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Florence to overcome the diffidence she felt, as | she encountered so many inquiring glances, not from Lady Melford's resident guests alone, but of many proud families in the neighbourhood, who generally passed her with very supercilious notice. The benevolent countenance of Lady Edgemere attracted her at once, and so pleased was she with that lady's flattering notice and encouraging conversation, that she was almost sorry when Frederic Melford came to claim her.
"So you will not follow Mary's example, Ida? On my honour I feel inclined to scold you even now," said Lord Edgemere, in a later part of the evening, as cavalier after cavalier approached his former ward, entreating her to dance, and each received the same courteous but firm reply. "All my powers of oratory, Mary's of persuasion, Lady Edgemere's of argument, your uncle's of satire, your aunt's of irritation, your cousin's of torment-have all been exhausted in vain. You laugh at my lengthy catalogue-how unfeeling, triumphing over this waste of breath! Ida, what a report I will write Edmund! Now, there is the smile vanished, as if his very name demanded the banishment of joy. You little incomprehensible enigma, when shall I solve you?"
"Will not his name solve my reason for not dancing?" inquired Lady Ida, in a voice so low and quivering, that Lord Edgmere, even while he answered jestingly, pressed the delicate hand which rested on his arm.
"Truly it will not, for Edmund loved to watch your graceful movements in the dance, even when he could not join in it himself."
"And while I am dancing, listening, perhaps, to a dozen unmeaning speeches, attracting the attention of every eye, because, of course, as Lady Ida Villiers, I might not hope to go through a crowded quadrille unremarked-he may be ill, and in lonely sorrow, the void in his faithful heart unfilled, even by his most-loved studies, dreaming of me, and my promise to be his alone! And should I be fulfilling this promise, attracting the notice, the applause of a crowd? Oh, Lord Edgemere, is it strange that I cannot dance?" She spoke with strong, though suppressed emotion, and Lord Edgemere at once entered into her feelings. Quickly recovering, she said cheerfully, "You will ask me, with these feelings, why I gave the ball at all? Because I could not bear to be so selfish as to refuse Emily such a trifle; and those who paid me such continued attention, certainly demanded some return."
"You have done very wisely, my dear Ida. To conciliate is so infinitely more agreeable than to offend, that it is worth some sacrifice of individual will. You have gratified many; soothed, perhaps offended pride; given scope to kindly feelings-"
"I fear to unamiable ones too," interposed Lady Ida.
"Perhaps so; for when was there a ball whose ordeal every one could pass unscathed? Yet still there appears to me a larger share of happiness in these rooms than in some of our crowded assemblies in London. I am sure, if ever face spoke
truth, there is one person perfectly happy; look at Miss Leslie now."
In the midst of a gay throng Florence was standing, listening, and sometimes joining in the merry conversation of Emily Melford and her attendant beaux, with such sparkling animation lighting up every feature that it was impossible to pass her unremarked. Just at the moment that Lord Edgemere had directed Lady Ida's attention towards her, one of Strauss's most inspiring waltzes struck up, and several couples were instantly formed.
"Come Florence, one turn-only one; have pity on Alfred, who has been asking you so long; and he is no stranger. You may waltz with him," entreated Emily, ere she departed with her partner, and her brother was not slow to follow up the hint.
"You really must waltz, Miss Leslie; it will be a treat to have a genuine lover of dancing to waltz with. You say you love dancing, and yet not waltz; indeed you do not know what dancing is-ask Emily-ask Lady Mary."
"Will she stand firm ?" whispered Lord Edgemere to his companion, as Florence, shrinking back, entreated to be excused, resisting even Emily's declaration, that she did not know how ridiculous she appeared refusing to do what every body else did.
