Page:Devonshire Characters and Strange Events.djvu/58

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DEVONSHIRE CHARACTERS

strumpets, because she must not be affected! Or supping on the stage, after the curtain is dropped, with titled infamy or grey-headed lechery!—Let the reader fancy an innocent girl, from a country town, plunged at once into the furnace of depravity—let him fancy her father sanctioning her by his indifference or helping her by his example, and then let him say, if she be ultimately seduced and abandoned, whether it ought not to be a wonder she was innocent so long."

In spite of an education that never cherished the best feelings of a child, Maria had a far sounder understanding than her parents, and an instinctive modesty that withstood the evil with which she was surrounded.

In the summer of 1815, Maria Foote was engaged as a star to perform at Cheltenham, and there attracted the attention of Fitzharding Berkeley, better known as Colonel Berkeley. This gentleman was the son of Frederick Augustus, fifth Earl of Berkeley, by Mary Cole, the beautiful daughter of a butcher at Gloucester, to whom he was married in 1796. The Colonel was born in 1786. The Earl, indeed, affirmed that a private marriage had taken place in 1785; the House of Lords disallowed the proofs, in consequence of which one of the Colonel's younger brothers, born after 1796, became entitled to the earldom; he, however, always refused to assume the title. Colonel Berkeley was an enthusiastic amateur of the stage, and he offered his services to perform at the benefit of Miss Foote, and she accepted his offer. The house was full to the ceiling, and Maria, of course, felt grateful for the aid thus lent her. After thus ingratiating himself, he seized the opportunity to plead the passion with which she had inspired him. The old Earl, his father, had died in 1810, and the Colonel was endeavouring to establish his claim to the earldom. He pleaded with her, that