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[-93-]

CHAPTER CLXX.

THE BLACK VEIL.

RETURN we now to one whom we have long left, but whom the reader cannot have forgotten.
    In a sumptuously furnished room at the house of Mr. Wentworth, the surgeon of Lower Holloway, Diana Arlington was reclining upon a sofa.
    She was dressed in an elegant manner; but a large black lace veil, doubled so as to render it more impervious to the eye of a beholder, was thrown over her head. The folds were also so arranged that the elaborately worked border completely concealed her countenance.
    She was alone.
    An open piano, a harp, and piles of music, together with a choice selection of volumes on the shelves of a book-case, denoted the nature of her amusements during her residence of several weeks at the surgeon's abode.
    It was mid-day.
    The damask curtains at the windows were drawn in such a manner as to reduce the light of the effulgent sun to a mellow and soft lustre within that apartment.
    Beautiful nosegays of flowers imparted a delicious fragrance to the atmosphere.
    The bounty of the Earl of Warrington had furnished the room in a style of luxury which could scarcely be surpassed.
    But was Diana happy?
    Were those sighs which agitated her heaving bosom,  was that restlessness which she now manifested,  was that frequent listening as the sounds of wheels passed along the road,  were all these signs of sorrow or of suspense?
    Patience, gentle reader.
    The time-piece on the mantel had chimed midday.
    "He is not punctual," murmured Diana. Ten minutes elapsed.
    "He does not come!" she said aloud. And her restlessness redoubled.
    At length a carriage drove rapidly up to the door; and a long double knock reverberated through the house.
    "'Tis hot" cried Diana.
    In a few moments the Earl of Warrington entered the room.
    "Diana  dearest Diana!" exclaimed the nobleman, starting back when he beheld her countenance covered with that ominous dark veil: "is it indeed thus  "
    "Thus that we meet after so long an absence?" added the Enchantress. "Yes, my lord: Mr. Wentworth must have told you as much."
    "No, Diana," answered the Earl, seating himself upon the sofa by her side, and taking her hand: "you know not by what a strange idiosyncrasy my conduct has been influenced. I entrusted you to Mr. Wentworth's care: I enjoined him to spare no money that might procure the best advice  the most efficient means of cure. Then I resigned myself to a suspense from which I might at any moment have relieved my mind by an inquiry;  but at the bottom of that suspense was a fond, a burning hope which made the feeling tolerable  nay, even vested the excitement with a peculiar charm -of its own. I took it for granted that you would be cured  that your countenance would be restored to that beauty which had originally attracted me towards you;  and now, may I not say  without detriment to my own firm character as a man, and without indelicacy towards your feelings,  may I not say that I am disappointed!"
    "And is this my fault!" asked Diana, in a soft plaintive tone. "Does your lordship suppose that I have not also suffered  that I do not at present suffer?"
    "Oh! yes  you have  you do," answered the nobleman, pressing her hand with warm affection. "When we were happy in each other's society, Diana," he continued," I never spoke to you of love: indeed, I experienced for you nothing more than a fervent friendship and profound admiration. But since I have ceased to see you  during the interval of our separation  I found that you were necessary to me,  that I could not be altogether happy without you,  that your conversation had charms which delighted me,  and that your attachment was something on which I could ponder with infinite pleasure. My feelings have warmed towards you; and I  I, the Earl of Warrington  experience for you a feeling which, if not so romantic and enthusiastic as my first affection, is not the less honourable and sincere."
    "Ah! my lord," said Diana, in a tremulous tone, "why raise the cup of happiness to my lips, when a stern fatality must dash it so cruelly away?"
    "No, Diana  it shall not be thus dashed away," answered the Earl, emphatically. "I am rich  I am my own master: not a living soul has a right to control or question my conduct. The joy which I anticipated at this meeting shall not be altogether destroyed. Here, Diana  here I offer you my hand.; and on your brow  scarred, blemished by an accident though it be  that hand shall place a coronet!"
    "My lord, this honour  this goodness is too much," said Diana, in a tone of deep emotion "Remember that I am no longer possessed of those charms which once attracted you; and now that they are gone  gone for ever  I may speak of what they were without vanity! Remember, I say, that you will ever have before you a countenance seared as with a red-hot iron,  a countenance on which you will scarcely be able to look without loathing in spite of all the love which your generous heart [-94-] may entertain for me! Remember that when I deck myself in the garments befitting the rank to which you seek to elevate me, that splendour would be a hideous mockery  like the fairest flowers twining round the revolting countenance of a corpse on which the hand of decay has already placed its mark! Remember, in a word, that you will be ashamed of her whom, in a moment of generous enthusiasm, you offer to reward for so much suffering  suffering which originated in no fault of yours!  remember all this, my lord  and pause  reflect  I implore you to consider well the step you are taking!"
    "Diana, I am not a child that I do not know my own mind," answered the Earl: "moreover, I have the character of firmness: and I shall never repent the proposal I now make you  provided you yourself do not give me cause by your conduct"
    "And on that head  "
    "I have every confidence  the deepest conviction, Diana," interrupted the Earl, warmly.
    "Your wishes, then, are my commands  and I obey," returned Diana, her voice thrilling with tones expressive of ineffable joy. "But shall we not ratify our engagement with one kiss!"
    And as she spoke she slowly drew the black veil from her countenance.
    The nobleman's heart palpitated, as she did so, with emotions of the most painful suspense  even of alarm: he felt like a man who in another instant must know the worst.
    The veil dropped.
    "Heavens! Diana," exclaimed the Earl, starting with surprise and indescribable delight.
    For instead of a countenance seared and marked, he beheld a pure and spotless face glowing with a beauty which, even in her loveliest moments, had never seemed to invest her before.
    Not a scar  not a trace of the accident was visible.
    Her pouting lips were like the rose moistened with dew: her high, pale forehead was pure as marble; and her cheeks were suffused in blushes which seemed to he born beneath the clustering ringlets of her dark brown hair.
    "Ah! Diana," exclaimed the Earl, as he drew her to his breast, "how can I punish thee for this cheat?"
    'You will pardon me," she murmured, as she clasped her warm white arms around his neck, and imprinted a delicious kiss upon his lips, while her eyes were filled with a voluptuous languor,  "you will pardon me when you know my motives. But can you not divine them?"
    "You wished to put my affection to the test, Diana." said the Earl. "Yes  I must forgive you  for you are beautiful  you are adorable  and I love you!"
    "And if the sincerest and most devoted attachment on my part can reward you for all your past goodness, and for the honours which you now propose to shower upon me, then shall I not fail to testify my gratitude," exclaimed Diana.
    These vows were sealed with innumerable kisses.
    At Length the Earl rose to depart.
    "Three days hence," he said, "my carriage will be sent to fetch you to the church where our hands shall be united."
    "And our hearts  for ever," returned Diana.
    The nobleman embraced her once more, and took his leave.
    But he did not immediately quit the house: he had business with Mr. Wentworth to transact.
    We know not the precise sum that this generous peer presented to the surgeon: this, however, we can assure our readers, that he kept his word to the very letter  for Mr. Wentworth became rich in one day.
    "If you succeed in restoring her to me," had the Earl said, when he first entrusted Diana to the surgeon's Care, "in that perfection of beauty which invested her when I took leave of her yesterday  without a mark, without a scar,  your fortune shall be my care, and you will have no need to entertain anxiety relative to the future, with the Earl of Warrington as your patron." Such were the nobleman's words upon that occasion: and, on the present, he amply fulfilled his promise.
    Three days after, Diana became the Countess of Warrington.
    The happy news were thus communicated by the bride to her sincerest and best friend
    