"You know you can waltz, Florence," she persisted," and much better than I do."
deed you have no excuse.
the least fatigued. I own I have waltzed in sport "Indeed it is; and I assure you I am not in very often, but not here-not now indeed—indeed Mr. Melford you must excuse me.'
an English dance now. There is not the least
rence is my charge, and I am here to redeem
"Oh, if Ida upholds you in your perverseness, Miss Florence, there is no hope; so I will make my parting bow, and vanish," he said, and darted off to join the waltzers with some less scrupulous partner.
"I give you joy of your conquest, Miss Leslie," said Lord Edgemere, smiling kindly. "If incapacity and subsequent real disinclination, had incited your firmnesss, you would have achieved no conquest at all; but when principle triumphs thing as a waltz." over inclination, I honour it, even in such a small
Florence blushed deeply, but not with pain; | from weak repining, or fretful regret. Early in wondering how Lord Edgemere could so exactly May, Lord Melford's family were to quit St. have divined the truth-for no true lover of dancing John's. This, though a privation (for Florence (if such a person in these days of art can be found) liked Emily, in spite of the wide dissimilarity ever yet listened to an inspiring waltz, without the of their characters and tastes), was one easily longing desire to join in it. borne compared to the severer trial awaiting her in the departure of Lord Edgemere's party towards the end of April, taking Lady Ida Villiers with them.
"Do you waltz, Lady Ida?" she asked. "Not very often; I have done so when it would have seemed greater affectation to refuse, than love of display to do so. But I am not very fond of it; it is an exercise too exciting, too absorbing, ever to be a favourite amongst genuine English women; and with your passionate love of dancing, Florence, you are right to resist all persuasions, and not waltz. All Emily's sage resolutions to that effect have, I perceive, melted into air. I am glad you are firmer."
Florence was satisfied.
Pleasures, however transporting, unhappily cannot last. No chain-be it of gold, or pearl, or flowers can bind the stubborn wings of time, and bid him loiter on his way. He spurns the fetter, darkly, sternly, rushing on; and bright indeed must be the joys which fade not beneath his step. The festive scene at length closed. Not indeed till the blue light of morning struggled to regain dominion over the earth. Carriage after carriage rolled from the gates, bearing with them for the most part memories of pleasure often recalled with a sigh; until at last, Lord Melford's family and their resident guests remained sole occupants of St. John's.
Believing with the wise personage, who wrote, said, or left as legacy, the sage adage that
"Trifles make the sum of human life;" and also, that it is in trifles, infinitely clearer than in great deeds, that the actual character is displayed, we have lingered, perhaps too long, on the first part of our narrative, hoping that our readers may feel some interest in, and judge somewhat of the character of, our youthful heroine; destined ere the sober grey of life came on, to figure in widely different scenes.
The perfect happiness of Florence, she herself knew, must very soon be clouded; and she roused every unselfish feeling of her nature to save her
"Remember, Florence, if it should happen that in anything you need me, if my friendship or influence can be of any service to you, write to me without scruple," had been Lady Ida's parting address, in a tone of sincerity which Florence never forgot. "You are very young, but with such a mother your character will not change; and if I meet again the Florence Leslie whom I leave, trust me you will find me still the same, however the kind world may tell you that our respective ranks place an insuperable barrier between us."
Florence had tried to smile, but found the effort
Lady Ida departed-and oh! how sad and lonely did every pursuit and pleasure, for a brief while, seem. But she had gone to happiness; and though when Florence received a few hurried lines from her, telling her she was on the eve of quitting England, and in a very few weeks expected to join Mr. St. Maur, who was already at Nice, the conciousness of the many miles of sea and land dividing them, pressed heavily on her affectionate heart, she could and did rejoice that the time of probation was at an end, and Lady Ida might indeed be happy with him whom she so faithfully and devotedly loved.
From Emily Melford, who was her constant correspondent, she heard all further particulars of the happy termination of the voyage and journey; and next of her marriage, for St. Maur was so wonderfully recovered there was no occasion for further delay; and then, by degrees, of their fixing their residence for some few years in a beautiful villa in the neighbourhood of Rome, and that they were as happy as mortals might be.
