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CECILIA took very good care not to appear at chapel that evening. She was well
aware that common politeness-if no other motive-would induce the Rev. Reginald
Tracy to call on the following day to inquire after her health.
Accordingly, on the Monday, she took more than usual
pain with her toilet.
Sir Rupert Harborough had departed with his
"splendid friend" Chichester for the Continent; and she was completely
her own mistress. She had no one to interfere with her plans or pursuits, for
her lady's maid was entirely devoted to her interests. However others suffered
or waited in respect to pecuniary matters, Sarah - the aforesaid lady's maid, or
cameriste - was always well and regularly paid.
It was by no means an uninteresting scene to behold the
attention and zeal with which Sarah seconded her mistress's determination to
make the most of her charms upon the present occasion.
Lady Cecilia was seated near her toilet-table, with a
little gilt-edged oval-shaped mirror in her hands, which reposed in her lap; and
Sarah was engaged in arranging the really beautiful hair of her mistress.
"What o'clock is it, Sarah?" inquired Lady
Cecilia, casting a complacent glance at herself in the large looking-glass upon
"It must be nearly one, my lady," was the
"Then you have no time to lose, Sarah. The ringlets
are quite divine; pray take equal pains with the back-hair. Do you think that I
look better in ringlets or in bands?"
"In ringlets, my lady."
"And if I had my hair in bands, and asked you the
same question, you would reply, 'in bands?"
"Your ladyship cannot think that I am so
insincere," said the camariste.
"Do you fancy me in this dress, Sarah?" asked
the lady, heedless of her domestic's observation.
"I prefer the blue watered-silk," was the
"Then why did you not recommend it in the first
"Your ladyship never required my advice."
"True. Have you finished?"
"No hairdresser from Bond Street, or the Burlington
Arcade, could have performed his task better, my lady," replied Sarah.
"Yes, it is very well-very well indeed," said
Cecilia, surveying herself in the mirror. "I will now descend to the
When she reached that apartment, the artful woman spread
on the table a few books on serious subjects; she then amused herself with a
volume of a new novel.
The clock had just struck two, when a double knock was
heard at the front door.
Lady Cecilia thrust the novel under the cushion of the
sofa, and took up "Sturm's Reflections."
The Rev. Mr. Tracy was announced.
Lady Cecilia rose and received him with a charming
languor of manner.
"I have called to satisfy myself that your ladyship
has recovered from the indisposition of yesterday," said the rector.
"Not altogether," answered Cecilia.
"Indeed, after I returned home, yesterday, I experienced a relapse."
"I observed that you were not at chapel in the
evening, and I feared that such might be the case."
It was with difficulty that Lady Cecilia could suppress
a smile of joy and triumph as this ingenuous and unsophisticated announcement
met her ears. He had thought of her! he had noticed her absence!
"I can assure you that nothing save indisposition
could have induced me to remain away from a place where one gathers so much
matter for useful and serious meditation," answered the lady.
"And yet the world generally forgets the doctrines
which are enunciated from the pulpit an hour after their delivery,"
"Yes-when they are doled forth by ministers who
have neither talent nor eloquence to make a profound impression." said
Cecilia, artfully conveying a compliment without appearing to mean one at the
moment. "I believe that our churches would be much better frequented were
the clergy less dogmatic, less obscure; and did they address themselves more to
the hearts of their hearers than they do."
"I believe it in necessary to appeal to the heart, [-385-]
not be satisfied with merely reaching the ears," said the rector, modestly.
"And wherever the pastor possesses the rare talent
of moving the feelings,-of exciting the mind-to salutary reflection, as well as
merely expounding points of doctrine,-thither will the multitude flock high and
low, rich and poor. Oh!" exclaimed Cecilia, as if carried away by the
enthusiasm of the subject, "how grand-how noble a situation does that man
occupy, who, by the magic of his voice and the power of his mind, can collect
the thousands around his pulpit! I can understand how an impression may be
easily made upon the half-educated or totally ignorant classes of society: but
to cast a spell upon the intelligent, the well informed, and the erudite,-to
congregate the aristocracy of the realm to listen to the words that flow from
his mouth,-oh! great, indeed, must be the influence of such a man!"
"You consider, then, Lady Cecilia, that. the upper
classes need powerful inducements to attend to the truths of religion?"
said Reginald, irresistibly charmed by the witching eloquence that had marked
the language of the beautiful woman in whose society he found himself.
"I consider-but, if I tell you my thoughts,"
said Cecilia, suddenly checking herself, "I shall unavoidably pay a high
compliment to you; and that neither-"
"Let me hear your ladyship's sentiments in any
case," said the clergyman, fearful of losing those honied words which
produced upon him an impression such as he had never experienced in his life
"I believe," continued Cecilia, "that the
upper classes in this country are very irreligious. I do not say that they are
infidels: no-they all cherish a profound conviction of the truths of the gospel.
But their mode of life-their indolent and luxurious habits, militate against a
due regard to religious ceremonials. How is it, then, that they are aroused from
their apathy? They hear of some great preacher, and curiosity in the first
instance prompts them to visit the place of his ministry. They go-almost as they
would repair to see a new play. But when they listen to his words-when they
drink, in spite of themselves, large draughts of the fervour which animates
him-when he appeals to their hearts, then they begin to perceive that there is
something more in religion than an observ-[-386-]ance
of a cold ceremonial; and they go home 'to reflect!"
