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by Philip's host, Robert Cotton, Esq., brother-in-law and fellow merchant of the great Aldair.
A right worthy man was Robert Cotton : was said to be not so well to do as formerly, but his house was still frequented by troops of friends who, if they found his hospitalities less lavish, were amply compensated by the good gentleman's kindly interest in their pleasures, and the charming society of his accomplished daughter Mary. Though only three years older than her cousin Emily, Miss Cotton looked quite a woman, and already evinced several unmistakable signs of old-maidism. But she wore her rue with a difference, and looked such a sweet, thoughtful, tender old maid that many
man had thought her good enough to be his wife, all of which thoughts Mary had laughed into silence as soon as intimated, for Mary's mother was dead, and Mary was not the sort of girl to desert a kind indulgent father for a young, and ardent lover.
No wonder Philip found himself at ease in such a home, in a home whose owner (merchant though he was) made no scruple of asserting that an educated pennyless gentleman was always the peer, and often the superior, of a shopkeeper prince. Of course had Mr. Cotton been aware of the precise nature of the relationship existing between his new guest and his brother-in-law's daughter, he would have known what was his duty, and would have done it too in some considerate tender fashion. Meanwhile, the young musician was greeted with frank honest smiles, was free to laugh, and sing, and dance
, with the great Aldair's daughter, and Mr. Abraham Moss's selected bride, careless of the approaching doom as the swallows of the winter. For him, as for them, there was no future. His former jealousy and misery passed like an April shower, and to love and sing and flirt in the sunshine was enough.
A PICNIC--A HISTORY AND A PROPOSAL.
Ever solicitous of the pleasure of his Mary and her friends, Mr. Cotton was in the habit of complying with her request and whims to an extent that might have spoiled any lesscontented or less sensible girl. One day, soon after Philip's. advent, Mary wanted a picnic party — the Carters, their neighbours, had had a picnic party, and Mary had enjoyed it so much !—“We really must have a picnic party.”
So the kind old ex-Alderman set himself to work with all his habitual energy to find out the nature, localities, and exigencies of picnic parties in general. Finding it impossible to get up the affair with the secrecy and perfection he desired, he took Mr. Fane, as the most experienced of his acquaintances into his confidence, and desired that gentleman to spare no cost in providing an entertainment worthy Mr. Cotton's position, and equal to his daughter's expectations.
Alaric joyfully undertook the task, only conditioning that his accounts should not be challenged.
It was a wonderful picnic. All the young people of the Cotton's acquaintance were there, all except Mr. Moss, who had, fortunately, been overlooked.. And there were musicians to enliven them, and flowers, and bonbon bizarres, and wines, and provisions of the most delicate, the most unheard of, sumptuousness and variety, all piled in the boats which, all trimmed with festive colours, were moored at the river's edge waiting for the assembling guests. There was nobody dissatisfied, because somebody else was not invited; there was no discussion as to who should sit here or who should sit there; there was nothing forgotten, nothing unprovided; all was as pleasantly arranged as never picnic was before. Even the clerk of the weather, that sworn enemy of all such follies, forgot his old spite, and the morning sun shone mildly down from a cloudless sky. Oh, how the water laughed as it rippled over the splashing oars, for all the rowers were not Cambridge oarsmen like Alaric Fane. But that only made the fun the greater, as it sprinkled the spray over the ladies
faces and their imperishable dresses. Then the ladies themselves had to take an oar, and so there was a pretty performance. Thus laughter grew and the boats sped merrily on over the bright water.
It was understood that the party was to proceed as far asStaines, there disembark, and make its camp under the shade of a great tree, to lunch, and afterwards to drop leisurely to Richmond hill, that being deemed a more convenient spot for losing each other when the general glee grew tame.
With his usual magnanimity Alaric placed his rival (who of course was present) and Emily Aldair together, although he might, as Captain of the party, justly have taken the coveted seat himself. He must have bitterly repented his generosity before the day was over. Emily and Philip, with the unconscious selfishness of lovers, no sooner found themselves side by side than they became oblivious of everybody but each other.
Oh, it was very good to see them sitting there so happy, in the first glow of youth and love, she so pretty, he so fresh and exultant, thought Mr. Cotton, as he sat with his arm round Mary's waist in another boat. He smiled on them as they passed, and thought he had never before seen a prettier pair. And Alaric sat tugging at his oars with a laughing, careless face, and a heart more bitter than a galley-slave's.
