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Source global Wall Street Journal     time 2022-06-14 03:46:29
Typefacelarge in Small

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This apartment was very handsomely proportioned, and furnished in a sumptuous style. It abounded in light and looking-glasses, and the two young girls then under the hands of their respective maids had the advantage of seeing themselves reflected many times in mirrors fixed and mirrors movable. Their ball-room toilette was almost complete, and the smaller supplementary articles of their paraphernalia of adornment were strewn about the room in pretty profusion. "We are very nearly ready, aunt Lucy," replied Eleanor; "are there any people come yet?" "Yes, the Congreves, and Rennies, and Comrie of Largs; they always make a point of being the first arrivals and the last departures everywhere," said Mrs. Carteret, as she profited by the long mirror which formed the reverse of the door by which she had entered to rearrange the folds of her remarkably becoming dress of blue satin and silver. "Pray make haste, Gerty. It does not so much matter about Nelly, but you really must be in the reception-room before any more people come. Just imagine your not being there when Lord and Lady Gelston arrive, or even Sir Maitland and Lady Cardeness." Mrs. Haldane Carteret was a woman of perfectly well-proportioned mind. She knew how to define the distinctions of rank as accurately as a king-at-arms, and could balance the comparative turpitude of a slight to a baron with that of a slight to a baronet with quite a mathematical nicety of precision. "Almost ready, aunt Lucy. Only my gloves and bracelets to put on, and then I am ready. But I certainly shall not go down without Nelly; she would get on much better without me than I should without her" (here the girl smiled as her mother had smiled in the brief days of her happy and contented love). "We should have been ready sooner, but that we took a final scamper off to the guests' rooms to see how Rose had disposed of Mr. Meredith and Mr. Ritherdon." "Ah, by the bye, I suppose they have arrived," said Mrs. Carteret; "I must go and see them. I will come back again, and I hope you will both be ready." In a few minutes the preparations were complete, and the two young girls were receiving the unequivocal compliments of their maids and their mirrors. Happy, joyous, hopeful, handsome creatures they looked, as they stood, their arms entwined, surveying their lithe, graceful, white-robed figures with natural pride and very pardonable vanity. The glance of the elder girl dwelt only passingly upon herself; it turned then to dwell upon her sister with delight, with exultation. "How beautiful you look, my darling Nelly! I am sure no one in the room will be able to compare with you to-night." "Not you, Gertrude? Are you not the queen of the ball in every sense? Depend upon it, no one will have eyes to-night for any one except the heiress of the Deane." "Then every one will be blind and foolish," returned Gertrude, as she gave the speaker a sisterly push; "and there are a few whom I don't think that of, Nelly. Don't you dread the idea of the speech-making at supper? I do, and uncle Haldane does, because he will have to return thanks for me; and I'm sure everybody else does, because Lord Gelston is so frightfully long-winded and historical, and so tremendously well up in the history of all the Meritons and all the Baldwins, and who married, and whom, and when they did it, and there's no stopping him when he starts; however, we must think of the dancing and the fun, and not remember the dreadful speeches until they come to be made." "I daresay you won't mind them so much when the time comes." said Nelly, with the least touch of something unpleasant in her voice; "at all events, I need not--they will not make any speeches about _me_, that's a comfort!" "My darling Nelly! as if I thought about it for _myself_. If you must listen and look pleased at tiresomeness, what does it matter of what is _apropos_? and where is the difference between you and me?" "Very present, very perceptible, after this day," said Nelly; "no one will fail to keep it in mind. Did you not notice what aunt Lucy said? My being ready or not did not matter, but the presence of 'the heiress of the Deane' was indispensable." "I did hear it," said Gertrude, turning a flushed cheek and a deprecatory glance upon her sister; "and did you not hear what I said? But here come aunt Lucy and Rose." The entry of Rose Doran was the signal for enthusiastic comments on the appearance of the two young girls, and the little cloud which had threatened for a moment to gather over the sisters was joyously dissipated. Mr. Dugdale wished to see them in his sitting-room, Rose said, before they went downstairs, and she had come to bring them to