First published in Bentley’s Miscellany, March 1851.
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AMONG THOSE who attended the first of the King’s levées, during the London season of 18 — was an unmarried gentleman of large fortune, named Streatfield. While his carriage was proceeding slowly down St. James’s Street, he naturally sought such amusement and occupation as he could find in looking on the brilliant scene around him. The day was unusually fine; crowds of spectators thronged the street and the balconies of the houses on either side of it, all gazing at the different equipages with as eager a curiosity and interest, as if fine vehicles and fine people inside them were the rarest objects of contemplation in the whole metropolis. Proceeding at a slower and slower pace, Mr Streatfield’s carriage had just arrived at the middle of the street, when a longer stoppage than usual occurred. He looked carelessly up at the nearest balcony; and there, among some eight or ten ladies, all strangers to him, he saw one face that riveted his attention immediately.
He had never beheld anything so beautiful,anything which struck him with such strange, mingled, and sudden sensations, as this face. He gazed and gazed on it, hardly knowing where he was, or what he was doing, until the line of vehicles began again to move on. Then — after first ascertaining the number of the house — he flung himself back in the carriage, and tried to examine his feelings, to reason himself into self-possession; but it was all in vain. He was seized with that amiable form of social monomania, called ‘love at first sight.’
He entered the palace, greeted his friends, and performed all the necessary Court ceremonies, feeling the whole time like a man in a trance. He spoke mechanically, and moved mechanically — the lovely face in the balcony occupied his thoughts to the exclusion of everything else. On his return home, he had engagements for the afternoon and evening — he forgot and broke them all; and walked back to St. James’s Street as soon as he had changed his dress.
The balcony was empty; the sight-seers who had filled it but a few hours before, had departed — but obstacles of all sorts now tended only to stimulate Mr Streatfield; he was determined to ascertain the parentage of the young lady, determined to look on the lovely face again — the thermometer of his heart had risen already to Fever Heat! Without loss of time, the shopkeeper to whom the house belonged was bribed to loquacity by a purchase. All that he could tell, in answer to inquiries, was that he had let his lodgings to an elderly gentleman and his wife, from the country, who had asked some friends into their balcony to see the carriages go to the levée. Nothing daunted, Mr Streatfield questioned and questioned again. What was the old gentleman’s name? — Dimsdale. — Could he see Mr Dimsdale’s servant? — The obsequious shopkeeper had no doubt that he could: Mr Dimsdale’s servant should be sent for immediately.
In a few minutes the servant, the all-important link in the chain of Love’s evidence, made his appearance. He was a pompous, portly man, who listened with solemn attention, with a stern judicial calmness, to Mr Streatfield’s rapid and somewhat confused inquiries, which were accompanied by a minute description of the young lady, and by several explanatory statements, all very fictitious, and all very plausible. Stupid as the servant was, and suspicious as all stupid people are, he had nevertheless sense enough to perceive that he was addressed by a gentleman, and gratitude enough to feel considerably mollified by the handsome douceur which was quietly slipped into his hand. After much pondering and doubting, he at last arrived at the conclusion that the fair object of Mr Streatfield’s inquiries was a Miss Langley, who joined the party in the balcony that morning, with her sister; and who was the daughter of Mr Langley, of Langley Hall, in — shire. The family were now staying in London, at — Street. More information than this, the servant stated that he could not afford — he was certain that he had made no mistake, for the Miss Langleys were the only very young ladies in the house that morning — however, if Mr Streatfield wished to speak to his master, he was ready to carry any message with which he might be charged.
But Mr Streatfield had already heard enough for his purpose, and departed at once for his club, determined to discover some means of being introduced in due form to Miss Langley, before he slept that night — though he should travel round the whole circle of his acquaintance — high and low, rich and poor — on making the attempt. Arrived at the club, he began to inquire resolutely, in all directions, for a friend who knew Mr Langley, of Langley Hall. He disturbed gastronomic gentlemen at their dinner; he interrupted agricultural gentlemen who were deep in the moaning over the prospects of the harvest; he startled literary gentlemen who were deep in the critical mysteries of the last Review; he invaded billiard-room, dressing-room, smoking-room; he was more like a frantic ministerial whipper-in, hunting up stray members for a division than an ordinary man; and the oftener he was defeated in his object, the more determined he was to succeed. At last, just as he had vainly inquired of everybody that he knew, just as he was standing in the hall of the club-house thinking where he should go next, a friend entered, who at once relieved him of all his difficulties — a precious, an inestimable man, who was on intimate terms with Mr Langley, and had been lately staying at Langley Hall. To this friend all the lover’s cares and anxieties were at once confided; and a fitter depositary for such secrets of the heart could hardly have been found. He made no jokes — for he was not a bachelor; he abstained from shaking his head and recommending prudence — for he was not a seasoned husband, or an experienced widower; what he really did, was to enter heart and soul into his friend’s projects — for he was precisely in that position, the only position, in which the male sex generally take a proper interest in match-making: he was a newly married man.
