Page images

never had one lesson in dancing, so long as she's learnt too! I made him one of my best, however.

“I dare say you did," rejoined Frederick, with a sarcastic smile; “You're a great deal too forward, Madelon-always trying to browbeat poor dear little Janet, because she's so complying and diffident. What does it signify to her what this fine stranger you're so enamoured of thinks of her, or her gracefulness either ? I'm sure Janet has no desire to please every man who falls in her way, like some young ladies I know. She ought to be more ashamed of


dressed out, as you are, as if you were queen of a village wake.”

“ How ungrateful you are!” sobbed Madelon, passionately, completely overcome by this unexpected attack on her personal appearance. “I only took such pains with myself on your account, thinking I might see some of your friends."

“ I haven't a friend in the world who would not instantly give the preference to Janet's simple straw bonnet, and"

“Oh! pray don't establish any comparisons between me and Madelon,” said Janet, weeping bitterly. “She is a dear, beautiful girl, and a fond sister, and one any brother ought to be proud of, and very much attached to you, Frederick, I know. You ought not to say such unkind things to her, indeed. I expected such a happy day, but this has quite spoiled it all;" and she wept more than ever at the thought of her disappointment. Poor Janet ! she had yet to learn that all our most pleasing anticipations end in a similar manner too often!

"Well, I am sorry if I've said any thing to annoy her,” resumed Frederick, kindly. “But I wish to break her of the folly of being infatuated with every new face it will lead her into


difficulties if she does not take care.

“ You should be the last to give advice," said Madelon, sullenly, still smarting under the sense of mortified vanity, (which, if any thing, will make a woman ungenerous and relentless). - You're like every body else, more fond of finding out the imperfections of others, than correcting your own. You can't think your own conduct has been a model of prudence and obedience, I'm sure? But you may depend on it papa will never consent to such a paltry match. He says you ought to look out for a fortune, as I mean to do.”

"Oh! don't believe her,” said Janet, entreatingly, seeing Frederick's eyes suffused with tears, more at Madelon's resentful manner, than at the actual purport of her words, although that was cruel and unkind enough. "She's so angry just now, she don't care what she says; but she'll be sorry enough for it afterwards.

For every pang an unkind expression inflicts on others, returns two-fold to sting our own hearts, when the hour of calm reflection is re-awakened; and Madelon will deplore, in the bitterness of her soul, the tear she has now forced from her brother in his sore distress. Yes, in her dreams, she'll behold and bewail that tear, dear, dear Frederick."

Had any one told the timid and shrinking Janet a quarter of an hour before that she would have dared to speak thus of Madelon—the haughty, the imperious Madelon-she would have laughed the assertion to scorn; but she doted on her brother, and his grief made her fearless and eloquent. “And as to papa's never relenting,” she conN. S.-VOL. VI.

2 y

tinued, “don't despair of that. He never allows any one to sit in your place: and that shows he still remembers you with affection and regret : and when he blesses us all, in his evening prayer, he always dames you separately, and his voice grows tremulous and low.”

“ It only shows the instability of Madelon's heart," said Frederick, completely subdued by this sweet home-born reminiscence of the gentle Janet, “ that she can remorselessly give pain to a brother she's professed to love all her life, for the sake of the stranger of half an hour's intimacy, merely because he said a few flattering things to her, and raised hopes he may neither possess the power por inclination to fulfil. But I've forgiven and forgotten it all, and only remember it was affection brought her here, for which I'm grateful, and love her still most dearly.” In confirmation of which, he gave her a most affectionate kiss, and continued, smilingly, “ The best way to escape this formidable knight, and his enchantments, is for me to see you to the coach myself; for if you, Madelon, have spirit enough to defy his necromantic spells, still, look at Janet :” and he cast a fond protecting glance on her, whose responding look seemed to say, “Look at Janet, indeed; what could she do against the arts and sophistry of a designing man?”

