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[-214-] 

CHAPTER CC.

A MAIDEN'S LOVE.

    The two young ladies had new retired to the bed-chamber which Kate occupied at the farm, and which Ellen shared with her during her visit.
    The respective characters of those two charming creatures were then incidentally contrasted and powerfully set forth, each in its peculiar phase, by means of occurrences apparently trivial to a degree, but which were nevertheless significant in the eyes of those who closely observed the nature of the human mind.
    While Ellen was disrobing herself, she stood, in all the pride of her glorious beauty, before the mirror; in the reflection of which she also arranged her long, luxuriant hair previously to retiring to rest.
    But Katherine, in the semi-obscurity of the remotest corner, laid aside her vestment; nor did she once think of approaching the glass.
    Whence arose this discrepancy, — this pride on the one hand, and this bashfulness on the other!
    It was that Ellen had been placed in those circumstances which had taught her the value and led [-215-] her to appreciate the extent of her almost matchless charms: — her lovely countenance had served as a copy, and her exquisitely modelled form as a pattern, for artists and sculptors; — during her brief dramatic career, she had been the object of unceasing adulation; — and when she forced Greenwood to espouse her, the splendour of her beauty had disarmed him of the resentment which he would otherwise have experienced in being compelled to sacrifice for her all his hopes of a brilliant matrimonial alliance.
    Hers was the pride of a loveliness which had produced her bread in the hour of her bitter need, — which was perpetuated in great works of art, — which had elicited the heartfelt admiration of many suitors of rank and name, — and which was still in all the freshness of health and youth. Still that pride was never obtrusive — not even conspicuous; for It was attempered by a natural generosity, an innate loftiness of soul which rendered her as adorable for her disposition as she was desirable for her beauty.
    Katherine had long languished in a condition which compelled her to retire from observation. While she dwelt with the late executioner, she was glad to be able to shroud herself from public view. She was always neat and cleanly from principle, but not from pride. The germinations of self-complacency had been checked in their nascent state, though not completely obliterated; and now, if they were slightly expanding in the genial atmosphere of the improved circumstances which surrounded her, it was with a legitimate growth, such as no female mind should remain unacquainted with. For a certain degree of proper pride is necessary to woman, — to preserve her self-esteem, and to maintain her soul so happily poised that it may not fall into overweening confidence on the one side, nor into an awkward and repulsive reserve on the other.
    That chamber-scene would have made a fine and deeply interesting subject for the pencil of the artist, who would have delighted to shadow forth the variety of the female character, — here the glorious loveliness of the wife who dared not avow that sacred name, — there the retiring beauty of the young virgin.
    But Katherine had not altogether escaped the influence of that blind deity who exercises so important a control over the destinies of us mortals.
    How this happened we must leave her to describe in her own artless manner.
    "I have been thinking, dear Kate," said Ellen, as she stood combing her long and silky hair, on which a lamp's reflection in the mirror shed a bright glory, — "I have been thinking that this is a dull and lonely place for you. Mr. and Mrs. Bennet are very kind and amiable people; but it will not be suitable for one whose worldly prospects are so good as yours, to remain in this solitude. You are literally buried here! I am almost inclined to take you with me to Markham Place for a short time, when the business with that old woman is decided. I am sure Richard would be pleased with such an arrangement."
    "I should like to be with you, Ellen," was the reply: "but-for the present-I must remain here," added Katherine, with some little hesitation.
    "Oh! no-you must come with me to Markham Place," exclaimed Ellen; "and the change of scene will please you. Besides — I have a secret to tell you, Kate."
    "A secret!" repeated the maiden.
    "Yes — a secret that will surprise you," continued Ellen. "I shall reveal it to you now; but you must not mention it to any one here — for particular reasons which I cannot explain to you at present. What should you think if I were to tell you that I am married?"
    "You! — married!" exclaimed Katherine. "Then why are you still called Miss Monroe?"
    "There are certain circumstances which compel me to keep my marriage a secret. When you come to Markham Place — as you must — you will see my father; but never in his presence, nor in that of Richard when be returns home, may you speak of me as a wife. And now do you know why I have told you this! Because, as I am determined that you shall come and pass at least a few days with me, you will see my child — "
    "Oh! Ellen, are you indeed a mother?" cried Katherine. "Are you not devotedly attached to your child! do you not fondle-play with it!"
