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INTRIGUES OF A DEMIREP
LADY CECILIA retired to her own chamber, locked the door, threw herself upon
the bed, and burst into tears.
Oh, at that moment how she hated her husband - how she hated
She wept not in regret of her evil ways: she poured forth
tears of spite when she thought of the opinion that her new lover must form of
her, after the explanation given by Sir Rupert.
For Captain Fitzhardinge was rich and confiding; and the fair
patrician had calculated upon rendering him subservient alike to her necessities
and her licentiousness.
"But, now - what must we think of one who be-[-378-]stowed
upon him those favours that were alienated from her husband by a former compact?
What opinion could he entertain, of a woman who sinned deliberately by virtue of
an understanding with him whom she had sworn to respect and obey?
It could not be supposed that the morality of Captain
Fitzbardinge was of a very elevated nature; but in the occurrence of that
morning there was something calculated to shock the mind the least delicate -
Yes - Lady Cecilia wept; for she thought of all this!
And then her rage against her husband knew no bounds.
"The wretch - the cowardly wretch!" she exclaimed aloud, as she
almost gnashed her teeth with rage; "was he not born to be my ruin? From
the moment that I saw him first until the present hour, has he not been an evil
genius In my way? Yes - oh! yes: he is a demon sent to torture me in this world
for my faults and failings! Seduced by him when I was very young, I might have
been plunged into disgrace and infamy, had not my father purchased his consent
to espouse me. Then the large sum that was paid to save my honour was squandered
in the payment of his debts, or in ministering to his extravagances. Now, what
is our position? what is my position? Shunned by my own father and mother, I am
left dependent on him who knows not how to obtain enough for himself; or else I
- I, the daughter of a peer, must sell myself to some Mr. Greenwood or Captain
Fitzhardinge for the means to support my rank! Oh! it is atrocious: I begin to
loathe myself! Would that I were the mistress of some wealthy man who would be
constant and kind towards me, rather than the wife of this beggared baronet!
Lady Cecilia rose from the bed, advanced towards the mirror, and smoothed her
hair. Then she perceived that her eyes were red with weeping.
"Absurd!" she exclaimed, a contemptuous smile curling her lips; "why
should I shed tears upon the past which no human power can recall? Rather let me
avail myself of the present, and endeavour to provide for the future. Am I not
young? and does not my glass tell me that I am beautiful? Even the immaculate -
the taintless - the exemplary rector of Saint David's paid me a
compliment on my good looks when I met him at Lady Marlborough's, a few days
ago. Yes - and methought that if the most evangelical of evangelical clergymen of
the Established Church could for a moment be moved by my smile, - if that
admired preacher, who publicly avows that he refrains from marriage upon
principle, - if that holy minister who is quoted as a pattern to his class, and an
example for the whole world, - if he could whisper a word savouring of a
compliment in my ear, and then seem ashamed at the moment of weakness into which
his admiration had betrayed him ;- if my charms could effect so great a miracle
as this, what may they not do for me in helping me on to fortune ?"
She paused and considered herself for some minutes in the
glass opposite to
"Yes," she cried, again breaking silence, "I will no longer remain
in the same house with my unprincipled and heartless husband: I will no longer
breathe the tainted atmosphere which he inhabits. His very name is associated in
my mind with forgery and felony! I will break the shackle which yet partially
binds me to him; I will emancipate myself from the restraint and thraldom
wherein I now exist. Fitzhardinge is rich and loving; perhaps he may still feel the influence of the silken chain which I threw around his
heart. We will see! If he come gladly back to my feet, my aim is won; if not -
well, -and she smiled, complacently,- there are others as rich, as handsome,
and as easily enchained as he!"
Lady Cecilia proceeded to her desk and wrote the following note:-
"Come to me, dearest
Fitzhardinge, at three precisely, this afternoon: I
have much to say respecting the specious falsehoods which Sir Rupert uttered
this morning in order to conceal the natural cowardice of his disposition. He
was afraid to involve himself in a quarrel with you; and he excused his unmanly
forbearance by means of assertions that reflected upon me. Come, then, to me at
three; I shall be alone, and at home only to you."
This note was immediately conveyed to Captain Fitzhardinge by Cecilia's
lady's-maid, who was the confidant of her mistress's intrigues.
Having despatched her missive, the baronet's wife proceeded to the duties of
This employment, breakfast, the newspaper, and a novel, wiled away the time
until about one o'clock, when Lady Cecilia, having ascertained that her husband
had gone out half an hour previously, descended to the drawing-room.
She was attired in a simple and unpretending manner; but then she knew that
this style became her best.
She was determined to captivate that day; and certainly she had seldom
appeared to greater advantage.
