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[-384-]

    CHAPTER CXXVII

    BLANDISHMENTS

    LADY 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 her toilet-table.
    "It must be nearly one, my lady," was the reply.
    "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 answer.
    "Then why did you not recommend it in the first instance?"
    "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 drawing-room."
    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," observed Reginald.
    "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-] 

and 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 before.
    "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 this announcement.
    "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 individual!"
    "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 friendship!
    "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 much require."
    "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 cushions.
    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 fascinated him.
    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 house.
    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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