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sembly. At length the great, the important night arrived, "big with the fate" of many a rustic belle. The three professional fiddlers of the village were elevated on a table at one end of the hall, and every body pronounced it the very model of an orchestra. The candles (neither the oil nor the coal gas company had as yet penetrated so far as Hodnet) were tastefully arranged, and regularly snuffed. The floor was admirably chalked by a travelling sign-painter, engaged for the purpose; and the refreshments in an adjoining room, consisting of negus, apples, oranges, cold roast-beef, porter, and biscuits, were under the immediate superintendence of our very excellent friend, Mr Gilbert Cherryripe. At nine o'clock, which was considered a fashionable hour, the hall was nearly full, and the first country dance (quadrilles had not as yet poisoned the peace, and stirred up all the bad passions, of Hodnet) was commenced by the eldest son and presumptive heir of old Squire Thoroughbred, who conducted gracefully through its mazes the chosen divinity of his heart, Miss Wilhelmina Bouncer, only daughter of Tobias Bouncer, Esq., justice of peace in the county of Shropshire.
Enjoyment was at its height, and the three professional fiddlers had put a spirit of life into all things, when suddenly one might perceive that the merriment was for a moment checked, whilst a more than usual bustle pervaded the room. The stranger had entered it; and there was something so different in his looks and manner from those of any of the other male creatures, that every body surveyed him with renewed curiosity, which was at first slightly tinctured with awe. "Who can he be ?" was the question that instantaneously started up like a crocus in many a throbbing bosom. "He knows nobody, and nobody knows him ; surely he will never think of asking any body to dance."—" Dance!" said Miss Coffin, the apothecary's daughter, " I wonder who would dance with him?—a being whom we know no more about than we do of the man in the moon. Papa says, he looks for all the world likea quack doctor."—" I rather suspect," said Miss Bluebite, a starch spinster of fifty, who was considered the Madame de Stael of the village—" I rather suspect that he is an Irish fortune-hunter, come for the express purpose of running away with some of us. We ought to be upon our guard, I assure you." Miss Bluebite was said to have property to the amount of L.70 per annum, and, no doubt, concluded that she was herself the leading object of the adventurer's machinations. Had it been so, he must have been a bold adventurer indeed.
For a long time the stranger stood aloof from the dancers in a corner by himself, and people were almost beginning to forget his presence. But he was not idle; he was observing attentively every group, and every individual, that passed before him. Judging by the various expressions that came over his countenance, one would have thought that he could read character at a single glance—that his perceptions were similar to intuitions. Truth obliges me to confess, that it was not with a very favourable eye that he regarded the great majority of the inhabitants of Hodnet and its neighbourhood. Probably they did not exactly come up to his expectations; but what these expectations were, it is difficult to conceive.
At length, however, something like a change seemed to come over the spirit of his dreams. His eye fell on Emily Sommers, and appeared to rest where it fell with no small degree of pleasure. No wonder; Emily was not what is generally styled beautiful; but there was a sweetness, and modesty, a gentleness about her, that charmed the more the longer it was observed. She was the only child of a widowed mother. Her father had died many a year ago in battle; and the pension of an officer's widow was all the fortune he had left them. But nature had bestowed riches of a more valuable kind than those which fortune had denied. I wish I could describe Emily Sommers; but I shall not attempt it. She was one of those whose virtues are hid from the blaze of the world, only to be the more appreciated by those who can understand them. She was one of those who are seldom missed in the hour of festive gaiety, who pass unobserved in the midst of glare and bustle, and whose names are but rarely heard beyond the limits of their own immediate circle. But mingle with that circle; leave the busy world behind you, and enter within its circumscribed and domestic sphere, and then you will discover the value of a being like to her of whom I speak. Without her, the winter fire-side, or the summer evening-walk, is destitute of pleasure. Her winning smiles, her unclouded temper, her affectionate gentleness, must throw their hallowed influence over the scenes where her spirit presides, unconscious of its power, else they become uninteresting and desolate. I have said that she is not missed in the hour of festive gaiety; but when she is at length removed from among us, when the place that knew her knowsher no more, she leaves
"A void and silent place in some sweet home," and a "long remembered grief" throws its shadowy gloom over a few fond hearts.
