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figure to the waving boughs of the scented acacia, bending its blossoms to the soft south breeze.
But I have no intention of giving any such publicity to those enchantments ; perfections which, at whatever value the lady's numerous acquaintances may have rated them, fascinated me from the first moment I beheld her. She was beautiful; and I conclude must have been conscious by my countenance, that such was the conclusion I had arrived at on our first meeting, for on my eyes encountering her notice, the fair object of my homage immediately averted her gaze, while a slight blush which increased her beauty suffused her cheek.
The meeting was un premeditated on my part, for until the moment I beheld her on the beach, I was even ignorant of her existence. At the time of the rencontre, I was returning from a party of friends, who purposed riding to Dover ; but having ordered a parade that afternoon, I accompanied them but part of the way, and was returning alone, when I encountered a face and figure, such as it never had been my good fortune previously to dwell on, and in all probability never shall again behold.
Who could the lady be? I thought I knew every one in the neighbourhood for miles around, but I had indisputably never cast my eyes on that beautiful countenance previous to that happy hour. I could not call to my recollection, having heard such a person even hinted at as residing in seclusion. I was completely puzzled. The lady was not alone, but accompanied by a tall, handsome woman, from whose likeness to her younger companion, and apparent age, might possibly pass as her mother. The mystery, if mystery there were, I felt convinced could speedily be solved, since, in so limited a circle as the neighbourhood round Deal, it was impossible such a being could exist, without being known to some one; so gently pressing the sides of my milk white charger, I doffed my cap as I passed the ladies, and received from the elder one a gracious, though somewhat distant, acknowledgment of the courtesy
If I was puzzled at not knowing who the strangers were, most awfully was I disconcerted when the truth was made known; for, on hearing that the junior of the two ladies was a peeress in her own right, and moreover, that her companion was neither more nor less than her lady mother, all chance of bringing my budding, though indistinct, ideas of ulterior happiness into full blossom seemed in a fair way of being nipped in their precocious infancy.
To become acquainted with the family I was resolved. But here again sprang up an apparently overwhelming difficulty;
the young peeress was not, according to London parlance, out, and
as her lady mother lived in the strictest privacy, no visible facility offered for forming an acquaintance. But introduced I resolved to be; and accordingly, I commenced a canvass amid my acquaintance, in the hope of being successful through their friendly intercession.
Now was the time to bring my milk-white charger into play. Daily, nay frequently, during the day, did the noble animal practice his most captivating accomplishments adjacent to the house, or at all events in sight of the balcony to which the youthful peeress was accustomed to resort, for the benefit of enjoying the invigorating sea-breeze; but so intent did the rider appear in the management of his horse, that none could surmise that any ulterior object was secreted under the apparent anxiety manifested in the tutelage of the quadruped he bestrode.
So far, all went well, though no great progress was effected; but when day after day the same lessons were practised, without seeming reference to any other object than the horse's training, the lovely cause of so much schooling made her periodical appearance at the accustomed seat as regularly as the white charger and his master arrived for the recommencement of the lesson.
By and bye, the lady mother joined her daughter, and as I never visibly—to them, at least--noticed their attention being drawn towards me, they evidently derived amusement by watching the various positions I endeavoured to tutor the tractable animal to place himself in.
How ardently I daily hoped, while the fair proprietors of the mansion were supporting their delicate forms against the fragile railings of the balcony, that some slight portion of the trellice work might give way, just sufficient to elicit a scream, and thereby give an opportunity for my officious interference, by a speedy proffer of assistance! But no such opportunity occurred; the iron-work remained as immoveably fixed as the statue of Achilles opposite Apsley House, and my horse and myself might have danced on the shingles until we rivalled Fanny Elssler, had not the Fates taken pity on my perseverance and brought about the much wished-for introduction through a far different channel.
A horticultural fête was in progress of realization; for a long time it had been talked of, canvassed, and commented on, but at length it was decided to take place, and the day was finally fixed.
There is an indisputable analogy between women and flowers, which cannot brook contradiction; otherwise, how comes it
that when poets indite sonnets in praise of some seraphic being, whose favour they are anxious to conciliate, each charm of the fair inspirer is ever typified by some one of the lovely offsprings of Flora, symbolical of all that is delightful and charming? Therefore the conclusion must be arrived at, that a general opinion exists, conveying the idea that where the fairest exotics of the garden are congregated, naught but purity and innocence can approach their proximity; and consequently, children of all ages are permitted to visit horticultural shows, when the announcement of a fête champêtre, or a dejeuner à la fourchette, would at once be sufficient to call forth the undisputed prerogative of the elder branches, and enclose the juvenile expectants within their well protected bowers—and that, too, perhaps, at a period of youth when the progress of a few coming months would liberate the blooming girls from those trammels of customary seclusion which fashion enjoins, and then enables them to plunge headlong amid the vortex of dissipation inseparable from a London season.
Erroneous or not as the system may be-so it is ; and for my part, I deemed, at the time, the inconsistency to be a marvellously wise arrangement, for it brought to pass the long wished-for introduction between Lady Lilla Emslie and myself.
