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THE TRUE STORY OF THE MERCHANT'S WARD.
PROVING THE TRUTH OF THE OLD SAW, THAT WHEN ONE DOOR
SHUTS ANOTHER OPENS.
THE MERCHANT. It is veritably reported of a certain sapient philosopher, that he one summer's day took with him a large Aask of Venice glass into the sunshine, and filling it with the rays of light, corked it up, and carefully enwrapping it in the ample folds of his cloak, took it incontinently to his cell, expecting that on the arrival of night he might use it as a substitute for his lamp! Disappointment was, of course, the only result he obtained from his experiment.
As difficult have other men found it to catch and.confine the subtle rays of beauty. Lattices, jalousies, and dark chambers have alike proved useless and unavailing, and the beams of loveliness have struggled into liberty despite every precaution.
“ Early to bed, and early to rise,
Make a man healthy, wealthy, and wise," and “Catch a weasel asleep,” were the favourite sayings of the thrifty Master Morton Hardinge, one of the luckiest traders in the city of London (for he really possessed but a very small complement of brains), and his richly-laden argosies were continually traversing the seas, bringing great gains to his growing exchequer.
Being a man of good repute and known wealth, he was above the suspicion of wrong; his ample means, like unto many another rogue in grain, placing him, fortunately for his soul's health, above tempt. ation.
Among his friends such friends as worldly men may claim-was one Master Robert Dormer, who in his day had been a trader of some eminence; but, having amassed a considerable fortune, retired, upon the death of his spouse, from the care and turmoil attending upon commerce, and spent the remnant of his days in the society of his only daughter Agnes.
Scarcely, however, had she attained her tenth year, when ruthless death snatched from her her indulgent parent, bequeathing her to the trust and guardianship of Hardinge, as well as the whole of his wealth, of which Agnes was not to become mistress until she arrived at the ripe age of twenty-four. In the management of the fortune, Hardinge found both pleasure and profit ; but in the management of Mistress Agness he discovered neither,—the cause whereof will be satisfactorily shown.
THE WARD. AGNES DORMER was as wild as a young fawn, and as graceful withal. Under the eye of her indulgent parent she had grown at will, unpruned and unimproved, flourishing with all the beauty and luxuriance of an untrained vine. Nature had, fortunately, bestowed upon her such perfections both in mind and body, that even education, or the want of it rather, could not entirely efface her good qualities. She possessed a quick and playful wit, that, like sun. shine to a landscape, threw a charm over every conversation in which she joined. She acquired knowledge without an effort; and even the cold and calculating guardian avowed that she was superior to his best clerk in the attainments of reading and writing, rendering him, when in the humour, the most valuable assistance in the arrangement of his accounts.
And had he been a votary of the sea-born Venus, instead of the earth-born Plutus, he certainly would have become enamoured of his beautiful ward; but in the love of gold was concentrated all the best affections of his nature.
Being unmarried, for the expense of a wife and family affrighted his prudence,-Agnes had no one of her own sex to commune with, except the servants of his establishment, which, in his pride, he certainly kept up with a due regard of his rank and wealth.
As Agnes grew to womanhood, Hardinge naturally conceived there was some danger of his ward's forming an attachment which might prove detrimental to, and nip the fruits of his productive guardianship in the bud; he therefore secretly resolved to take every precaution to prevent the occurrence of such a calamity.
THE NURSE. With due caution Hardinge sought for and selected a matron, whose age and ugliness would have alone recommended her as the very flower of duennas to the most suspicious don in Hispania.
Under the title of nurse, he introduced this elderly female to his household, who was henceforth to be the dragon in the garden of Hesperides. Her very appearance at the first introduction seemed to have an influence upon the light-hearted Agnes ; for, to the astonishment of Hardinge, she accosted her with so much gravity, and such a quiet and chastened demeanour, that the merchant was delighted.
This satisfaction, however, was speedily destined to be a little troubled. Seizing an opportunity when she was alone with him,“ Uncle," said Agnes, for so she usually styled her guardian, “Uncle, methinks of all virtues, economy is one of the best, seeing that it is one of the most productive.”
“ Well said, and wisely, child,” replied Hardinge.
“And therefore," continued Agnes, gravely, “if I can prove you one of the most economical of men, uncle, you must consequently be one of the best.”
“ In what mean you, child ?” demanded Hardinge.
“In the pickling department of your housewifery,” replied Agnes. “ By ’r Lady! the saving of vinegar by the introduction of Nurse Beatrice must prove enormous; for truly methinks, uncle, one sour look of hers will suffice to pickle a whole jar of cucumbers.”
Hardinge was confounded, and before he could summon up courage to parry this sportive thrust, the lively Agnes had beaten a retreat to the music of her own laughter.
THE COMPACT. BEATRICE proved to Agnes the very shadow of beauty; for neither at home nor abroad did she stir but the lynx-eyed nurse was at her heels. All her good humour, however, proved insufficient to shield her against the depressing effects of this annoyance; and she resolved, with that decision which was such a remarkable feature in her character, at once to express her mind upon the subject.