    "I am never wearied of its little company" answered Ellen. "It is a boy, and named after our mutual benefactor Richard. And now you know my secret. But tell me, Kate, wherefore you wish to remain pent up in this secluded dwelling! Has some happy youth in the neighbourhood touched your heart! You do not answer me. I cannot see you where you are; but I'll wager that you are blushing. Oh! if there be any truth in my suspicion, let it be revelation for revelation. We are friends — and you may confide in me."
    "I know not how to answer you, Ellen; — and yet — "
    "And yet you have a secret," returned the young wife, laughing; "oh! yes — you have a secret — and you must make me your confidant."
    "I am willing to tell you all that relates to this foolish affair," said Katherine; "but that all is very little."
    And she hesitated, — suffused with blushes even in the nook whither Ellen's eyes were not directed!
    "Nay, continue," exclaimed Ellen. "I perceive that you are about to interest me with the commencement of a charming little love-tale. Seriously speaking, Kate — you will lose nothing by entrusting your secret to one who may be enabled to give you some useful counsel in a matter which is of far greater moment than young persons of our sex are induced to believe!"
    "I will conceal nothing from you, Ellen," returned Katherine, in a low and timid tone. "It was only at the commencement of last week that I was rambling in the neighbourhood — on as fine a day as this one has been — when I met a young gentleman, who was crossing the same field as myself, but in an opposite direction. The path was very narrow; and he stood on one side to allow me to pass. I bowed in acknowledgment of his politeness, and he raised his hat. The glance that I threw upon him was of course only momentary; and I passed on. I thought no more of the incident — "
    "He is doubtless very handsome," said Ellen, laughing. "All heroes of such romantic adventures are."
    "Nay — hear me to the end," continued Katherine; "for since I have begun this silly tale, I may as well terminate it. The following day was fine; and I walked out again — as indeed I always do, when the weather will permit. I was proceeding through the same field — "
    [-216-] "The same field," observed Ellen slily.
    "Oh! I can assure you, my dear friend, that you do me an injustice by the suspicion which your words imply," exclaimed Katherine. "I had totally forgotten the trifling incident of the preceding day; but I chose that path, — it was the same which we took this morning, — because it was dry and hard. To my surprise I again met that gentleman; and when he made way as before, to let me pass, he looked at me with an attention not rude, but still earnest. Our eyes met-and I passed hastily on. I felt myself blushing — I knew not why — to the very verge of my forehead. And yet I had done no wrong. I had glanced towards him as I acknowledged his politeness in stepping aside to allow me to pass; and it was by accident — at least on my part-that our eyes thus met. When I became more composed, I was angry at having been annoyed with myself. I then found myself involuntarily reflecting upon the handsome countenance, — for he is handsome, Ellen, — of which I had only so hasty a glimpse. I must admit that I thought of him more than once during the remainder of that day."
    "Love at second sight, we must denominate it," observed Ellen, with a smile. "I will hazard a guess that the next day was fine, — for the weather is usually favourable in such circumstances, — and that you unwittingly found yourself rambling in the same path."
    "Ah! Ellen, I am afraid that I was wrong — but all happened as you have described," said Kate, in a soft and melancholy tone; "and I obeyed some impulse for which I could not account. I candidly confess that I wondered, as I walked along, whether he would be there again; and when I did not perceive him, I experienced a sentiment of vexation. At length he appeared at the extremity of the field — he drew near — nearer and nearer. I felt ashamed of myself: it suddenly struck me that he must suppose I came thither on purpose to see him again. I never thought so little of myself — no, not even when I was pointed at as the presumed relative of an executioner. I turned abruptly round, and began to retrace my way towards the farm. I reached the low stile on the brow of the hill: at that moment I heard steps behind me. I cannot describe the sensations which I then experienced — a few short seconds of pleasing, painful suspense. Ere a minute had elapsed, the stranger stood by my side; and with a low bow he extended his hand to assist me in crossing the barrier. My head seemed to swim round; and I mechanically gave him my hand. He held it but for an instant as I passed into the next field; — and yet he pressed it gently — very gently; — still he pressed it! I know not whether I bowed or hurried abruptly on — I was so confused!"
    "And during the remainder of that day you pondered on the incident," observed Ellen.
    "Oh! how well you seem to divine all my thoughts — all my emotions!" exclaimed Katherine.
    "Love has the same emblems — the same symbols, throughout the world," answered Ellen; "and it also has the same unvarying worship. Of the true nature of. the great God there are many conflicting opinions; and different nations offer up their adoration in different manners. But to that blind deity whom we call Love, there is only one incense — and that is common to all humanity!"