Now the latter had resolved that he would this day put an end to a certain suspense which had long lain aching on his heart, It is true he had little hope, but his good sense told him that his chance was slowly dwindling. When therefore, near the close of the day, Mary drew Emily aside, and, under the pretence of showing her a new point of the landscape, led her up a lonely lane away from the rest, Alaric watched his opportunity, and, escaping unobserved, he followed them.
In a few minutes he discovered the deserters sitting on the gnarled root of an oak, Mary was talking very earnestly and Emily was crying.
“Ha, my Rosalind and Celia, I have found you at last," cried Alaric, trying to look merry with a very ill success. “What, tears ! ” he continued. “Cry you mercy, I took
you for Rosalind, you must be Niobe. Ah! now you laugh you are neither, but Titania, Queen of the Fairies."
“ Then you must be Puck, who thus vexes Her Majesty with your unexpected presence,” laughed Mary.
“So please you, I had rather be Bottom the weaver.”
“ You will have your wish,” replied Mary, archly. "I see by your eye you are going to make a donkey of yourself.”
Alaric did not quite relish this banter, and almost wished he had not begun it.
“Miss Cotton,"-- he began, seriously.
But that discreet little lady had already divined his wishes, and was tripping down the hill. Emily was about to follow, when he took her hand and gently detained her.
“Do not leave me," he pleaded, “sit down a little while and tell me why you are crying.”
There was something in his manner so different from his wont that Emily could not forbear an enquiring glance at his handsome face. She resumed her seat meekly, and even permitted Alaric to take her hand. It seemed so easy to obey when he commanded.
“Dear Miss Aldair,” he said, “ do not think me impertinent. For a long time I have observed you are not happy. I am older than you, and should be wiser, will you not tell me your trouble ? "
Emily was still silent, but the tears which had dried a moment were glittering on her rosy cheeks afresh, as she said softly,
“You are too good Mr. Fane, and,” with a kind glance into his deep sad eyes, “I am neither so young nor so ignorant as not to know you have trouble enough of your own. Pray leave me with mine."
“Well,” said Alaric, seating himself at her side, “ since you cannot confide your grief to me, let me confide mine to you. All suffering souls are kin ; and after the contemplation of another's sorrow may alleviate our own.”
Emily still sat with averted face, she made no sign and Alaric resumed.
“Mine is not a pleasant story and I hardly know how to find words to suit it to a lady's ear.
You are doubtless aware that my parents died young. My father had risen from
poverty to opulence by his own exertions. But his anxiety to acquire wealth had allowed him no time to acquire friends, thus his only son, the inheritor of his riches, entered upon life without a guide. My guardians, anxious to be rid of a troublesome charge, despatched me to a public school, thence to college, and so considered their responsibility ended. I was rich, therefore no one warned me of the dangerous companionship and reckless riot that so often wreck a student's life. Yet at two and twenty, I had no greater sin on my conscience than even one as pure as Miss Aldair might have easily forgiven. Then came the folly, alas, the crime, which has left a cloud upon my life that I know will never pass away. I became acquainted with a poor and beautiful girl. She learned to love me, I never sought, never consciously encouraged it, yet she loved me. I saw her, so young and delicate, surrounded with the drunken vulgarity of a pothouse, and I pitied her. In time she grew familiar with me, and then I knew she loved me, Such companionship could not come to good, I saw the danger and tried to escape. But the toils were around me. I had become the one hope and pleaure of her life ; there was no retreat. Yet I made one desperate effort. I cast her from my arms and fled to France. The next day I found her at my side, braving scorn and shame for me, prepared to follow barefoot through the world, amply rewarded by one poor caress.
“I soon awoke to the fact that I did not love the girl, had never loved her! Yet she was beautiful, and possessed many rare and attractive talents which I had not suspected. But her unrequited passion became a burden to me, and the presence of her beautiful, sad, but unreproachful face kindled a hell of remorse and despair in my heart. She saw my misery and struggled vainly to alleviate it by a thousand little grateful ways and kindnesses, and sweet loving words that only lashed my guilty conscience to a fiercer agony, At last, in an evil hour, she left me, not in anger, or jealousy, but in simple, resolute kindness, and pity. Oh, she would have died to see me happy, and I, wretch that I was, felt so relieved by her absence that I sent her money-enough to keep her all her days and fled.
“But my sin followed me, her kind, loving, pitiful face