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tiny, I would wish such virtue to be the result rather of deliberate choice and preference than of mere ignorance. * * *
Mrs. Digby has very kindly written, and proposed to carry my little girl to Dangerfield, where she will be happy to wait upon you upon the nineteenth of this month, as you so obligingly propose.
I am, madam, &c. &c.
It was a fine evening, for the glass door of the vicar's little parlour was unclosed. It opened upon the greensward of a small garden, gaudy with all those oldfashioned flowers, which, to the delight of the lovers of bygone times and bygone ways, may still be flaunting it round some antiquated hall, or remote country parsonage.
There were huge bunches of yellow daffodils, glittering like gold in the sun; white and purple crocuses, polyanthuses, primroses, ragged robins, wall flowers, flaunting red and yellow tulips, crown imperials, and periwinkles. Blue and pink hepaticas shed their leayes upon the walks, edged with rows of London pride, and white and crimson double daisies.
The collection, though not very elegant, was, it must be confessed, excessively gay; and the broad distinct colour flung by all these baseborn children of Flora against the glare of a bright sun produced a very striking effect, contrasted, as it was in summer, by the deep green of the thick shrubbery which surrounded the garden on all sides except one. Here, the rapidly descending slope was terminated by a small wooded glen, and afforded the view of a wide and fertile plain, gay with a varied landscape of wood and field, castle, church, and cottage, moor and mountain, mingling in pleasant confusion, under that golden flood of light which pours from the sun half veiled by clouds, one hour before he sets.
Within the little parlour, the unadorned walls and simple: furniture of which were recommended by no beauty, save that of excessive neatness, sat Mr. Mildmay himself, in his wicker armchair, for to the luxury of more modern accommodations his scanty purse was inadequate, gazing placidly upon a group of innocent and happy beings, who were hanging, rather than sitting, upon the few steps which fell from the door to the grass. It consisted of Louisa-her hair, in all its natural profusion of shining ringlets, falling round her face-and three little children, from two to six years old, whose flushed
faces and dirty little hands bore but too undoubted evidence of the gardening at which they had all been busy. They were all in high spirits, and making a terrible noise.
“Charles," said the vicar, “ look here!"
And Charles, rising from a small table in the corner of the room, where he had been employed in reading, approached Mr. Mildmay.
“ That is a pretty picture,” said the vicar, again.
The eyes of the young man beamed with the softest sensibility.
“She is certainly an exquisite beauty,” pursued the father, and he sighed.
“Perfectly beautiful!” said his friend.
“ And it is impossible to reflect upon such gifts so bestowed, without great anxiety," continued Mr. Mildmay. " Will she ?-can she ?-when aware of their value, as she infallibly must become-can she be content? Will she be satisfied-to find that the treasure of her beauty has purchased for her nothing better than-than-in short--than a lot like her sister's ?-namely, to share the narrow circumstances of an obscure, though most worthy individual-a hard-working professional man, in a small country towna lot like Mary's, in short. Doubtless, a lot that has its usefulness, and its happiness; and perhaps no parent can justly desire more. But such a creature! such gifts! such charms! one must, one does inevitably, desire-nay, require something better, and find it difficult to avoid repining when that, better is denied. Even she herself-gay, simple, and thoughtless as she is now—the time must come, and will speedily come, when she will be made aware of the vast dif. ferences in things; and sigh over occasions lost for ever, and beauty and talents, alas! vainly given. Shall her life, then, pass in regrets, and a struggle to be easy in an obscure situation when nature has so richly endowed her to adorn and to enjoy the highest ? Shall she be less happy than Mary, because so infinitely her superior ? Shall her life be one of secret repinings, while Mary's is one of unatfected contentment? Or have I done right in accepting this for her?" and he handed Mrs. Carlton's letter to Charles, who had listened patiently, though not with a very assenting countenance, to this lengthy soliloquy, rather than address.
“I suppose, right," said the young man, having read and returned the letter, " and it is plain what the consequence ought to be." Then, running hastily down the steps, he caught one of the little children in his arms, and started away with it round the garden, pursued by Louisa and the others, in a hubbub of the wildest gayety.
They came, all laughing and breathless, into the house. “Come hither, Louisa," said her father.
She was by his side in an instant, hanging upon his arm, lifting up her beautiful, smiling eyes to his face.
“ Well, papa, what is it? Make haste, dear papa. (Be quiet, you little torments! I am coming again directly; will you pull my frock all to pieces ?) Well, dear papa ?”
" Read this letter. Should you like to go ?”
“ Yes-no-I think I should I think I should not. Do you wish me to go ?"
“ I think-yes !"
“ But”—and the gay smile faded into a look of anxiety" they are such a grand set; and I know none of them.” And “ What must I put on?" she should have added; for Louisa was no heroine, and the pleasure of a first introduction to scenes of gayety and splendour was sadly damped at the very suggestion, as it most often is to timid, susceptible young things, in her circumstances, by a sense of inferiority, ignorance, inaptness in a thousand trifling details of ways and manners, and most of all by that appalling question, to seventeen“ What must I put on?”
She had, however, spirit enough to despise herself for what she considered a very unworthy sense of false shame; and after reflecting a moment or two, as sagely as she could, while the children were calling loudly upon her to join them, she expressed her readiness to consent to her father's wishes; then, leaving to to-morrow its proper cares, away she fiew to her young companions, delighting, as was her wont, her father and his friend by her lively sallies and lighthearted ringing laughter.
