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“ I am happy to see so promising a recruit added to Mrs. Belmont's troop,” he said. “I like to patronize all these innocent joys, Mr. Wilmot. The argument which perpetually suggests itself in their faFour whenever the subject is brought before me, is briefly this: Shall we ever be younger? If not, sir, if not, let us, in the name of common sense, catch the bright fleeting moments as they pass, and enjoy as much of frolic and of jest as the mercy of Providence shall be pleased to put within our reach.”
Ånd as he spoke, the excellent gentleman seated himself at the wellspread table, and helping himself plenteously to some scolloped oysters, made it speedily evident that his grateful welcome of the gifts of Providence was not confined to matters of jest alone.
Excellent as it was, the luncheon was r.ot permitted to last long, for the younger part of the company soon betrayed their impatience to get it over, that they might return to the drawing-room, and set about the business that was before them without further delay. And now again Mr. Belmont displayed an amiable trait of character; far from reproving the vehement eagerness which his lively children betrayed in the hasty and unceremonious manner in which they quitted the table, he only laughed, and drawing his well-stuffed arm-chair a little closer to the board, exclaimed, as he transferred the contents of a small, but very favourite dish, to his own plate,
“ Away with ye! That's right! The fewer, you know, the better cheer. And as to the merriment, it will be time enough to look after that when I have taken a glass of sherry."
“What a heavenly temper!" said Mrs. Belmont to Mr. Morton, as they left the room.
The happy troop had no sooner reached the drawing-room, than Fanny exclaimed,
“Now for it then! Words—words--words! Let every body take a pencil and write down three words. Mamma says that each charade must be made as scenic, as perfectly dramatized, and as long as possible; and therefore that three will be quite sufficient for one evening. If we each write three words, that will give us twenty-four to choose from, and till this choice is made, mamma says it will be impossible to advance a single inch, for that of course the scenery and all that must depend upon it."
Every body acknowledged the truth of this important proposition by a simultaneous exclamation of “ To be sure!” And the next moment every body had a bit of writing-paper before them, and either a pencil or a pen in their hand-every body, save Mary Bell; and she seemed meditating a retreat, for she was very quickly stealing across the floor of the front drawing-room, in the direction of the door.
" Are you looking for a pencil, Miss Bell ?" said Wilmot, stepping quickly after her, and offering to put into her hands the pencil and paper he had prepared for himself-once again he caught a full view of her large melancholy eyes as she raised them to his face.
"Oh, no," she replied, softly, but quite audibly, “ you will have more words, without my help, than you can want. I am very much obliged to you."
And Mary Bell was again inoving on towards the door, with a step so rapid, notwithstanding its gliding quietness, that she had almost reached it before Wilmot had recovered from his surprise at perceiving how very lovely she was when speaking, and that exquisite as was her blush, her smile was more exquisite still. But he overtook her ere she had passed through it, and almost involuntarily taking her hand he said,
“Pray, Miss Bell, do not forsake us! You know that your aunt expects we should all be useful. Do take the pencil!--you shall have your own little table, and nobody shall disturb you.”
There was so judicious a mixture of respect and friendliness in the tone and manner of this address, that Mary Bell for a moment lost all her painful shyness, and looking at him with a smile that expressed both surprise and gratitude, she replied,
“I am sure you are very kind! But you do not know how very stupid I am.”
Wilmot answered her only by a laugh, which was quite genuine, for it was impossible to look in the sweet face, beaming with intelligence, which was raised to his, and hear her in so very matter-of-fact a tone talk of her stupidity, without laughing ;—but he led her back to the little table which he had seen her occupy, and laying down the pencil and the paper before her, glided away without saying another word, and availing himself without scruple of the free and easy tone which seemed, for the time being, to be established in the troop,” he sought and found another pencil and some more paper, and was presently seated in the midst of the party, in deep meditation on the nature of words. But he was mistaken if he supposed that the little scene in which he had been engaged had passed without witnesses, or in fact, that any one of the persons present, except perhaps his friend Morton, had suffered a single circumstance of it to escape notice. The amusement which it occasioned was greater than can be easily expressed. That Mary-Mary Bell-should be taken by the hand, led to her chair, and waited upon by the handsomest and most distinguished looking young man they had seen that season, had something in it so indescribably ludicrous to their feelings, that it was with the very greatest difficulty they avoided laughing aloud.