Not long after Lady Ida left Devonshire, some changes took place in Florence Leslie's domestic life, which must not be passed unnoticed. We have said or hinted, that Mr. Leslie was not a rich man. Nay, for the rank which his birth and education entitled him to fill, he was decidedly poor. Some few months before Lady Ida came to Devonshire, a friend had brought to his recollection a long-neglected law-suit, which had been commenced by the grandfather of Mr. Leslie for the recovery of an estate, which it was generally supposed had been alienated from the family by some chicanery of the supposed heir and his lawyer.
William Leslie, the person then concerned, died, before much more than preliminaries had been arranged. His son, an easy country gentleman, satisfied with the moderate fortune he possessed, never even examined the papers left to his charge, leaving his son, at his death, if not affluent, at least a comfortable competence. With the present Mr. Leslie, however, business had been unfortunate; and he retired to Devonshire, in compliance with the wishes of his wife, to economize, till
Walter's dawning manhood might require their home to be in London.
sufficient to authorize his claims, and in his hands
We must pass lightly over the next few years in
He had sometimes heard his father speak of an estate which ought to be their own, but regarded it little, until just before the opening of our tale. The estate became again without a master, and many old friends of Mr. Leslie urged his putting forth his claims, as well as those of the supposed heir-at-law. Mr. Leslie was so far ambitious, that for the interest of his children he would have done and risked much; and eagerly seeking the long forgotten papers, he employed himself actively in looking for a lawyer, of sufficient skill and probity, to undertake the delicate business. In vain Mrs. Leslie, far more clear-sighted than himself, entreated him to forego his claims. It appeared to her, from the papers of the former lawsuit, which she had attentively perused, that their claims were not merely remote but unfounded; or at least, not so well authenticated and proved as to ensure success. She reminded him of the expense which the carrying on the suit must occasion; she entreated him, with all the eloquence of affection, to remain contented with their present mode of life. They were not like others, absolutely dependent on exertion or some lucky chance for sufficiency. They needed economy for a few years, certainly; but they had capital, which, if not drained by unnecessary calls, would amply provide for their daughters, and settle Walter in business, where he might carve out his own fortune; a far happier lot than awaited those to whom fortune descended without exertion or ambition of their own. Mr. Leslie might have been convinced, had there not been those troublesome meddlers, misnamed friends, who spoke of henpecked husbands, and the egregious folly of having competence and wealth and distinction awaiting them, yet failing in the mental courage and independentistence! spirit for the exertion necessary to obtain them.
These arguments had a powerful advocate in Mr. Leslie's own inclination. There was much, he felt convinced, in his son beyond what met the common eye, and he shrunk from binding him to mere mechanical employment; for him, beyond even the interests of his daughters, he longed for wealth, that Walter's uncommonly gifted mind might have scope to develop itself, and that those higher spheres of employment to which his inclination prompted might be pursued, without the cold and sordid calculations which inevitably attend mere competence.
There was much in these considerations nearly and sadly to affect Mrs. Leslie. Yet she urged that, economically as they at present lived, this same end might still be accomplished; entreating him to recollect that Walter's interests might be far more irretrievably wrecked by the loss of the suit, and its attendant heavy drains on their little capitil. But Mr. Leslie never dreamed of loss. He felt so convinced in his own mind of the justice of his claims, so fully persuaded, that all the necessary expenses would be but as dust in the balance compared to the possession of a rich and unencumbered estate, that he laughed aside all her fears, declar ing that the papers had been examined by an exceedingly clever lawyer, and pronounced as quite
Florence Leslie was not a character to fall from the promise of high and noble virtue which the early age of seventeen had appeared to give. The impression of Lady Ida's faultless qualities and most endearing character could not fade from an imagination ardent as her own. It was continually before her eyes, inciting her to many of those trifling acts of self-denial and moral strength, which might otherwise have been unperformed.
