« PreviousContinue »
Although Sir Charles had fixed the time of his visit at “four o'clock, in the afternoon, positively,” Mrs. Howard had the servants up by five in the morning—“There was so much to be done,” she said. Every room and passage underwent a thorough scouring. All the covers were taken off the best furniture; and articles, which had not seen day-light since their own wedding-day, were brought out, and arranged in the most conspicuous manner, to dazzle their expected guest. (So little do one half of the world understand the other, that they actually thought to confound a man of rank by the splendour of four cut-glass salt-cellars, and a few other equally insignificant things.) And that is the way, by the bye, which makes people exclaim “ about the great fatigue of keeping company;" they toil like slaves, to make a display, which is either totally disregarded, or held in sovereign contempt, by three-fourths of their visitors.
Mr. Howard's personal appearance was as carefully inspected, and approved, and disapproved of, till he grew angry and impatient, and the last alteration, (infinitely the worst,) was allowed to remain.
Then Madelon, precisely at ten o'clock, was ordered to dress herself
, to be in readiness to receive him," a command she obeyed willingly.
« The labour we delight in physics pain," she felt, as she arrayed herself in a beautiful light blue crape. (The identical ball-dress, stripped of its silver flowers, to give it a more home look, and make it pass for a dinner one.) With a small piece of elegant fancy work before her, she was placed, like a beautiful statue, in the best parlour, until the arrival of this modern Prometheus, to animate her. The weather being too unkindly humid to admit of her venturing into the garden, as her clustering ringlets would have infallibly fallen a sacrifice “to the dew of heaven," by no means desirable in Madelon's estimation, for never did they fall more gracefully over her lovely face, warm with the blushes of expectation and vanity.
Punctual to a moment, an elegant carriage drove up to the gate, from which Sir Charles bounded, with a light elastic step, and entered the cottage, followed by a servant, loaded with costly presents. He was most cordially welcomed by the delighted and anxious group, whom he highly gratified, by praising and admiring everything he beheld, protesting," he thought the house and garden a perfect paradise.' And the sun, to favour the illusion, burst through the dense clouds in a blaze of resplendent light; illuminating every external object, and harmonizing with the beaming countenances of the happy and joyous party within. Nothing so instantaneously exhilarates the spirits as that sudden transition from gloom to cheerfulness, so common to our climate. Nature seems to smile and participate in our emotions, and shed a radiance on our pleasures. Sir Charles felt this sensibly, as he kissed, in a transport of delight, the snowy hand of Madelon, who presented him a beautifully arranged bouquet with one of her most winning smiles.
It is astonishing how our generosity and affection are quickened by the gratification of our pride and vanity. Madelon was so intoxicated with Sir Charles's manner, that she felt as if nothing at the moment would be a sacrifice to her. She therefore whispered in a patronizing tone, “ Mamma! I wonder whether Sir Charles would consider Janet too young to dine with us? I dare say she would like it, poor little thing."
"Oh, dear, no!" rejoined Mrs. Howard. “ Let her come; he won't give such a child a thought.”
After the dinner, (which passed off most agreeably, Sir Charles having drawn them imperceptibly into unrestrained conversation, by discovering and entering into the particular taste of each with a warmth and sincerity of tone and manner which made them feel completely at home with him, and consequently extremely happy,) he requested" to be favoured with a few moment's private conversation with Madelon, previous to declaring his intentions to the rest of the family.”
Mr. Howard and Janet repaired to the garden to secure their precious carnations against an impending shower, and Mrs. Howard retired to a small fancifully furnished apartment, which she pompously designated “her boudoir," to ruminate deliciously on these agreeable events. She was lost in rather a perplexing reverie, respecting the style of Madelon's wedding-dress, and regret that Janet was not a trifle taller to make a more graceful bridesmaid—when the former burst into the room, and flinging herself on her mother's bosom, exclaimed, almost choked with passion, “O, mamma! such an insultsuch a disappointment! It is not me that he is in love with—it is not me he wishes to marry,—and so rich and handsome as he is too!"
