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The parting was over. The door closed; the carriage started forward; Louisa sank into a corner in the most delightful revery: all those passages of tenderness and love, heightened by the imaginative character of herself and her lover, and by the excitement of the scenes in which they had passed, crowded to her recollection.
Again she felt the last expressive grasp of his hand—the soft flutter of her answering heart; again those eyes were fixed in fond rapture upon her face-once more hers dropped beneath the gaze. It was with difficulty she could rouse herself to converse in few and detached sentences with Mrs. Digby, who, full of her own melancholy anticipations, observed not the abstraction of her companion.
A few hours brought them to the end of their journey. They stopped at the vicar's well-known door.
And here, were tales of fairy transformations true, and had Louisa suffered one of those metamorphoses which convert deformity into beauty, beauty into deformity, elegance into rudeness, and rudeness into civility, cottagemaids into courtly queens, and courtly queens into lowly cottage-maids, her sensations could scarcely have been more unpleasant or more unexpected.
One instant suffered to flash the conviction upon her mind that she was radically and irrevocably changed.
The sweet and pure affections which had so softly stirred and excited her mind, now scarcely made themselves felt; while, in their place, an intense absorbing passion occupied every feeling of her heart. What was the love—the approbation-of every other living being to her, when he, the object of every thought and wish, was away?
The very scene itself-that scené once to her so pleasing and so cheerful-appeared transformed, as if by magic, into something mean, vulgar, spiritless, and dull. She had passed from the centre of elegance, luxury, and refinement, and the simple unadorned home of her youth appeared narrow, shabby, and disagreeable.
The heart of Louisa must not be too much blamed for this. Had her character been less susceptible to impression, or had no softer sentiments mingled with the elegances of Dangerfield, the greatness of the change had been little felt; or, being felt, had been compensated by her affections. But as it was, the very lifespring of affection seemed to have expired within her.
So early does passion destroy her fairer, better sister.
Mary and her children ran to the door to meet and wel. come the returning wanderer. Mary, in her coloured morning-gown, her hair in the disorder of one who has been busy; the children rough, and in outrageous spirits.
Louisa hated herself for the feeling of disgust which rose like a spectre, instantaneous as unanticipated, in her heart. She hastened to catch her sister and the little ones in her arms, and atone by her caresses for the secret and involun. tary injustice.
She was entering the parlour, hanging on Mary's arm, the children shouting for joy till her ears tingled, as Charles opened the garden door and met her.
His eyes and his heart were as sensitive as her own, and the impression of change as sudden and as painful. Louisa, that sweet, careless girl, so gay, so playful, at once the object of his playful flattery, and playful, though more earnest reproof-the creature whom already in fancy he had ventured to call his own, who had frolicked by his side with innocent gayety, beauteous and wild as a forest fawn - was become an elegant, dignified woman-a thing of another class and another order, as distinctly individual and severed from the family group as if originally of a different nature.
Much of these sudden sensations might be attributed to the power of dress, which, trifling as it ought to appear, and very soon becomes, is almost invincible over our first impressions. And the perfect elegance of Louisa's attire contrasted strongly with the homely appearance of Mary. But more was due to that change which had taken place in her inner being, which had lifted and raised her sense of things, by teaching her that she sympathized with and belonged to a man like Lord William,
A few days would have sufficed to clear away the kind of distance and awkwardness of feeling which were felt by all, though confessed by none, had the impression made upon the heart of Louisa been less ineffaceable. But, unfortunately, he who had engaged her affections was so highly gifted that reflection and comparison were little her friends.
Even in intellect, he, matured by the world and adorned by all that the best education can do for the rarest natural endowments, excelled every one she had ever seen; and how could the simple and unaffected demonstrations of regard which she had been accustomed to receive from Charles bear comparison with the passionate, adulatory, imaginative tone of Lord William's dangerous flatteries ? In all other gifts, who should even pretend to approach him?
Such were the comparisons and reflections in which she allowed herself fatally, imprudently-we may add, faultily
to indulge ; for it is a fault to suffer an intoxication like this to prevail over the long-tried affections of years.
But she was young : inexperienced in the ways of the heart, ignorant of the weakness of her own, with no wise and tender mother near to watch and warn; and we must not be too severe to mark that want of moral discipline which should have restrained those treacherous reveries in which it was so delightful to indulge.
For the first few days her mind was absorbed by these sweet recollections, and an intense desire for the renewal of such happiness was the only pain with which she had to deal. But day after day passed on, and no Lord William appeared ; and then to the fond regret that already began to eat away her heart, was added all the anguish of doubt, of indignation, of shame, and of despair, alternating with tenderness, devotion, and confidence, and terminating in the most desponding melancholy.
In vain, as the conviction that she was abandoned and forgotten took possession of her mind, did she endeavour to banish the seducing image ever present to her fancy. In vain she summoned every principle of duty and reason to her aid,
“En pensant qu'il faut qu'on oublie,
L'on s'en souvient."
Of the presence which had given so new and delightful a charm to every object, she was deprived ; and the sweetness and the flavour seemed extracted from existence.