But they were aware that this was not bon ton. They knew that Mr. Wilmot was Mr. Wilmot of Highfield Park, and though they had not as yet laid any very deliberate plan for taking possession of himself and his belongings, they were not so childish as to indulge in a laugh at his expense. All they did, therefore, under the pressing necessity of yielding in some degree to the vehement merriment which had seized upon them, was done under cover of a multitude of devices, well known and constantly practised in all such lively families as that of the Belmonts.
One of them was seized with a violent fit of coughing, and blew her nose con strepito. Another hid herself completely behind one of her brothers, and relieved herself by pinching his arm with energy. The third knelt down, and pretended to be looking for something on the floor so minute as to render it necessary that her nose should come in contact with the carpet. One of the young men began to whistle with great shrillness, and the other to scold all his sisters at once, à tort et à travers, which last device was incomparably the best, as it quickly enabled them to laugh in return, and thus released them from ihe restraint which they found it so difficult to endure.
But by far the strongest genuine feeling produced by this unexpected procedure on the part of Mr. Wilmot was experienced by Mrs. Belmont. She was, as of course she ought to be, considerably more advanced in the science of worldly wisdom than her children, although even on that score, there was more talent already developed among them than could be reasonably expected at their age. But Mrs. Belmont, notwithstanding her charming spirits, and the graceful vivacity of her ordinary manners, had a good deal of foresight, and she would have been extremely well pleased to have seen the admiration which his
eyes had already expressed for Fanny, demonstrated by as great assiduity as he had now displayed towards her stupid niece. As to the possibility of Mary Bell's profitting in any way by it, the idea was preposterous. She thought indeed, that it was more than probable that the young man might be indulging in a little quiet quizzing after his own fashion ; but, nevertheless, she would have been better pleased had he shown himself too much occupied by Fanny to think of any thing else.
The family burst of merriment being over, they all proceeded to business, and a very pretty picture might have been composed from the group. One fair girl sat with her beautiful eyes raised, in search of inspiration, to the ceiling. Another tapped her snowy forehead with a golden pencil-case, and where was the cynic who, as he watched her, could have dared to quote,
Knock as you will, there's nobody at home. The conqueror frowned with an intensity that gave a sort of Jovelike air to his countenance, and Richard of Lion Heart smiled as he meditated on his task, with the air of one who felt at home in his occupation. Mrs. Belmont wrote down two words with great rapidity, but weighed well the responsibility which the task threw upon her before she ventured upon a third. The two visiters did the same, but as to Fanny, who has not yet been mentioned, she was watching Mary Bell so earnestly that her pencil had not yet touched her paper. But she could not make her out. For an instant or two she had appeared to be using the pencil that had been put into her hands, but then she laid it aside, resumed her work, and appeared to be again precisely in the same state of abstraction and isolation as usual.
“ Well!” said Mrs. Belmont at length, “ have we all done ?"
“Yes," was uttered like a feu de joie by all the voices in succession, for the summons had quickened the tardy so effectually that no one seemed greatly in arrear.
"Now then collect them, William, and read them all aloud, without hinting by any glance or sign from whence they come, and then we will proceed to selection."