    "Then it was not wrong on my part to experience those emotions which I have explained to you?" said Katherine, with the most amiable naοvetι.
    "Wrong, dearest girl! oh, no!" exclaimed Ellen. "That heart must be a cold — a callous-a worldly-minded one, which never feels those most beautiful and holy of all sympathies! But go on with your narrative, Kate; for I feel convinced that you have seen your handsome lover since the day mentioned."
    "I will tell you how we met again," said Katherine. "On the following day I did not stir abroad: I wished to take my usual ramble — but I feared that I should be doing wrong to incur the chance of meeting him again. As I was sitting at the parlour window, he passed. I was so taken by surprise-he appeared so unexpectedly, — ah! no-I am deceiving myself — I am deceiving you; — he came not altogether unexpectedly — for I had found myself wondering more than once whether he would again revisit this neighbourhood. He passed the window, then — as I have said; and I did not turn away until it was too late, he saw me — he seemed pleased: he bowed — and I slightly responded to his salutation. Then I retreated from the window, and did not approach it again during the rest of that day. The next day was wet and gloomy; and I felt persuaded that I should not see him. Will you blame me if I say that I was vexed at this circumstance? would you believe me if I declared that I treated it with indifference? But, ah! my annoyance was soon dissipated: — he passed the house at the same hour as on the preceding day! He was wrapped in a long military cloak; and when he saw me, he bowed with the same courtesy as heretofore; — but methought he smiled, as if with satisfaction at seeing me. And now you will say that I am a vain and foolish girl; — but, dearest Ellen, I am faithfully detailing to you all that occurred, and all the emotions I have experienced."
    "Proceed, Katherine," said Ellen. "I become deeply interested in your narrative."
    "The next day was fine once more; and I felt indisposed for want of exercise," continued the maiden. "I accordingly walked out-but in another direction. How I trembled at the slightest sound which resembled a footstep! How my heart beat when a bird flew past me! But my alarms — if I can honestly so call them — were without foundation: I beheld not the stranger that day. On the ensuing one I walked out again in the same direction; and, lost in thought, I rambled to a considerable distance. But at length I turned homewards once more; and when in sight of the farm, I suddenly beheld the stranger advancing towards me across a field. He was pursuing no direct path-my heart beat violently — for something told me that he was coming that way only on my account! In a few moments we met: he bowed — I returned his salutation; — he suddenly took my hand, and pressed it — I hastily withdrew it-and passed rapidly on."
    "This mute declaration of love is truly romantic," said Ellen, laughing, as she threw herself, half undressed, into an easy chair, and began to unlace the boots which enclosed her pretty feet.
    Katherine had emerged from her nook, and was sitting on the side of the bed which was farthest removed from Ellen; and there, veiling her blushes behind the curtain, the young maiden continued her artless narrative.
    "I know not how it was," she said: "but that gentle pressure seemed to remain upon my hand. I [-217-] 

can even feel it now, when I think of it. Is not this very foolish, Ellen? But you wish me to tell you everything; and therefore you must expect to be wearied with my frivolous details. The incident which I have just related made a profound impression upon me. The image of the stranger was constantly present to my memory throughout that day. I fancied that there was something, sincere — and yet extremely respectful,-something fervent — and yet quite inoffensive-in his manner toward me when he seized and pressed my hand. But I have forgotten to give you some idea of his appearance. He is young — tall — slight-and of a dark complexion. He seems to be of a foreign nation. His eyes are black and animated, and on his lip he wears a small moustache. His gait is elegant. and his manners are evidently those of a polished gentleman."
    "And his name?"' said Ellen. "He has doubtless communicated that?"
    "He has never spoken a word to me," answered Katherine, with the most ingenuous seriousness. "We have not exchanged a syllable. I think, indeed, that I have already been sufficiently imprudent in allowing him to touch my hand. Still I could not have prevented him — he took it suddenly!"
    "And you have not exchanged a syllable!" exclaimed Ellen. "But it is as well that matters have remained where they appear to be. I will, however, give you my advice presently. In the meantime, continue your narrative."
    "I have little more to say," answered Katherine, with a sigh. "On the following morning I met him once more — that was three days ago, and he accosted me evidently with the intention of speaking. But I hurried on; and he stopped. When I was at some distance, I cast a rapid glance round: he was still standing where I had left him. He saw that I threw that hasty look behind me, for — but, no — I cannot tell you the indiscretion of which he was guilty. It pains me to think of it; and perhaps he himself is conscious of his impropriety, for I have not seen him since."