At seventeen a girl's character is seldom fully formed. It is the first opening of life; its first susceptibility of enjoyment; its first consciousness of power, of feeling, of perfect happiness, unalloyed even by those whisperings of our innate corruption, to which we only awake by degrees. All things seem as bright, as fond, as innocent, as our own minds: love! love breathes around us in nature as in man: we see nothing of the universal curse, but all of the universal love! We may hear of sin and suffering, but they are things afar off, and of little moment. Some deem childhood the happiest season of life; but oh! surely it is youth.
Childhood is but a dream, containing, indeed, the germs of after being, not the flowers themselves. It is the threshold of spring, but not spring itself. No! spring, like youth, comes in the sudden flood of sunshine-kindles with magic touch the senseless seed into the fragrant flower-converts the laughter of the moment into the deeper smile of the heart-the weary toil of task and restraint into the springy freedom, the buoyant hope, the bright unfading glory of life awakened, beautiful ex
But even as it is the season of guilelessness, of joy, of good that thinketh no evil, so is it of impression. The heart and mind, like wax, are moulded to whatever form the hand of affection points; and happy is it for those whose first friendships, whose early associations, are with those capable of impressing there nothing but the good. We are writing generally; but perhaps it is only to those peculiarly ardent and clinging dispositions of which Florence Leslie was one, to whom these remarks are applicable. There are girls, even of seventeen, so wrapt in self, that the material of the heart is of stone instead of flesh; and others again are content to flutter through the brief period of existence, with neither strength of impulse nor power of imagination, and consequently laugh at all things which speak of thought or feeling.
Gradually the character of Florence deepened-her intellect expanded; and as the girl merged into the woman if her wild and joyous spirits were in part subdued, there was a truth, a firmness of principle, a powerful sense of religion, a yet deeper capability of suffering and enduring, which, to those capable of appreciating, or even of understanding her, would have rendered her at twenty still more deserving of love. But Emily Melford was right. It did, indeed, appear as if by the encouragement of these lofty and glowing feelings, her
doom was to stand alone, to meet with none to whom she could lay bare her whole heart; with few who did not smile at aught of sentiment or action higher than was common; and so at length it was only within her own circle that Florence Leslie was really known.
There was one person, however, who, though a stern, forbidding aspect, prevented many from thinking aloud before her, could yet (strange to say), afford to love, and had sense to appreciate our youthful heroine. This was a Mrs. Rivers, a distant relation of Mr. Leslie, with whom intercourse had been continually kept up, which was more intimately renewed some little time after Lady Ida's departure.
The peculiarly chilling character of this lady had been formed by a most extraordinary train of deceit and falsehood in persons whom she had loved and trusted. From having been one of the most affectionate and most confiding beings, she became the coldest and most forbidding-from trusting all, she trusted none; not at least in appearance, for it was shrewdly suspected that a young girl whom she had adopted, and to whom it was supposed she would leave all her property, which was considerable, possessed her affections in the warmest degree. This orphan, by name Flora Leslie, was the only remaining relative of Mr. Leslie who bore his name: relative, indeed, she could hardly be called, as their cousinship was five or six degrees removed, though the similarity of name often caused the supposition of a much nearer consanguinity.
The residence of Mrs. Rivers was near Winchester, and thither Florence was repeatedly invited as a companion to Flora, with whom, however, she speedily found she had not a thought in common; finding much more to excite her interest and affection in Mrs. Rivers herself. To her she was so invariably attentive and respectful, that the lady might have descended from her pedestal of coldness and pride, and trusted once again, had she not still feared to find those endearing qualities deceitful as before. That Flora Leslie was of a most unamiable temper, possessing a remarkable scarcity of attractive or endearing qualities, was her safeguard in the opinion of Mrs. Rivers, particularly as the young lady had hypocrisy enough ever to bewail these faults, and to pretend to correct them; and thus, by the most consummate art, she deceived by a completely contrary process to her predecessors. Florence speedily penetrated this, and turned from her with loathing; but how might her lips warn Mrs. Rivers of the precipice on which her last attachment seemed to stand. How descend to so mean a deed as to poison her mind against an orphan dependant on her for support. She neither could nor would act thus; contenting herself rather with continuing her simple true-hearted kindness towards Mrs. Rivers; often sacrificing her own inclinations and favourite duties to comply with her request, and make some stay at Woodlands.
