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dilemma as to what she shall wear. That is what she is doing, while Mr. Grovelly is tossing on the sofa, and the two great ladies are occupied with a little fidgety suspicion. I hope you perceive the connexion in all this.
Lotty is going for a walk presently-only for a walk-and yet it appears to be a serious undertaking. The time for starting is rigorously fixed for an hour and five minutes from the present moment—as if it were an execution, or a bridal, and not merely a walk-and here we have the little maid, as anxiously divided about the necessary preparations as if she contemplated a journey of a thousand miles, and was forbidden to carry luggage. Well, a person going to be executed starts on a longer journey than that, without luggage-on the journey of death. The bride at the altar also (I am sorry for this association of persons, but I didn't originate it) she begins a new journey of life under similar circumstances ; but, as this is not a bridal, and not an execution, but only a walk - ?
But stay. After all, much depends on circumstances; and it is impossible to overlook the strong and various emotions which our little maid so evidently suffers. I do believe there is a bridal in the case, and an execution! See how, while in the very act of choosing between two bonnets, a luminous mist seems to come between her vision and those objects, and how, dropping them, she drops into a chair, and folds her hands upon her lap, and gazes, with a dreamy, beatified gaze, into the luminous mist, which is full of enchantments. You know how much a certain Sultan beheld in a single moment, with his head in a bucket of water. At least as many magic pictures, and infinitely more happy ones, rise into our Lotty's vision and fade away. In them is the whole story of a happy love, and a happy wedded life. I cannot tell you what touching pictures there are amongst them; for there are many noodles abroad, of both sexes, and many hypocrites and slanderers of human nature, who would call the child indelicate, and immodest, and I don't know what, all if, for instance, I revealed that in one of these pictures Lotty beheld herself folded in the arms of a Man, and bending with him over a little fat face in a cradle. Well, I don't care, she did ; and fifty other pictures, equally domestic, equally felicitous, equally indelicate; and all your protestations will not persuade me, Mademoiselle, that your head has not been in the bucket too."
A longing smile, half sweet, half sad, and altogether unconscious, plays over Charlotte's face, as her imagination paints these "interiors" on the gauzy summer air ; tears tremble under her eyelids, and her lips move as if they themselves would rather break the spell and have done with it, since it was all unreal. They would say, “Oh, no!" but they do say, “Oh, Herbert !" It is all the same; the enchantment is over, the smile vanishes, the tears fall cold over her freezing cheeks, and there is nothing to be done but to dress, and walk-to execution.
For, in few words, this is how the case stands. This evening is appointed for Charlotte's final answer to Herbert's question, “Will you marry me?" and she is going to say, “No!"
She has argued the whole question out to herself, in a heart-breaking manner. That he loved her was not to be doubted; this she frankly acknowledged a hundred times. And did she really-really, you know-love him? Ah, who could doubt that? What nonsense it was to ask herself the question! But then, all this while their affection had been kept perfectly secret. They had met in secret, they had corresponded in secret; it was clear from the beginning that their love could never bear the light, and Herbert must have felt that as well as she; and now what did he propose? A secret marriage ; for it was well understood between them that Lady Grovelly would no sooner sanction their union, than she would sanction what sometimes appeared a natural alternative—their mutual suicide. And then were they not very young ?—young enough to wait for many a year yet, if need be ? He was scarcely turned of twenty-one, she little more than eighteen. It was true it had been arranged that he was to make a long Continental tour next season, and then in Italy or France she would be sure to lose him!
And Lady Grovelly had always been so kind to her-inviting her often to spend a day at Brierly House when her father (a great favourite with Lady Grovelly) was away on his business, and making her so many pretty presents ! How ever could she, Charlotte, face that lady, with the imputation of having taken advantage of her kindness to steal away her son! What would her father think of such conduct? What would the village say? It would never do. She had been foolish to encourage her love for Herbert-foolish to listen to his love for her. And yet ! But never mind. “No” should be the word, and firmly said. Better to suffer once than suffer always; better to suffer for him than with him; and—there's a great deal of comfort in a broken heart. That last reflection, however, is mine, not Miss Leeson's. She, poor little dear, had merely a dim consciousness of the fact-a consciousness she shrank from encouraging, though, in truth, it was the only solace she had left.
