Alice, or the Mysteries — Book 01

Produced by Dagny; and by David Widger

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  ”Thee, hid the bowering vales amidst, I call.”

  —EURIPIDES: Hel. I. 1116.


  Who art thou, fair one, who usurp’st the place

  Of Blanch, the lady of the matchless grace?—LAMB.

IT was towards the evening of a day in early April that two ladies were
seated by the open windows of a cottage in Devonshire. The lawn before
them was gay with evergreens, relieved by the first few flowers and fresh
turf of the reviving spring; and at a distance, through an opening
amongst the trees, the sea, blue and tranquil, bounded the view, and
contrasted the more confined and home-like features of the scene. It was
a spot remote, sequestered, shut out from the business and pleasures of
the world; as such it suited the tastes and character of the owner.

That owner was the younger of the ladies seated by the window. You would
scarcely have guessed, from her appearance, that she was more than seven
or eight and twenty, though she exceeded by four or five years that
critical boundary in the life of beauty. Her form was slight and
delicate in its proportions, nor was her countenance the less lovely
because, from its gentleness and repose (not unmixed with a certain
sadness) the coarse and the gay might have thought it wanting in
expression. For there is a stillness in the aspect of those who have
felt deeply, which deceives the common eye,—as rivers are often alike
tranquil and profound, in proportion as they are remote from the springs
which agitated and swelled the commencement of their course, and by which
their waters are still, though invisibly, supplied.

The elder lady, the guest of her companion, was past seventy; her gray
hair was drawn back from the forehead, and gathered under a stiff cap of
quaker-like simplicity; while her dress, rich but plain, and of no very
modern fashion, served to increase the venerable appearance of one who
seemed not ashamed of years.

“My dear Mrs. Leslie,” said the lady of the house, after a thoughtful
pause in the conversation that had been carried on for the last hour, “it
is very true; perhaps I was to blame in coming to this place; I ought not
to have been so selfish.”

“No, my dear friend,” returned Mrs. Leslie, gently; “selfish is a word
that can never be applied to you; you acted as became you,—agreeably to
your own instinctive sense of what is best when at your age,—independent
in fortune and rank, and still so lovely,—you resigned all that would
have attracted others, and devoted yourself, in retirement, to a life of
quiet and unknown benevolence. You are in your sphere in this
village,—humble though it be,—consoling, relieving, healing the
wretched, the destitute, the infirm; and teaching your Evelyn insensibly
to imitate your modest and Christian virtues.” The good old lady spoke
warmly, and with tears in her eyes; her companion placed her hand in Mrs.

“You cannot make me vain,” said she, with a sweet and melancholy smile.
“I remember what I was when you first gave shelter to the poor, desolate
wanderer and her fatherless child; and I, who was then so poor and
destitute, what should I be, if I was deaf to the poverty and sorrows of
others,—others, too, who are better than I am. But now Evelyn, as you
say, is growing up; the time approaches when she must decide on accepting
or rejecting Lord Vargrave. And yet in this village how can she compare
him with others; how can she form a choice? What you say is very true;
and yet I did not think of it sufficiently. What shall I do? I am only
anxious, dear girl, to act so as may be best for her own happiness.”

“Of that I am sure,” returned Mrs. Leslie; “and yet I know not how to
advise. On one hand, so much is due to the wishes of your late husband,
in every point of view, that if Lord Vargrave be worthy of Evelyn’s
esteem and affection, it would be most desirable that she should prefer
him to all others. But if he be what I hear he is considered in the
world,—an artful, scheming, almost heartless man, of ambitious and hard
pursuits,—I tremble to think how completely the happiness of Evelyn’s
whole life may be thrown away. She certainly is not in love with him,
and yet I fear she is one whose nature is but too susceptible of
affection. She ought now to see others,—to know her own mind, and not
to be hurried, blindfold and inexperienced, into a step that decides
existence. This is a duty we owe to her,—nay, even to the late Lord
Vargrave, anxious as he was for the marriage. His aim was surely her
happiness, and he would not have insisted upon means that time and
circumstances might show to be contrary to the end he had in view.”

“You are right,” replied Lady Vargrave. “When my poor husband lay on his
bed of death, just before he summoned his nephew to receive his last
blessing, he said to me, ‘Providence can counteract all our schemes. If
ever it should be for Evelyn’s real happiness that my wish for her
marriage with Lumley Ferrers should not be fulfilled, to you I must leave
the right to decide on what I cannot foresee. All I ask is that no
obstacle shall be thrown in the way of my wish; and that the child shall
be trained up to consider Lumley as her future husband.’ Among his
papers was a letter addressed to me to the same effect; and, indeed, in
other respects that letter left more to my judgment than I had any right
to expect. Oh, I am often unhappy to think that he did not marry one who
would have deserved his affection! and—but regret is useless now.”

“I wish you could really feel so,” said Mrs. Leslie; “for regret of
another kind still seems to haunt you; and I do not think you have yet
forgotten your early sorrows.”

“Ah, how can I?” said Lady Vargrave, with a quivering lip.

At that instant, a light shadow darkened the sunny lawn in front of the
casements, and a sweet, gay young voice was heard singing at a little
distance; a moment more, and a beautiful girl, in the first bloom of
youth, bounded lightly along the grass, and halted opposite the friends.

It was a remarkable contrast,—the repose and quiet of the two persons we
have described, the age and gray hairs of one, the resigned and
melancholy gentleness written on the features of the other—with the
springing step and laughing eyes and radiant bloom of the new comer! As
she stood with the setting sun glowing full upon her rich fair hair, her
happy countenance and elastic form, it was a vision almost too bright for
this weary earth,—a thing of light and bliss, that the joyous Greek
might have placed among the forms of Heaven, and worshipped as an Aurora
or a Hebe.

“Oh, how can you stay indoors this beautiful evening? Come, dearest Mrs.
Leslie; come, Mother, dear Mother, you know you promised you would,—you
said I was to call you; see, it will rain no more, and the shower has
left the myrtles and the violet-bank so fresh.”

“My dear Evelyn,” said Mrs. Leslie, with a smile, “I am not so young as

“No; but you are just as gay when you are in good spirits—and who can be
out of spirits in such weather? Let me call for your chair; let me wheel
you—I am sure I can. Down, Sultan; so you have found me out, have you,
sir? Be quiet, sir, down!”

This last exhortation was addressed to a splendid dog of the Newfoundland
breed, who now contrived wholly to occupy Evelyn’s attention.

The two friends looked at this beautiful girl, as with all the grace of
youth she shared while she rebuked the exuberant hilarity of her huge
playmate; and the elder of the two seemed the most to sympathize with her
mirth. Both gazed with fond affection upon an object dear to both. But
some memory or association touched Lady Vargrave, and she sighed as she


Is stormy life preferred to this serene?—-YOUNG: Satires.

AND the windows were closed in, and night had succeeded to evening, and
the little party at the cottage were grouped together. Mrs. Leslie was
quietly seated at her tambour-frame; Lady Vargrave, leaning her cheek on
her hand, seemed absorbed in a volume before her, but her eyes were not
on the page; Evelyn was busily employed in turning over the contents of a
parcel of books and music which had just been brought from the lodge
where the London coach had deposited it.

“Oh, dear Mamma!” cried Evelyn, “I am so glad; there is something you
will like,—some of the poetry that touched you so much set to music.”

Evelyn brought the songs to her mother, who roused herself from her
revery, and looked at them with interest.

“It is very strange,” said she, “that I should be so affected by all that

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