"Cette liaison n'est ni passion ni amitié pure:
elle fait une classe à part." —LA BRUYERE
IT was long before Mary could believe in the reality of what had passed. It appeared to her as a beautiful yet awful dream. Could it be that she had plighted her faith by the bed of death; that the last look of her departed friend had hallowed the vow now registered in heaven; that Charles Lennox had claimed her as his own, even in the agony of tearing himself from all he loved; and that she had only felt how dear she was to him at the very moment when she had parted from him, perhaps for ever? But Mary strove to banish these overwhelming thoughts from her mind, as she devoted herself to the performance of the last duties to her departed friend. These paid, she again returned to Beech Park.
Lady Emily had been a daily visitor at Rose Hall during Mrs. Lennox's illness, and had taken a lively interest in the situation of the family; but, notwithstanding, it was some time before Mary could so far subdue her feelings as to speak with composure of what had passed. She felt, too, how impossible it was by words to convey to her any idea of that excitement of mind, where a whole life of ordinary feeling seems concentrated in one sudden but ineffable emotion. All that had passed might be imagined, but could not be told; and she shrank from the task of portraying those deep and sacred feelings which language never could impart to the breast of another.
Yet she felt it was using her cousin unkindly to keep her in ignorance of what she was certain would give her pleasure to hear; and, summoning her resolution, she at length disclosed to her all that had taken place. Her own embarrassment was too great to allow her to remark Lady Emily's changing colour, as she listened to her communication; and after it was ended she remained silent for some minutes, evidently struggling with her emotions.
At length she exclaimed indignantly—"And so it seems Colonel Lennox and you have all this time been playing the dying lover and the cruel mistress to each other? How I detest such duplicity! and duplicity with me! My heart was ever open to you, to him, to the whole world; while yours—nay, your very faces—were masked to me!"
Mary was too much confounded by her cousin's reproaches to be able to reply to them for some time; and when she did attempt to vindicate herself, she found it was in vain. Lady Emily refused to listen to her; and in haughty displeasure quitted the room, leaving poor Mary overwhelmed with sorrow and amazement.
There was a simplicity of heart, a singleness of idea in herself, that prevented her from ever attaching suspicion to others. But a sort of vague, undefined apprehension floated through her brain as she revolved the extraordinary behaviour of her cousin. Yet, it was that sort of feeling to which she could not give either a local habitation or a name; and she continued for some time in that most bewildering state of trying, yet not daring to think. Some time elapsed, and Mary's confusion of ideas was increasing rather than diminishing, when Lady Emily slowly entered the room, and stood some moments before her without speaking.
At length, making an effort, she abruptly said—"Pray, Mary, tell me what you think of me?"
Mary looked at her with surprise. "I think of you, my dear cousin, as I have always done."
"That is no answer to my question. What do you think of my behaviour just now?"
"I think," said Mary gently, "that if you have misunderstood me; that, open and candid yourself, almost to a fault, you readily resent the remotest appearance of duplicity in others. But you are too generous not to do me justice—"
"Ah, Mary! how little do I appeal in my own eyes at this moment; and how little, with all my boasting, have I known my own heart! No! It was not because I am open and candid that I resented your engagement with Colonel Lennox; it was because I was—because—cannot you guess?"
Mary's colour rose, as she cast down her eyes, and exclaimed with agitation, "No-no, indeed!"
Lady Emily threw her arms around her:—"Dear Mary, you are perhaps the only person upon earth I would make such a confession to—it was because I, who had plighted my faith to another—I, who piqued myself upon my openness and fidelity—I—how it chokes me to utter it! I was beginning to love him myself!—only beginning, observe, for it is already over—I needed but to be aware of my danger to overcome it. Colonel Lennox is now no more to me than your lover, and Edward is again all that he ever was to me; but I—what am I?—faithless and self-deceived!" and a few tears dropped from her eyes.
Mary, too much affected to speak, could only press her in silence to her heart.
"These are tears of shame, of penitence, though I must own they look very like those of regret and mortification. What a mercy it is that 'the chemist's magic art' cannot 'crystalise these sacred treasures,'" said she with a smile, as she shook a tear-drop from her hand; "they are gems I am really not at all fond of appearing in."