Every scene which surrounded her had lost its cheerful aspect; every employment its zest and interest. She wandered round her garden, indifferent, musing, and melancholy ; she walked in the neighbouring fields, without, as usual, asking the children to join her-suffering, with more than the usual intensity, all those agonies to which the young ‘and unguarded expose themselves when they yield their hearts, with too much facility, to the flattering delusions of passion.
She passed the weary weeks away in that withering of the heart which attends the gradual decline and final extinction of hope. Lord William came not; and Louisa, at length, unwillingly adınitted the conviction that she should see him no more.
At length, the ravages made by this destructive enemy to her peace were no longer to be concealed.
As time rolled on, an alarming change in her sister's health became visible to the affectionate eyes of Mary. Languor and an unusual depression of spirits were succeeded by a positive decline of physical strength.
There was an evident desire to reassume the usual occu
pations, to take more than the usual share in the little household duties; for despair had produced self-examination and self-reproach, and a wish-alas! too futile to recover the cheerful, affectionate, and active habits of her former life. But the trembling and uncertain hand—the flushed brow-the catching breath, betrayed how little the frame was equal to exertion.
There was likewise an effort at recovering the accustom. ed gayety; but the laugh, once so merry and heart-cheering, now sounded hollow and unnatural ; and the affection which she now more than ever lavished upon Mary, had something in it fearful and pathetic.
The children were now, one or other, perpetually on her lap; for the little creatures, with that nice perception which distinguishes unspoiled infancy, had exchanged their riotous greetings, whenever Louisa appeared, for quiet and gentle caresses; and would sit silently upon her knee for hours, the little rosy cheek pressed against that soft and ever-fluttering bosom.
The relation with Charles, however, continued to be decidedly altered in its character. There was a distance, a gravity, a reserve in her deportment, strangely contrasted with her former affectionate and gay familiarity. Yet her voice, when she spoke to him, had a sweeter tone than when she addressed any other creature, though it was a most melancholy sweetness. He, on his part, was more assiduous than ever at his studies—but a nice observer might detect the eye raised from the page, and bent with an air, serious yet most kind, upon that form which now, listless and abstracted, was sunk on the oldfashioned settee, or buried in the large wicker-chair before him.
Sometimes, after he had been gazing long and silently, the book would close with a sudden noise, which would arouse Louisa, only, however, to witness the hasty departure of Charles by the garden door, from whence he would stray into the distant fields, and not return for hours.
At last, Molly broke the ominous and universal silence.
“I don't like Miss Louy's looks, ma'am,” said she to Mary," there's a worm in the flower."
“ Indeed, Molly, she does seem languid and out of spirits ; she was possibly overdone by the late hours at Dangertield.”
Molly made a dissenting sort of grunt, and returned to her pastry.
" I wish,” continued Mary," that my husband were here; he talks of returning in a few days; then he will tell us what is the matter."
“I doubt not,” said Molly, in an aside.
“She certainly grows thin and pale,” said Mary, considerately. “I think, Molly, some of your good kitchen physic is wanting. Do let us have some nice broths and jellies
made, to tempt her to take nourishment ; for, indeed, she eats little or nothing.".
“ I will make some directly, ma'am,” said Molly ; “ mayhap it may do something."
« She has no cough ?" said Mary, anxiously. “ No, ma'am, no cough,” repeated Molly.
From this moment, nothing could equal the affectionate attentions of this kind sister and worthy domestic.
The food, the bed, quiet, rest, and air, every circumstance that could contribute to exhilarate the spirits or improve the strength, were attended to with the nicest assiduity.
For though it appeared to Mary utterly impossible to assign any adequate cause for this excessive depression, she was of far too simple and gentle a nature to do as too many dom blame the affliction which they cannot comprehend.
To sooth suffering and console grief were the only remedies this kind heart thought of employing, against a distress to her utterly inexplicable. She had yet to learn, that a drooping heart and sinking spirits are to be remedied by harsh remonstrances and exhortations. In her innocent goodness, Mary only busied herself with attempting to comfort one she saw evidently ill and unhappy, without trying to investigate too closely whether, according to her ideas, the affliction was out of proportion to its cause. She chid not; it never entered into her head to use reproof as an anodyne for grief, or heal a wounded spirit by unkindness.
She had once or twice spoken to Louisa upon the subject, and had endeavoured to lead her to a confession of the origin of her unhappiness, in the hopes that such confession might serve to unburden the heart. But finding these attempts only seemed to occasion an increase of suffering, she had abandoned them, and had confined herself to attempts, by her artless philosophy and humble unsophisticated religion, to sooth her more sensitive sister to a resignation and patience such as she had invariably opposed herself to the evils, slight indeed, which she had as yet encountered in her simple career.
Louisa received all these attentions with a gratitude and sensibility only too acute ; for her affection for her sister and the children had returned with a force which seemed to borrow something from the all-pervading passion of her soul. But affection no longer possessed the power to make her happy ; that affection which had once been a source of constant joy and cheerfulness, was incapable of producing the slightest thrill of pleasure to her seared and blighted heart ; the spring of joy was stopped, and every object was equally tasteless. Nature was sinking under a moral atrophy.
Often, when Mary, with her softest smiles, and kindest looks and words, would bid her rest, lay her on the sofa,