So the question is settled ; and nothing—nothing in the world, she says, as she shakes her weary head at the apple-trees without-shall ever alter her determination. She only wishes it all over, and she lain down to have one last good cry in the dark, and a long sleep.
Meanwhile time passes, and she must soon set forth upon that via dolorosa, at the end of which she is to murder her dearest hopes, and bury them. This is an important ceremony; and thus it is that our little maid, who is sensitive and impressionable to the last degree, has so much difficulty about choosing her dress. She would like, for her love's sake, to look very pretty ; especially as that is natural to her. But to look pretty, and to feel so very sad! There is a difficulty in that which only a moment's reflection magnifies into monstrous proportions. And, then, is it quite in character to break a lover's heart, and one's own, in such an engaging little bonnet as that which she supports on the tips of her fingers ? In imagination, Lotty sees her chin faltering above the pretty new strings, as she says "No," and thinks it will not do. Besides, what insincerity—what coquetry, or worse-would appear in the endeavour to engage her lover's admiration at the moment when she declared against him? Who knows? He might think it a trick! Ah, that puts the question out of doubt at once. And yet, what harm is there in trying to look nice? If they are never, never to meet again, that is a reason why he should carry away with him as pretty an image of her as possible, at the last. On the other hand, a sad, sober dress would be most appropriate; but Ilerbert might imagine it a little trick too-planned to work upon his feelings -to seduce him to overbear a resolution she never meant to keep.
Such trivial pros and cons can occupy Lotty's mind, for all its perturbation and distress. Were she a thoroughbred lady, like Miss Dacre, they would never have occurred to her ; but she is not.
At length Charlotte decides, and is ready to take that walk. With the best intentions in the world, she has made herself very pretty; and her tears are over
and as her passions are all at war together in her heart, not one is left to give life to her face. She slips out of the house, and the procession has commenced.
Look! Almost at the same moment, Miss Dacre abandons the altar-clothquietly. The suspicion we wot of has been growing and growing—increased by every glance at the young man on the sofa, until it has taken root like a superstition. To resolve it, she glides from the room, takes her hat and scarf, catches up a book, and sails out, stately and noiseless as a Greek brigantine. Lady Grovelly, anticipating her intention, watches for Adelaide's appearance at a wicket, opposite the window, and at the end of the grounds; and, presently, beholds her sail through it, with much apparent satisfaction. Indeed, as Miss Dacre turns towards the house for a moment, my lady unconsciously nods approval.
You may now observe that the two young ladies—the one with her book, the other with her beating heart—are slowly approaching the same spot; and, just as Lotty enters the Brierly plantation from the south end, Adelaide enters it from the north. Not the least curiosity is apparent in Miss Dacre's demeanourshe is a mere saunterer, evidently; and yet Lotty, whose glances pierce through and through the plantation on every side, fails to catch a glimpse of her; and that though they have passed and repassed each other several times.
Miss Dacre may have observed that Lotty always lingers longest at a little break in the plantation, whence several young trees have lately been removed ; and perhaps the young lady derives inferences from the circumstance. However that may be, she presently seats herself, with becoming deliberation, behind a tolerably thick clump of vnderwood in the neighbourhood of the small clearing ; and, opening her book, legins to read. It is a good book; and is very well known as the “ Christian Year.”
Enter Herbert—suddenly. Lotty starts and trembles, as if she were a poor little snared partridge, an:l this the eager poacher who was about to take her by the neck, and kill and eat her. And, like the little bird, she does not attempt to flutter away, but remains still, and trembles. The other young lady, who cannot be unconscious of Herbert's approach, peruses the “ Christian Year" undisturbed.
The young man, then, has not been tossing and fidgeting all the afternoon for nothing, it seems. It is a pity though, perhaps, that he allowed his thoughts to appear so plainly in his demeanour, thus enabling his female folk to divine that he was to meet Someone this evening, as they had discovered he had met her before.
"Well, dear Lotty !" says he, taking possession of her hand. “Well, dear Herbert !" says she, resigning it.
And, notwithstanding all resolutions to the contrary, when he bowed his head to kiss her, she lifted her face to kiss him.