It was to Emily Sommers that the stranger first spoke. He walked right across the room, and asked her to dance with him. Emily had never seen him before; but concluding that he had come there with some of her friends, and little acquainted with the rules of etiquette, she immediately with a frank artlessness, smiled an acceptance of his request. Just at that moment, young Squire Thoroughbred came bustling towards her; but observing her hand already in that of the stranger, he looked somewhat wrathfullyat the unknown, and said, with much dignity, " I, sir, intended to have been Miss Sommers's partner.'' The stranger fixed his dark eye upon the squire, a slight smile curled on his lip, and without answering, he passed on with his partner, and took his place in the dance. The squire stood stock still for a moment, feeling as if he had just experienced a slight shock of electricity. When he recovered he walked quietly away in search of Miss Wilhelmina Bouncer.
It was the custom in Hodnet for the gentlemen to employ the morning of the succeeding day in paying their respects to the ladies with whom they had danced on the previous evening. At these visits all the remarkable events of the ball were of course talked over. Criticisms were made upon the different dresses; commentaries were offered on the various modes of dancing; doubts were suggested regarding the beauty of Miss A ;suspicions were hinted as to the
gentility of Miss B ;Mr C—. was severely blamed for dancing
thrice with Miss D ;mutual inquiries were made about the odd
looking man, who introduced himself so boldly to Mrs and Miss Sommers, and who was reported even to have seen them home, or at least to have left the assembly along with them. We make no doubt that all this chit-chat was very interesting to the parties engaged in it; but as we have not the talents either of a Richardson or a Boswell, we shall not attempt to enter into its details, especially as our attention is more particularly devoted to the "odd-looking man" already spoken of.
It is most true that he did leave the public hall of Hodnet with Mrs and Miss Sommers, and true that he escorted them home. Nay, it is also true that he won so much upon their favour, that, on his requesting permission to wait upon them next day, it was without much difficulty obtained. This was surely very imprudent in Mrs Sommers, and every body said it was very imprudent. "What! admit as a visitor in her family a person whom she had never seen in her life before, and who, for any thing she knew, might be a swindler or a Jew! There was never any thing so preposterous;—. a woman too, of Mrs Sommers's judgment and propriety! It was very—very strange." But whether it was very strange or not, the fact is, that the stranger soon spent most of his time at Violet Cottage; and what is, perhaps, no less wonderful, notwithstanding his apparent intimacy, he remained nearly as much a stranger to its inmates as ever. His name, they had ascertained, was Burleigh— Frederick Burleigh, that he was probably upwards of eight-andtwenty, and that, if he had ever belonged to any profession, it must have been that of arms. But farther they knew not. Mrs Sommers, however, who, to a well cultivated mind, added a considerable experience of the world, did not take long to discover that their new friend was, in every sense of the word, a man whose habits and manners entitled him to the name and rank of a gentleman; and she thought, too, that she saw in him, after a short intercourse, many of those nobler qualities which raise the individual to a high and well merited rank among his species. As for Emily, she loved his society she scarcely knew why; yet when she endeavoured to discover the cause, she found it no difficult matter to convince herself, that there was something about him so infinitely superior to all the men she had ever seen, that she was only obeying the dictatesof reason in admiring and esteeming him.