Two days after, Mr Streatfield was the happiest of mortals — he was introduced to the lady of his love, to Miss Jane Langley. He really enjoyed the priceless privilege of looking once more on the face in the balcony, and looking on it almost as often as he wished. It was perfect Elysium. Mr and Mrs Langley saw little, or no company — Miss Jane was always accessible, never monopolised — the light of her beauty shone, day after day, for her adorer alone; and his love blossomed in it, fast as flowers in a hot-house. Passing quickly by all the minor details of the wooing to arrive the sooner at the grand fact of the winning, let us simply relate that Mr Streatfield’s object in seeking an introduction to Mr Langley was soon explained, and was indeed visible enough long before the explanation. He was a handsome man, an accomplished man, and a rich man. His first two qualifications conquered the daughter, and his third the father. In six weeks Mr Streatfield was the accepted suitor of Miss Jane Langley.
The wedding-day was fixed — it was arranged that the marriage should take place at Langley Hall, whither the family proceeded, leaving the unwilling lover in London, a prey to all the inexorable business formalities of the occasion. For ten days did the ruthless lawyers — those dead weights that burden the back of Hymen — keep their victim imprisoned in the metropolis, occupied over settlements that never seemed likely to be settled. But even the long march of the Law has its end like other mortal things: at the expiration of the ten days all was completed, and Mr Streatfield found himself at liberty to start for Langley Hall.
A large party was assembled at the house to grace the approaching nuptials. There were to be tableaux, charades, boating-trips, riding-excursions, amusements of all sorts — the whole to conclude (in the play-bill phrase) with the grand climax of the wedding. Mr Streatfield arrived late; dinner was ready; he had barely time to dress, and then the bustle into the drawing-room, just as the guests were leaving it, to offer his arm to Miss Jane — all greetings with friends and introductions to strangers being postponed till the party met round the dining-table.
Grace had been said; the covers were taken off; the loud cheerful hum of conversation was just beginning, when Mr Streatfield’s eyes met the eyes of a young lady who was seated opposite, at the table. The guests near him, observing at the same moment, that he continued standing after every one else had been placed, glanced at him inquiringly. To their astonishment and alarm, they observed that his face had suddenly become deadly pale — his rigid features looked struck in paralysis. Several of his friends spoke to him; but for the first few moments he returned no answer. Then, still fixing his eyes upon the young lady opposite, he abruptly exclaimed in a voice, the altered tones of which startled every one who heard him: ’That is the face I saw in the balcony! — that woman is the only woman I can ever marry!’ The next instant, without a word more either of explanation or apology, he hurried from the room.
One or two of the guests mechanically started up, as if to follow him; the rest remained at the table, looking on each other in speechless surprise. But, before any one could either act or speak, almost at the moment when the door closed on Mr Streatfield, the attention of all was painfully directed to Jane Langley. She had fainted. Her mother and sisters removed her from the room immediately, aided by the servants. As they disappeared, a dead silence again sank down over the company — they all looked round with one accord to the master of the house.
Mr Langley’s face and manner sufficiently revealed the suffering and suspense that he was secretly enduring. But he was a man of the world — neither by word nor action did he betray what was passing within him. He resumed his place at the table, and begged his guests to do the same. He affected to make light of what had happened; entreated every one to forget it, or, if they remembered it at all, to remember it only as a mere accident which would no doubt be satisfactorily explained. Perhaps it was only a jest on Mr Streatfield’s part — rather too serious a one, he must own. At any rate, whatever was the cause of the interruption to the dinner which had just happened, it was not important enough to require everybody to fast around the table of the feast. He asked it as a favour to himself, that no further notice might be taken of what had occurred. While Mr Langley was speaking thus, he hastily wrote a few lines on a piece of paper, and gave it to one of the servants. The note was directed to Mr Streatfield; the lines contained only these words: ‘Two hours hence, I shall expect to see you alone in the library.’
