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[-24-]

CHAPTER X.

THE FRAIL ONE'S NARRATIVE.

     WE must now return to Richard Markham.
    Sir Rupert Harborough and the Honourable Arthur Chichester apparently took a very great fancy to him, for they were constantly making appointments to meet him in town, and hastening to his own house to ferret him out when he did not appear at their usual places of rendezvous He dined at least three times a week at Mrs. Arlington's, and, to confess the truth, his morning calls were repeated at intervals which gradually grew shorter and shorter.
    Richard thus frequently passed hours together alone with Diana. In spite of himself he now and then suffered his eyes to rest tenderly upon her countenance; and by degrees her glances encountered his and were not immediately withdrawn. Those glances were so languishing, and withal so melancholy, that they inspired Richard with a passion amounting a1most to a delirium; and he felt at times as if he could have caught that beauteous creature in his arms and clasped her rapturously to his bosom.
    One morning, as be took leave of her, he fancied that her hand gently pressed his own. The idea filled him with a joy till then unknown, and which he could not describe even to himself.
    On the following morning he called a little earlier than usual. Diana was in a delicious déshabillé which set off her voluptuous person [-25-]

to its very greatest advantage. Richard was more tender than usual - the Enchantress more enchanting.
    They' were seated upon the sofa together, and a pause in their conversation ensued. Richard heaved a deep sigh, and suddenly exclaimed, "I am always thinking of the period when I must bid adieu to your charming society."
    "Bid adieu!" cried Diana; "and wherefore?"
    "It must happen, sooner or later, that our ways in the world will be different."
    "Then you are not your own master?"' asked Diana, inquiringly.
    "Certainly I am. But all friends must part some time or another."
    "True," said Diana; then, in a subdued tone, she added, "There are certain persons who are attracted towards each other by kindred feelings and emotions, and it is painful - very painful, for them to part!"
    "Heavens, Diana!" ejaculated Richard; "you feel as I do!"
    She turned her face towards him : her cheeks were suffused in blushes, and her eyes were filled with tears. But through those tears she cast upon him a glance which ravished his inmost soul. It seemed fraught with love and tenderness, and inspired him with emotions which he had never known before. The words "You feel as I do," contained the ingenuous and unsophisticated avowal of a new passion on the part of a mind that was as yet as unskilled in the ways of a this world as the unfledged bird in the nest of its mother is ignorant of the green woods. But those tears which stood in the lady's eyes and the blushes which dyed her cheeks, and the glance which, like a sunbeam in the midst of an April shower, she darted upon the youth at her side, inspired him with courage, awakened undefined hopes, and filled him with an ecstacy of joy.
    "Why do you weep, Diana? why do you weep?"
    "You love me, Richard," she replied, turning her melting blue eyes fully upon him, and retaining them for some moments fixed upon his countenance: "you love me; and I feel - I know that I am not worthy of your affection!"
Richard started as if he were suddenly aroused [-26-] from a dream - as if he had abruptly awoke to a stern truth from a pleasing vision. He suffered her hand, which he had taken in his, to fall from his grasp; and for some moments he remained buried in a profound reverie.
    "Ah! I knew that I should remind you of your duty towards yourself," said Diana, bitterly. "No - I am not worthy of you. But that you may hereafter give me credit for frankness and candour, - that you may be actually warned by myself against myself, - that you may learn to esteem me as a friend, if you will, I shall in a few words relate to you the incidents that made me what I am!"
    "Proceed," said Richard, "proceed! Believe me I shall listen with attention, - with the greatest attention!"
    "My father was a retired tradesman," began Mrs. Arlington; "and as I was his only child and he enjoyed a competency, he gave me the best education that money could procure. Probably the good old man made up his mind that I should one day espouse a nobleman; and, as my mother had died when I was very young, there was no one near me to correct the vanity with which my father's adulation and ambitious pretensions inspired me. About three years ago I met at the theatre - whither I went with some friends - a young gentleman - tall, handsome, and fascinating like yourself. He contrived to obtain a formal introduction to my father, and was invited to our house, at which he speedily became a constant visitor. He had a happy tact in suiting his humours or tastes to those with whom he came in contact; and he quite won my father's heart by playing chess with him, telling him the news of the City, and reading the evening paper to him. George Montague soon became an established favourite; and my father could do nothing without him. At length Montague proposed to him certain speculations in the funds: my father was allured by the prospect of quadrupling his capital, and consented. I must confess that the young man's handsome person had produced a certain effect upon me - a giddy young girl as I was at that time; and I rather encouraged my father in these schemes than otherwise. At first the speculations were eminently successful; but in a short time they took a turn. Day after day did Montague come to the house to announce fresh losses and the necessity of farther advances. He declared that he should now speculate for a grand stake, which could not fail shortly to turn to his advantage. A species of infatuation seized upon my father; and I was not aware of the ruinous course he was pursuing until it was too late. At length my father was totally ruined; and George come to announce to us the failure of our last chance. My father now repented when it was too late. Eight short months had sufficed to dissipate his whole fortune; he had not even enough left to pay the few debts which he had contracted, and which he had neglected to liquidate, trusting each day to the arrival of the lucky moment when he should find himself the master of millions!"
