chapter < | THE MYSTERIES OF LONDON
| > next chapter >
will come again on Wednesday," said Lady Cecilia to herself, as she heard
the front door close behind the Rev. Reginald Tracy.
This wily woman was well-acquainted with the human
heart: she had discovered the weak side of the rector of Saint David's: she
assailed him by means of his vulnerable point; she directed her way to his heart
through the avenue of his vanity.
Yes-Reginald Tracy was vain,-as vain as a man who was
admired and sought after by all classes, was likely to be rendered,-as vain as a
spoiled child of the public could be.
His life had, moreover, been so pure, so chaste, so
ascetic, that the fierce passions which agitate other men were unknown to him;
and, as all mortals must be characterised by some failing, his was a habit of
Venial and insignificant was this foible, so long as no
advantage was taken of it by designing or worldly-minded persons; but even our
lightest defects, as well as our most "pleasant vices," may be made
the means of our ruin.
Vanity is a noxious weed which, when nurtured by the
dews of flattery, spreads its poisonous roots throughout the fertile soil of the
heart; and each root springs up into a plant more venomous, more rank, more
baleful than its predecessor.
The life of Reginald Tracy had been singularly pure. He
had even passed through the ordeal of a college career without affixing the
least stain on the chastity of his soul. Yet with all his austerity of virtue,
he was characterised by no austerity of manner: he mixed freely in society, and
hesitated not to frequent the ball-room-although he did not dance. He could be a
pleasant companion: at the same time he never uttered a word upon which he had
to retrospect with regret. When amongst men, no obscene jest nor ribald allusion
was vented in his presence; and yet he was never voted "a bore." In a
word, he was one of those men who possess the rare talent of maintaining a
character for every virtue, and of being held up as a pattern and an example,
without creating a single enemy-without even being compelled to encounter the
irony of the libertine, and without producing a feeling of restraint or
embarrassment in the society which he frequented.
Such was Reginald Tracy; and it was this man,-who at the
age of thirty-six could look back with complacency upon a spotless life,-a life
unsullied by a single fault,-an existence devoid of the slightest dereliction
from moral propriety,-it was this good, this holy, this saint-like man whom the
daring Cecilia undertook to subdue.
Reginald, Reginald! the day of thy temptation has now
come: thou standest upon a pinnacle of the temple-the tempter is by thy
side;-take good heed of thyself, Reginald Tracy!
"He will come again on Wednesday," had said
The prediction was fulfilled!
The morning had been so inclement that no one would have
stirred abroad unless actuated by important motives. The rain had fallen in
torrents,- beating violently against the windows, and inundating the streets. It
had, however, ceased at noon; but the sky remained covered with black clouds;
and at three o'clock on that gloomy winter-day it was dark and sombre as if
night were at hand.
But in spite of that inauspicious weather, the Rev.
Reginald Tracy knocked at Lady Cecilia Harborough's door at the hour which we
have just mentioned.
The designing creature received the clergyman with a
smile, exclaiming at the same time, "It is indeed kind of you to visit me
on such a day as this. I have been so happy-so resigned-so possessed with the
most complete mental tranquillity since you manifested sympathy and interest in
my behalf, that your presence appears to be that of a good angel!"
"It is our duty to sustain those who droop, and
console those who suffer," answered the rector.
"Delightful task!" ejaculated Cecilia.
"What a pure and holy satisfaction must you enjoy, when you reflect upon
the amount of comfort which your lessons impart to the world-wearied and sinking
spirit. Believe me, many an one has entered the gates of your chapel with a
weight upon his soul almost too heavy for him to bear, and has issued forth
carrying his burden of care lightly, if not cheerfully, along!"
"Do you really imagine that my humble agency can
produce such good results in the cause of heaven?" asked Reginald, fixing a
glance of mingled tenderness and satisfaction upon the charming countenance of
"I do-I do," she answered, with apparent
enthusiasm; "I can judge by the effect which your admirable discourse of
last Sunday morning produced upon myself. For-let me not deceive you," she
continued, hanging down her head, and speaking in a tremulous and tender voice,-
"let me not deceive you-It was not the heat of the chapel which overcame
me-it was your eloquence! I dared not confess this to you at first; but now-now
that I can look upon you as a friend-I need have no secret from you."