Once under the same roof with the beautiful stranger, I found it no very difficult matter to obtain the honour of being presented to the lady mother; when after a few courteouslyworded common-place remarks, I ventured to join in the playful conversation carried on by the circle surrounding the daughter, and ere an hour had elapsed, I had the supreme delight of occupying for a time the coveted attention of Lady Lilla exclusively to myself.
“What lovely camelias !” exclaimed the fair girl, whom I had then the felicity of escorting; “I should not have imagined so fine a collection could have been found in the neighbourhood.”
“They are magnificent indeed," I replied, reserving to myself the opinion which I dared not utter, to the effect, that no flower upon earth could equal the loveliness of the one leaning on my arm; “but you need not be surprised at the splendour of those we are now looking at,” I continued, “for at Lady Deerbury h’s ball, the other evening, the same description of flower, and equally splendid, was worn by many a lady present."
“I heard,” answered my companion, “that Lady Deerburgh's was a delightful ball—was it not so? I should so much like to have been there."
“Then why were you not ?" I rejoined; “for I should
imagine no one could consider their party complete without the presence of Lady Lilla Emslie.”
“Oh! you are complimentary, Captain Lugard,” answered the fair girl ; " but I doubt much if the absence or presence of so insignificant a person as myself could have added or detracted from the amusement of those who were invited.”
“ You cannot mean to say you were not asked !” I exclaimed in astonishment.
“Oh no! -I don't mean that-for Lady Deerburgh kindly sent mamma invitations for herself and me. But I never can persuade her to go out of an evening alone; and as I am not what is technically termed out,' I am compelled to remain at home, and consequently, mamma invariably stays with me."
No great deprivation of pleasure to the respected maternal parent, thought I, wishing, at the moment, it was possible to exchange the command of my troop for the charge of the young lady, aye, and without receiving a difference to wit.
“But,” I continued, aloud, “though you may not care to honour any evening party with your presence, surely, you do not seclude yourself during the day? and indeed, unless I am very greatly mistaken, I had the honour, some few weeks since, of meeting you when walking on the beach ; in fact, I am confident I cannot be in error on that point.”
“Oh yes," replied Lady Lilla, laughing; "and if I am not mistaken, you were riding that beautiful white horse, which you take such pains to train daily.”
“How could you have been made acquainted with my folly?” I exclaimed, in affected amazement. “I never supposed any one could have witnessed my efforts in teaching the animal some of the tricks one sees so frequently practised at Astley's.”
“Indeed you are quite in error there, Captain Lugard,” Lady Lilla answered, archly smiling; “mamma and myself have been almost daily amused at the exhibition."
Every day she might have said—but the confession that the fair girl had watched me was something.
“And indeed," she continued, “mamma and I quite agree that your white borse is the most beautiful creature we ever beheld.”
Now, I mentally ejaculated, if my white horse stands my friend, and if through his instrumentality I eventually gain my point, the noble beast shall riot in corn and clover for the rest of his life, and never do a day's work more.
And while my lovely companion leaned forward to reply to some remark addressed by her lady mother, confused visions of twelve miles an hour, in a plain, dark green chariot, pelting along the northern road, whirled through my brain with a rapidity not to be equalled
by the progress of an electric-telegraph despatch ; and then the hairy-capped ostler, at the last change of horses at Carlisle, looking as a matter of course for the expected £5 note, with the well understood meaning that “no followers were allowed,”—a consummation not only wished, but speedily arrived at, by the withdrawal of a linch-pin, or the production of a rotten trace.
But as I said before, those good old days have passed, forty years back, and our legislators deemed the affairs of Mars and Neptune sufficient to furnish occupation for their sage deliberations, without intrenching on the prerogative of Venus and Vulcan. But the schoolmaster is abroad, and in his northern progress has not failed to trespass on the rights and privileges of the border, and probably, next session will behold him to whom so many are indebted - for good or for evil-stripped of his long undisputed sway, and returning to his anvil, there to forge fetters, not more durable, and assuredly not so lucrative to himself, as were those which in his palmy days he was wont to entwine, garnished with flowers, which latter peradventure faded ere the victims could fully appreciate the strength of the rivets with which they were encircled.
The horticultural fête passed off; to me, by far the most agreeable party I had participated in during my sojourn in Kent; though, of course, it is not to be supposed I so far lost sight of my own interest, as to devote my whole attention to the lovely being with whom I was so irretrievably enchanted. There were other duties to be attended to, and paramount of all was to gain the good opinion of the titled mother; and partly, I suppose, by the lady being delighted at seeing her daughter happy, when conversing with my humble self-partly by the deferential attentions I took care to demonstrate to her parent, added to some assurance, which, by the way, my enemies are kind enough to designate as impudence, and which they enviously affirm to be my forte—I had the supreme felicity, when handing the ladies into their carriage, to receive an invitation to call whenever it might suit my convenience.
The party drove off, leaving me bowing, hat in hand, with a full sense of the gratifying honour conveyed by her ladyship’s kindness; and possibly, a somewhat satisfactory smile, at the success of my own diplomacy, passed across my features; and there I might have remained, following the receding vehicle with my earnest gaze, until dark, had not I felt my shoulder touched—a not very pleasant way, by the bye, of awaking a man from an agreeable reverie-by my jovial subaltern, Fred Alwick.