The dinner proceeded; the places occupied by the female members of the Langley family, and by the young lady who had attracted Mr Streatfield’s notice in so extraordinary a manner, being left vacant. Every one present endeavoured to follow Mr Langley’s advice, and go through the business of the dinner, as if nothing had occurred; but the attempt failed miserably. Long, blank pauses occurred in the conversation; general topics were started, but never pursued; it was more like an assembly of strangers, than a meeting of friends; people neither ate nor drank, as they were accustomed to eat and drink; they talked in altered voices, and sat with unusual stillness, even in the same positions. Relatives, friends, and acquaintances, all alike perceived that some great domestic catastrophe had happened; all foreboded that some serious, if not fatal, explanation of Mr Streatfield’s conduct would ensue: and it was vain and hopeless — a very mockery of self-possession — to attempt to shake off the sinister and chilling influences that recent events had left behind them, and resume at will the thoughtlessness and hilarity of ordinary life.
Still, however, Mr Langley persisted in doing the honours of his table, in proceeding doggedly through all the festive ceremonies of the hour, until the ladies rose and retired. Then, after looking at his watch, he beckoned to one of his sons to take his place; and quietly left the room. He only stopped once, as he crossed the hall, to ask news of his daughter from one of the servants. The reply was, that she had had a hysterical fit; that the medical attendant of the family had been sent for; and that since his arrival she had become more composed. When the man had spoken, Mr Langley made no remark, but proceeded at once to the library. He locked the door behind him, as soon as he entered the room.
Mr Streatfield was already waiting there — he was seated at the table, endeavouring to maintain an appearance of composure, by mechanically turning over the leaves of the books before him. Mr Langley drew a chair near him; and in low, but very firm tones, began the conversation thus:
‘I have given you two hours, Sir, to collect yourself, to consider your position fully — I presume, therefore, that you are now prepared to favour me with an explanation of your conduct at my table, to-day.’
‘What explanation can I make? — what can I say, or think of this most terrible of fatalities?’ exclaimed Mr Streatfield, speaking faintly and confusedly; and still not looking up — ‘There has been an unexampled error committed! — a fatal mistake, which I could never have anticipated, and over which I had no control!’
‘Enough, sir, of the language of romance,’ interrupted Mr Langley, coldly; ‘I am neither of an age nor a disposition to appreciate it. I come here to ask plain questions honestly, and I insist, as my right, on receiving answers in the same spirit. You, Mr Streatfield, sought an introduction to me — you professed attached to my daughter Jane — your proposals were (I fear unhappily for us) accepted — your wedding-day was fixed — and now, after all this, when you happen to observe my daughter’s twin-sister sitting opposite to you —’
‘Her twin-sister!’ exclaimed Mr Streatfield; and his trembling hand crumpled the leaves of the book, which he still held while he spoke. ‘Why is it, intimate as I have been with your family, that I now know for the first time that Miss Jane Langley has a twin-sister?’
‘Do you descend, sir, to a subterfuge, when I ask you for an explanation?’ returned Mr Langley, angrily. ‘You must have heard, over and over again, that my children, Jane and Clara, were twins.’
‘On my word and honour, I declare that —’
‘Spare me all appeals to your word or your honour, sir; I am beginning to doubt both.’
‘I will not make the unhappy situation in which we are all placed, still worse, by answering your last words, as I might, at other times, feel inclined to answer them,’ said Mr Streatfield, assuming a calmer demeanour than he had hitherto displayed. ‘I tell you the truth, when I tell you that, before to-day, I never knew that any of your children were twins. Your daughter, Jane, has frequently spoken to me of her absent sister, Clara, but never spoke of her as her twin-sister. Until to-day, I have had no opportunity of discovering the truth; for until to-day, I have never met Miss Clara Langley since I saw her in the balcony of the house in St. James’s Street. The only one of your children who was never present during my intercourse with your family, in London, was your daughter Clara — the daughter whom I now know, for the first time, as the young lady who really arrested my attention on my way to the levée — whose affections it was really my object to win in seeking an introduction to you. To me, the resemblance between the twin-sisters has been a fatal resemblance; the long absence of one, a fatal absence.’
