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as enabled him to return to England during the course of the last year.
His long residence in a foreign country had not, however, failed to produce its usual ill effects. Being much separated from persons of his own rank, he had not only acquired a love of low company, but had been drawn in to marry a gay dashing Irish widow, whom he accidentally met with at an assembly in Paris. This lady had made him the father of six children, viz. three sons, and as many daughters, all of whom were older than Constantia. Of the manners and conduct of these young lords and ladies I shall say nothing, leaving them to speak for themselves, which they will have much opportunity of doing during the course of my narrative. I must however premise, that as these young people had been educated by foreign tutors and governesses selected with little care, we must not consider them as fair specimens of persons of their own rank in general.
During the absence of Lord T , the family-mansion had remained untenanted, the houses of servants and dependents unset, the family-pew at church unoccupied, and the whole parish comparatively deserted, excepting by the family of Honoria and a few poor people. A very different state of things, however, succeeded immediately upon the return of this noble family, which happened a short time previous to the death of Honoria. Bustle and confusion now took place throughout the whole parish: every house now found a tenant, and every workman and artificer found employment in pulling down old things and replacing them with new ones. The marchioness having been much in Paris, thought herself in consequence a person of taste: and as her husband did not consider himself in circumstances sufficiently affluent to keep up a house in town, she was glad to indulge her love of pleasure by promoting such second-rate public amusements as a country society could supply. She accordingly attended and gave a brilliancy to all the assemblies, the race and assize balls held in the neighbouring county town; she gave dances at her own house, and devised a variety of rural amusements in the park and on the lawn, still hoping to pro
duce something which might remind her of the ever varying glories of Beaujeu and Frescati.
The marchioness had been accustomed, during the last thirty years of her life, to exist only in public; and, to do her justice, she possessed precisely that state of spirits, and that measure of understanding, which fitted her to appear well in such scenes. Though now more than fifty years of age, with the help of pearl-powder, rouge, and an auburn wig, she passed well in full-dress and by candle-light. She moved gracefully, had much of that kind of wit which consists in having an answer ready on all occasions, and suited to all purposes, except serious ones: and, to sum up all, she was what some people would call a charming woman; that is, though a marchioness, she thought it worth her while, when shehad collected a certain number of people together for her own amusement, not to insult them with disdain and coldness.
Not so her three daughters; who, without having any more valuable qualities than their mother, had much of that cold, supercilious manner which is now so common among young ladies who think themselves of consequence, with which they contrive to cheat youth of all its smiles and dimples, and to anticipate the rigid appearance of old age without its intelligence, in one
word, the three daughters of Lord T were never seen to smile, unless conversing with each other, with their brothers, or with some other young persons of sufficient rank to be admitted into their coterie; on which occasions they would laugh violently, as if incapable of restraining themselves. At all other times, they preserved an invincible gravity: and though they never absented themselves from their mother's parties, they never condescended to be pleased or displeased by any thing they saw or heard in them; but wore the appearance of persons who were either greatly fatigued, or totally abstracted from the present scene.
Of the sons, the eldest, Lord L though cold and
haughty, was commonly polite; and as he was extremely handsome, he was not altogether an unpopular character. The education of this young man, who was the eldest of the family, was supposed to be finished; and, in consequence, he was residing at home with his father.
But the second son, Lord Robert, who was intended for the Church, (a very valuable living, likely soon to be vacant, being in the gift of his father,) was still belonging to the University, into which he had been admitted some time before the rest of the family had returned to England. This second son was less of the gentleman than his brother, a sportsman, and affecting to despise the profession into which he was about to enter.
The third son, Lord William, was an insipid youth, who, having little intellect, was a servile imitator of his more sprightly brother Robert; and, in consequence, when he repeated his brother's profane jest, seemed even to want the poor excuse which Robert might plead with some show of truth, that he was led to do wrong by his excess of spirits.
Upon the whole, in this family, the old marquis himself might be selected as the best of the set; though the long habits of anxiety about money-matters, induced by former negligences and indiscretions, had undoubtedly in some degree lowered that high sense of honour respecting these matters, which might have been expected from a man of his birth and appearance.
I have now, I trust, my gentle reader, made you fully acquainted with the new society into which I am about to introduce Constantia; so without further loss of time I shall proceed with my story.