"Not you that he is in love with ? Not you that he wishes to marry? Impossible !” repeated the astonished mother. “The agitation
consequent upon so novel and delicate an interview has bewildered
you, my darling child, - I'm sure it has.” "Oh, no, no!” sobbed the mortified girl; “ I understood him only too well. It is Janet; he is wildly in love with her, absolutely raving about her beauty, her innocence, her simplicity-protested he was instantaneously captivated with her artless terror, and sweet dependence, as he terms it, (at that odious crossing,)—he entered into every particular of himself with the most aggravating minuteness-told me he was ambassador to a foreign court—had a magnificent estate in the west of England a house in London-a large funded property, and was free to lay all at her feet, deeming the sacrifice of rank and wealth too insignificanttoo contemptible-to be put in competition in exchange for such loveliness—such angelic perfection and goodness! Judge of my tortures during this recital ! -of the agony I endured from the painful, the bitter consciousness that it was not to win my love, that he thus boasted of his possessions—that he thus revealed the worship of an adoring heart--that he thus forgot even common humanity, in the intoxication of expatiating on the charms he idolized, at the expense of the feelings he must know I entertained for him. He had the barbarity to conclude by observing, that he merely requested the favour of speaking to me first, that I might endeavour to interest my sister in his behalf, fearing you and papa, influenced by his station in life, and anxious for her establishment, would perhaps force her inclinations, which he would not suffer for worlds, although, he added, and his eyes were suffused with tears, her refusal, Madelon, would cost me more than life?'
“O mamma! only think,” she added, “ of Janet's being first married, after-all-of wearing a train—and being presented! Oh. I shall never, never survive that I'm sure I never shall!" and her tears flowed faster as this mortifying picture of her sister's triumph presented itself to her exaggerated imagination, now ready to paint everything in the most painful extreme. “But go, mamma; he is waitins anxiously for you, and assured me, 'that every moment would appear an age of intolerable tediousness, until yourself and Janet confirmed his hopes.'”
Well, only to think of his want of taste !" observed the partial mother; “ and a man of the world tou-I could not have believed it!" But it was precisely because he was a man of the world that he was so enamoured with the beautiful simplicity—the perfect unsophistication of heart and mind, which so pre-eminently distinguished Janet's character, and won him, despite the superior loveliness of Madelon. It was so new-so fascinating to one accustomed only to the meretricious and artificial display of feeling—where every natural impulse is schooled to concealment, and every thought tutored to disguise and hollow ness, to suit some particular scene, or gain some selfish end.
Mrs. Howard found him pacing the room with rapid strides—his countenance flushed with excitement—and his eye expressive of the most impatient anxiety.
In a few words, he more than confirmed Madelon's account of his violent prepossession in favour of her youngest daughter, implorin: her "to have pity on his sufferings, assuring her that far more than life depended on her decision !" and as he stood pale and breathless before her, he did indeed give her the painful idea of a criminal awaiting that sentence which was to deprive him of hope for ever!
She soon, however, dissipated his alarm, (thinking it was better to secure him for one of her daughters than lose him for a son-in-law altogether,) wisely concealing her cruel disappointment respecting her darling hopes for Madelon; she gave a most gracious and willing assent to his wishes, and Janet, (in her simple white frock, her beautiful hair hanging in loose negligent curls over her shoulders, and ber complexion heightened by air and exercise,) was duly summoned to learn the astounding and important change a few moments had effected in her innocent and tranquil life, (and never did a sweeter vision of artlessness and grace present itself to love's enraptured gaze)
“Her soft blue eyes more deep than bright,
Like violets slumb'ring on the ground;
The sun in gladness flings around,” shrank abashed from the ardent and impassioned gaze of Sir Charles, who remained in an ecstasy of speechless admiration at the sudden wonder of her angelic countenance, as her mother, in as few words as possible, explained to her “ the great honour Sir Charles intended her, and of her perfect acquiescence, and also that of her father."
“Me, mamma!" she exclaimed, in a voice of undisguised astonishment—" Me! I thought that Madelon was
"No, my love!" interrupted the wary mother, in an admonitory tone, fearing Janet might express a decided aversion for Sir Charles, and overthrow all her schemes and his hopes at once.
No, it is you, Janet, and I trust you have sense and gratitude sufficient to appreciate such extraordinary good fortune. Quite the finger of Providence pointing to you, my dear child, remember that.”
“O mamma! dear mamma !” she exclaimed, bursting into tears, * what shall I do?"
“ Nothing, sweet Janet,” said Sir Charles, tenderly taking her hand,“ nothing-nothing repugnant to your feelings. It would break my heart to cause yours the slightest uneasiness.”