The children with whom Louisa was at play belonged to her sister Mary—that Mary of whom her father spoke, it may be thought, somewhat disparagingly. Nature, it is certain, had been far less profuse in her gifts to the elder than to the lovely younger sister. Mary was of that medium size which neither possesses the dignity of height, nor the delicate, and, to some, more attractive, beauty of diminutive fairy forms. Her complexion was pale and colourless; her eyes expressed little but a gentle kindness; her manners were simple and unadorned; her spirits quietly cheerful; her understanding plain and straightforward; her talents none.
She had married, as Mr. Mildmay had said, obscurely enough, the hard-fagging surgeon of a small neighbouring town; and her days were passed in a simple routine of domestic occupations and artless amusements. But her husband, Mr. Phillips, was a sensible, intelligent, excellent man, who brought a very ample share of intellectual and agreeable conversation to his own fireside-to say nothing of the charm of the pleasantest manners and the most benevolent habits in the world; and Mary, gifted with an honest, affectionate heart, and blessed with an utter exemption from vanity, ambition, and fastidious refinement, lived perfectly happy and
contented among those she so tenderly loved; fulfilling her round of domestic duties, and reaping her reward of domestic enjoyments-wholly ignorant of the sad facts that her shoes were not remarkably well made, her bonnet of somewhat antique fashion-in short, that there were thousands in the world richer, finer, more polished, and more well dressed than herself.
Louisa and Mary were united by feelings of the warmest affection. The good and gentle eldest sister had watched with a mother's pleasure the unfolding of all those innumerable charms that adorned the younger. Her heart was unstained by the slightest approach to that base and villanous envy, with which the hostile elder sometimes regards the lovely blooming competitor for a share in her place and eminence. She was proud of her sister's loveliness, and she yielded, as to a sort of superiority, to that indefinable air of delicacy, elegance, and high blood, which distinguished this charming girl.
Even the undisguised partiality of Mr. Mildmay to this fair creature, who ministered in his retirement to that taste for elegance and refinement of which he was sadly too much the slave, failed to awaken one adverse sentiment in Mary's bosom. She neither wondered at nor secretly blamed a pride which, in truth, she shared ; and, with a rare disinterestedness, sympathized in the admiration which threw herself and her simple charms into the shade.
In recompense, she was loved, as such tempers are, and deserve to be loved, and by none more than by Louisa, who had sense and feeling enough to discern and to value her innumerable good qualities, and who returned her partiality with the sincerest attachment.
Whenever they were together, and that was perpetually, it was Louisa's delight to share Mary's busy labours of love; and most especially to play the part of governess and head nurse to her very pretty and lively children, neither of which places were sinecures, each entailing a good deal of actual trouble and exertion.
Both Mr. Mildmay and Mr. Phillips were almost what might be called poor, the one as a scantily endowed clergyman, though the son of a country gentleman ; the other as having his entire fortune to make, and a young family, as the phrase is, to provide for. Mary and Louisa, therefore, were but scantily furnished with the means of being very much plagued and very much waited upon-so that, unlike most young gentlewomen, instead of flirting, lounging, writing poetry, twanging the harp, and learning German, they were obliged to put the children to bed with their own hands; to wait entirely upon themselves; and to be, in general, very busy and very merry all the day long.
Glowing with health and exercise, Louisa now came laughing in, and after the kisses, blessings, and usual ceremonies of " good-night” had been accomplished, she took the little ones up stairs to her own pretty room, a snug little chamber, rendered cool in summer and warm in winter by the thick thatch which roofed and overhung it, and of which the diamond-painted window was covered over with roses and jessamines; there, was her own simple bed and the cribs of two of the little ones, a small green dressing table, a glass about six inches square, two chairs, a few shelves, a huge oldfashioned porcelain jug full of flowers, &c., &c.
Whatever else was spared, there was plenty of soap and water, and the little ones, well bathed, with cheeks like rosy apples, repeated their humble and innocent prayers, and were consigned to their snowy pillows; while Molly, (except a girl,) the only domestic of the house, prepared the frugal supper meal.
Supper! that happy light-hearted reunion of those who have been employed all day, which the late dinner of modern times has superseded-supper! that gay, thoughtless, chatty meal, which, for our sins, we shall see no more.
The frugal table was soon spread: a roasted fowl, with fruit, salads, and cream, and as excellent homely apple pie, constituted the fare provided by Molly. We are free to confess that the dishes were plain earthenware, and of antiquated shapes enough; for it is incredible the number of years that Molly's care had preserved them to adorn the shelves of Mr. Mildmay's kitchen; but, then, everything was so neat, and so sweet, and so nice, and so good, that the greatest epicure in the world would have found it difficult to resist what was put upon the table.
The cheerfulness and good humour of the company did credit to Molly's entertainment. Perhaps they laughed somewhat too loud, but their wit was as good as what may be found in better company. There was neither grossness, rudeness, nor vulgarity ; for there was neither ill breeding, ill temper, nor ill morals. Louisa was, as usual, the sparkler of the group-all whim and spirits, delighting to make her father laugh, and to torment the stoic Charles, who received her provocations with a sly gravity-now repressing her when she went to far; now awakening her by his playful sarcasms, while he regarded her at the same time with looks, not always consistent, it must be owned, with his character of a philosopher. It was evident, nevertheless, that she held him a little more in awe than she did her father, all polished and gentlemanlike as Mr. Mildmay was.
The evening ended with music, when Louisa, at the desire of Charles, sang the following little song: