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when she is laughed at, and it shall not be my fault if she does not put some of these peculiar graces in practice before the eyes of Wilmot.”
While these soft thoughts were revolving in the mind of the brighteyed Fanny, the total discomfiture of all hope from the incubus of the carpenter was completed, the man dismissed, and the company left in the state of despair that has been already described, -Fanny exag. gerating her sorrow, till it seemed to relieve itself in tears, and brought Wilmot to her side as we have related.
He whispered, he smiled, he took her hand. Fanny sent a rapid glance across the room and looked at Mary Bell. The eyes that were wont to “ love the ground,” were now fixed, intently fixed, upon her and Wilmot, and their expression, for that one instant, was 100 full of woe to be mistaken.
“ Indeed !” whispered the heart, but not the lips of Fanny; "it is so, is it? Then I must mind what I am about.”
Meanwhile, Richard, who though treating the matter as he did every thing else, very lightly, felt that he was not only the responsible person upon this occasion, but also the one whose acting would be the most affected unless the loss of the mechanical incubus were in some way supplied, was eagerly turning in his thoughts every possible device for the purpose, and at length starting up, he walked over to his mother, still occupied in deploring his unhappy condition, and whispered a few words in her ear. She listened attentively, and started as he went on, as if some new and striking idea had been suggested to her.
He then left her and applied himself to the hopping-machine which the carpenter had left, as if still intent upon examining its capa. bilities. Mrs. Belmont meanwhile walked over to Mary Bell, and touching her on the shoulder, made a sign that she should follow her to the most distant window of the front drawing-room. Having reached it, she placed her with her back towards the party they had left and thus addressed her :
“Mary Bell, you see the utter destruction that has fallen upon all our schemes in consequence of this disappointment. You must be conscious that you are in a great degree answerable for this, because of your having thought proper to give us so unmanageable a word, and therefore I think you must feel that it is your duty to get us out of the scrape. It is now quite impossible to give up the charade, on account of the great expense we have been at in preparing it; your uncle, with all his sweet temper, would never forgive me, and depend upon it, he would never forgive you. The only way to remedy this is by your undertaking the part yourself.”
“Aunt!” gasped Mary Bell, in reply; and it was the only word she uttered.
“Now, do not try my patience too severely, Mary Bell!" resumed Mrs. Belmont, in a low, deep whisper, and with an emphasis that might truly have startled a less timid spirit than that of Mary Bell, “I really am in no state to be trified with.' I tell you, Mary Bell, that you will be guilty of a great crime if you refuse me. I stand here as the representative of your father, and I command you to do what I require.”
“ Heaven help me !" exclaimed the poor girl, pressing her hand upon her forehead in great agony; “what is it you require of me?"
“What?–a mere nothing, child—not the thousandth part of the exertion that I, and all your cousins are making for the general amusement; and certainly it will be the most abominable piece of selfishness that ever was practised, if you refuse—but it is impossible you can refuse. It would be perfectly diabolical, and for your dear father's sake I will not believe it possible."
“ But what is it you would have me do?" repeated the poor girl, her lips trembling, and her complexion as white as marble.
“Come with me, my dear child,” replied Mrs. Belmont, with sudden kindness of manner, and passing her arm under that of her niece, to lead her back to the party. “ Come with me, and you will find that we shall all be ready enough to contrive that it shall be made as little troublesome to you as possible. And besides, you know, it will last but for an instant, and you have not a word to utter.”
“ But what is it I am to do?—what ?—what?" reiterated Mary Bell, in a voice of anguish, as she remembered the hundred and fifty guests whose eyes were to be fixed upon her.
“Do not be so dreadfully affected, child," returned her aunt," and think so very much more of yourself than any body else does. Upon my word it looks very much as if you were trying to set your cap at some particular person, and hoped to draw his attention by all these grimaces. Perhaps you expect that Mr. Wilmot, for instance, may fall in love with your excessive modesty ? But you had better let all that alone, Mary Bell. Your good father would by no means approve it, I can tell you."
Mary Bell now yielded unresistingly to the impulse of her aunt's arm. Had she been leading her to the edge of a precipice for the avowed purpose of throwing her over it, she would have done the same.
“ Your cousin, Mary Bell, is willing to help you,” said Mrs. Belmont, as they approached the party. “ Nothing can be easier, you know, than for her to perform the part which she describes the child as having taken, in the representation she saw of a charade on this tiresome word.”
“Oh, what a dear good girl !" exclaimed Charlotte.“ How very kind of her. I declare I did not believe that she had half good-nature enough to do any such thing."
"Oh, yes ! Mary Bell can be very good-natured when she chooses it," said Margaret, laughing. “ Remember how promptly she wrote down her three words, before any one of us had began ours. But then to be sure, it was a gentleman who asked her, and that makes a difference sometimes. However, it is mamma that has done it now, and nobody can laugh at Mary Bell for that."
“ Laugh at her indeed! I am sure we are all excessively obliged to her,” said Richard, coming forward with an air of more civility, and Jess mockery, than he had ever before used in addressing her.
“ But please to observe,” cried William Belmont, that there is a great deal to be done yet before she can be ready. There is the dress to be thought of and to be made; and besides, she will have to practise."
“ We all know how fond Mary Bell is of stitching," said Richard, relaxing a little from his gratitude into his usual tone; so I shall recommend her sitting to work instantly, and manufacturing her infernal costume herself.”
“ But will Miss Bell really have to manufacture her own horns ?" demanded Morton, who had by this time become the pet of the whole family, from his happy propensity to joke-making. This sally about the horns delighted them all so greatly, and the image of Mary Bell assiduously preparing her own monstrocities, appeared to them só irresistibly comic, that notwithstanding the pressure of business at the moment, they one and all burst forth into a paroxysm of laughter, in which Morton joined as heartily as his modesty, at having produced it, would let him. Fanny, meanwhile, was doing l'impossible to keep Wilmot by her side, and to prevent him, as much as might be, from perceiving what was going on, till the hapless Mary Bell had gone too far to recede. She was making him hold one end of a wreath of flowers that she was adding to at the other, and his leaving it would evidently have been fatal to the operation. She had contrived, too, so to place him, that his back was turned towards the stage, and the party assembled on it; but when this burst of laughter caught his ear, he turned round, and his eye instantly catching the figure of Mary Bell in the midst of the party, though her pale face was in another direction, he inquired rather eagerly what was the cause of their mirth.
“ I am glad you can leave Fanny for one single moment,” exclaimed Margaret, “' for I think we shall want your assistance yet, before we shall actually be able to set Mary Bell at work. We have none of us forgotten the instantaneous effect of the gold pencil-case which you put into her hands when we were writing words. And now, if you please, Mr. Wilmot, we want you to put a steel-needle into her hands in exactly the same fascinating manner, for we want her to go to work without losing a moment.”
This speech produced perhaps more than its desired effect both on Wilmot and Mary Bell. 'He instantly determined that he would not be driven by the detestable vivacity of Miss Margaret, inlo abandoning the scheme he had laid down for himself, of keeping them all in ignorance of his intentions till the return of his beloved's father ; delighting in the idea of carrying her off from among them, as his bride, before they had recovered from their horror and astonishment upon finding upon which of the party his choice had fallen ;-for Charles Wilmot was not at all more blind than other young gentlemen of five thousand a year, to the extent of the field from among which he might have chosen without danger of rejection. No! nothing, he was quite determined, should induce him to abandon this scheme; and in order to avoid the danger of being tempted to betray himself, by interfering with too evident an interest in what was going on—which he doubted not was some new jest against his love, for the endurance of which she should soon be rewarded by unbounded happiness—to avoid this danger, he gently placed his end of the wreath between Fanny's fingers, and left the room. On Mary Bell, the effect of Margaret's words were more powerful still. The opening phrase, “ I am glad you can leave Fanny for a single moment," seemed to carry an arrow of fire through her heart; while those which followed, hinting at his influence upon herself, instantly determined her to do and to suffer whatever was proposed to her by her aunt and cousins, to prevent the possibility of seeming to be influenced by him.
“ You have half killed poor Wilmot !” said Fanny, as soon as the door closed behind him. The idea of seeing Mary Bell performing with horns and a tail, is too much, and he has ran away to enjoy a laugh that he thought it would be rude to indulge in here.
The bright-eyed Fanny, it must be observed, had her face turned towards the party, and therefore was perfectly aware of all that had been going on, though Wilmot had not.
“ Let us have a joke against Wilmot !” said Richard. “ Don't let him know any thing more about Mary Bell's acting then he does now, which I dare say he will forget when his laugh is over. It will be such good fun to see him stare when he sees her dressed up as a devil.”
This proposal was highly approved by the whole party, whose spirits were quite in alt again, at the idea of having conquered their difficulties, and Mary Bell was charged not to say a single word before him for her life. For her life? Could her life only have been sacrificed by her letting him know what was going on, he would not have been long ignorant of it, no, not though the piercing eyes of Fanny had been fixed on her as she betrayed it. But would ihey not have said that “she was endeavouring to draw his attention by her grimaces ?" This would have been worse than death, and this she was determined to avoid, let it cost her what it might.
Mrs. Belmont very judiciously decided that Mary Bell's own needle should not be the one employed to fabricate the dress that was to envelope her; and one of the women who had been for many days employed in making the theatrical costumes of the party, was set to work upon it. Nothing could be more ludicrous than the effect of the horns and firery eyes. The tail, still strongly advocated by Fanny, was out-voted by the rest, who, probably fearing that the poor girl might resist this addition, proposed that her body should be enveloped in a black and flame-coloured mantle, with nothing of monstrosity visible but the head. Richard judiciously pointed out to his cousin the completeness of the disguise, observing, that nobody could possibly find out whether it was a woman or a boy who performed it. This was evidently true, and though trembling in every joint, Mary Bell repeated her promise of appearing in it, only making the condition that she was to lay her hands upon his breast, and not to attempt the spring which had been previously proposed. After a little opposition, which they all pretty well knew would be in vain, this variation was agreed to; and at length every thing being completed, the dressed rehearsal took place on the evening preceding that fixed for the public performance. At this rehearsal Mary Bell was not present; an omission the more readily excused by the manager, because her dress was not completely ready, and gladly acceded to by the rest, for the sake of the fun they expected from witnessing Wilmot's puzzle, when the performance took place, as to who it was, at last, who was performing the Incubus. This indulgence enabled Mary Bell to absent herself entirely, and go to bed and greatly was she in want of this relief, for her struggles and agitation had made her very seriously ill, and had they felt her pulse, they might have doubted of their Incubus for the morrow.
At length that longed-for morrow came; the stage looked beautiful; the dresses were perfect; the performers in the highest possible spirits, and the company punctual, beyond the most sanguine hopes of the anxious manager; but Mary Bell had not yet appeared in the greenroom. Wilmot, who had been looking forward with no little delight to the exciting hurry and bustle of the performance, as likely to give him more opportunity than he had ever yet enjoyed of addressing from time to time, a few words to his beloved, without being very strictly watched as he thus indulged himself, began to feel a little fidgetty at her absence, and at last, under shelter of his well-practised indifference of voice and manner, he ventured to say, “ Will not Miss Bell come amongst us? I think she might be useful in many ways, though she does not act.”
Exceedingly well pleased at the tone and manner in which this was said, as well as at every thing else about her, Mrs. Belmont replied with the greatest good humour, " Oh dear, yes, poor little thing. I told her that she would be wanted behind the scenes, and I dare say she will be here presently ; but I rather suspect that she is giving some last touches of her incessant needle to the dress she is to wear at the little dance we are to have after supper.”
Mr. Wilmot strongly suspected on his side that this was, in plain English, a falsehood, and that it was greatly more likely that Mary Bell had been ordered to place herself on one of the farthest seats prepared for the audience, than that she should be employed as described. He was a good deal provoked at this, and remembering one or two recent manæuvrings of the susceptible Miss Fanny, gave her credit for having managed to keep her cousin out of his way. For a moment he felt a strong inclination to be mischievous, and to declare that he was taken ill and could not play. But many excellent reasons quickly occurred to prevent his doing any such thing. In the first place, he was really too good-natured; in the next, he felt partly sure that Mary Bell would contrive to see him and his acting, however well he might be prevented from seeing her; and thirdly, he recovered his good humour and his good spirits at once, by remembering in how short a time he should be able to convince Miss Fanny, without having recourse to any untruth whatever, that the laughed at, scorned, and scouted Butt of the family, was the chosen of his heart, instead of her bright-eyed intriguing self.
This last reflection made him spring across the stage with a bound, and descend in an attitude as light as that of the Bolognese John's Mercury, exactly behind the curtain, when he performed a succession of bows, in testimony of his impatience for its removal.
And it was removed, and a room full of elegantly dressed company was displayed to the actors, and an exquisitely pretty little stage, with a charming group of actors upon it, was made visible to the company. The whole thing went admirably, and Wilmot himself became too animated by the great applause bestowed on his acting, to feel more than a passing movement of vexation at the non-appearance of Mary Bell. He once more ventured to ask Mrs. Belmont why Miss Bell was not among them, but being told in reply that she had preferred being among the audience, he soothed himself with the pleasant conviction that the preference arose from her wish to see his acting to advantage, and the belief that she was looking at him, gave grace and