    "Grosvenor Square,
    March 22nd. 1840.
    "TO HER SERENE HIGHNESS THE GRAND DUCHESS OF CASTELCICALA.
    
    "I steal a few minutes from a busy day, my dearest Eliza,  for by that dear and familiar name you permit me to call you.  to inform you that I have this morning united my destinies with those of the Earl of Warrington. In a former letter I acquainted you with the dreadful accident which menaced me with horrible scars and marks for life:  you will be pleased to know that the skill and unwearied attention of my medical attendant have succeeded in completely restoring me to my former appearance  so that not a trace of the injury remains upon my person. The Earl of Warrington has elevated me to the proud position of his wife: the remainder of my existence shall be devoted to the study of his happiness.
    "I regret to perceive by your letters, dearest Eliza, that you are not altogether happy. You say that the Grand Duke loves you; but his temper is arbitrary  his disposition despotic. And yet he is amiable and gentle in his bearing towards you. Study to solace yourself with this conviction. He has elevated you to a rank amongst the reigning princesses of Europe; and as you have embraced the honour., so must you endure some few of the political alarms and annoyances which are invariably attached to so proud a position. You tremble lest the conduct of the Grand Duke, in alienating from him those who are considered his best friends, should endanger his crown. Are you convinced that those persons are indeed his friends! Of course I know not  I cannot determine: I would only counsel you, my dearest friend, not to form hasty conclusions relative to the policy of his Serene Highness.
    "I perceive by the English newspapers, that there are numerous Castelcicalan refugees in this country. Amongst them are General Grachia and Colonel Morosino, both of whom, I believe, occupied high offices in their native land. They, however, appear, so far as I can learn, to be dwelling tranquilly in London  no doubt awaiting the happy moment when it shall please your Illustrious husband to recall them from exile.
    His Highness Alberto of Castelcicala  (for you are aware that the Earl of Warrington communicated to me some time ago the real rank and name of Count Alteroni)  continues to reside at his villa near Richmond. This much I glean from the public journals; but doubtless you are well acquainted with all these facts, inasmuch as your government has a representative at the English court.
    "Adieu for the present, dearest Eliza:  I knew not, when I sate down, that I should have been enabled to write so long a letter. But I must now change my dress; for the carriage will be here shortly to convey me to Warrington Park, where we are to pass the honeymoon.
    "Ever your sincere friend,
    "DIANA.'
    
    Such are the strange phases which this world presents to our view! That same Fortune, who, in [-95-] a moment of caprice, had raised an obscure English lady to a ducal throne, placed, when in a similar mood, a coronet upon the brow of another who had long filled a most equivocal position in society.

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