"What dangers ought'st thou not to dread,
When Love, that's blind, is by blind Fortune, led?"
AT length the long-looked for day arrived. The Duke of Altamont's proposals were made in due form, and in due form accepted. Lady Juliana seemed now touching the pinnacle of earthly joy; for, next to being greatly married herself, her happiness centred in seeing her daughter at the head of a splendid establishment. Again visions of bliss hovered around her, and "Peers and Dukes and all their sweeping train" swam before her eyes, as she anticipated the brilliant results to herself from so noble an alliance; for self was still, as it had ever been, her ruling star, and her affection for her daughter was the mere result of vanity and ambition.
The ensuing weeks were passed in all the bustle of preparations necessarily attendant on the nuptials of the great. Every morning brought from Town dresses, jewels, patterns, and packages of all descriptions. Lady Juliana was in ecstasies, even though it was but happiness in the second person. Mary watched her sister's looks with the most painful solicitude; for from her lips she knew she never would learn the sentiments of her heart. But Adelaide was aware she had a part to act, and she went through it with an ease and self-possession that seemed to defy all scrutiny. Once or twice, indeed, her deepening colour and darkening brow betrayed the feelings of her heart, as the Duke of Altamont and Lord Lindore were brought into comparison; and Mary shuddered to think that her sister was even now ashamed of the man whom she was so soon to vow to love, honour, and obey. She had vainly tried to lead Adelaide to the subject. Adelaide would listen to nothing which she had reason to suppose was addressed to herself; but either with cool contempt took up a book, or left the room, or, with insolent affectation, would put her hands to her head, exclaiming, "Mes oreilles n'etoient pas faites pour les entretiens sérieux." All Mary's worst fears were confirmed a few days before that fixed for the marriage. As she entered the music-room she was startled to find Lord Lindore and Adelaide alone. Unwilling to suppose that her presence would be considered as an interruption, she seated herself at a little distance from them, and was soon engrossed by her task. Adelaide, too, had the air of being deeply intent upon some trifling employment; and Lord Lindore, as he sat opposite to her, with his head resting upon his hands, had the appearance of being engaged in reading. All were silent for some time; but as Mary happened to look up, she saw Lord Lindore'seyes fixed earnestly upon her sister, and with voice of repressed feeling he repeated,"Ah! je le sens, ma Julie! si'l falloit renoncer a vous, il n'y auroit plus pour moi d'autre sejour ni d'autre saison:" and throwing down the book, he quitted the room. Adelaide pale and agitated, rose as if to follow him; then, recollecting herself, she rushed from the apartment by an opposite door. Mary followed, vainly hoping that in this moment of excited feeling she might be induced to open her heart to the voice of affection; but Adelaide was a stranger to sympathy, and saw only the degradation of confessing the struggle she endured in choosing betwixt love and ambition. That her heart was Lord Lindore's she could not conceal from herself, though she would not confess it to another—and that other the tenderest of sisters, whose only wish was to serve her. Mary's tears and entreaties were therefore in vain, and at Adelaide's repeated desire she at length quitted her and returned to the room she had left.
She found Lady Emily there with a paper in her hand. "Lend me your ears, Mary," cried she, "while I read these lines to you. Don't be afraid, there are no secrets in them, or at least none that you or I will be a whit the wiser for, as they are truly in a most mystic strain. I found them lying upon this table, and they are in Frederick's handwriting, for I see he affects the soupirant at present; and it seems there has been a sort of a sentimental farce acted between Adelaide and him. He pretends that, although distractedly in love with her, he is not so selfish as even to wish her to marry him in preference to the Duke of Altamont; and Adelaide, not to be outdone in heroics, has also made it out that it is the height of virtue in her to espouse the Duke of Altamont, and sacrifice all the tenderest affections of her heart to duty! Duty! yes, the duty of being a Duchess, and of living in state and splendour with the man she secretly despises, to the pleasure of renouncing both for the man she loves; and so they have parted, and here, I suppose, are Lindore's lucubrations upon it, intended as a souvenir for Adelaide, I presume. Now, night visions befriend me!
"The time returns when o'er my wilder'd mind,
A thraldom came which did each sense enshroud;
Not that I bowed in willing chain confined,
But that a soften'd atmosphere of cloud
Veiled every sense—conceal'd th' impending doom.
