and more to ingratiate the Catholics with their Protestant neighbours, which latter phrase we adopt with the usual license when speaking of dwellers in the country, for their respective residences were some miles apart. Mrs. Colyton was delighted with the order, economy, and good management of Hales Court, where every thing was handsome, and nothing superfluous ; the Squire, discovering Mr. Shelton to be a perfect gentleman by birth, education, and manners, appreciated hiin highly, and cared little about his particular tenets, his own religion being pretty much confined to a profound hatred and contempt for those whom he invariably termed, when not within hearing of his wife, the low-lived rascally Roundheads. Nor was Mapletoft less gratified by the new acquaintance they had made, for he found in the old priest not only a pleasant inoffensive companion, but an excellent classical scholar, with whom he could tag verses, and interchange Latin quotations to his heart's content.
Poor, however, and feeble was the pleasure experienced by either of these parties compared to the ardour, the ecstasy with which the enthusiastic Edith quickly attached herself to Agatha Shelton, whom indeed it was scarcely possible to know without feeling for her a deep and passionate admiration. Even her appearance seemed to indicate that she was a being of a superior order, the majesty of her tall commanding figure, the calm dignity of her hazle eyès, the fine contour of her arched nose, the placid beauty of her mouth, and the dark masses of her exuberant hair, all seeming to testify that she was born for dominion, although it might be inferred, from the expression of her countenance, that she was too mild or too wise to exercise it. When she stood beside the delicate, transparent, fair-haired, fragile-looking Edith, the spectator might imagine that he was gazing upon the Minerva of the ancients, and a sylph of the fairy mythology. Nor was there less difference in their souls than in their frames, Edith being the creature of feeling and impulse, whose mind was so perilously poised that every
sudden oscillation threatened to throw it from its balance; while the sedate, collected Agatha, governing herself by exalted and immutable principles, looked out upon the world with a firm self-possession, resolved to perform her duty at all hazards, and too undaunted either to anticipate evil, or to shrink from it when it
Great was the delight of Edith when informed by her father that the family of Hales Court had returned, and that having determined upon going over to visit them, he had dispatched a servant to announce his intention, in order to ensure their being at home.
Becky, and you, and Hetty,” said the Squire -- “ will just fill the post-phaeton, I will ride Roan Rupert, Paul shall mount Dumpling, and Kit shall be our groom, for I a resolved that the whole family shall present themselves at Hales Court, not only to show our respect, but that we may learn the latest tidings from London, where great events are stirring."
The motives thus assigned were by no means