Her rich auburn hair, - of a hue as warm as the disposition which it
characterised, - fell in long hyperion ringlets upon her sloping shoulders: her
blue eyes were expressive of a feeling of languid voluptuousness; and her pure
complexion was set off by the dark dress that she wore.
The time-piece upon the mantel had scarcely struck two, when a loud
double-knock at the front-door resounded through the house.
Lady Cecilia started from her seat, for she had forgotten to instruct the
servants "that she was only at home to Captain Fitzhardinge." But she
too late to remedy her neglect; the summons was already answered ere she had
gained the landing on which the drawing room opened.
She accordingly returned to the sofa, and composed herself to receive the
visitor, whoever it might be.
In a few moments the servant announced the Earl of Warrington.
With this nobleman Lady Cecilia was only very slightly acquainted, she having
met him on two or three occasions, some years previously, at her father's
"I must apologise, Lady Harborough, for this
intrusion," said the earl;
"but I trust to your kindness to pardon me in that respect, and to afford
me a little information concerning a matter which has suddenly assumed an air of
importance in my eyes."
"No apology is necessary for the honour which your lordship confers upon
me by visiting my humble abode," answered Lady Cecilia; "and with regard to
the subject to which your lordship alludes, I shall be happy to furnish any
information in my power."
"Your ladyship's courtesy encourages me to proceed," continued the earl.
"Forgive me if I must direct your attention to one of those pieces of
gossip - I will not say scandal - which so often becomes current in the sphere in which
we move. I allude to an anecdote relative to a certain mysterious remit-[-379-]tance of a thousand pounds which
was forwarded to Sir Rupert Harborough, and
which your ladyship undertook to disburse for his advantage."
"Your ladyship [-sic.
ed.-] places the matter in as delicate a way as possible," said
Lady Cecilia, affecting to laugh heartily in order to conceal the shame which
she really experienced at this reference to her unworthy action; "but it
was only a pleasant trick which I played Sir Rupert. The truth is, Sir Rupert is
not the most generous man towards his wife and when I found that some honourable
person was repaying him a debt contracted a long time previously, I thought
that, as the amount fell so providentially into my hands, I could not do better
than appropriate it to the liquidation of the arrears of pin-money due to me."
"Very just, madam," said the Earl, forcing himself to smile at the
incident which Lady Cecilia represented in the light of a venial little
advantage by a wife against her husband. "I believe that the amount was
"To tell you the candid truth, my lord," answered Lady Cecilia, "the
whole affair was so strange and romantic, that I kept, as a great curiosity, the
letter which accompanied the bank-note. If you possess any interest in the
"Your ladyship knows that I am not seeking this
information without some
object," said the earl, emphatically. "Would it be indiscreet," he added,
a less serious tone, "to request a glimpse at that great curiosity?"
"Oh! by no means," returned Lady Cecilia, who affected to treat
whole matter as an excellent joke; then, rising from her seat,, she hastened to
her work-box, and in a few moments produced the letter. "It was not so
scented with musk when I received it," she added, laughing; "but it was
redolent of a far more grateful flavour - that of this world's mammon."
"I believe mammon is the deity whom we all afore or less adore," observed
the Earl of Warrington, gallantly taking up the tone of chit-chat, rather than
formality, which Lady Cecilia endeavoured to infuse into the conversation: then,
as he received the letter from her hand, he said, "May I be permitted to
"Oh, certainly, my lord: and if you have any curiosity in the matter,
you are welcome to retain it," answered Lady Cecilia.
"With your leave, I will do so," said the earl.
"And now that I have replied to all your lordship's queries," continued Lady
Cecilia, "may I ask one in my turn ?"
The earl bowed, and smiled.
"Who was the indiscreet eave's-dropper or tale-bearer that gave your
lordship the hint concerning this business?" asked the baronet's wife.
"Methinks that your ladyship has been at no pains to conceal the
said the earl: "and what hundreds have talked about cannot well be charged
against an individual tale-bearer."
"Nay, my lord, I mentioned it but to two persons," exclaimed Cecilia.
"The first was to Sir Rupert Harborough - in a moment of pique; and the other
was to - a - a - particular friend "
"I am not indiscreet enough to ask for names," interrupted the earl,
rising; and he hastened to take his leave, ere Lady Cecilia could reiterate her
question relative to the person who had communicated to him the fact of the
intercepted thousand pounds.
It was now nearly three o'clock;' and Lady Cecilia again composed herself to
receive Captain Fitzhardinge.
Punctual to the hour, the officer was introduced into the drawing-room.