"And yet you never appeared to greater advantage," said Mary, as she regarded her with admiration. "Ah! so you say; but there is, perhaps, a little womanish feeling lurking there. And now you doubtless expect—no, you don't, but another would that I should begin a sentimental description of the rise and progress of this ill-fated attachment, as I suppose it would be styled in the language of romance; but in truth I can tell you nothing at all about it."
"Perhaps Colonel Lennox," said Mary, blushing, and hesitating to name her suspicion.
"No, no—Colonel Lennox was not to blame. There was no false play on either side; he is as much above the meanness of coquetry, as—I must say it—as I am. His thoughts were all along taken up with you, even while he talked, and laughed, and quarrelled with me. While I, so strong in the belief that worlds could not shake my allegiance to Edward, could have challenged all mankind to win my love; and this wicked, wayward, faithless heart kept silent till you spoke, and then it uttered such a fearful sound! And yet I don't think it was love neither—'l'on n'aime bien qu'une seule fois; c'est la première;'—it was rather a sort of an idle, childish, engrossing sentiment, that might have grown to something stronger; but 'tis past now. I have shown you all the weakness of my heart—despise me if you will."
"Dearest Lady Emily, had I the same skill to show the sentiments of mine, you would there see what I cannot express—how I admire this noble candour, this generous self-abasement—"
"Oh, as to meanly hiding my faults, that is what I scorn to do. I may be ignorant of them myself, and in ignorance I may cherish them; but, once convinced of them, I give them to the winds, and all who choose may pick them up. Violent and unjust, and self-deceived, I have been, and may be again; but deceitful I never was, and never will be."
"My dear cousin, what might you not be if you chose!"
"Ah! I know what you mean, and I begin to think you are in the right; by-and-bye, I believe, I shall come to be of your way of thinking (if ever I have a daughter she certainly shall), but not just at present, the reformation would be too sudden. All that I can promise for at present is, that 'henceforth I will chide no breather in the world but myself, against whom I know most faults;' and now, from this day, from this moment, I vow—"
"No, I shall do it for you," said Mary, with a smile, as she threw her arms around her neck; "henceforth
'The golden laws of love shall be
Upon this pillar hung;
A simple heart, a single eye,
A true and constant tongue.
'Let no man for more love pretend
Than he has hearts in store;
True love begun shall never end:
Love one, and love no more.'"
But much as Mary loved and admired her cousin, she could not be blind to the defects of her character, and she feared they might yet be productive of great unhappiness to herself. Her mind was open to the reception of every image that brought pleasure along with it; while, in the same spirit, she turned from everything that wore an air of seriousness or self-restraint; and even the best affections of a naturally good heart were borne away by the ardour of her feelings and the impetuosity of her temper. Mary grieved to see the graces of a noble mind thus running wild for want of early culture; and she sought by every means, save those of lecture and admonition to lead her to more fixed habits of reflection and self examination.
But it required all her strength of mind to turn her thoughts at this time from herself to another—she, the betrothed of one who was now in the midst of danger, of whose existence she was even uncertain, but on whose fate she felt her own suspended.
"Oh!" thought she, with bitterness of heart, "how dangerous it is to yield too much even to our best affections. I, with so many objects to share in mine, have yet pledged my happiness on a being perishable as myself!" And her soul sickened at the ills her fancy drew. But she strove to repress this strength of attachment, which she felt would otherwise become too powerful for her reason to control; and if she did not entirely succeed, at least the efforts she made and the continual exercise of mind enabled her in some degree to counteract the baleful effects of morbid anxiety and overweening attachment. At length her apprehensions were relieved for a time by a letter from Colonel Lennox. An engagement with the enemy had taken place, but he had escaped unhurt. He repeated his vows of unalterable affection; and Mary felt that she was justified in receiving them. She had made Lady Juliana and Mrs. Douglas both acquainted with her situation. The former had taken no notice of the communication, but the latter had expressed her approval in all the warmth and tenderness of gratified affection.
- "Marquis of Montrose."