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frightened, though used to fainting-fits, and perplexed, though he rarely lost his presence of mind.
The impropriety of having thrown her into his own carriage now struck him, it must be confessed, for the first time ; and the figure he should make, carrying her quietly up to the company in his arms, when the first excitement was over,--the impossibility of leaving her alone, in her present helpless condition (for no servant had stood with the carriage)-yet the indecorum of remaining much longer without producing his prize, perplexed him excessively
No man hated a scene, or an absurdity, more than Lord William ; and this little perplexity into which Louisa, by her inopportune fainting, had so unceremoniously placed him, might wellnigh have concluded the romance, by disenchanting the lover, had not the servants appeared-been despatched to Mrs. Carlton with proper messages; assistance been procured ; and Miss Mildmay restored to society.
To join Miss Mildmay-to take a seat in Lord William's carriage-to insist upon Lord William accompanying them to Dangerfield, followed, as a matter of course, from Mrs. Carlton.
Lord William was cold and inattentive enough during the ride home, and talked only to Mrs. Carlton. When they stopped, he handed her out of the carriage, and conducted her forwards. Louisa was preparing to follow; but she really felt very ill, and she fell rather than stepped as she was getting out. A footman was catching her as she reeled and staggered, when Lord William turned, pushed the man rudely away-caught her on his arm, and carried, rather than led her, into the saloon.
There he assiduously placed her on a couch by the window, conjuring-commanding her to be still, while he stood watching her with an expression of the greatest anxiety, till the heart once more performed its office--the tingling blood flowed through the veins-and life and love resumed their throne.
Thus was the cup of passion presented to Louisa, and drained in one short, delicious, intoxicating draught. The poison, more fatal than that of Circe, circulated in her veins ; and farewell gay spirits, unclouded thoughts, careless days, and peaceful nights! The pathetic exclamation of Othello, when all his occupations vanished before the master-passion of jealousy, may be echoed in softer notes by woman, when once absorbed by the soul-subduing power of a passionate love.
It is the fatal period of her destiny-drawing down the curse which impends over her feeble and devoted race. Guilty or guiltless, successful or unfortunate, the difference is smaller than might be imagined. Doomed to adore imperfection—to dote on inconstancy--to rest on frailty-to
offer all the treasures of a devotion unparalleled to indifference, to selfishness—perhaps to scorn!
Such is the fate of her who abandons herself without control to the force or the feebleness of her heart-flinging herself beneath the feet of the idol which shall destroy her.
Days, till they amounted to weeks, were passed by Lord William at Dangerfield,
They fleeted by Louisa in one uninterrupted succession of delightful sensations ; rendered doubly delightful by the character of her lover.
Lord William was singularly formed to attach a girl of feeling and imagination, more especially one whose leading distinction was the extreme softness of her temper. To a highly-cultivated understanding, and spirited, manly character, with manners such as a perfect knowledge of the world and the highest refinement alone can give, he united the more seductive gift of a burning imagination-an imagination to which, for the moment, he was himself the slave. Bewitched by the beauty and delicacy of Louisa, he became Feally, for the time, the enraptured being he appeared. His devotion exceeded all reasonable bounds. His admiration, his flattery, were measureless ; and, charmed with his delightful conversation, enchanted and dazzled by his devotion and adoration, she abandoned herself to the softness, the fatal weakness of her nature ; yielding without resistance to that languid charm which hung like an atmosphere around her.
All exertion, indeed, on her part, was become unnecessary; and it is true she was little in the humour to make any. But she had only to suffer herself to be admired every thing she did was right. To be the decided favourite of Lord William was distinction enough, and placed her at once, and without effort of her own, among the highest grades of fashion
Her lover was the object of universal attention and admiration, distinguished not alone by his personal accomplishments, but by his rank and fortune : for though a second son, he belonged to one of the most noble and ancient families in England; and his fortune, derived from his mother, was immense. Moreover, he was a leader of ton, and pretty much a leader in politics, and altogether one of the first men of his day.
Louisa, as the object of his preference, found herself raised even above envy; caressed, as was natural, to excess, by Mrs. Carlton, and, what seems hardly so natural, flatter.. ed by all those young ladies whom her success had left at such an immeasurable distance behind.
For though we do not mean to affirm, all amiable as they undoubtedly were, that they exactly rejoiced in this extraordinary good fortune of Parson Mildmay's daughter; or could see, with indifference, the prize for which they all contended thus snatched away before their eyes; yet they recollected that, as Lady William Melville, Louisa must infallibly be mistress of one of the first establishments in town and that probably her balls and parties would be most especially worth going to. So they flattered, and fondled, and dearloved her, all day long; every one anxious to seize the opportunity for laying the foundation of future intimacy with this new Pamela.
We do not mean to say that any thing so vulgar-so unspeakably commonplace-as a proposal of marriage, had been published, accepted, or even made. Any thing so every-day, downright, and straightforward, must have been quite out of place here. She was his Louisa; he her Lord William ; her innocent heart looked no further; or looked upon marriage as a matter of course, which would follow in due time.
He said nothing about it—and she had neither father, brother, nor friend to remind him that he ought.