Her admiration and esteem continued to increase in proportion as she became better acquainted with him, and the sentiments seemed to be mutual. He now spent his time almost continually in her society, and it never hung heavy on their hands. The stranger was fond of music, and Emily, besides being mistress of her instrument, possessed naturally a fine voice. Neither did she sing and play unrewarded; Burleigh taught her the most enchanting of all modem languages—the language of Petrarch and Tasso; and being well versed in the use of the pencil, showed her how to give to her landscapes a richer finish, and a bolder effect. Then they read together; and as they looked with a smile into each other's countenances, the fascinating pages of fiction seemed to acquire a tenfold interest It was a picture for Rubens to have painted, that little domestic circle beside the parlour fire; —Mrs Sommers, with her work-table beside her, and a benevolent smile and matron grace upon her still pleasing countenance,—her guest, with the glow of animation lighting up his noble features, reading aloud the impassioned effusions of genius, —and Emily, in all the breathlessness of fixed attention, smiling and weeping by turns, as the powerful master touched the chords of sensibility. These were evenings of calm, but deep happiness—long, long to be remembered.
Spring flew rapidly on. March with her winds and her clouds, passed away; April, with her showers and her sunshine, lingered no longer; and May came smiling up the blue sky, scattering her roses over the green surface of creation. The stranger entered one evening, before sunset, the little garden that surrounded Violet Cottage. Emily saw him from the window, and came out to meet him. She held in her hand an open letter; "It is from my cousin Henry," said she. "His regiment has returned from France, and he is to be with us to-morrow or next day. We shall be so glad to see him 1 You have often heard us talk of Henry?—he and 1 were playmates when we were children, and though it is a long while since we parted, I am sure I should know him again among a hundred."—" Indeed!" said the stranger, almost starting; "you must have loved him very much, and very constantly too."—" O yes! 1 loved him as a brother." Burleigh breathed more easily. "I am sure you will love him too," Emily added. "Every body whom you love, and who loves you, I also must love, Miss Sommers. But your cousin I shall not at present see. I must leave Hodnet to-morrow."—" Tomorrow! leave Hodnet to-morrow 1" Emily grew very pale, and leaned for support upon a sun-dial, near which they were standing. "Good heavens! that emotion—can it be possible?—Miss Sommers —Emily—is it for me you are thus grieved?"—" It is so sudden," said Emily, "so unexpected; are you never to return again,—are we never to see you more?"—" Do you wish me to return, do you wish to see me again?"—" Oh! how can you ask it?"—"Emily, I have been known to you under a cloud of mystery,—a solitary being without a friend or acquaintance in the world,—an outcast apparently from society,—either sinned against or sinning,—without fortune, without pretensions .,—and with all these disadvantages to contend with, how can I suppose that I am indebted to any thing but your pity for the kindness which you have shown to me?"—" Pity! pity you! O Frederick! do not wrong yourself thus. No! though you were a thousand times less worthy than I know you are, I should not pity, I should—" She stopped confused, a deep blush spread over her face, she burst into tears, and would have sunk to the ground had not her lover caught her in his arms. "Think of me thus," he whispered, " till we meet again, and we may both be happy.".—" O! I will think of thee thus for ever!" They had reached the door of the cottage. "God bless you, Emily," said the stranger: "I dare not see Mrs Sommers; tell her of my departure, but tell her that ere autumn has faded into winter, 1 shall again be here. Farewell, dearest! farewell!" She felt upon her cheek a hot and hurried kiss, and, when she ventured to look round, he was gone.
Henry arrived next day, but there was a gloom upon the spirits of both mother and daughter, which it took some time to dispel. Mrs Sommers felt for Emily more than for herself. She now perceived that her child's future happiness depended more upon the honour of the stranger than she had hitherto been aware, and she trembled to think of the probability that, in the busy world, he might soon forget the very existence of such a place as Hodnet, or any of its inhabitants. Emily entertained better hopes; but they were the result probably of the sanguine and unsuspicious temperament of youth. Her cousin, meanwhile, exerted himself to the utmost to render himself agreeable. He was a young, frank, handsome soldier, who had leapt into the very middle of many a lady's heart,—red coat, sword, epaulette-belt, cocked hat, feathers, a.id all. But he was not destined to leap into Emily's. She had enclos