There was a momentary pause, as Mr Streatfield sadly and calmly pronounced the last words. Mr Langley appeared to be absorbed in thought. At length he proceeded, speaking to himself:
‘It is strange! I remember that Clara left London on the day of the levée, to set out on a visit to her aunt; and only returned here two days since, to be present at her sister’s marriage. Well, sir,’ he continued, addressing Mr Streatfield, ‘granting what you say, granting that we all mentioned my absent daughter to you, as we are accustomed to mention her among ourselves, simply as “Clara,” you have still not excused your conduct in my eyes. Remarkable as the resemblance is between the sisters, more remarkable even, I am willing to admit, than the resemblance usually is between twins, there is yet a difference, which, slight, indescribable though it may be, is nevertheless discernible to all their relations and to all their friends. How is it that you, who represent yourself as so vividly impressed by your first sight of my daughter Clara, did not discover the error when you were introduced to her sister Jane, as the lady who had so much attracted you?’
‘You forget, sir,’ rejoined Mr Streatfield, ‘that I have never beheld the sisters together until to-day. Though both were in the balcony when I first looked up at it, it was Miss Clara Langley alone who attracted my attention. Had I only received the smallest hint that the absent sister of Miss Jane Langley was her twin-sister, I would have seen her, at any sacrifice, before making my proposals. For it is my duty to confess to you, Mr Langley (with the candour which is your undoubted due), that when I was first introduced to your daughter Jane, I felt an unaccountable impression that she was the same as, and yet different from, the lady whom I had seen in the balcony. Soon, however, this impression wore off. Under the circumstances, could I regard it as anything but a mere caprice, a lover’s wayward fancy? I dismissed it from my mind; it ceased to affect me, until to-day, when I first discovered that it was a warning which I had most unhappily disregarded; that a terrible error had been committed, for which no one of us was to blame, but which was fraught with misery, undeserved misery, to us all!’
‘These, Mr Streatfield, are explanations which may satisfy you,‘ said Mr Langley, in a milder tone, ‘but they cannot satisfy me; they will not satisfy the world. You have repudiated, in the most public and most abrupt manner, an engagement, in the fulfilment of which the honour and the happiness of my family are concerned. You have given me reasons for your conduct, it is true; but will those reasons restore to my daughter the tranquility which she has lost, perhaps for ever? Will they stop the whisperings of calumny? Will they carry conviction to those strangers to me, or enemies of mine, whose pleasure it may be to disbelieve them? You have placed both yourself and me, sir, in a position of embarrassment — nay, a position of danger and disgrace, from which the strongest reasons and the best excuses cannot extricate us.’
‘I entreat you to believe,’ replied Mr Streatfield, ‘that I deplore from my heart the error — the fault, if you will — of which I have been unconsciously guilty. I implore your pardon, both for what I said and did at your table to-day; but I cannot do more. I cannot and I dare not pronounce the marriage vows to your daughter, with my lips, when I know that neither my conscience nor my heart can ratify them. The commonest justice, and the commonest respect towards a young lady who deserves both, and more than both, from every one who approaches her, strengthen me to persevere in the only course which it is consistent with honour and integrity for me to take.’
‘You appear to forget,’ said Mr Langley, ‘that it is not merely your own honour, but the honour of others, that is to be considered in the course of conduct which you are now to pursue.’