This was done precisely as commanded, and then followed the clamour usual on such occasions, each one exclaiming in favour of some particular word, and dilating, à haute voix, on the facilities it offered for scenic effect. After this had lasted for some time it became evident that out of the twenty-seven words (if, indeed, Mary Bell's bit of paper contained any) four were the decided favourites. Of these, two were declared by acclamation to be quite first-rate, but, concerning the other two there was evidently a difference of opinion. These doubtful words were INCUBUS and INFANTICIDE. Whether William Belmont (the reader) knew whence they came may be doubtful, but certainly no one else did, save their respective authors. Opinions therefore were given on all sides, with perfect freedom, and Mrs. Belmont, with a degree of quickness which showed her to be admirably well calculated for the part of manager, ran through the dramatic capabilities of both in a masterly manner, showing how scene might follow scene, and the whole end with splendid effect. But though she declared both words to be very good, she very decidedly gave the preference to infanticide, while nearly all the rest of the speakers gave their judgment in favour of the other. After a pretty stout contest for her own word, for it was, in fact, one of those she had given in, Mrs. Belmont at length yielded to the majority, and incuhus was decided upon, and then the scraps of paper were spread out upon the table, and every one was desired to select his own, a process resorted to for the purpose of consulting the author as to any former experience he might have had concerning the management of the word. The command was immediately obeyed by every one except Mary Bell, who, as usual, remained stationary at her little table. She had remained so entirely silent during the previous diseussion that it is probable every one, not excepting her new friend, Charles Wilmot, had forgotten that she had been invited to write ; but when every one had selected his own, and that one scrap of paper was still found remaining, Wilmot immediately stepped forward, seized upon it, and carried it to her, but not without reading aloud, as he went along, the word inCUBUS.
Mary Bell looked up for an instant as he placed the paper before her, blushed, smiled, bent her head in acknowledgment of his attention, and then once more resumed her occupation.
“ Imaginez !" cried Fanny, turning to her mother with a look of astonishment.
“ Imaginez, indeed,” responded her mother ; " but to me it will be quite a relief to find that the farce of excessive shyness is at an end. There is nothing I detest like it !"
Then crossing the room to the remote spot occupied by her niece, she said,
“ I am glad to see, Mary Bell, that you think it is time to leave off your village sauvagerie, and to permit yourself to be amused with what amuses the rest of us. But you must please to remember, my dear, that I shall not exactly approve your refusing to do every thing I ask you, while you display the most ready compliance with the requests of the first handsome young man who takes notice of you. Your papa would not approve of that, I can promise you. So now remember, that you will be expected to go through with these charades like the rest of the party, and do whatever may happen to be required of you, with the same ready goodwill as your cousins."
Having said this, she returned to the group who were now assembled in the back drawing-room, and ere it separated, the arrangement for the first charade had been fully decided upon.
(To be concluded in our next number.)
LINES BY THE AUTHOR OF “LACON."
[The following unpublished lines, by the late author of “Lacon," the Rev. C. C. Colton, were written a few days before his death at Fontainebleau, whither he had retired during a severe illness, the effects of which were supposed to have led to his self-destruction by shooting himself with a pistol.]
How long shall man's imprison'd spirit groan,
'Twixt doubt of Heaven, and deep disgust of earth,
And all that can be known, alas! is nothing worth?
all the spoils of time that load their shelves,
Joys framed to stifle thought, and lead us from ourselves.
Turmoil of action—tedium of rest-
How dull life's banquet is, how ill at ease the guest!
Who would not spurn the banquet and the board ?
To life's frail fretted thread, and death's suspended sword ?
And he that braved the crater's boiling bed-
Of Heaven or Hell, we ask-than the blind herd they led?
The Night-her rich star-studded page to read-
His fix'd and final home from fleshly thraldom freed?
And secrets solv'd-till then to sages seald,
Extinct-have nothing known, or nothing have reveald.
Th' extinguish'd lights that in thy darkness dwell,
That might th' enigma solve-and doubt, man's tyrant, quell!
Is this, indeed, the boon to mortals given ?
There is—to those who fix their anchor hope in Heaven!
Direct thy wand'ring thoughts to things above ;
Till doubt be lost in faith-and bliss secured in love!