Janet looked up with a grateful smile; she felt the persuasiveness of truth and sincerity in those few consoling words of her lover, which assured her she was safe from violence, and her tears instantly yielded to grateful joy. “ The burst of emotion that breaks into blushes,
When the hope-quicken'd blood through the glad bosom rushes ;
As he blazes triumphant'through morn's chilling mist.” Sir Charles saw the instantaneous change her thoughts had undergone, reading every emotion of her ingenuous mind in her varying and truth-telling countenance, and arguing favourably for his love from it, he led her to a seat by the hand he still fondly retained in his own, and taking one by her, he resumed, in a voice of deep emotion, as soon as Mrs. Howard had quitted the room :
“ Dear Janet, I must entreat you not to look upon me with distrust; nor suppose that I will, for one moment, lend myself to the schemes of your parents to induce you to accept me. No;-) must be convinced of your love—of your entire and perfect acquiescence in our union, or you will never become my wife. I could never endure to be the possessor of that hand, whose cold reluctance chilled the warmth of my own passionate heart. It is your affection I covet,-suffer me to endeavour to obtain such an inestimable treasure. Consider me, now, only as a brother, love me as such,—until, by the fond perseverance of a devoted heart, I have awakened a stronger feeling in your timid bosom, and you really experience the blissful consciousness that it is no sacrifice to become mine. I do not despair,” he added enthusiastically, “of effecting that enchanting transformation, dearest, loveliest Janet, if you will only grant me the opportunity of making the experiment. You will not deny me this ?”
“Oh, no," she exclaimed, “I shall be too happy; that is," she added, blushing painfully at the unguarded energy of her tone and manner, “ I shall always be delighted to see you, the same as any other of papa's friends."
He did not allow her to proceed, (interpreting her first artless exclamation most flatteringly to his own wishes, as also her evident desire to banish the impression her warmth had created, “for” as he justly thought, “ were I really an object of indifference to her, would she display such extreme eagerness to rectify any unfavourable idea I may have formed ?") but pressing her haud ardently, he said,
“Thank you, and bless you, for those few dear, precious words ;-| will not allow another to pass those sweet lips now on the subjectlest you should cruelly destroy the fairy fabric Hope is just rearing in my bosom! Ah, dearest! you know not yet what a tenacious architect she is, building on the slightest possible foundation, but if once interrupted flies from her work, and leaves the heart a complete and melancholy ruin. But, come,” he added more cheerfully," let us seek our beautiful sister, Madelon ;-I have to receive her heart's smile to make my happiness complete. What an angel would she appear to me, if I had never beheld my beautiful Jauet!” Janet blushed and smiled at his ardent flattery, and conducted him to where the family were assembled waiting impatiently for them.
Mrs. Howard, at a glance, saw that all was as it should be between the lovers; and Mr. Howard was so accustomed to make her looks his guide of pain or pleasure, that seeing her now all smiles, he also ventured to be happy; and Madelon, (with the natural buoyancy of her nature, and that hopefulness which was the mainspring of her heart,) soon rose above her transient disappointment, and never greeted Janet with a warmer, more heartfelt kiss, than at this moment, -or bestowed a more cordial shake of the hand on the brother of her love, than she gave the exulting, happy Sir Charles, as he whispered to her his delicious anticipations of complete success.
She thought that amongst Lady Linden's brilliant and fashionable visitors, her beauty must soon achieve even a more distinguished conquest than her sister's. “ I shall not be the first," said the rain girl, mentally, “whose lovely face has won a coronet. Janet, after all, will only be a simple baronet's wife—but I may be, perhaps, the lady of a duke! who knows? I've read of much greater miracles performed by love and beauty than that !” It is hardly to be wondered at, therefore, with such ideas, that, in a very short time, Madelon learned to consider it rather a fortunate escape for her not having been the object of Sir Charles's affection, and almost pitied poor Janet“ for having thrown herself away on a baronet only."
Daily, for two months, did the carriage of the enamoured Sir Charles Linden convey him to the cottage of the beautiful and gentle Janet Howard. He gradually unfolded the stores of her hitherto neglected mind, (all Mrs. Howard's attention having been devoted to Madelon's mental improvement).
There were books, if Janet' chose to read; and there was the instrument, if Janet chose to play. But there was no eye, with the watchful anxiety of maternal tenderness, to direct the choice of the artless girl in the selection of those books only fit for the study of youth. There was no word of encouraging kindness to stimulate to exertion; no threat of disapprobation to awaken a dread of idleness and inattention. Still, Janet did read, and that with avidity; and, fortunately, the innate purity and elegance of her own mind led her to select only the most chaste and refined works. She had a decided taste for poetry and painting; and played and sang (considering the disadvantages she had laboured under) with considerable feeling and execution.
Sir Charles soon discovered the rich field he had to work upon.