But his manner, instead of being all love and tenderness, was simply polite
"Fitzhardinge," said the lady, "I perceive that you have allowed
yourself to be prejudiced against me."
"Not prejudiced, Lady Cecilia," answered the guardsman; "but I
confess that I am no longer under the influence of a blind passion. The conduct
of your husband this morning was that of a man who was acting consistently with
the circumstances which he explained, and not that of an individual who was
playing a part in order to disguise the innate cowardice of his disposition. No,
Cecilia - your husband is not a coward - whatever else he may be! And now one word
relative to myself. So long as I believed that you made to me, as a proof of
love, the generous sacrifice of conjugal fidelity, - so long as I believed that an
affection for me alone induced you to violate your marriage vow, - then the dream
was sweet, though not the less criminal. But when I discovered that you made no
sacrifice to me, -that you came not to my arms warm with a love that trembled at
detection, but secure in the existence of a heartless compact with your husband,
- then my eyes were opened, and I saw that Lady Cecilia Harborough had
risked nothing of all that she had pretended to risk - sacrificed nothing of all
that she had affected to sacrifice - for the sake of Captain Fitzhardinge! Thus the delusion was destroyed; and
although our amour might be based upon more impunity than I had ever conceived,
it would be the less sweet! The charm - the spell is broken!"
"And have you come here to tell me all this -
to insult me with your
moralisings?" demanded Lady Cecilia, the fire of indignation and wounded
pride displacing the languid voluptuousness which had at first reigned in the
expression of her eyes.
"No! not to insult you, Cecilia," answered the officer; "but to
explain in an open and candid manner the motive which leads me to say: 'Let us
forget the past, as it regards each other!'
"Be it it so," said Lady Cecilia, deeply humiliated, and now hating the
handsome officer much more than she had ever liked him. "In that case, sir,
we can have nothing more to say to each other."
Captain Fitzhardinge bowed, and withdrew.
Lady Cecilia fell back upon the sofa, murmuring "Beaten
- beaten! defeated
in this hope!"
And tears came into her eyes.
But in a few moments she exclaimed, "How foolish is this grief! how
useless this indignation! Sorrow and hatred are the consuming enemies of female
beauty! Did I not say ere now that there were others in the world as rich, as
handsome, and as confiding as Captain Fitzhardinge ?"
As she uttered those words aloud, the haughty beauty wiped her eyes, and
composed her countenance.
She rose and advanced towards the mirror to assure herself that her
appearance indicated naught of those tears which she had shed; and as she
contemplated her features with a very pardonable pride, the reminiscence of the
compliment which the clergyman of Saint David's had paid her flashed to her
She smiled triumphantly as she pondered upon it; and that vague, shadowy,
unsubstantial phrase of flattery, that now formed the topic of her thoughts,
gradually assumed a more palpable shape in her imagination, - became invested with
a significant [-380-] meaning, - then grew into a revelation of
passion, - and was at length
embodied into a perfect romance of love with all its enjoyments and blisses.
The ardent soul of that frail woman converted the immaculate clergyman
an admirer betrayed in an unguarded moment into a confession of love, - then
changed him into a suitor kneeling at her feet, - and by rapid degrees carried him on, through all the mystic phases of
passion, until he became a happy lover reclining on her bosom.
With a presumption which only characterises minds of her warm temperament and
loose ideas of morality, Cecilia triumphed in the half-hour's impassioned
which succeeded the departure of Captain Fitzhardinge, over the ascetic virtue
and self-denying integrity which public opinion ascribed to the rector of Saint
Then, when some trifling incident aroused her from this wild and romantic
dream, she did not smile at its folly - she regarded it as a species of
inspiration prompting her in which direction to play the artillery of her
"Yes," she exclaimed, musing aloud; "he once
said 'I never saw you
look so well as you appear this evening :' -those words shall be a motto to a new
chapter in my life!"
And she smiled triumphantly as if her daring aim were already accomplished.
"Thirty-six years of age," she abruptly resumed her musings, -"wealthy
- handsome - unmarried, from principle," - and here an erratic smile of
mingled satisfaction and irony played on her rosy lips, - "and yet fond of
society, the Reverend Reginald Tracy must no longer be permitted to remain proof
against woman's beauty - aye, and woman's wiles. Oh! no - he shall repeat to me, but
far more tenderly, the words he uttered the other evening: his passing
compliment shall become a permanent expression of his sentiments? But his
character-his disposition? must I not study them? If that be necessary, the
task is ready to hand !"
She rose from the sofa, and having selected an ecclesiastical magazine from
some books that stood upon a cheffonier, returned to her seat to peruse at
leisure a sketch which the work contained of the character, ministry, and
popularity of the rector of Saint David's.
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