We ought, perhaps, to have mentioned in its proper place, that Mr. Leslie's desire to be on the spot to superintend the proceeding of his lawsuit, urged him to give up his beautiful little retreat in Devonshire, and reside in the metropolis; thus materially increasing his expenditure, though the family lived as economically as possible, and as materially decreasing their domestic comforts and enjoyments. Mr. Leslie was far too honourable to live beyond his present means, because he confidently trusted his future would bring wealth; and when economy must be consulted, and observers of that economy are of birth and education, London does not possess one quarter of the happiness or the true enjoyment of the country. There, pleasures the most innocent, the most healthful, the most reviving, await the economist at every turn, without the smallest tax upon his finances. Not thus is it in the metropolis. It has indeed many avenues of improvement, of pleasure, of true enjoyment; but they are for those to whom money is no object, time of little value; not for that noble set of economists, who, rather than indulge in the expense attendant on pleasure, would forego it altogether.
Mrs. Leslie's delicate health had prevented their keeping much society even in Devonshire. In London they kept still less; for in the environs of this great city, as in the city itself, people may live next door to each other for years, and never know more than their respective names; and, therefore, though in a populous neighbourhood, the Leslies lived in comparative solitude.
It so happened that neither Mr. nor Mrs. Leslie had any near relation, or even connections, both having been only children, and the latter, in fact, an orphan from her earliest years.
All these things considered, it was no very great wonder that London to Florence Leslie was in truth a prison, compared with the joys, the freedom, and, above all, the associations of the country. Yet she was happy, for her mind could create its own resources, and outward excitement she needed not. Her domestic circle was sufficient to call forth all the affection, the animation of her nature. The opening mind, the bird-like joyousness of Minie; the far higher character of Walter, even the anxiety his delicate health occasioned, bound her closer, and closer to them both; till with the vivid memories of Lady Ida, and the lively correspondence of Emily Melford, which, marvellous to relate, continued the length of two full years, Florence's simple nature needed no more. did sometimes think it strange, that during the three months which the Melfords passed in town, Emily should never make any exertion to see her, or renew the intercourse between the families; but for the first few years, Florence was too happy in herself to feel it as neglect. She had no particular need of their kindness, so did not miss it. Alas! it is only in the time of sorrow, only when we most need kindness, that we awake to the bitter consciousness of coldness and neglect.
Meanwhile time passed. Two, and nearly three years, and Mr. Leslie's law-suit appeared making
no progress whatever towards a favourable com- | pletion; calling, indeed, for multplied expenses, which he met willingly, because unalterably convinced that success would attend him at last; a conviction shared with all the buoyant anticipation of youth by his son, to whom, much against Mrs. Leslie's consent, his hopes and expectations had been imparted.
Walter looked not to riches as means of sensual pleasure and intemperate indulgences. Inheriting, unhappily, the sickly constitution of his mother, a severe illness, soon after he was fifteen, deprived him of all taste for boyish pleasures, and gave him but one great desire to become mentally great. Tastes and powers suddenly awakened within him never felt before. He had always been remarkably intellectual; but with the sudden conception of poetry, painting, sculpture, all those links of a higher, more etherial nature, his former joyous spirits changed to a sensitiveness, an almost morbid susceptibility of feeling.
He gave the whole energy of mind and heart to his studies. It mattered not what subject they embraced; he mastered them with an ease, a capability of comprehension, which caused both his father and himself to laugh at the fancy, that by too much application he was injuring his already but too precarious health.
she had never deemed anything more than the courtesy of the hour. Mr. Leslie was unusually urgent in forwarding young Sedley's suit, more so than Florence could at all comprehend. It needed all her firmness, all her eloquence, all her caresses, to win him over to her views, and obtain his consent for the decided dismissal of her admirer.