him. "You'll have time enough to let the old gentleman have a peep at you, my darlings," said the good woman, whose eyes were moist with the rising tears produced by many associations which almost overpowered the admiration and delight with which she regarded the girls; "though there's a dale o' quality come, they're all in the study, makin' sure of their cloaks and things, or drinkin' coffee and chattin' to one another. So go to the old man, my girls; he won't keep ye a minute." "He surely won't disappoint us," exclaimed Gertrude; "he promised to come down, and he _must_!" "So he will, alanna," said Rose, using the same term of endearment, and in the same soothing tone, with which she had been wont to assuage Gertrude's griefs in her childhood--"never you fear, so he will, when the room is full, and he can get round behind the people to his own chair in the corner; only he wants a look at you all to himself first." "Then I will go on," said Mrs. Haldane in rather a vexed tone. "You will find me in the morning room; and pray, Gerty, make no delay." Then Mrs. Haldane walked majestically away, her blue and silver train rustling superbly over the crimson-velvet carpet of the long, wide corridor, which, like the grand staircase, was of polished oak. Mr. Dugdale's rooms at the Deane were in a quiet and secluded part of the spacious house, attainable by a small staircase which was approached by a curtained archway opening off the corridor into which the girls' rooms opened. The rooms were handsome, though not large, and were luxuriously furnished, but they were chiefly remarkable for the numerous evidences of feminine care, taste, and industry in their arrangement. The comfortable and the ornamental were dexterously united in these rooms, in which needlework abounded, and whose most prized decorations were the work of the pencils of the two girls. The apartments consisted of three rooms--bedroom, dressing-room, and sitting-room, the latter lined with books, and bearing many indications that the studies, tastes, and habits which had occupied James Dugdale's youth and manhood had lightened the burden of his infirmities, and taken the deadly sting out of his sorrows, were not abandoned now in his old age. And in truth this was the case; the feebleness which had invaded the delicate and sensitive frame more and more surely with each succeeding year, had not touched the mind. That was strong, active, bright, full of vitality still, promising extinction or even dimness only with the dissolution of the frame. In his frequent fits of thinking about himself, and yet out of himself--as though he were contemplating the problems presented by the existence, and pondering the future, of another--James Dugdale was wont to wonder at his own tenacity of life. Ever since his youth he had been a sufferer in body, and had sustained great trials of mind; he had been always more or less feeble, and of the nervous febrile temperament which is said (erroneously) to wear itself out rapidly. But he had lived on and on, and the young, the strong, the prosperous, the happy, had passed before him, and been lost in the dimness of the separation of death. He had been carefully dressed by his servant for the festivities of the evening, and had laid down upon the couch beside the windows of his sitting-room, from which a beautiful view was to be had in the daytime, through which the summer moonlight was streaming now, and had fallen into a reverie. His mind was singularly placid, his memory was singularly clear to-night, as he lay still, listening to the stir in the house, his face turned from the light of the candles which burned on the tables and the mantelpiece; and passing in mental review the persons and the events of long years ago. How perfectly distinct and vivid they were to-night--his parents, his boyhood, the time when it was first discovered that he must never expect to be a healthy, vigorous man--his student days and their associations, the friends of that period of his life! Hayes Meredith was a young man--how curiously his memory reproduced him; and then his cousin Sibylla, his sole kinswoman and his steady friend--the old man who had loved him so well, and the sad dark episode of Margaret's marriage. How plainly he could see Godfrey Hungerford, and how distinctly he could recall the instinctive dislike, suspicion, repulsion he had caused him, and which he early learnt to know was bitter jealousy! Baldwin and Lady Davyntry, that kind, sympathising friend of later days--she whom he still mourned with a poignancy which time had blunted in the case of the others;--it was hard to understand, very wonderful to realise, that they were dead and he alive--he went on with his ordinary life betimes, and did not think about it much, but to-night it seemed impossible.


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