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stantia; and Lord Robert at the same time expressed a hope that, on his return, he should be permitted to see her, muttering some confused speech about his sufferings since her illness from extreme anxiety on her account.
Thus the noble party took their leave, when Mrs. Kitty and her sisters were left to watch in solitude the slow and very imperfect recovery of poor Constantia. Her fever, after awhile left her; but it left her without the use of her limbs. From the time of her first attack, she became quite lame, and unable to walk, even across the room, without assistance. But what she looked upon at that time as a still greater affliction, was a settled redness in her face, which so entirely altered and disfigured her, that no one of her former acquaintance could suddenly have known her. She kept her bed for many weeks, but at length was enabled to be removed to her dressing-room.
It was a gloomy day in the autumn of that very year begun by Constantia with such prospects of worldly prosperity, that this unhappy young creature (unhappy because, as yet, she could not submit with tolerable humility to the affliction which she had brought on herself by her own imprudence) was conveyed from her chamber to her dressing-room, and laid on a sofa, nearly opposite that mirror in which she had surveyed herself with so much pleasure on the unfortunate day of the ball at the marquis's. The mirror had not been removed; and as she sat up, supported by pillows, she caught a glimpse of her altered face, which affected her so greatly as to produce a flood of tears. Her aunts very kindly enquired the cause of her tears, and attempted to sooth her: but she would hear nothing they had to say by way of comfort, continually breaking out into fresh expressions of sorrow.
While she still continued weeping, a carriage drove up to the door, and a servant soon came to announce the arrival of the marchioness and her daughters, with Lord Robert. "Oh!" said Constantia, covering her face with her hands, "let me not see them; hide me from them; I am ashamed to appear before them."
"We will go down," said Mrs. Kitty, "and at least excuse you for to-day." Vol. Ii. E
She accordingly went down, and so far succeeded as to prevail on the marchioness and Lord Robert to stay below: but the three young ladies, slipping by her, ran up into Constantia's dressing-room, where they had often been received in the days of their indiscreet familiarity, being curious to ascertain whether she were so entirely changed by her illness as report had led them to expect.
Constantia was so much affected when her three gay companions entered the room, and in their heartless and unfeeling manner, yet with an affectation of pity, condoled with her unhappy situation, that she was totally unable to enter into conversation with them. She thought their manners towards her were quite altered, and she knew not how to account for the change. After a few expressions of sympathy, they took their leave; and availing themselves of the first opportunity of being alone with their brother, they told him, in answer to his enquiries, that Constantia was so entirely changed that they should not have known her, and that they thought she had very little chance of ever being at all like what she was before. "In short," added they, laughing, "she is become quite ugly."
"Well then," said Lord Robert, "as soon as a proper opportunity presents itself, I shall take a polite leave of her; and I have reason to think I may do quite as well in point of fortune elsewhere."
"But what will my father say?" returned one of the young ladies: "I know he has a great attachment to Constantia's estate."
"I shall say nothing on the subject," replied Lord Robert, "but shall ask his permission to-morrow to pay my compliments to my aunt at Bath. The old lady has often invited me; and where is the wonder if I find it particularly convenient to visit her at this time V
The young ladies smiled: and Lord Robert, having made the before-mentioned request to his father, took his leave, in a day or two, for Bath, where he spent the little remainder of his long vacation; having previously written a very polite note to Constantia, expressing his hopes that her health might speedily be restored.
To this note Constantia made no answer, but she became daily more and more dejected, refusing all comfort, and wasting her unhappy days in hopeless inactivity. And thus closed the eighteenth year of the life of Constantia, bringing her to that particular period which her grandmother had fixed for her leaving Mrs. Garston.