    "What, in heaven's name, did he do?" asked Ellen, surprised by the thoughtful seriousness of her young friend's manner.
    "Do you wish me to tell you?" exclaimed Kathe-[-218-]rine. "Well — I must confess all! He kissed his hand to me."
    "Were I not afraid of wounding your feelings, I should laugh immoderately, Kate," said Ellen. "Here was I on the tenter-hooks of expectation — awaiting some truly mortifying disclosure; and I find that the only fault which your swain has committed, is a delicate and mute declaration of his attachment. But to speak seriously once more. If you really entertain any sentiment of interest in behalf of this handsome stranger, you must allow time and circumstances to serve you. These romantic meetings, dear Katherine, are calculated to fill your young heart with hopes which may be cruelly disappointed. If he really experience a tender feeling towards you, he will find means to make it known in a more satisfactory, if not more intelligible manner. Then will be the proper. time for your friends to ascertain who he is. For the present I cannot, — as I wish you well, — counsel you to incur the chance of meeting him in that wild way again. I am glad you have imparted this secret to me. It shall be sacred. But, oh! I am too intimately acquainted with the World to treat lightly or neglectfully a matter that may so nearly touch, — that does, perhaps, already to some extent concern, — your happiness; more than ever do I now desire that you should pass a few days with me at Markham Place. If your stranger really wishes to know more of you, — if his views be honourable, and his pretensions feasible, he will soon institute inquiries at the farm regarding you. Mr. Bennet will then know how to act. In the meantime there is no necessity to mention the affair to either him or his wife."
    The tender interest of the subject had so completely absorbed all other ideas in the mind of Katherine, that-no longer under the restraint of the extreme bashfulness which had driven her into the obscure part of the chamber in order to lay aside her vesture-she had emerged from the concealment of the curtain, and gradually approached nearer and nearer towards Ellen, while the latter was affectionately offering, her counsel.
    The scene was now a most touching one.
    In the large arm-chair reclined the young wife, her luxuriant hair, not yet arranged for repose, flowing in shining waves over her ivory shoulders, and forming a dark curtain behind her arching neck, the dazzling whiteness and graceful contour of which were thus enhanced with an effect truly enchanting; — while a stray curl of the glossy hair, detached from the mass behind, and more fortunate than its companions, fell on the glowing bosom which was without shame revealed in the sanctity of that chamber.
    And, standing meekly before the young wife, — with downcast eyes and blushing cheeks, — was the young virgin, — her white arms supporting the loosened garments over her bosom in that sweet attitude of modesty which so many great masters have loved to delineate in their marble representations of female beauty.
    It seemed as if Venus, the Queen of Love, were enthroned In the voluptuous negligence of the boudoir, and had suddenly assumed a demeanour befitting her sovereign sway, while she tutored one of her attendant Graces in some lesson whose importance demanded that unusual seriousness.
    "And now, dearest Katherine," added Ellen, after a moment's pause, "I have given you the best advice which my humble capacity allows me to offer and I think so well of you that I feel convinced of your readiness to follow it."
    "I should be unworthy of your good opinion-I should despise myself, were I to hesitate a moment what course to pursue," returned Kate; and, yielding to the generous emotions of friendship, she threw herself on the bosom, of her whom she had made the confidant of her young love.
    "And you will consent to pass a short time with me at Markham Place?" said Ellen, embracing her affectionately.
    "I will follow your counsel in all things, dear Ellen," replied the maiden, weeping from emotions of gratitude and love.
    Human nature has no essence more pure, — the world knows nothing more chaste, — heaven has endowed the mortal heart with no feeling more holy, than the nascent affection of a young virgin's soul.
    The warmest language of the sunny south is too cold to shadow forth even a faint outline of that enthusiastic sentiment. And God has made the richest language poor in the same respect, because the depths of hearts that thrill with love's emotions are too sacred for the common contemplation. The musical voice of Love stirs the source of the sweetest thoughts within the human breast, and steals into the most profound recesses of the soul, touching chords which never vibrated before, and calling into gentle companionship delicious hopes till then unknown!
    Yes — the light of a young maiden's first love breaks dimly but beautifully upon her as the silver lustre of a star glimmers through a thickly-woven bower; and the first blush that mantles her cheek, as she feels the primal influence, is faint and pure as that which a rose-leaf might cast upon marble. But how rapidly does that light grow stronger, and that flush deeper, — until the powerful effulgence of the one irradiates every corner of her heart, and the crimson glow of the other suffuses every feature of her countenance.

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