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Constantia and the young ladies were busily engaged for some time in making and giving directions for preparations for this evening : on which occasion Constantia's dress was to be supereminently elegant.
Poor Constantia, in the mean time, seemed to be totally borne away in the torrent of vanity : at which indeed we can the less wonder, since her aunts and her mother, who had hitherto been considered as remarkably discreet persons, seemed to be as entirely led away by the vain and gay family of the marquis as Constantia herself. But they had never at any time resolved to give up the world, neither had they ever seen its dangers in a just point of view; so that now, being stimulated by ambition, they, as many others have been before them, were carried to greater lengths of compliance with foolish and unreasonable customs than they might at one time have conceived possible. They saw the levity of the marchioness and her daughters, yet allowed Constantia to be their constant companion: and they daily witnessed the profane and profligate proceedings of Lord Robert, while they considered him as the future husband of Constantia. Thus were they hourly losing their sense of right and wrong, and were hastening through a path which must have led them to destruction, if the Almighty himself had not in mercy interfered, and plucked them as brands out of the fire. · The important day at length arrived: when Constantia, arrayed in an elegant dress of silver crape, accompanied her aunts and her mother in their own coach to the marquis's house; Constantia being in the highest possible spirits, having just contemplated herself with the utmost satisfaction in a large mirror which hung in her dressing-room.
On their arrival at the marquis's, the gayety of the scene, the concourse of fashionably dressed persons, the music, and the attentions paid her particularly by the young noblemen, tended still more to raise Constantia's spirits. She talked ; she laughed; she affected to dance with peculiar vivacity; she assumed a childish playful manner; smiled continually when there was no occasion, and was certainly in a state as much to be dreaded by a Christian female as that of intoxication by spirituous li
quors, or any other mode of inebriety-a state in which vanity and the desire of attracting universal attention had entirely overcome her better reason.
And here I cannot refrain from remarking, that situations which excite feelings of this kind, are to be carefully guarded against by every Christian parent, as tending directly to sin, and remotely to shame. But every acute observer of human nature must perceive, that those who cannot but be deeply interested in the welfare of their children, are as liable to be intoxicated by their success in the world, as even the young persons themselves ; so that nearly as many young women, it is to be feared, are ruined by the vanity of their mothers, as by their own proper weakness.
Constantia's aunts, who were sitting by, observing the dance, perceived that she was in a state of unusual elevation; and Mrs. Jane feared that she might fatigue herself by over-exertion, though she made no effort to check the exuberant overflow of her spirits. The dance continued some hours; after which, while the party were waiting for supper, the window-shutters of the ball-room were thrown open, in order to afford the party a view of the fireworks and the illuminated temple.
There were few persons in the room who cared whether they saw the fireworks or not: since these kind of things when once seen, instantly satiate, being poor and paltry imitations of that glory which appears almost daily in the works of God. For who that has had an opportunity of frequently beholding the sun in his splendour, amid all the glories of the morning and evening clouds, can take any delight in such poor and mean imitations of the brilliant appearances of light and fire in the natural world as man can produce ?
Notwithstanding the general feeling which scenes of this kind excite, the whole party assembled at the marquis's crowded to the windows as soon as the shutters were opened, and the room was filled with exclamations to this purpose: “O! how beautiful! 0! how exquisite! Nothing can equal this !” Some of the young people, the foremost of whom was Constantia leaning on Lord Robert's arm, insisted that the windows should be opened, in order to see the fireworks to more advantage. This proposal was opposed by all the prudent elderly persons in the room, who represented to the young people, that they were all so extremely heated with dancing, that the evening air might be very injurious to them.
Constantia and the young ladies of the family were, however, too full of themselves at that moment to hear reason, or even to attend to the dictates of politeness : Constantia declared that she was suffocated with heat, and Lord Robert was desired to throw up the window which was no sooner done, than a great part of the company withdrew, leaving the window free for Lord Robert, Constantia, and a few more young people equally headstrong.
Mrs. Kitty and Mrs. Jane, seeing Constantia's situation, now thought proper to expostulate. They drew near their niece, bringing with them a shawl, which Mrs. Jane threw over her shoulders, while Mrs. Kitty began to point out to her the danger of exposing herself to the evening air immediately after taking so much violent exercise.
