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The Wanderer (Volume 4 of 5) by Burney Fanny

VOLUME IV

CHAPTER LX

Juliet was precipitately followed by Lord Melbury.

'It is not, then,' he cried, 'your intention to return to Mrs Ireton?'

'No, my lord, never!'

She had but just uttered these words, when, immediately facing her, she beheld Mrs Howel.

A spectre could not have made her start more affrighted, could not have appeared to her more horrible. And Lord Melbury, who earnestly, at the same moment, had pronounced, 'Tell me whither, then,--' stopping abruptly, looked confounded.

'May I ask your lordship to take me to Lady Aurora?' Mrs Howel coldly demanded.

'Aurora?--Yes;--she is there, Ma'am;--still in the gallery.'

Mrs Howel presented him her hand, palpably to force him with her; and stalked past Juliet, without any other demonstration of perceiving her than what was unavoidably manifested by an heightened air of haughty disdain.

Lord Melbury, distressed, would still have hung back; but Mrs Howel, taking his arm, proceeded, as if without observing his repugnance.

Juliet, in trembling dismay, glided on till she entered a vacant apartment, of which the door was open. To avoid intrusion, she was shutting herself in; but, upon some one's applying, nearly the next minute, for admittance, the fear of new misconstruction forced her to open the door. What, then, was her shock at again viewing Mrs Howel! She started back involuntarily, and her countenance depicted undisguised horrour.

With a brow of almost petrifying severity, sternly fixing her eyes upon Juliet, Mrs Howel, for a dreadful moment, seemed internally suspended, not between hardness and mercy, but between accusation and punishment. At length, in a tone, from the deep sounds of which Juliet shrunk, but had no means to retire, she slowly pronounced, while her head rose more loftily at every word, 'You abscond from Mrs Ireton, though she would permit you to remain with her? 'Tis to Lord Melbury that you reveal your purpose; and the inexperienced youth whom you would seduce, is the only person that can fail to discover your ultimate design, in taking the moment of meeting with him, for quitting the honourable protection which snatches you from want, if not from disgrace: at the same time that it offers security to a noble family, justly alarmed for the morals, if not for the honour of its youthful and credulous chief.'

The terror which, in shaking the nerves, seemed to have clouded even the faculties of Juliet, now suddenly subsided, superseded by yet more potent sensations of quick resentment. 'Hold, Madam!' she cried: 'I may bear with cruelty and injustice, for I am helpless! but not with insult, for I am innocent!'


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