She took his hand as she uttered these words, and
pressed it in a manner which he conceived to be indicative of grateful fervour;
and without a thought of evil-but with an indefinable sensation of pleasure to
which until lately he had been all his life a stranger-he returned that
Lady Cecilia did not withdraw her hand, but allowed it
to linger in his; and he retained it under the influence of that sensation which
caused his veins to flow with liquid fire.
He was sitting on the sofa by her side, and his eyes
wandered from her countenance over the outlines of her form.
"Oh! how can the man who accompanied you to the
altar, and there swore to love and cherish you," he exclaimed, in an
ebullition of impassioned feelings such as he had never known before,-"how
can that man find it in his heart to neglect-to abandon you,-you who are
evidently all gentleness, amiability, and candour!"
"He has no heart-no soul for any one save
himself," answered Cecilia. "And now tell me-relieve my mind from a
most painful suspense upon one point! Am I criminal in the eyes of heaven,
because I have ceased to love one whom I vowed to love, but whose conduct has
quenched all the election that I once experienced for him?"
"You must not harden your heart against him,"
said Reginald; "but by your resignation, your uncomplaining patience, your
meekness, and your constant devotion to his interests, you must seek to bring
him back to the paths of duty and love."
"I might as well essay to teach the hyena
gratitude" answered Cecilia.
"You speak too bitterly," rejoined the rector
of [-388-] Saint David's; and yet he was not
altogether displeased at the aversion which Lady Cecilia's language manifested
towards her husband.
"Alas! we have no power over volition," said
she; "and that doctrine is a severe one which enjoins us to kiss the hand
that strikes us."
"True," observed Reginald. "I know not
how it is-but I feel that I am at this moment unaccountably deficient in
argument to meet your objections; and yet-"
He paused, for he felt embarrassed; but he knew not why.
"Oh! you can appreciate the difficulty of enjoining
a love towards one who merits hatred," exclaimed Cecilia, now skilfully
availing herself of the crisis to which she had so artfully conducted the
conversation. "You see that you are deficient in reasoning to enforce the
alleged necessity of maintaining, cherishing, and nourishing respect and
veneration for a husband who has forfeited all claims to such feelings on the
part of his injured wife. At all events, do not tell me that I am criminal in
ceasing to love one who oppresses me;-do not say that I offend heaven by ceasing
to kiss the hand that rudely repulses all my overtures of affection;-oh! tell me
not that-or you will make me very, very miserable indeed!"
Lady Cecilia's bosom was convulsed with sobs as she
uttered these words in a rapid and impassioned manner; and as she ceased
speaking her head fell upon Reginald's shoulder.
"Compose yourself-compose yourself, Lady
Cecilia," exclaimed the clergyman, alarmed by this ebullition of grief, the
sincerity of which he could not for one moment suspect. "Do not give way to
sorrow-remember the lessons of resignation and patience which you have heard
from my lips-remember-"
But the lady sobbed as if her heart would break-her head
reclined upon his shoulder-her forehead touched his face-her hand was still
clasped in his.
"Oh Reginald!-Reginald!" she murmured, "I
cannot love my husband more-no-it is impossible! I love another!"
"You love another!" ejaculated the rector, his
whole frame trembling with an ineffable feeling of mingled joy and suspense.
"Yes-and now reproach, revile me-leave me-spurn
me-treat me with contempt!" continued Cecilia: "do all this if you
will; but never, never can you prevent me from idolizing- adoring you!"
"Cecilia!" cried Reginald Tracy, starting from
his seat; "you know not what you are saying!"
"Alas! I know but too well the feelings which my
words express," returned the lady, clasping her hands together, and sobbing
violently. "Hear me for a few minutes, and then leave me to the misery of
my fate-a hopeless love, and a breaking heart!"
"Speak, then, and unburden your mind to me without
reserve," said Reginald, resuming his seat upon the sofa, and inviting a
confidence the thought of which produced in his mind emotions of bliss and
burning joy, the power of which was irresistible.