So, taking a sister on each arm, he walked with a prond, determined step out of the office. The stranger was impatiently waiting for them. He perceived that both the girls had been weeping, and naturally imputed it to the interview with their brother, under such painful circumstances, fully aware that the strongest, the most enduring bond of union exists in the class to which they evidently belonged (the middle—the most virtuous, the most respectable of the community): and consequently, such an estrangement as Madelon had described, must be felt most acutely by them. Seeing Frederick, and instantly divining the motive of his accompanying his lovely sisters, and for which he both admired and esteemed him; (for even the greatest libertines feel an involuntary degree of reverence and respect for the holiness of that affection which makes a brother watchful over the honour of his sisters :) he therefore refrained from approaching them, merely answering Madelon's intelligent glance of recognition with a slight but respectful bow. At first he almost felt inclined to introduce himself, and explaiu who he was, and what were his intentions : but he reflected how difficult it was to convince a headstrong, impetuous young man, such as he easily saw Frederick was, where there was a shadow of suspicion or doubt, ignorant as he was, too, of the world, and totally unacquainted with the rules of society; and who yet, no doubt, thought, in common with the rest of his fraternity, that he was perfectly au fait in all its mysteries and intrigues, and that he was not to be deceived. He contented himself, for the present, with following them to the coach; and whilst Frederick was sending a message, from the very depth of his afflicted heart, to his beloved mother, by Janet, he contrived to approach Madelon, and said in a hurried whisper, “ Pray, pardon me, but in mercy tell me your name“I mean most honourably."

“ Madelon Howard," she replied, and was on the point of adding her address, when Frederick turning suddenly round, caused the stranger to mingle with the crowd, and disappear instantly. Madelon consoled herself by recalling the inspiriting lines of the immortal bard, the poet, “ par excellence," of lovers:

“ Hope is a lover's staff; walk hence with that,

And manage it against despairing thoughts." Mrs. Howard, who had been a celebrated beauty in her youth, and who was, at the time of our present little narrative, still a very fine woman, had spent the whole of her life in bitterly deploring the sacrifice she made of her charms to affection, in bestowing them on Mr. Howard, which she did, in a moment of inconsiderate fondness, ere reflection had taught her the inestimable value of them, (when, in fact, the heart is only heard, and when its language is so artless and persuasive-happy age !—the infancy of feeling and sentiment,) and dearly had he paid for the flattering preference.

The man who marries a beauty is indeed to be pitied. It is the heaviest sense of obligation the human mind can be oppressed withbeing eternally reminded of the burden, by the object who conferred the doubtful favour; so that every act of kindness and affection, through a long and grateful life, is rendered nugatory by the increasing regret," that those charms have been thrown away, and that, but for the folly of listening to the suggestions of a first love, which never answers, a ducal coronet might have added splendour to the fairest brow nature ever bestowed on mortal.”

She never denied that he had been invariably kind and indulgentthat he had studied her every wish, and made her life supremely happy. But “ still he was a nobody: and where was the use of amiability and goodness wedded to obscurity?” She therefore took infinite pains to instil into her daughters' minds “the necessity of girls making good matches ; that it was in fact, a species of ingratitude towards the Almighty not to avail themselves of the superior beauty he had bestowed upon them, in his infinite goodness, by obtaining a lord, at least, or a man of enormous fortune with a title in teversion,"

Weak and frivolous in the extreme, her whole education having consisted in the perusal of poetry and romance, her mind was naturally imbued with a considerable degree of superstition and folly. She placed the utmost reliance in dreams and omens of every descriptionhad her lucky and unlucky days: and Madelon having, on her retorn home, given a most exaggerated account of her rencontre with the handsome and mysterious stranger, which occurred, fortunately, on the very luckiest day in her mother's calendar, she instantly coincided in her opinion, « that he must be a lord—that he was violently in love and that every energy of his exalted mind would now be devoted to the furtherance of his passion—that her beautiful Madelon might expect him at her feet any moment to declare the conquest of her matchless charms !"

About a fortnight after the occurrence of the events just recorded, Mrs. Howard dreamt (as she had made a regular practice of doing from the first year of her inauspicious marriage,) of a fortunate number in the lottery, then at the zenith of its fame—the forlorn hope of the credulous and discontented.

Poor Mr. Howard knew, the instant she began recounting this singular and mysterious vision, arrayed in the fascinating garb of “thirty thousand pounds,” that there was another five-pound note spirited out of his pocket for ever. But he had struggled vainly against his wife's infatuation for years, and now yielded to it," for the sake of quiet,” without a remonstrance.