Constantia's birth-day had always been kept with considerable parade in the family; but this year the family intended it to pass by without any extraordinary notice. In this hope, however, they were disappointed. Constantia had not forgotten the day, nor had she failed to make such reflections as the recurrence of the period naturally suggested. When an old and confidential servant, who had been accustomed to attend her for many years, came, as usual, to dress her, she found her bathed in tears; and on endeavouring to administer to her some words of comfort, she was addressed by Constantia in a manner which but too fully betrayed the bitterness of her feelings. "This day," said the unhappy young woman, "I enter my nineteenth year, the period fixed by my ever beloved grandmother for my leaving Mrs. Garston's." Here she paused a moment, and again broke out—" Oh! had I remained till now at Mrs. Garston's, one year of danger and sin would have been avoided; my ruin would at least have been delayed one year; and by that delay, perhaps, I might entirely have escaped my present misfortunes. Had I been favoured with friends who would have used the authority given them by God and the superior knowledge acquired by years, in compelling me to do what was right, I had now, perhaps, been a virtuous, cheerful, and contented young woman. But what, alas, is my present situation? Left to the indulgence of my own headstrong passions, all my prospects in life are blasted! I am undone!—undone by cruel indulgence!—and have nothing to look forward to but an early death, or a life of protracted suffering!"
Here the servant interposed, and urged the duty under which she conceived her young mistress lay of not attributing her afflictions to her friends, who, if they had erred, had surely erred on the side of kindness.
"Kindness!" retorted Constantia, "how mistaken are your notions of kindness! Why does God give authority to parents 1 why does he place little children in their arms in a state of utter helplessness, but in order that they may use the authority they possess, in subduing their wayward passions, and compelling them, as far as human influence can go, to act discreetly 1 Why are wisdom and experience given to a mother, but in order that her child may be the better for them? And why do parents and sponsors 'renounce the devil and all his works, the pomps and vanities of this world, and all the sinful lusts of the flesh,' on the part of children, if parental authority is not also called in to give force to this solemn act V
Here again the servant interposed, excusing the conduct of her ladies on the score of excessive kindness.
"Kindness!" repeated Constantia a second time, " it was not the sort of kindness which I experienced from Mrs. Garston, when she used all the influence which her situation, her age, and her experience gave her, to compel me to do right, to force me to become happy, respectable, and amiable."
Here Constantia's agony of mind became too much for her weak frame, and the servant was obliged to administer hartshorn to her, in order to keep off a faintingfit.
It happened, that Mrs. Kitty and her sister, who were in an anteroom, overheard a great part of this conversation. What their feelings were on this occasion is not easy to describe: they were not, however, of the right kind, as from that time, though they still loved Constantia, they felt considerable irritation against her, which often broke out in peevish expressions to this purpose—" We know that we are blamed on account of our niece's malady; it is attributed to some carelessness of ours, but very unjustly: however, we must bear our share of the afflictions fallen on the family: we cannot help it: but the world is ungrateful."
These and such like expressions, which were frequently thrown out in the hearing of Constantia, did not add to her good-humour: on the contrary, she became daily more uneasy in herself, and seemed more and more anxious to fly from her own thoughts. And as she was debarred from all public and active amusements by the state of her health, and seemed to take any delight in religion, her injudiciously indulgent friends provided her with a constant succession of amusing books, which, with cards for their evening entertainment, filled up the day.
Thus passed several years. Constantia experienced no amendment of health, although every thing was tried which could be thought of, and several journeys made on her account to the sea and elsewhere. Lord Robert, in the mean time, married a fashionable woman, of low family, but immense fortune: in consequence of which, and his extremely dishonourable conduct to Constantia, all intercourse ceased between her family and that of the marquis.
During this period, Mrs. Garston had left her house near London, and retired to the North of England, with her lovely daughter, who was married to a pious young clergyman in that part of the country. She had written several times to Constantia; but as Constantia was not able to answer her letters herself, their epistolary intercourse, after proving very unsatisfactory, at length ceased.
Ten or twelve years had now passed away, bringing us near to the close of the life of poor Constantia—a life begun, as far as man could judge, under the most promising circumstances, but rendered truly miserable through the injudicious kindness of friends, by which those natural selfish feelings and cravings of the will, which should have been suppressed, were encouraged and fostered, till they at length worked the entire destruction of all her prospects in the present world. But, through the infinite mercy of God, we trust that Constantia's last hours afforded a hope of everlasting emancipation from sin, with all its miserable consequences.
When Constantia's illness had continued for twelve years, with little increase or diminution, it suddenly took a turn, which rendered it evident that her life was speedily drawing to a termination. Constantia was terrified at the approach of death, which now stared her in the face; and, being thereby hurried into a state of great perplexity, she found herself compelled to seek for other comforters than romances and cards. In the anguish of her mind she remembered Mrs. Garston, and begged