During Lady Ida's intimacy with Florence, Walter had been at school in London; but he had never been happy there: either the close air did not agree with him, or the regular and somewhat confined routine of lessons and exercises cramped his energies, and permitted no vent to his higher talents. After his severe illness, he, of course, remained at home, studying of his own accord, and with little assistance of masters. At seventeen, the air of the north being recommended, Mr. Leslie placed him, to his great delight, with a clergyman in Westmoreland; and there it was that all his natural endowments in poetry and painting burst upon him with a flash, a brilliancy, lighting up his whole being with new powers, and new life; banishing all trace of too morbid sensitiveness, or too depressing gloom, and bringing in their stead such a glowing sense of joy, such a consciousness of power, that even the desire of wealth lost all its strength, for he believed he possessed gifts within him, which would make their own way, compel a world to acknowlege them, and wreath his humble name with the bright garland of immortal renown. Alas! poor boy, he knew not how much more than to other minds is independence necessary for the happiness of genius
Florence had just completed her twentieth year, when, to her great astonishment, she received through her father an offer of marriage, from a highly respectable young man whom she had met now and then at Woodlands, but whose attentions
He said that she knew not the advantage it would be, almost the necessity there existed for her to enter early into a respectable matrimonial engagement; an argument she could not understand. True, she said that she knew if the lawsuit were unfortunately lost, his fortune would be materially diminished; but could he think that she would shrink from aught of privation shared with her family? rather she would remain to work for them, to save their beautiful and childlike Minie, all necessity to quit her home. She could not enter the holy engagement of matrimony, without feeling either respect or love for him whom she must solemnly vow to love, honour, and obey; she could not marry simply for worldly advantages. Mr. Leslie said it was not to mere worldly views he referred, but then checked himself, agitated to a degree yet more startlingly incomprehensible to his daughter, more particularly as her mother shared it. Terrified, she knew not wherefore, she threw herself on Mrs. Leslie's neck, exclaiming in extreme emotion:
Mrs. Leslie's anxious spirit often trembled ; "If your happiness, your interests, my beloved but it was more at his faultless temper, his confi- parents, are in any way concerned in this intended ding and affectionate heart, his extraordinary sense marriage, only tell me, and I will school my spirit of religious trust and dependence. Yet, oh! how till I can make the sacrifice; only tell me, do could a mother, as she looked upon and traced the not deceive me; does this alliance concern your many virtues of her boy, wish it had been other-welfare, as well as the supposed advantages to wise? how breathe the secret dread, that he seemed but lent to earth?
myself? does it affect you in any way? Tell me but the truth-the whole truth-do not terrify me by mysteries which I cannot solve; say but the word, if indeed it be for you."
“Florence, my child! it was but for yourself I spoke," replied her father, for Mrs. Leslie could but strain the weeping girl to her heart in silence; "solemly I pledge my word, I thought but of your interests, your happiness, and welcomed this offer as insuring you an independent home and station, which neither circumstance nor accident could affect."
"But why should I need these things more than others, father? why should you banish me from your hearth-your name?"
It was a very simple question, but Mr. Leslie's answer was, as if it said more to his wife and to himself than she had meant. He caught her convulsively in his arms, passsionately exclaiming—
"You are right, my blessed child! quite, quite right. Why, indeed, should I banish you from my name and hearth? No-no-you shall never change them, save for those you may love better. Florence, darling! forgive your father. I have been too urgent, but it was for you, my child, only for you."
And hastily releasing her, he quitted the room, leaving Florence in a state of such indefinable dread, that her mother compelled herself to calmness to soothe her, assuring her that they had but spoken for her good; her father's interest were in no ways affected, and that she knew a little thing disturbed him now. Florence wept away her