The old woman was industriously plying her needle, while the light-hearted Agnes was listlessly turning over her tablets.
“ Sweet nurse," said she, “methinks thou hast remarkably good
“Our Lady be praised !” replied the nurse, reverently, “my sight is good.”
“And thou canst, doubtless, see as far through a millstone as most folks, I trow," continued her charge.
“Sooth can I !” said the old woman, with a knowing shake of the head, and attempting what she intended, poor soul ! for a smile, but which degenerated into nothing more nor less than an awful grin!
“And thou hast an eye to thy interest in the service thou hast taken of my very worthy and worshipful guardy ?"
“Well, well, child," said the nurse, “ I believe I do know on which side my bread's buttered.”
“A good saying, and I'll match it with another,-fair words butter no parsnips; and therefore, nurse, will I without phrase inform thee, that I am not only rich, but free,-nay, I love liberty as much as any little bird of the air, and feel that being caged would kill me outright. Besides, I am too great a baby to be put into leading-strings; it is now some years since I bade farewell to them and the go-cart.”
“ Tut, tut, sweet !” cried Beatrice; “ what art thou driving at?"
“ None are so blind as those who won't see,” answered Agnes, archly ; “there's another of thy favourite proverbs for thee. Now, mark me, - I would that thou shouldst practise this same wilful blindness in respect to my actions."
“ Dear, sweet, good lady, what dost thou mean?”
“ This, - that when we are walking abroad, and thy wary eye should chance to see some gay young cavalier kiss his hand to me ”
“Very improper !” exclaimed the nurse.
“Very," said Agnes ; “ and therefore shut thy virtuous eyes against the impropriety, and consequently there will be no need of reporting the naughty impertinence of these gallants to my afflicted guardy. Let me alone suffer the indignity, and, depend on 't, I'll bear it like a woman; knowing that, sooner or later, I shall meet my reward.”
The heiress then proceeded to inform Beatrice that she would act as she pleased in despite of all opposition; that she was fully persuaded of the sordid reasons her guardian had for keeping her secluded ; and finally, that if Beatrice did not become perfectly neuter in the struggle she would torment her continually, and lead her such a dance that she should rue the day when she had undertaken the office of a spy ; on the contrary, that if she would only be conveniently blind and deaf, as became a woman of her years and discretion, she would patronize her, and told her to calculate the advantages.
The old woman was certainly staggered; but a little consideration, and certain weighty considerations offered by Agnes, made duty kick the beam.
THE PAGE. MASTER GERARD WYNSTONE was the son of an opulent winemerchant; in the matter of dress, an ape; and in the quantity of brains, a veritable donkey. No saunterer in Saint Paul's attracted more notice, for he was a most egregious fop.
This youth, by reason of his wealth and expectations, had been greatly favoured by Master Hardinge, who regarded him as an excellent match for his ward, and he, consequently, often sat at the board of the merchant. As for the youth, not less ordinary than vain, he was perfectly smitten with the charms of the amiable Agnes.
In allusion to his father's calling, she named her saitor the Knight of the Wooden Cask; complained that his port was very well for a wine-merchant; and, in fine, made a butt of him!
Her wit and her raillery, however, failed in driving her awkward suitor to despair, or from her presence. The fact is, the love of Agnes retained him, and the love of interest, Master Hardinge ; for it was perfectly understood that the latter was to receive a handsome “ commission” upon the delivery of his beautiful ward and her fortune into the hands of Master Wynstone.
Taking his customary stroll in the forenoon in the busy aisles of St. Paul's,- at that period serving as a kind of 'change, where the merchants and traders of the city resorted to transact their affairs, the youth was beckoned aside by a smart page in the livery of Hardinge.
“Well, Andrew ?" said Wynstone.
“ Step aside, Master Wynstone,” said the page; “I have that to communicate will glad thee.”
“ A billet, by 'r lady!” exclaimed Wynstone.
“A billet by a lady, from the hands of her page," replied Andrew, cap in hand.
is There 's a noble for thee,” said the elated suitor. "I'll e'en place it in my doublet and read it."
“ Had'st thou not, fair sir, better read it first, and place it in thy doublet afterwards ? There may, perchance, be some response to the missive."
Wynstone broke the seal, and read the following invitation:
“ To-night, after the hour of vespers, strike thy guitar beneath my window."
“Short-very short,” said Master Gerard, turning over the laconic epistle.
* « A word to the wise is sufficient,” said Andrew, with a roguish leer, that contained more meaning than the other had wit to comprehend. * « True, good Andrew,” replied Wynstone. “I'll not fail — say I'll not fail.”
And Andrew skipped away, his hand in his pocket, playing with the noble.
“ Knave !” exclaimed a voice at his ear, while his arm was rudely grasped, "Thou arrant knave !"
« Ah! what, Master Valentine !” cried Andrew. “What strange men you lovers are !”
“ Rather say what great rogues you pages are,” retorted Master