    "Oh! the absurd hope!" exclaimed Richard, deeply interested in this narrative.
    "Alas! this event was a fatal blow to my father's health, at the same time that it wrecked his happiness," continued Diana. "He implored Montague not to desert 'his darling child' - for so he called me - in case anything should happen to himself; and that same day - the day on which he saw all his prospects and hopes in this life blasted - he put a period to his existence by means of poison !"
    "This was horrible!" cried Markham. "Oh! that villain Montague!"
    "My father's creditors came to seize the few effects which remained," said Diana, after a pause: "and I was about to be turned houseless and unprotected into the streets, when Montague arrived. He took gold from his pocket, and satisfied the demands of the creditors. He moreover supplied me with money for my immediate wants. I was totally dependent upon him; - I had no relations - no friends to whom I could apply for succour or comfort. He seemed to commiserate my position —'
    "Perhaps," observed Richard, "he was not so very guilty, after all, relative to the loss of your father's property?"
    "Judge by the sequel," answered Diana bitterly. "He was as base as be was in reality unfeeling. The transition from that state of dependence upon a young man to a more degraded one still, was to be expected. He no longer talked to me of marriage, as he once had done; but he took advantage of my forlorn situation. I became his mistress."
    "Ah! it was base - it was ungenerous - it was unmanly!" ejaculated Richard.
    "He seemed to be possessed of ample resources; but he accounted for this circumstance by assuring me that he had found another friend who was backing him in the same speculations in which my poor father had failed. We lived together for four months; and he then coolly informed me that we must part. I found that I had never really entertained any very sincere affection for him; and the little love which I experienced at first, had been quenched in my bosom by his cold cruelty. He seemed unfeeling to a degree. Observations, calculated to wound most acutely, fell from his lips upon all occasions —"
    "The dastard!" exclaimed Richard, profoundly touched by this recital.
    "If I wept at this cruelty, he treated me with increased brutality. You may, therefore, suppose that I was not deeply distressed to part with him. He gave me twenty guineas, and bade me a chilling farewell. From that moment I have neither seen nor heard of him. A few weeks after our separation my money was exhausted. I resolved to lead a virtuous and honourable life, and atone for my first fault. O God! I did not then know that society will not receive the penitent frail one; - that society excludes poor deceived woman from all hopes of reparation, all chances of repentance! I endeavoured to obtain a situation as a governess;- I might as well have attempted to make myself queen of England. Character - references! I had neither. Vainly did I implore one lady to whom I applied to give me a month's trial. She insulted me grossly. To another I candidly confessed my entire history: she patiently heard me to the end, and then ordered her lacquey to turn me out of the house. Oh! society does more than punish: it pursues the unfortunate female who has made one false step, with the most avenging and malignant cruelty;- it hunts her to suicide or to new ways of crime. These are the dread alternatives. At that moment, had some friendly hand been stretched out to aid me, - had I met with one kind heart that would have believed in the possibility of repentance, - had I only been blest with the chance of entering upon a career of virtue, I should have been saved! Yes - I should have redeemed my first fault, as far as redemption was possible; - and to accomplish that aim, I would have worked my nails down to the very quick, - I would have accepted [-27-] any position, however menial, - I would have made any sacrifice, enjoyed any lot, so long as I was assured of earning my bread in a manner which need not make me blush. But society treated me with contempt. Why, in this Christian country, do they preach the Christian maxim, that 'there is more joy over one sinner who repenteth, than over ninety-and-nine just persons who need no repentance?' Why is this maxim preached, when the entire conduct of society expresses in terms which cannot be misunderstood, a bold denial of its truth?"
    "Merciful heavens," ejaculated Richard, "can this be true? are you drawing a correct picture, Diana, or inventing a hideous fiction?" 
    "God knows how true is all I say!" returned Mrs. Arlington, with profound sincerity of tone and manner. "Want soon stared me in the face what could I do? Chance threw me in the way of Sir Rupert Harborough :- compelled by an imperious necessity, I became his mistress. This is my history."
    "And the baronet treats you kindly?" said Richard, inquiringly.
    "The terms upon which our connexion is based do not permit him an opportunity of being either very kind or very cruel."
    "I must now say farewell for the present," exclaimed Markham, afraid of trusting himself longer with the Syren who had fascinated him with her misfortunes as well as by her charms. "In a day or two I will see you again. Oh! I cannot blame you for what you have done - I commiserate - I pity you! Could any sacrifice that I am capable of making, restore you to happiness and - and —"
    "Honour, you would say," exclaimed Diana, firmly.
    "I would gladly make that sacrifice," added Richard. "From this moment we will be friends  - very sincere friends. I will be your brother, -dearest Diana - and you shall be my sister!"
    The young man rose from the sofa, as he uttered these disjointed sentences in a singularly wild and rapid manner; and Diana, without making any reply, but apparently deeply touched, pressed his hand for some moments between both her own.
    Richard then hastily escaped from the presence of that charming and fascinating creature.

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