"Yes, I will speak, even though I render myself
contemptible in your sight," continued Cecilia, wiping her eyes and
affecting to resume that calmness which she had never lost more than the
impassioned actress on the stage, when enacting some melodramatic part.
"For months and months past I have cherished for you a feeling, the true
nature of which has only revealed itself to me within the last few days. In the
first instance, I admired your character and your talents: I respected you; and
respect and admiration soon ripened into another feeling. You do not know the
heart of woman; but it is ever moved by a contemplation of the sublime
characteristics of remarkable men-like you. I met you in society, and I almost
worshipped the ground on which you trod. I listened to your conversation: not a
word was lost to me! During long and sleepless nights your image was ever
present to my mind. You became an idol that I adored. At length you yourself,
one evening, innocently and unconsciously, fanned the flame that was engendered
in my heart: you told me that I looked well. That passing compliment rendered me
your devoted slave. I thought that no human happiness could be greater than that
of pleasing you. I resolved to attend your chapel from that period. I obtained
the pew that was nearest to the pulpit; and when you preached I was electrified.
Oh! you saw how I was overcome! Your attention to me on that occasion threw
additional chains around me. Then you called on me the day before yesterday, and
you spoke so kindly that I was every moment on the point of falling at your
feet, and exclaiming,-'Forgive me, but I now know that I love you!' You
proffered me your friendship: how joyously I accepted the sacred gift! And that
friendship-oh! let me not forfeit it now- for the love which my heart cherishes
for you shall be as pure and taintless as that friendship with which you have
Reginald had listened to this strange confession with
the most profound attention;-yes, and with the deepest interest.
A young and beautiful woman had avowed her love for
him-she sate near him;-his hand still thrilled with the pressure of hers-his
cheek was still warm and flushed with the contact of her white and polished
forehead;-the room was involved in obscurity and silence.
She had insinuated herself, in an incredibly short space
of time, into his heart, by flattering his vanity and exciting those deaires
which had hitherto slumbered so profoundly in his breast, but which were now
ready to burst for with the violence of the long pent-up volcano.
He trembled-he hesitated. At one moment he was inclined
to rush from the house, as if from the presence of the tempter; and then he
remembered that the love which she had avowed was as pure as his friendship!
Nevertheless, the struggle in his mind was terrific.
Cecilia understood it all.
"You hate me-you despise me," she suddenly
exclaimed, covering her face with her hands. "Oh! do not crush me with your
contempt-do not abandon me to the conviction of your abhorrence! Reginald-take
pity upon me: forgive me for loving you-forgive me-on my knees I implore
She threw herself before him: she took his hand and
pressed it to her lips.
She covered it with kisses.
"Cecilia," murmured the rector, making a faint
effort to withdraw his hand.
"No-no, you shall not leave me thus," she
exclaimed, with apparent wildness: " I should die if you went away, without
telling me that you forgive me! No, you must not leave me thus!"
"Rise, Cecilia-rise-in the name of heaven,
rise!" exclaimed Reginald, alarmed lest they should be discovered in that
equivocal position: "rise, and I will forgive you. I will do all that you
desire-I will not leave you until you are composed."
And you will return and see me again? you will [-389-]
not withdraw your friendship?" demanded Cecilia, in a soft and melting
"No-never, never!" cried Reginald,
enthusiastically, as if he suddenly abandoned himself to the torrent of passion
which now swept through his soul.
"Oh! thank you-thank you for that assurance!"
exclaimed Cecilia; and, as if yielding to an unconquerable burst of feeling, she
threw herself into his arms: "you shall be as a brother to me; and our
friendship, our love, shall be eternal!"
Her rich red mouth was pressed upon the rector's lips;
her arms were wound around him; and for a moment he yielded to the intoxicating
delight of that pleasure so new to him.
But ere he was entirely culpable, his guardian genius
struck his soul with a sudden remorse; and, disengaging himself from the syren's
arms, he imprinted one long-burning-delicious kiss upon her lips; then,
murmuring, "To-morrow, to-morrow, dearest Cecilia, I will see thee
again," rushed from the room.
"He is mine!" exclaimed the lady, as the door
closed behind him; "irrevocably mine!"
chapter < | THE MYSTERIES OF LONDON
| > next chapter >