Alice, or the Mysteries — Book 02

Produced by Dagny; and by David Widger

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BOOK II.

  ”The hour arrived—years having rolled away

  When his return the Gods no more delay.

  Lo! Ithaca the Fates award; and there

  New trials meet the Wanderer.”

  HOMER: Od. lib. i, 16.

CHAPTER I.

  THERE is continual spring and harvest here—

    Continual, both meeting at one time;

  For both the boughs do laughing blossoms bear,

    And with fresh colours deck the wanton prime;

  And eke at once the heavy trees they climb,

    Which seem to labour under their fruit’s load.

SPENSER: The Garden of Adonis.

                    Vis boni

  In ipsa inesset forma.*—TERENCE.

* “Even in beauty there exists the power of virtue.”

BEAUTY, thou art twice blessed; thou blessest the gazer and the
possessor; often at once the effect and the cause of goodness! A sweet
disposition, a lovely soul, an affectionate nature, will speak in the
eyes, the lips, the brow, and become the cause of beauty. On the other
hand, they who have a gift that commands love, a key that opens all
hearts, are ordinarily inclined to look with happy eyes upon the
world,—to be cheerful and serene, to hope and to confide. There is more
wisdom than the vulgar dream of in our admiration of a fair face.

Evelyn Cameron was beautiful,—a beauty that came from the heart, and
went to the heart; a beauty, the very spirit of which was love! Love
smiled on her dimpled lips, it reposed on her open brow, it played in the
profuse and careless ringlets of darkest yet sunniest auburn, which a
breeze could lift from her delicate and virgin cheek; Love, in all its
tenderness, in all its kindness, its unsuspecting truth,—Love coloured
every thought, murmured in her low melodious voice, in all its symmetry
and glorious womanhood. Love swelled the swan-like neck, and moulded the
rounded limb.

She was just the kind of person that takes the judgment by storm: whether
gay or grave, there was so charming and irresistible a grace about her.
She seemed born, not only to captivate the giddy, but to turn the heads
of the sage. Roxalana was nothing to her. How, in the obscure hamlet of
Brook-Green, she had learned all the arts of pleasing it is impossible to
say. In her arch smile, the pretty toss of her head, the half shyness,
half freedom, of her winning ways, it was as if Nature had made her to
delight one heart, and torment all others.

Without being learned, the mind of Evelyn was cultivated and well
informed. Her heart, perhaps, helped to instruct her understanding; for
by a kind of intuition she could appreciate all that was beautiful and
elevated. Her unvitiated and guileless taste had a logic of its own: no
schoolman had ever a quicker penetration into truth, no critic ever more
readily detected the meretricious and the false. The book that Evelyn
could admire was sure to be stamped with the impress of the noble, the
lovely, or the true!

But Evelyn had faults,—the faults of her age; or, rather, she had
tendencies that might conduce to error. She was of so generous a nature
that the very thought of sacrificing her self for another had a charm.
She ever acted from impulse,—impulses pure and good, but often rash and
imprudent. She was yielding to weakness, persuaded into anything, so
sensitive, that even a cold look from one moderately liked cut her to the
heart; and by the sympathy that accompanies sensitiveness, no pain to her
was so great as the thought of giving pain to another. Hence it was that
Vargrave might form reasonable hopes of his ultimate success. It was a
dangerous constitution for happiness! How many chances must combine to
preserve to the mid-day of characters like this the sunshine of their
dawn! The butterfly that seems the child of the summer and the
flowers—what wind will not chill its mirth, what touch will not brush
away its hues?

CHAPTER II.

  THESE, on a general survey, are the modes

  Of pulpit oratory which agree

  With no unlettered audience.—POLWHELE.

MRS. LESLIE had returned from her visit to the rectory to her own home,
and Evelyn had now been some weeks at Mrs. Merton’s. As was natural, she
had grown in some measure reconciled and resigned to her change of abode.
In fact, no sooner did she pass Mrs. Merton’s threshold, than, for the
first time, she was made aware of her consequence in life.

The Rev. Mr. Merton was a man of the nicest perception in all things
appertaining to worldly consideration. The second son of a very wealthy
baronet (who was the first commoner of his county) and of the daughter of
a rich and highly-descended peer, Mr. Merton had been brought near enough
to rank and power to appreciate all their advantages. In early life he
had been something of a “tuft-hunter;” but as his understanding was good
and his passions not very strong, he had soon perceived that that vessel
of clay, a young man with a moderate fortune, cannot long sail down the
same stream with the metal vessels of rich earls and extravagant dandies.
Besides, he was destined for the Church—because there was one of the
finest livings in England in the family. He therefore took orders at six
and twenty; married Mrs. Leslie’s daughter, who had thirty thousand
pounds: and settled at the rectory of Merton, within a mile of the family
seat. He became a very respectable and extremely popular man. He was
singularly hospitable, and built a new wing—containing a large
dining-room and six capital bed-rooms—to the rectory, which had now much
more the appearance of a country villa than a country parsonage. His
brother, succeeding to the estates, and residing chiefly in the
neighbourhood, became, like his father before him, member for the county,
and was one of the country gentlemen most looked up to in the House of
Commons. A sensible and frequent, though uncommonly prosy speaker,
singularly independent (for he had a clear fourteen thousand pounds a
year, and did not desire office), and valuing himself on not being a
party man, so that his vote on critical questions was often a matter of
great doubt, and, therefore, of great moment, Sir John Merton gave
considerable importance to the Rev. Charles Merton. The latter kept up
all the more select of his old London acquaintances; and few country
houses, at certain seasons of the year, were filled more aristocratically
than the pleasant rectory-house. Mr. Merton, indeed, contrived to make
the Hall a reservoir for the parsonage, and periodically drafted off the
elite of the visitors at the former to spend a few days at the latter.
This was the more easily done, as his brother was a widower, and his
conversation was all of one sort,—the state of the nation and the
agricultural interest. Mr. Merton was upon very friendly terms with his
brother, looked after the property in the absence of Sir John, kept up
the family interest, was an excellent electioneerer, a good speaker at a
pinch, an able magistrate,—a man, in short, most useful in the county;
on the whole, he was more popular than his brother, and almost as much
looked up to—perhaps, because he was much less ostentatious. He had
very good taste, had the Rev. Charles Merton!—his table plentiful, but
plain—his manners affable to the low, though agreeably sycophantic to
the high; and there was nothing about him that ever wounded self-love.
To add to the attractions of his house, his wife, simple and
good-tempered, could talk with anybody, take off the bores, and leave
people to be comfortable in their own way: while he had a large family of
fine children of all ages, that had long given easy and constant excuse
under the name of “little children’s parties,” for getting up an
impromptu dance or a gypsy dinner,—enlivening the neighbourhood, in
short. Caroline was the eldest; then came a son, attached to a foreign
ministry, and another, who, though only nineteen, was a private secretary
to one of our Indian satraps. The acquaintance of these young gentlemen,
thus engaged, it was therefore Evelyn’s misfortune to lose the advantage
of cultivating,—a loss which both Mr. and Mrs. Merton assured her was
very much to be regretted. But to make up to her for such a privation
there were two lovely little girls, one ten, and the other seven years
old, who fell in love with Evelyn at first sight. Caroline was one of
the beauties of the county, clever and conversable, “drew young men,” and
set the fashion to young ladies, especially when she returned from
spending the season with Lady Elizabeth.

It was a delightful family!

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