‘I have by no means forgotten what is due to you,‘ continued Mr Streatfield, ‘or what responsibilities I have incurred from the nature of my intercourse with your family. Do I put too much trust in your forbearance, if I now assure you, candidly and unreservedly, that I still place all my hopes of happiness in the prospect of becoming connected by marriage with a daughter of yours? Miss Clara Langley —’
Here the speaker paused. His position was becoming a delicate and a dangerous one; but he made no effort to withdraw from it. Almost bewildered by the pressing and perilous emergency of the moment, harassed by such a tumult of conflicting emotions within him as he had never known before, he risked the worst, with all the blind-fold desperation of love. The angry flush was rising on Mr Langley’s cheek; it was evidently costing him a severs struggle to retain his assumed self-possession; but he did not speak. After an interval, Mr Streatfield proceeded thus:
‘However unfortunately I may express myself, I am sure you will do me the justice to believe that I am now speaking from my heart on a subject (to me) of the most vital importance. Place yourself in my situation, consider all that has happened, consider that this may be, for aught I know to the contrary, the last opportunity I may have of pleading my cause; and then say whether it is possible for me to conceal from you that I can only look to your forbearance and sympathy for permission to retrieve my error, to — to — Mr Langley! I cannot choose expressions at such a moment as this. I can only tell you that the feeling with which I regarded your daughter Clara, when I first saw her, still remains what it was. I cannot analyse it; I cannot reconcile its apparent inconsistencies and contradictions; I cannot explain how, while I may seem to you and to every one to have varied and vacillated with insolent caprice, I have really remained, in my own heart and to my own conscience, true to my first sensations and my first convictions. I can only implore you not to condemn me to a life of disappointment and misery, by judging me with hasty irritation. Favour me, so far at least, as to relate the conversation which has passed between us to your two daughters. Let me hear how it affects each of them towards me. Let me know what they are willing to think and ready to do under such unparalleled circumstances as have now occurred. I will wait your time, and their time; I will abide by your decision and their decision, pronounced after the first poignant distress and irritation of this day’s events have passed over.’
Still Mr Langley remained silent; the angry word was on his tongue; the contemptuous rejection of what he regarded for the moment as a proposition equally ill-timed and insolent, seemed bursting to his lips; but once more he restrained himself. He rose from his seat, and walked slowly backwards and forwards, deep in thought. Mr Streatfield was too much overcome by his own agitation to plead his cause further by another word. There was a silence in the room now, which lasted for some time.
We have said that Mr Langley was a man of the world. He was strongly attached to his children; but he had a little of the selfishness and much of the reverence for wealth of a man of the world. As he now endeavoured to determine mentally on his proper course of action — to disentangle the whole case from all its mysterious intricacies — to view it, extraordinary as it was, in its proper bearings, his thoughts began gradually to assume what is called, ‘a practical turn.’ He reflected that he had another daughter, besides the twin-sisters, to provide for; and that he had two sons to settle in life. He was not rich enough to portion three daughters; and he had not interest enough to start his sons favourably in a career of eminence. Mr Streatfield, on the contrary, was a man of great wealth, and of great ‘connections’ among people in power. Was such a son-in-law to be rejected, even after all that had happened, without at least consulting his wife and daughters first? He thought not. Had not Mr Streatfield, in truth, been the victim of a remarkable fatality, of an incredible accident, and were no allowances, under such circumstances, to be made for him? He began to think there were. Reflecting thus, he determined at length to proceed with moderation and caution at all hazards; and regained composure enough to continue the conversation in a cold, but still in a polite tone.
‘I will commit myself, sir, to no agreement or promise whatever,’ he began, ‘nor will I consider this interview in any respect as a conclusive one, either on your side or mine; but if I think, on consideration, that it is desirable that our conversation should be repeated to my wife and daughters, I will make them acquainted with it, and will let you know the result. In the meantime, I think you will agree with me, that it is most fit that the next communications between us should take place by letter alone.’
Mr Streatfield was not slow in taking the hint conveyed by Mr Langley’s last words. After what had occurred, and until something was definitely settled, he felt that the suffering and suspense which he was already enduring would be increased tenfold if he remained longer in the same house with the twin-sisters — the betrothed of one, the lover of the other! Murmuring a few inaudible words of acquiescence in the arrangements which had just been proposed to him, he left the room. The same evening he quitted Langley Hall.
The next morning the remainder of the guests departed, their curiosity to know all the particulars of what had happened remaining ungratified. They were simply informed that an extraordinary and unexpected obstacle had arisen to delay the wedding; that no blame attached to any one in the matter; and that as soon as everything had been finally determined, everything would be explained. Until then, it was not considered necessary to enter in any way into particulars. By the middle of the day every visitor had left the house; and a strange and melancholy spectacle it presented when they were all gone. Rooms were now empty and silent, which the day before had been filled with animated groups, and had echoed with merry laughter. In one apartment, the fittings for the series of ‘Tableaux’ which had been proposed, remained half completed: the dresses that were to have been worn, lay scattered on the floor; the carpenter who had come to proceed with his work, gathered up his tools in ominous silence, and departed as quickly as he could. Here lay books still open at the last page read; there was an album, with the drawing of the day before unfinished, and the colour-box unclosed by its side. On the deserted billiard-table, the positions of the ