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Juliana and Adelaide ought to go, but they won't, so you and I must celebrate, as we best can, the obsequies of the Honourable Mr. Sufton."
Mary readily assented; and when they were seated in the carriage, her cousin began—
"Since I am going to put you in the way of a trap, I think it but fair to warn you of it AH traps are odious things, and I make it mybusiness to expose them whereever I find them. I own it chafes my spirit to see even sensible people taken in by the clumsy machinery of such a woman as Lady Matilda Sufton. So here she is in her true colours. Lady Matilda is descended from the ancient and illustrious family of Altamont. To have a fair character is, in her eyes, much more important than to deserve it. She has prepared speeches for every occasion; and she expects they are all to be believed—in short, she is a shew woman—the world is her 5
theatre, and from it she looks for the plaudits due to her virtue—for with her, the reality and the semblance are synonimous. She has a grave and imposing air, which keeps the timid at a distance; and she delivers the most common truths as if they were the most profound aphorisms. To degrade herself is her greatest fear; for, to use her own expression, there is nothing so degrading as associating with our inferiors —that is, our inferiors in rank and wealth —for with her all other gradations are incomprehensible. With the lower orders of society she is totally unacquainted,—she knows they are meanly clothed and coarsely fed—consequently they are mean. She is proud, both from nature and principle; for she thinks it is the duty of every woman of family to be proud, and that humility is only a virtue in the canaille. Proper pride she calls it, though I rather think it ought to be pride proper, as I imagine it is a distinction that was unknown before the introduction of heraldry. The only true knowledge, according to her creed, is the knowledge of the world, by which she means a knowledge of the most courtly etiquette—the manners and habits of the great, and the newest fashions in dress. Ignoramuses might suppose she entered deeply into things, and was thoroughly acquainted with human nature—no such thing —the only wisdom she possesses, like the owl, is the look of wisdom, and that is the very part of it which I detest. Passions or feelings she has none; and to love, she is an utter stranger. When, somewhat "in the sear and yellow leaf," she married Mr. Sufton, a silly old man, who had been dead to the world for many years. But after having had him buried alive in his own chamber till his existence was forgot, she had him disinterred for the purpose of giving him a splendid burial in good earnest. That done, her duty is now to mourn, or appear to mourn, for the approbation of the world. And now you shall judge for yourself, for here is Sufton-House. Now for the trappings and the weeds of woe."
Aware of her cousin's satirical turn, Mary was not disposed to yield conviction to her representation, but entered Lady Matilda's drawing-room with a mind sufficiently unbiassed to allow her to form her own judgment; but a very slight survey satisfied her that the picture was not overcharged. Lady Matilda sat in an attitude of woe—a crape-fan and open prayer-book lay before her—her cambric handkerchief was in her hand—her mourning-ring was upon her finger—and the tear, not unbidden, stood in her eye. On the same sofa, and side by side, sat a tall, awkward, vapid looking personage, whom she introduced as her brother, the Duke of Altamont. His Grace was flanked by an obsequious looking gentleman, who was slightly named, as General Carver; and at a respectful distance was seated a sort of half-cast gentlewoman, something betwixt the confidential friend and humble companion, who was incidentally mentioned as "my good Mrs. Finch."
Her Ladyship pressed Lady Emily's hand—
"I did not expect, my dearest young friend, after the blow I have experienced —I did not expect I should so soon have been enabled to see my friends; but I have made a great exertion. Had I consulted my own feelings, indeed !—but there is a duty we owe to the world—there is an example we are all bound to shew—but such a blow!" Here she had recourse to her handkerchief.
"Such a blow!" echoed the Duke.
"Such a blow!" re-echoed the General.
"Such a blow!" reverberated Mrs. Finch.
"The most doating husband! I may say he lived but in my sight. Such a man!"
"Such a man!" said the Duke.