It was a very serious misfortune to Louisa, at this important crisis of her life, to have been deprived, as we have related, of the sanction and advice of Mrs. Digby. That sensible and excellent woman-a gentlewoman complete, in the highest sense of the word-would, by her protection, have thrown a shield over her, which would have preserved her alike from the dangerous, and indeed unwarrantable, attentions paid to her by Lord William, and from the intoxicating incense of universal notice which she now received.
Whereas Mrs. Carlton, as easily dazzled by vanity as the weakest girl of seventeen, encouraged all this by every means in her power; and never, by the slightest warning hint, put this inexperienced young creature upon her guard.
The morning-room at Dangerfield was nearly empty. A few stragglers yet remained wandering idly about, before going up stairs to dress. The table was, strewed with the evidences of female industry, in the shape of netting-boxes, embroidery-frames, portfolios, and music-books.
Mrs. Carlton was still busy at her tapestry. Louisa was writing music at a small table. Lord William stretched on a couch behind her, a pamphlet in his hand, his lips close to her ear-the tempter whispering the innocent Eve.
The door opened, and Mrs. Digby was announced.
The first compliments to the hostess paid, she went to Louisa
“My dear Miss Mildmay, circumstances oblige me to be very disagreeable, and to ask whether you can be so goodnatured as to quit Dangerfield immediately. I come armed with authority,” added she, with a gentle smile, “and bound by a promise to Mr. Mildmay to call and convey you home on my way to town, where the sudden and alarming illness of my son calls me without a moment's delay."
She was too much occupied by her own anxious feelings and real sorrows to observe the dismay that was painted upon Louisa's face as she spoke; the changing, fallen countenance-the air of sudden, universal consternation.
Lord William rose abruptly-listened to what was said and immediately left the room, without uttering a syllable.
Mrs. Carlton, for once, comprehended her young friend's feelings perfectly.
“If it must be so," said she, after a little conversation with Mrs. Digby and Louisa, in which it too plainly appeared that so it must indeed be, “I will tell Rosalie immediately to put up your things, and bring down your hat and shawl here. Will you oblige me so far as to put the last two bars to that music that you are so kindly copying for me. I have a prejudice against other hands finishing what has once been begun by yours, and I have a word for Mrs. Digby in private."
Now, any one would have supposed that this word in private was to inform that kind and judicious friend of the situation of Louisa's affairs, so deeply interesting to all who cared for her. Not in the least.
A little jealousy with which Mrs. Carlton always regarded the other lady, joined to an instinctive dread of interference in a matter which she hoped to bring to a successful issue, but in which she felt that she had not acted altogether prudently, closed her lips.
She flattered herself, also, that by employing Louisa at this moment in the manner just related, and by leaving her in sole possession of the apartment, that she had furnished Lord William with an opportunity which he would eagerly seize for making, before Miss Mildmay's departure, that explicit declaration of his sentiments, and that direct proposal of marriage, which she would fain have persuaded herself was only waiting a fair occasion; choosing to forget, as she had done all along, that had Lord William made up his own mind upon the subject, nothing could be so easy as to make an occasion whenever it should please him to declare his sentiments.
It does not appear, however, that Lord William had at all approached that point which every inexperienced girl imagines is the consequence inevitably following the first tender speech that she receives, and which most often lies at such an impossible distance beyond it. He had his own ways of thinking and feeling upon these matters, and was the last man in the world to do a thing merely because he ought, or to pledge himself, in the enthusiasm of feeling, to what his cooler moments might disapprove.
All he now said was vague, as had been all he had ever
It was a beautiful afternoon of April. The green leaves, after a soft shower, were breathing forth that delightful vernal smell with which nature gladdens the spirits at that season; the air was filled with the notes of the innumerable birds pouring forth their innocent songs of love and joy; the bees were busy over the sweet spring flowers; all spoke of hope and happiness.
Louisa had finished her task, and, rising, stood half concealed by the curtains of a deep bay window, whose folding leaves, opening to the ground, were now flung wide apart: the springing turf, the shrubberies, flowers, and richlyfurnished saloon forming, as it were, one picture. Her soft small hand was pressed in his--her heart was almost audibly beating.
"Don't go, Louisa-don't leave me, my Louisa! Why should we so rudely dispel this dream—this rapturous dream? Why-my charmer and my life why wilt thou leave me ? Art thou not mine? Mine, by the dearest, the closest, the most sacred of ties ? Mine, by unalterable sympathies? Leave me not, my loveliest !"
“I must-my father—"
“ Thy father! And are there duties—can there be obligations-holier than those we owe to each other? Can any fåther-any being on earth-possess a right to destroy what ages may pass by and never restore-a dream of pure and blissful love-a paradise--a heaven! like this we have enjoyed together! I tell thee it is heaven itself we now enjoy! Ay, go-once go-and the charm is broken! We may live for ages-meet for years; but never shall we renew the soul-stirring delight of these moments” ....
That Louisa did go was no act, on her part, of either prudence or virtue.
The appearance of Rosalie with the hat, and of Mrs. Digby with an air of haste and of anxiety to be gone, termi. nated this little colloquy. The sudden separation of the lovers originated in Mr. Mildmay's wish to procure a safe, and, we may add, elegant conveyance for his daughter home; and the fate of Louisa, for life, appeared to be decided by the insignificant circumstance-that her father had no carriage.