Constantia no sooner felt the shawl, than she tossed it from her upon her aunt's arm; and hearing at the same moment a proposal from Lord Robert that they should make a party to go to a bridge in the shrubbery, which was laid across a narrow part of the piece of water, in order to get from thence a nearer view of the illuminated temple, without taking the smallest notice of Mrs. Kitty's expostulation, or even condescending to answer her, she ran off with Lord Robert and several more young people to the bridge.
Mrs. Kitty and Mrs. Jane were now inconceivably uneasy, not about Constantia's improper conduct, but from the danger she incurred of catching cold, so that they went in haste to seek their own servant to follow Constantia with the shawl. But though the servant ran as fast as he possibly could to the bridge, he was not able to overtake Constantia, who, with her giddy companions, had returned to the house another way, nor did he reach her with the shawl till she was seated at the supper-table by Lord Robert.
The servant then coming up, respectfully presented the shawl, and Constantia would very quietly have allowed it to be placed over her shoulders, if Lord Robert had
not whispered something which he meant to be very witty, about the great care taken of her by her aunts; upon which she rejected the shawl again, although she now really began to feel that some extra covering was become necessary; for after having sat down for a very short time, she had felt herself affected with a chill, which increased every minute; accompanied with this unpleasant sensation, that while her limbs were cold, her cheeks glowed with a burning heat, which presently spread itself all over her face and neck. She now began, though in a way still full of levity, to complain that she was not quite well, that she was thirsty, and oppressed with a peculiar sense of lassitude: and Lord Robert, who hardly knew, from her manner, whether she was in jest or earnest, was offering her the accommodation of a sofa at the other end of the room, if she wished for repose: when the servant again appeared, bringing her from Mrs. Kitty some white soup, which he set before her, with a message from her aunt, who was seated at the other end of the table, requesting her to take it, as it might prevent her taking cold.
“Take it away,” said Constantia, haughtily and rudely to the servant."" How could my aunt think of sending me such odious stuff? she knows I never take any thing of the kind.”
“But you will take something ?" said Lord Robert: and he put some ice on her plate.
Constantia was not particularly fond of ice; but being at this time in a humour to do every thing which she knew to be contrary to her aunt's advice, she partook of the ice, although Mrs. Kitty and Mrs. Jane, by several expressive looks from a distant part of the table, implored her not to touch it.
Constantia ate the ice, notwithstanding all that her kind friends could do to prevent her. She had already caught a violent cold, by exposing herself suddenly to the night air when heated by dancing: and now the ice, received internally, very materially increased the evil. The blood, suddenly driven from the extremities, rose to her head; her eyes became dim, and her face violently flushed; her limbs trembled; her head swam; and she was at length, though manifestly with much reluctance, com
pelled to rise from the supper-table and leave the room.
Lord Robert expressed some uneasiness at her sudden indisposition. He led her out of the room, and delivered her to the care of her affrighted mother and aunts; and then returning to the company, he soon recovered his cheerfulness, by taking a few glasses of wine more than usual.
In the mean time, the poor Constantia, whose season of trial thus took its rise, was led up to a room appointed for her, where something hot was immediately given her to drink. But as she still continued very ill, a medical man, who happened then to be with the company below, was sent for, and made acquainted with her situation.
The morning was now breaking, when Constantia begged and implored to be taken home, and that with such earnestness, that her aunts and mother, who had never been in the habit of contradicting her, suffered themselves to be persuaded on this occasion, though contrary to the advice of the medical attendant. They excused themselves to the marchioness, who came up to see her beloved Constantia, as she called her, after the guests were departed ; and taking care that their niece was carefully wrapped up, they conveyed her home as speedily as possible, where she was put into a warm bed, and every means made use of that could be devised to stop the progress of a fever, which came on with a rapidity sufficient to alarm every one about her.
For more than a fortnight Constantia's life appeared to be in the greatest danger. During this interval, the marchioness and her daughters sent to make daily inquiries, and indeed often called themselves; though they did not see Constantia, because it was thought proper to keep her quiet.
At the end of this interval, Constantia's life being pronounced out of danger, the marquis's family, having proposed for some time going to the sea, whither also they had at one period wished Constantia and the elder ladies to accompany them, now took their leave of the country for some weeks, having previously called to say, that they hoped Mrs. Kitty would let them often hear from her concerning the health of their beloved Con