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Not indeed that he thought of her for the heir apparent: no; Lord L' ''' l '»as very handsome, and his great expectations encouraged him to look higher than Constantia; but the fortune of that young lady could not be unacceptable to a poor parson, and might assist in making his parsonage-house a habitable dwelling.
This scheme was no sooner conceived, than imparted to the marchioness, by whom it was fully approved, and communicated to the young ladies, who promised their co-operation. But until Christmas arrived, when both the young people were to be at home, nothing more could be attempted towards furthering these interested views than that assiduous cultivation of Mrs. Kitty's friendship which we have above described. '(( ,. , i , /y
Thus having fully explained the state of affairs in the neighbourhood, I return to Constantia, whom we have described as being just arrived at home, sincerely rejoicing to see her old friends, yet not a little afflicted at losing the society of Mrs. Garston and her daughter.
Lord Robert had arrived from the University only the day before Constantia's return; and the marquis took the earliest opportunity, after hearing that the young lady was actually in the country, to pay a visit to her aunts, accompanied by his two elder sons, resolving to take that early occasion of opening his plans to his son Robert.
The wily father commenced his operations by stating the value of the living he intended for his son; adding, that, as he should have nothing further to give him, it would be absolutely necessary for him either to study economy, or to seek a rich wife.
Lord Robert answered, that he could not endure economy; and as to being married, he hated the thought of that also.
By this time, they were come into a lovely dingle, on the estate of the three sisters, shaded by lofty trees, through which the beams of the sun were here and there glancing upon a clear stream, which trickled through a mossy channel in the bottom of the dingle. The marquis pointed out the beauties of the place through which they were passing, together with the fine growth of the trees, many of which, he observed, were extremely valuable as timber; and then abruptly asked his son how he should like to possess the reversion of the estate on which they were walking, with so many acres, a handsome house, and many extra thousands for present use?
Lord Robert answered, that he should have no objection to such an estate, if there were no incumbrances on it.
"Only a wife and three old aunts," replied the elder brother.
"O, as to the aunts," replied Lord Robert, "I would soon plague them to death: but the wife, what kind of thing is she I"
"Why," replied Lord L , who had accidentally
seen Constantia at an inn in the neighbouring town, where the travellers had stopped to change horses, "I would rather have the estate without her; and yet she is not so bad but you may be content to take her into the bargain, since you cannot have her money without herself."
Many inelegant jests now passed between these two brothers, unchecked by their father's presence: for the minds of irreligious persons, in whatever rank of life they move, are, in general, coarse, and their ideas low and depraved. But the result of their discourse was, that Lord Robert should endeavour to make himself agreeable to Constantia; though how to set about it he seemed quite at a loss, as he had never been in the habit of considering any one's humours but his own.
The marquis was pleased to find his son Robert more accommodating than he expected; and as by this time they were come near the house, the three gentlemen prepared to make themselves agreeable.
The idea had once or twice glanced across the mind of Mrs. Kitty and Constantia's mother, that one of the marquis's sons might possibly take a fancy to Constantia, and that, in case of a marriage, she would then become a titled lady. They had never looked up to the eldest son, it being reported that he was engaged to a lady of higher pretensions both by birth and fortune than Constantia: but on observing Lord Robert's attentions to the young lady during this morning visit, the idea of a near connexion between the families recurred to their minds,
strangely influencing all they did and said, though they hardly knew it themselves.
Poor Constantia's mind was at that time in a pure, simple, and sweet state. Mrs. Garston, from whom only a few days before she had parted with many tears, was fresh in her memory. Her sweet and modest friend, Miss Garston, was ever present to her imagination. Her usual studies, the poor people she had patronized, her hours of prayer and meditation, her active and useful employments, only lately broken through—all these things still warmed and filled her mind, and so unfitted her for taking any interest in such men as the marquis and his sons, that when they were departed, and her aunts asked her how she liked the young men, she had nothing to say, but that she could hardly tell. Indeed she scarcely knew which was which, and had totally forgotten what they were talking about.
