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9. From .1806, the period of my entrance upon this noble theater, with short intervals, to the present time, I have been engaged in the public councils, at home or abroad. Of the services rendered during that long and arduous period of my life it does not become me to speak; history, if she deign to notice me, and posterity, if the recollection of my humble actions shall be transmitted to posterity, are the best, the truest, and the most impartial judges. When death has closed the scene, their sentence will be pronounced, and to that I commit myself.
10. My public conduct is a fair subject for the criticism and judgment of my fellow-men: but the motives by which I have been prompted are known only to the great Searcher of the human heart and to myself; and I trust I may be pardoned for repeating a declaration made some thirteen years ago, that, whatever errors — and doubtless there have been many — may be discovered in a review of my public service, I can, with unshaken confidence, appeal to that Divine Arbiter for the truth of the declaration, that I have been influenced by no impure purpose, no personal motive; have sought no personal aggrandizement; but that, in all my public acts, I have had a single eye directed, and a warm and devoted heart dedicated, to what, in my best judgment, 1 believed the true interests, the honor, the union, and the happiness of my country required.
11. During that long period, however, I have not escaped the fate of other public men, nor failed to incur censure and detraction of the bitterest, most unrelenting, and most malignant character; and though not always insensible to the pain it was meant to inflict, I have borne it in general with composure, and without disturbance here [pointing to his breast], waiting, as I have done, in perfect and undoubting confidence, for the ultimate triumph of justice and of truth, and in the entire persuasion that time would settle all things as they should be, and that whatever wrong or injustice I might experience at the hands of man, He to whom all hearts are open and fully known would, by the inscrutable dispensations of his providence, rectify all error, redress all wrong, and cause ample justice to be done.
[Margaret Langford, who was of humble parents, had accompanied Lady Evesham to the continent as a dependent. Her mistress died without making allusion to the rank and station of Margaret. Reports, however, had been circulated, that she was a near connection of her mistress, which Margaret, finding herself beloved by Mr. Trevanion, a gentleman of fortune and rank, had not the fortitude to deny, lest it should prejudice her in his estimation. They were married without an explanation, and returned to England to the residence of her parents, whom she is afraid to meet, lest her husband should discover their humble condition before she herself confesses it to him ; a duty which she procrastinates until it is too late. The following scene represents an interview between her and Mrs. Lorimer, a mutual friend of herself and her husband, to whom she has just confessed the fatal secret.]
Mrs. Lorimer. What a history I have listened to! Margaret. Of meanness, of deceit; of a falsehood that has well merited all the punishment that followed it. Mrs. Lor. My poor child!
Mar. Ah! now that you know all, do you not despise me?
Mrs. Lor. Despise you, who in your suffering show so deep a sense of goodness? O Margaret! why did you not confide in me? Had you trusted in me, all this pain might have been avoided.
Mar. It might have been. Keenly I feel now the madness of my course; but,' alas! all were kind to me, —all flattered and increased in me the love of that new sphere, for which my sympathies were molded, — all tended to unnerve me. When that temptation came before me which at once I should have confronted, I feared to hazard my position by an honest disavowal; and, in shrinking from unjust scorn, I became deservedly contemptible.
Mrs. Lor. Yet all this might have been excused, had you but been candid with your husband.
Mar. All — all! However false to others, I was pledged to truth with him: doubly pledged with one whose whole being was sincerity; but he shared in this delusion. He knew I had confirmed it; and oh ! if I had been weak enough to fear unworthy sneers, had I the courage to encounter the contempt of him I loved? Still, it was my duty,— I saw it,— I resolved on it. I said, " Before our marriage I will tell him all; I will unfold it to him gradually, convince him of my affection, and throw myself upon his own for pity and forgiveness.
Mrs. Lor. Fatal compromise!
Mar. It was so. My love for him grew to worship. More and more did I wake to the excellence of his nature; but hourly, whilst his virtues urged me to confession, they appalled me with its disgrace. More than ever from myself I shrunk; my treachery gnawed me; but to unmask it, — to blind him
with that sight, — how maddening was the struggle!
Thus days flew by, — I resolved and I delayed; a few only were left, — and still I hesitated. Your illness came to hurry on our marriage; hours only were remaining; 't was our marriage day; I was a coward, and betrayed him!
Mrs. Lor. And to this moment he knows nothing; for . your father's letter, which would have explained all, has never been received.