It might reasonably be supposed, that persons who had always lived in elegant retirement, like the daughters of Honoria, and paid much attention to the usual forms and decencies of life, would have shrunk with a kind of instinctive horror from all intimacy with such a
woman as the Marchioness of T :but Mrs. Kitty
and her sisters loved the pomps and vanities of the world; so that a title, a magnificent house, with a coach-and-four, had charms sufficient to induce them to overlook many things in the marchioness, which they would have deemed wholly insufferable in any one destitute of her pretensions to rank and fashion. Accordingly, when the marchioness and her daughters came forward, (for, on this occasion, these elegant young ladies condescended to second their mother,) to solicit an intimacy with this family, the three sisters were evidently flattered, and met their advances at least half way. Mrs. Kitty, in particular, was so taken with their attentions, that she could not refrain from commenting on the politeness of the noble strangers, much to this effect—"I am not surprised," said this discerning lady, "at the marchioness's extraordinary politeness to us yesterday, when we had the honour of meeting her at the church-door, nor at the very friendly manner in which she took my hand, and said, she hoped that we should be the best of neighbours; for you know, sisters, that her ladyship's manner is all affability to every one: and though the young ladies have been much complained of as being less conciliatory in their behaviour, they have certainly acted towards us with a distinguishing degree of courtesy. Nothing can be more polite than they always are: yesterday it was more marked than ever, and that in the eyes of all the congregation. Did you notice how Lady Cecilia took the moss rose from her bosom to present to you, Jane 1 and how Lady Catherine at the very same instant stooped to pick up my glove? Certainly, sister, such manners are very pleasing."
"One must be blind indeed," said Constantia's mother, "not to observe these things—and that pretty youth, Lord William, I am sure nothing could be more polite than he was in handing me into the carriage. Well, when our dear Constantia returns, we shall have great pleasure in introducing her to this charming family."
Thus the sisters encouraged in each other the desire of an intimacy with this noble family; and so assiduously was this desire cultivated on both sides, that a considerable familiarity had grown between the respective parties before the arrival of Constantia. In consequence of which, a day seldom passed, but some one or other of the young ladies called at their neighbour's door in going or returning from an airing; or a beautiful nosegay arrived from the greenhouse: and Mrs. Kitty was not unfrequently complimented by some painted screen or card-rack, or other beautiful toy, painted by the fair hands of the young ladies.
Now it never once occurred to this respectable lady and her sisters that there could be any other motive on the part of the marquis's family for thus courting h' Vol. Ii. D
friendship, excepting the pleasure which she supposed they took in her society. Thus, for want of that knowledge of herself with which an humble Christian spirit would have inspired her, poor Mrs. Kitty became the dupe of artful persons, whose very appearance and manners ought at once to have induced her to shun them.
But inasmuch as my reader, probably not having the same opinion of Mrs. Kitty's attractions, as an agreeable companion, as this good lady had of them herself, may be somewhat puzzled to account for the trouble which these noble persons took to solicit her friendship, I shall simply specify the true state of the case, which affords a proof that great people are as liable to act from interested motives as persons of less consequence.
The marquis, as we have before said, was not a rich man. His large estate was entailed on his eldest son, and he had little to give his younger children; a circumstance which caused him and the marchioness to feelno small anxiety to see them advantageously married.
It happened, that the marquis's steward, having been frequently consulted by Honoria, was well acquainted with her affairs. And as persons who have many money-concerns generally make these matters the subject of their discourse, it cannot be wondered at if this steward should have often entertained his lord with statements respecting the condition of the estate then in possession of the three sisters, annexing to such statements a recapitulation of several bonds and securities deposited in a certain iron chest, concerning the intricacies of which he had more than once been consulted. The steward also informed his lord, that all these possessions were entailed on Constantia in failure of other grandchildren; adding, that, as Constantia's mother, the youngest of the three, was now considerably above forty, it might be reasonably supposed, that Constantia's chance of inheriting the whole family property amounted to little less than a certainty.
It was scarcely possible for the marquis to see and hear all this, without considering how he and his children might be the better for it: neither did it require much skill to make this matter out, while he had sons scantily provided for, and Constantia was undisposed of.