"You believe that to be the case?" said the
rector, delighted at this description of an influence and an effect which he
could not do otherwise than know to be associated with his own ministry.
"I feel convinced that such is the fact,"
answered Lady Cecilia; then, lowering her tone in a mysterious manner, and
leaning towards him, she added, "Many of my friends have confessed that
such has been the case in respect to their attendance at your chapel-and such
was the case with myself!"
"With you, Lady Cecilia?" exclaimed the
clergyman, vainly endeavouring to conceal the triumph which he experienced at
"Yes, with me," continued the artful woman.
"For, to be candid with you, Mr. Tracy, I need consolation of some kind-and
the solace of religion is the most natural and the most effective. My domestic
life," she proceeded, in a deeply pathetic tone, "is far from a happy
one. Sir Rupert thinks more of his own pleasures than of his wife;-he does more
than neglect me-he abandons me for weeks and weeks together."
She put her handkerchief to her eyes.
Mr. Tracy drew his chair closer to the sofa on which she
was seated: it was only a mechanical movement on his part-the movement of one
who draws nearer as the conversation becomes more confidential.
"But why should I intrude my sorrows upon
you?" suddenly exclaimed Cecilia. "And yet if it be not to the
minister of religion to whom we poor creatures must unburden our woes, where
else can we seek for consolation? from what other source can we hope to receive
lessons of resignation and patience?"
"True," said the rector. "And that has
often appeared to me the best and redeeming feature in the Roman Catholic world,
where the individual places reliance upon a priest, and looks to him for
spiritual support and aid."
"Ah, would that our creed permitted us the same
privilege!" said Lady Cecilia, with great apparent enthusiasm.
"I know of no rule nor law which forbids the
exercise of such a privilege," said Reginald. "unless, indeed, usage
and custom be predominant, and will admit of no exceptions."
"For my part, I despise such customs and usages,
when they tend to the exclusion of those delightful outpourings of confidence
which the individual pants to breathe into the ears of the pastor in whom
implicit faith can be placed. In how many cases could the good clergyman advise
his parishioners, to the maintenance of their domestic comfort? how many
heart-burnings in families would not such a minister be enabled to soothe? Oh!
sir, I feel that your eloquence could teach me how to bear, unrepiningly, and
even cheerfully, all the sorrows of my own domestic hearth!"
"Then look upon me as a friend, my dear Lady
Cecilia," said the clergyman, drawing his chair a little closer still:
"look upon me as a friend; and happy indeed shall I be if my humble agency
or advice can contribute to smooth the path of life for even only one
"Mr. Tracy, I accept your proferred friendship-I
accept it as sincerely as it is offered," exclaimed Lady Cecilia; and she
extended her hand towards him.
He took it. It was soft and warm, and gently pressed
his. He returned the pressure:-was it not the token, the pledge of friendship?
He thought so-and he meant no harm.
But again did the contact of that soft and warm hand
awake within his breast a flame till then unknown; and his cheeks flushed, and
his eyes met those of the fair-the fascinating creature, who craved his
"Henceforth," said Cecilia, who now saw her
intrigue was progressing towards a complete triumph-even more rapidly than she
had ever anticipated-"henceforth you will have no votary more constant in
attendance than I; but, on your part you must occasionally spare from your
valuable time a single half hour wherein to impart to me the consolations I so
"Be not afraid, Lady Cecilia," said the
rector, who now felt himself attracted towards that woman by a spell of
irresistible influence: "I shall not forget that you have ingenuously and
frankly sought my spiritual aid; and I should be false to the holy cause in
which I have embarked, were I to withhold it."
"I thank you-deeply, sincerely thank you,"
exclaimed Cecilia. "But judge for yourself whether I do not seek solace, in
my domestic afflictions, from the proper source! This is the book which I was
reading when you called."
Cecilia took up "Sturm's Reflections," and
opened the book at random.
"There," she said; "it was this page
which I was perusing."
She held the book in her hands as she reclined, rather
than sate, upon the sofa; and the clergyman was compelled to lean over her to
obtain a glimpse of the page to which she pointed.
His hair touched hers: she did not move her head. Their
faces were close to each other. But not an impure thought entered his soul:
still he was again excited by that thrilling sensation which came over him
whenever he touched her.
She affected not to perceive that their hair commingled,
but pointed to the page, and expatiated upon its contents.
In a moment of abstraction. for which he could not
account, and against the influence of which he was not proof, Reginald Tracy's
eyes wandered from the book to the form which reclined, beneath his glance, as
it were, upon the sofa. That glance swept the well-proportioned undulations of
the slight but charming figure which was voluptuously stretched upon the
Suddenly Cecilia left off speaking, and turned her eyes
upward to his countenance. Their glances met, and Reginald did not immediately
avert his head. There was something in the depths of those blue orbs which
Still he suspected not his extreme danger; and when he
rose to depart, it was simply because he felt like a man flushed with wine, and
who requires air.
He took his leave; and Cecilia reminded him that she
should expect to see him soon again.
Can there be a doubt as to his answer?
When he regarded his watch, on reaching the street, he
was astounded to perceive that two hours had slipped away since he entered the
And a deep flush suddenly overspread his countenance as
he beheld the viper like eyes of a hideous old hag, who was standing near the
steps of the front-door, fixed upon him with a leer which for an instant struck
a chill to his heart by its ominous and yet dim significance.
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