Mar. It was received.
Mrs. Lor. It was?
Mar. But too late to break the truth,— we were already married.
Mrs. Lor. Margaret, I will not disguise from you what pain you have inflicted. How unlooked for was this shock; how deeply it has wrung me! But though you have erred, you have'suffered; and whatever be your future, be assured you have still a friend.
Mar. O, bless you, — bless you! — but is it possible I can repair the past?
Mrs. Lor. You can; for repentance, remember, if too late for happiness, is always in time for duty. There's but one thing to be done, — seek your husband instantly, £tnd at once confess your error.
Mar. And yet ? —
Mrs. Lor. Is it better you should do so, or he detect it4 I hear his step!
Mar. Ah! what am I to do?
Mrs. Lor. Your duty, Margaret, — your duty!
[Trevanion is heard outside.
Trevanion. Well, Knightly, I can wait no longer; tell me when he comes. [He enten.
Plague take these men of business, who pretend to value time, and yet waste half an hour as if moments are worth no more than the sands that tell them! Margaret, love only knows those sands are golden!
Mrs. Lor. Well, and now, Trevanion —
Trev. Your discovery—
Mrs. Lor. You must learn that from herself, — so goodevening, dearest; may I find you better when we meet again!
Trev. [Aside.] You wished her better; do you then think her ill?
Mrs. Lor. O no, not ill; but so feeble, so depressed, that need I say I must commend her to your most patient tenderness? [She goes off.
Trev. Nay, Margaret, you are not unwell: you must rally, love, —throw off this cloud, for need I say that I am in its gloom? You will soon hear from your father, — perhaps this very night; so be cheerful, I beseech you.
Mar. [Aside.] Cheerful!
Trev. Or is it I misjudge you, that this shade's a proof of light? — that you feel, like me, our joy to be so sudden, so full, so like a transporting dream, that you tremble to awake? Yet why so? Love is the reality, — or else a dream.
Mar. [Aside.] O, that guilt were one!
Trev. But you do not answer me, — still you turn away! Why, Margaret, what is this? Have you a thought I may not share?
Mar. O, no, no!
Trev. I, who would put my heart open into your hand, though you should only read its sins!
Mar. [Aside.] It must come now, — it must!
Trev. Whatever you may fear, may I not counsel or assist, — or, if not, share your suffering? Is it not my duty, — or rather let me say, my joy? So speak to me, Margaret; conceal this from me no longer; let me know at once what preys urxra your heart; and —
Servant. Your surveyor is come, sir. [Exit.
Trev. And at this moment I must go to him. You see, Margaret, how, in the very home of love, the world will thrust itself; but it shall be but for an instant, — he shall not detain me long. [Exit.
Mar. Gone ! — and I have not spoken; gone, when in another instant all might have been told! The dreadful task still undischarged, —and growing with each hour into vaster form and darkness. His surveyor, too, — most likely from our neighborhood, where he has heard of our marriage, and now will speak of it1 Ah if it should be so, and he learn the truth from any lips but mine, will they not henceforth be sealed to him forever?
Ser. There is a person below, madam, who wishes to see you.
Mar. To see me?
Ser. Yes, madam.
Mar. And at this hour?—perhaps the applicant who came this morning, and to whom I promised some relief. What kind of person?
Ser. An elderly man, madam.
Mar. What say you?
Ser. And looks like a mechanic.
Mar. Can it be! His — his name?
Ser. I think he said " Langford."
Mar. You will desire him to step here.
[Interview with her father, discovered by her husband.]
Langford. Margaret! Margaret! My own lost girl, I look- on you again. — Speak to me ! — speak to me! Margaret. My father!
Lang. Ah, 1 was too sudden. You did n't expect to see me, nor I you, till this morning, till I learnt it all by accident, when I came away at once; I came by rail, forty miles an hour, and I thought we crept.
Mar. [Aside.] My brain !—my brain!
Lang. Mother's not with me, for we could n't both be spared. But you '11 go back with me, I hope, — you and your husband?
Mar. Go with you! — why — but you must be tired; — take a seat — my father.
Lang. To be sure I will, and by your side, love. Now don't give way! — take heart, take heart, or you '11 make a
child of me. — Ah, Margaret! five years since we parted
— five long years to us, though they seem now but a day: and yet not a bit changed; still the same simple girl, — no finery, no gewgaws, — ah, that's right, love, that's right!