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Thus, while the tear trembled in her eye, meditated the lovely Maria Howard, when her soliloquy was interrupted by the appearance of a servant, who summoned her into the drawing-room, to officiate at the altar of Hysonia, informing her at the same time, with all the officious eagerness of a confidential chambermaid, that Mr. Courtney was below with her aunt.
"And every tongue that lisps forth Romeo's name,
This speech of Juliet breathes the genuine spirit of love, as the following circumstance will illustrate. It is necessary, before we proceed, to inform the reader of a circumstance which, however trifling it may appear, will be found of some importance at the conclusion of our story. In short, then, the pensive hours of Maria were not a little cheered by the society of one of those little natives of the British grove, who are endowed alike with the power of warbling the notes of tutored melody, and of imitating the voice and accents of man. And, as the name of Courtney, followed always with a sigh, was almost constantly escaping from the lips of Maria, this little starling was not long before it learned to articulate the same tender sound, to the no small satisfaction of the pen,sive beauty. To the name that is dear to us, we are ever happy to listen; and the tongue which most frequently repeats it, sounds with the sweetest harmony in our ears. No wonder then that the lovely Maria soon grew so fond of a little prattler, that from morning to night was continually calling upon one for whom she entertained the most pure and ardent affection. She fed it with her own hand, she conversed with it for hours, and became as fond of it as the tender mother is of her infant child.
But to resume the thread of our narrative, as soon as our heroine was informed that Courtney was below, she blushed, and with spirits all in a flutter (anxious, no doubt, to shew her dutiful obedience to her aunt, by the promptitude with which she attended to her summons) hastened to the drawing room, forgetting even to give her favourite bird the accustomed kiss, or to shut the little prattler in his cage.
Courtney had been, hitherto, entertaining the old lady with news and politics, for which, like most of her sisterhood, she had a most ardent passion. But as soon as youth and beauty beamed before him in full radiance (for a sudden blush restored the faded i ■ i
blossom to Maria's cheek) the sprightly gallaut began to display his talent for a softer kind of conversation.
"Why have we been deprived of the pleasure of your company, all this while, Miss Maria. We have been in want of your judgment to decide our controversy, or rather of your sweet influence to dissipate the dispute."
Maria only replied by her confusion; but Miss Susannah was more eloquent.
"Her not attending." said the aunt, "is a matter of insignificant importation. The paucity of ideas universally observable in feminine juvenility, would have rendered our serious cogitations unintelligible to her peurile comprehension. Novels and romances would have been more accordant to her ratiocinations."—"Your observations would be perfectly just, if applied to the generality of young ladies," replied Courtney, "but Miss Maria, perhaps very prudently, always avoids political topics, yet, from the little of her conversation with which she favours us, we have no reason to doubt her ability to display the excellencies of a fine understanding upon any subject. Besides I am a little of a physiognomist, and will venture to pronounce, that those eyes do not receive all their lustre from their structure and their colour."
Hope, cheerful soother of the sorrowing heart, whispered Maria that there was an unusual softness in the tone and manner of delivering the latter part of this sentence. The silence too which succeeded, so very uncommon with Courtney in the company of the fair sex, had to her mind's ear a kind of eloquent tongue, which argued the truth of her supposition.
And now, with a trembling hand, and a mind intent on far other worship, the beautiful Maria began to minister at the boiling fount of Hysonia.
If ^hou hast a heart, O reader! thou wouldst undoubtedly have been charmed, hadst thou seen the graceful motion with which the lily-handed priestess guided the odoriferous streams into those inverted miniatures of the ethereal concave, vulgarly called tea cups; and viewed her pouring out the delicious cream, which, conscious of the superior whiteness of her hand, dived under the teeming lake to avoid comparison, and there testified its envy by the cloudy appearance which it assumed. Courtney had hitherto continued that unusual silence which we have heretofore noticed. But a deep sigh which escaped, unobserved by herself, from the bosom of the priestess, roused him from his reverie—as the reader will see in the next chapter. c i
THE SIGH. AN INCIDENT.
"By what rule of justice, Maria," said he, " is the bosom of youth and beauty agitated by so deep a sigh?—And why, lovely girl! the melancholy which seems settled on these features? Is Sorrow so luxurious in his taste, that he can be satisfied with no meaner residence than among the riches and elegances which adorn Maria's heart.
"Despotic woe,—how ruthless is thy sway!