'Twas mystic night, and I seem'd borne along
By pleasing dread—and in a doubtful gloom,
Where fragrant incense and the sound of song,
And all fair things we dream of, floated by,
Lulling my fancy like a cradled child,
Till that the dear and guileless treachery,
Made me the wretch I am—so lost, so wild—
A mingled feeling, neither joy or grief,
Dwelt in my heart—I knew not whence it came,
And—but that woe is me! 'twas passing brief,
Even at this hour I fain would feel the same!
I track'd a path of flowers—but flowers among
Were hissing serpents and drear birds of night,
That shot across and scared with boding cries;
And yet deep interest lurked in that affright,
Something endearing in those mysteries,
Which bade me still the desperate joy pursue,
Heedless of what might come—when from mine eyes
The cloud should pass, or what might then accrue.
The cloud has passed—the blissful power is flown,
The flowers are wither'd—wither'd all the scene.
But ah! the dear delusions I have known
Are present still, with loved though altered mien:
I tread the selfsame path in heart unchanged;
But changed now is all that path to me,
For where 'mong flowers and fountains once I ranged
Are barren rocks and savage scenery!"
Mary felt it was in vain to attempt to win her sister's confidence, and she was too delicate to seek to wrest her secrets from her; she therefore took no notice of this effusion of love and disappointment, which she concluded it to be.
Adelaide appeared at dinner as usual. All traces of agitation had vanished; and her manner was a cool and collected as if all had been peace and tranquillity at heart. Lord Lindore's departure was slightly noticed. It was generally understood that he had been rejected by his cousin; and his absence at such a time was thought perfectly natural; the Duke merely remarking, with a vacant simper, "So Lord Lindore is gone—Ah! poor Lord Lindore."
Lady Juliana had, in a very early stage of the business, fixed in her own mind that she, as a matter of course, would be invited to accompany her daughter upon her marriage; indeed, she had always looked upon it as a sort of triple alliance, that was to unite her as indissolubly to the fortunes of the Duke of Altamont as though she had been his wedded wife. But the time drew near, and in spite of all her hints and manoeuvres no invitation had yet been extorted from Adelaide. The Duke had proposed to her to invite her sister, and even expressed something like a wish to that effect; for though he felt no positive pleasure in Mary's society, he was yet conscious of a void in her absence. She was always in good humour—always gentle and polite—and, without being able to tell why, his Grace always felt more at ease with her than with anybody else. But his selfish bride seemed to think that the joys of her elevation would be diminished if shared even by her own sister, and she coldly rejected the proposal. Lady Juliana was next suggested—for the Duke had a sort of vague understanding that his safety lay in a multitude. With him, as with all stupid people, company was society, words were conversation—and all the gradations of intellect, from Sir Isaac Newton down to Dr. Redgill, were to him unknown. But although, as with most weak people, obstinacy was his forte, he was here again compelled to yield to the will of his bride, as she also declined the company of her mother for the present. The disappointment was somewhat softened to Lady Juliana by the sort of indefinite hopes that were expressed by her daughter of seeing her in town when they were fairly established; but until she had seen Altamont House, and knew its accommodations, she could fix nothing; and Lady Juliana was fain to solace herself with this dim perspective, instead of the brilliant reality her imagination had placed within her grasp. She felt, too, without comprehending, the imperfectness of all earthly felicity. As she witnessed the magnificent preparations for her daughter's marriage, it recalled the bitter remembrance of her own—and many a sigh burst from her heart as he thought, "Such as Adelaide is, I might have been had I been blest with such a mother, and brought up to know what was for my good!"
The die was cast. Amidst pomp and magnificence, elate with pride, and sparkling with jewels, Adelaide Douglas reversed the fate of her mother; and while her affections were bestowed on another, she vowed, in the face of heaven, to belong only to the Duke of Altamont!
"Good-bye, my dearest love!" said her mother, as she embraced her with transport, "and I shall be with you very soon; and, above all things, try to secure a good opera-box for the season. I assure you it is of the greatest consequence."
The Duchess impatiently hurried from the congratulations of her family, and throwing herself into the splendid equipage that awaited her was soon lost to their view.