Constantia did not, however, long retain this happy frame of mind. One week spent in continual intercourse with the family of the marquis, entirely deranged all her better feelings. During that time she had been engaged in one or two private dances; she had freely conversed with the three young ladies; had heard Lord Robert talk nonsense; had been flattered by the marchioness; had neglected all her studies, and thought of nothing but how to dress, and how to appear fashionable. The thought of returning to Mrs. Garston's began now to be painful to her, and even the sight of her hand-writing excited disagreeable feelings.
Week after week passed away, while one amusement followed another at the mansion of the marquis; and still as the time for leaving home approached, Constantia became less and less willing to return to Mrs. Garston. A slight illness at length forming some slender ground of excuse, she allowed her aunts, who were equally willing with herself that she should return no more to Mrs. Garston, to inform that lady that it was their intention to keep her at home till the weather would permit her travelling with greater comfort and security. They brought the letter, when written, to Constantia, for the purpose of asking her if she would choose to add any thing to it. She took it and read it; she thought it cold and unkind; she wished to add something to it, but found herself strangely affected. She gave the letter back to Mrs. Kitty, desiring it might be sent, and running into her own room, she shut the door and burst into an agony of tears. She thought of her grandmother, and of Mrs. Garston, of her dear friend Miss Garston, of the excellent advice they gave her, of the excellent examples they had set before her; and her heart was ready to break. She was, at that time, in so favourable a state, that a judicious friend might have prevailed with her to make any sacrifice, and to have denied self in any point: but after a struggle, not with the evil one, not with the enemy of souls, but with the better feelings of her nature, she became hardened, and resolved to pursue those pleasures which lead to death.
And in this trial, who were the tempters of Constanta? When she would have forsaken the lusts of the flesh, or self-pleasing, who were the most solicitous to lead her back into the way of danger 1 Were they not those who, as Christians, as guardians, as instructors, should have led her to renounce so destructive path? O that parents, that sponsors, that all those who undertake the charge of youth, would consider that most awful part of the Church Catechism and baptismal service, wherein they undertake that their little ones shall "renounce the pomps and vanities of this wicked world, and all the sinful lusts of the flesh!" And let them beware, lest, either intentionally or through inadvertency, they administer to these sinful lusts, and adding fuel to that fire of inbred corruption which burns within the breast of every unconverted child of Adam.
But to return to Constantia. From this time, her progress towards delusion and error became more rapid, and her situation more perilous. Before Lord Robert returned to Oxford, he made an offer in form to her; and although she neither loved nor esteemed him, yet her vanity being flattered by his attentions and those of the whole family, she allowed her aunts to intimate, that, although she was at present too young to think of marrying, yet, on arriving at a proper age, she might, perhaps, be induced to think of him.
This was quite sufficient for Lord Robert, who now made sure of being, some time or other, in possession of her estate and fortune: and Constantia, being now considered as one who was to belong to the marquis's family, was more than ever with them, and especially present on every occasion of amusement.
Many months passed away in one continued round of dissipation, but not of happiness to poor Constantia, who, when she dared for a moment to think, remembered with anguish the truly happy days she had spent at Mrs. Garston's; especially that period most dear to her heart, when her venerable grandmother was with them, and when, forgetful of herself, she had studied nothing but the happiness of that dear parent. But now self was the subject of her constant thought, and she was never easy but when she found herself the object of attention in public. When abroad, her spirits, supported by vanity, became uncontrollably high; and when athome, she was languid, capricious, haughty, and fretful. In this state Constantia once again became sensible what it was to be under the dominion of misruled affections and strong and sickly cravings after earthly pleasures. Of all that she enjoyed, nothing satisfied her: she had a restless and incessant wish for something new; and in proportion as her caprices were indulged, her desires became more irregular and violent.
Constantia had now entered her eighteenth year, several months of which had already passed away, when Lord L 1' who had been from home some weeks, returned, with several young noblemen of his acquaintance; and Lord Robert at the same time coming home for the long vacation, the marquis's mansion became the seat of unusual festivity, where Constantia was continually engaged in some new scene of amusement, and where she appeared to be the darling of the noble party in which she was always found.
It was at length proposed by the marchioness to give an entertainment of unusual splendour, on account of the birth-day of Lord L-^Ofct. There was to be a ball;after which the company were to be amused with fireworks; when a temple, which was built as an object on the other side of a beautiful piece of water in front of the house, was to be illuminated in a splendid manner