"Maria's griefs, too well, alas! display;
"E'en beauty seeks for tranquil ease in vain;
"Nor sense—nor virtue wards the shafts of pain !* The aunt was stung to the very soul: Courtney relapsed into his former reverie, and Maria began to suspect that she had been hitherto mistaken in her conjectures about Courtney's indifference, and to sooth her fluttering heart with the long estranged whispers of hope. Just at this instant, for so decreed that little urchin, whom ancient and modern wits have conspired to maim and disfigure,—that little urchin whom the Greeks have robbed of his eyes, and whom Le Sage has caused to go on crutches.—Just at that moment we say, in came Betty, panting for breath, and, with a face as long as a methodist parson's, when the congregation forget to drop their money in the plate, to inform Maria that she had let the starling fly out at the window.
In an instant the Hysonean mysteries were suspended; and, without saying a word, the priestess flew from the neglected altar, and hastened up stairs to regain her little favourite. Courtney flew with equal speed to lend his assistance, and Betty was preparing to follow, but her malignant mistress, desirous of depriving Maria of her little favourite, was willing to rob her of all the assistance she could, and detained the muttering chambermaid where she was.
Her malignant design was, however, disappointed. No sooner did the bird, who was perched on the outside of a window, see the fond hand of his mistress held out to him, than he flew upon her finger and suffered himself to be put into his cage without resistance.
Courtney now laid hold of the trembling hand of the lovely Maria, and was going to lead her down stairs. They had got to the door; Courtney's hand was on the lock; when he was surprised to hear a voice, at the further end of the room, distinctly pronounce "heigh ho!—oh Courtney V He turned round in astonishment. Maria made a feeble effort to withdraw her right hand, while,
with the other, she covered lier eyes, and endeavoured to conceal her confusion.
* Whence could that voice proceed r" said the wondering Courtney ; but he was quickly resolved. "O Courtney! dear Courtney!" said the starling again. His heart fluttered with tenderness and surprise. The flame which, without his suspecting it, had been loug kindling, now burst out all at once. He gazed with ardent delight on the embarrassed Maria: he pressed her hand to his bosom. As for our poor heroine, not the aspin so trembles before the gale—not the rose so trembles on the pendant thorn, when the vernal shower has bent its blushing head. "Charming Miss Howard!" said the youth, with a look and accent of the utmost tenderness, "may I, sweet enchanting girl! presume to enquire if this bird has ever any company but yourself f—" O Mr. Courtney," replied Maria at length, with a faultering voice, "why do you seek to insult and triumph in the weakness of an inexperienced girl r"—" Perish the wretch whose unfeeling heart is capable of such baseness !" replied he, with the honest warmth of sincerity. "Contempt and apathy be the portion of that man, whose heart does not vibrate with increasing tenderness, when artless beauty, yielding to the sweet dictates of nature, reveals the tender feelings of her heart. But let me read my fate in those embarrassed eyes,—thy sweet confusion,— thy enchanting silence! these are the modest heralds of the heart."
Maria attempted to withdraw her hand.
"Thou must not go, my sweet Maria, yet!—Thou must not snatch from me so soon the transport thou hast given. Heaven make this hour my last, if I love thee not with the purest ardour that ever warmed a youthful heart. Oh! stay and hear me vow how much I love thee!" (A sigh, a blush, an involuntary smile, evinced how pleasing was the subject to the heart of our trembling heroine.) "Dear, charming bird! delightful accident—" continued he. "Pray let me go Mr. Courtney," said the faultering Maria, * my aunt will wonder at our delay."
Thus did Maria, though she could have listened for ever with delight to the fond vows of Courtney, endeavour to persuade him to desist from a conversation the most delightful to her ears: but Courtney knew the sex. He was aware they are not born to command, they generally despise the man who implicitly obeys them. In short, an eclaircissement took place, which terminated with the warmest professions of unalterable alFection on his side; and on
that of his lovely mistress, in that soft and modest confusion which, in eloquent silence, speaks the pure fondness of the virgin heart.
The short season of courtship rolled gaily away, and, as even the malignity of a maiden aunt could start no reasonable objection to their happiness, the torch of Hymen was shortly bade to blaze once more with the bright, but long forgotten names of mutual sympathy and disinterested affection.
Shortly after, the happy bridegroom, reflecting on the little circumstance which had produced the discovery of their mutual attachment, composed the following sonnet with which we shall conclude our tale.
SONNET TO THE STARLING.
The fav'rite emblem of the power of Love.
The goddess flies,her turtles too are there;
To Paphos' happy isle her turtles must repair.
The early lark, that heralds in the day,
And gladdens Nature with his dulcet note
Sweet as the warblings of his attic throat:
Her heavenly harp, his praises to rehearse;
Wak'd her to all the charms of varied verse.