Of course there was a little pause after that, during which their eyes and hands exchanged salutations, answering to our “ How do you do, to-day?" and “How charming you look !” and “How long it seems since last we met!" with other sentiments more tender yet, but which are not set down in our common colloquial formula. Lotty herself would have been well content to have kept up the conversation in this wise till sundown—that is to say, till parting time; and I am persuaded that thus she might have disburdened herself of her resolution, urged all her arguments in its favour, answered all her lover's against it—without any passage of words between them. And I am very sure she would have come out of the struggle victorious—in that case.
As it was, they had not taken three turns backward and forward in the clearing, before Lotty's hand opened communication with Herbert's; though how I cannot tell, except that her fingers shrank and fluttered in his. They replied by a warm, strong grasp, but Lotty's fingers only shrank the more, and fluttered the more, and a living current of cold trembled through them. Already they had communicated enough to create anxiety and surprise. So the young man brought the pacing up and down to a sudden conclusion, and turned our little maid's face
towards him, and looked fair and steadfast into her eyes, that swam, and flickered, and glowed amidst their two tears, like the sun's reflection in the sea. By that time the young man knew pretty well all about it.
However, he said nothing at present, but releasing her head, which he had held between his two strong hands while he regarded her, turned about and sauntered on a little before her in silence. For, in fact, he was shocked, and even angry. Twenty years at least had he lived in the world, and not once had he been thwarted in any desire (for reasons that will afterwards appear), hardly in any expectation. With regard to this affair, he had looked on its difficulties as the romance of it; anticipating no more than that they should give it zest. And though he by no means lacked generosity, he could not help thinking to himself that if he made light of the obstacles that lay between them, Lotty could scarcely be sincere in doing otherwise. It was this reflection that made him angry; but with the thought his anger passed away. Then it occurred to him that Charlotte might have observed his impatience, and that it distressed her. So he desisted from
scourging the grass with his stick, and turned to look kindly at her. No, she was not distressed rather worse ; for all her emotions were at war together in her heart, and not one was left to give life to her face. It was pitifully pale and passionless, and her eyes, that saw not, were addressed to the ground.
Herbert was not the man to stand this. His countenance burst into a flame at least half pale tenderness, though the other half was red anger, and he cried, " Charlotte !" in a reproachful tone.
“Dear Herbert !" said she, still timidly, and clasping both her hands round his arm while she looked up to him ; "I have thought about it ever since, and it cannot be !"
“Nonsense, my dear!"
“Oh, so many, many things! But you know what you promised. You said, if I would think it well over for two days, and meet you here, you would let me give a woman's answer, yes or no, without reason why."
And here she smiled--to please him, but the smile had not that effect.
“Yes, yes," said he, “that would have been all very well if you had said yes. I never dreamed - Didn't you know you were expected to say yes ?"
“I knew you wished me to say so,"
Ah! that wistful, miserable look! I have seen such an one when a child has been stood in a corner and forbidden to approach baby for a punishment. It had such an unreasonable effect on the young man that he laughed a low, triumphant laugh, with a touch of the crowing of a cock in it, and fairly hugged our little maid.
All this while, Miss Dacre was perusing the “ Christian Year," in which work there are many beautiful, soothing little pieces.
“Now, Charlotte," said her lover, while she adjusted the pretty bonnet-a work which she never seemed able to accomplish without opening her mouth somewhat now, Charlotte, confess."
“That you weep and cry 'No' like other foolish little brides, only because the moment has come for the irrevocable · Yes??!!
He looked so sure of his answer this time, that Lotty's heart sank within her, and she was afraid. And all the more because behind the bright, earnest glance that lighted on her face, she beheld a certain expression that had vaguely troubled her before, and his mother too, and Miss Dacre a little.
But Lotty had a stupid, honest heart, with no invention, and no tact. She could not hide her affliction at this tone, nor find him any new answer; but, very seriously and solemnly, she said
"Herbert, don't let us deceive ourselves. Don't let us talk any more about it. I thought it wise of you when you said I might give you an answer without why or wherefore ; for what is the use of debating them when—when we are together? You know what the reasons are. You know-(sob)—I'm sure, dear Herbert, I'm almost as willing as you to disregard them. But suppose we did disregard them, what would happen ? Who knows what would happen?"
“Happiness, Lotty." · "For a little time for a long time, perhaps. But your mamma, you love her