She and her daughters, therefore, set off for town in the highest spirits, to seek the favour of the fickle, and hitherto negligent goddess, Fortune. At the moment they were entering Mr. Bish's office on Cornlıill (her favourite abode), Madelon, who always made the best use of her beautiful eyes, suddenly beheld the object of her anxiety in the midst of a group of gentlemen, with whom he was apparently in earnest conversation. She raised her hands in a state of uncontrollable delight, exclaiming, “Oh, mamma, mamma, the stranger !" Struck with the eagerness of her tone and manner, he instantly recog. nized the lovely girl again, and came hastily across with a countenance beaming with joyful surprise, protesting his unqualified delight at meeting her, after such long and fruitless inquiry. "Am I not indeed the favourite of chance ?” he exclaimed, " and at the instant when I most despaired of her kindness. She ought to punish me for daring to doubt her goodness ;- but I have suffered too much from the tortures of suspense, to fear her enmity; my anguish would have propitiated a more malignant fate." Then he entreated to be introduced to her mamma, whom he presumed it was, for Madelon bad entirely engrossed his attention—so intoxicated was she at seeing him, and her undisguised manner of expressing the satisfaction she felt, was most flattering to his self-love; for where is the man proof against the witchery of woman's blandishments ?

They all entered the office together, when taking out his case, he presented his card to Mrs. Howard, on which she saw engraved,

Sir Charles Linden, Bart.”

Madelon was rather disappointed to find that he was only a baronet, but she thought she should be able to reconcile herself to the less dignified title, although her pet line was

“And in soft sounds, your grace' salutes their ear," considering she should still be “my lady."

On quitting the lottery office, where he had insisted on purchasing a ticket in their united names, (finding Mrs. Howard had great faith in the magic number of three,) Sir Charles allowed Madelon and Janet to precede them; and offering his arm to their mother, entered into an animated conversation, congratulating her enthusiastically, on being the parent of two such lovely girls-gave her the most unexceptionable references to some of the highest nobility, to satisfy her of his honourable intentions, and concluded by declaring, " that he wished for a nearer and dearer connexion with her amiable family.

Mrs. Howard glanced triumphantly towards Madelon, and thought, “ what a handsome couple they would make."

“Will my impatience be considered indiscreet," he resumed, " in desiring to see Mr. Howard as early as to-morrow? Oh!” he added in a voice of deep emotion, “I have been so long in search of the happiness I am confident I have now discovered, that I am jealous of the slightest delay, fearing some envious fate may interpose to destroy the charming illusion. Do not, dearest madam, blast my rising hopes by a cold refusal—do not condemn me to eternal regret and sorrowsay I may have the interview on which depends the felicity of my future life, --say to-morrow, and pardon and forgive my impetuosity.'

Mrs. Howard might have said that there was no necessity to consult Mr. Howard in the affair ; she might have said that she regulated every thing of importance in their domestic establishment ; and that he was a complete nonentity, particularly with respect to her daughters' settlements in life; but no! she did not know how far Sir Charles might enter into her peculiar ideas of the privileges of a wife, which she held to be illimitable. She therefore contented herself with graciously granting the consent so passionately solicited for his visit for the morrow, and they separated mutually pleased with each other; Sir Charles to rejoin his friends, and Mrs. Howard and the girls to see their dear Frederick, to impart the important news of Madelon's speedy aggrandizement. In the evening, Mrs. Howard, with that tone of exultation, which plainly implies, " There ! I always told you how it would be !” astounded poor Mr. Howard with the intelligence, “ that a real baronet was coming on the following day to propose for Madelon. And really, my love,” she added, “ do pray make yourself look as much like a gentleman as you possibly can. First appearance is everything in this world, as I always remark to the girls-see the consequence of Madelon's profiting by my advice; married at nineteen to a baronet. A man of rank, fortune, and elegance, absolutely willing to become her slave!

This is not one of the many idle dreams of prosperity you have so often seemed to sneer at and ridicule, Mr. Howard, but a positive, undeniable fact, for there's his card ;” drawing triumphantly from her pocket the precious document, and holding it before his astonished eyes, to destroy any latent doubt still daring to linger in his disgustingly sceptical mind. “What an introduction for Janet,” she continued ; “but she never will be like her sister! no pride—no ambition—not caring one straw how she looks. And yet, notwithstanding all that, I declare I sometimes think she is far from plain. La ! I hope she'll grow a little more attentive to her personal appearance, now she sees what it has done for Madelon."

“Ah! my dear Elizabeth,” said Mr. Howard, tenderly, “ you'll never make Janet a second Madelon, depend upon it; they have no resemblance of disposition whatever, nor should I wish it, I confess. She is kind and amiable now, and what more is wanting in a young woman, to be happy herself, and make all around her so too."

" It's those ridiculous notions which is the ruin of the child,” rejoined his wife, pettishly, “and whether you wish it or not, I shall think it my duty to eradicate them, Frederick.”

Nothing could exceed the state of bustle and excitement which prevailed at the cottage next day.

“The dawn was overcast, the morning lour'd.”

« PreviousContinue »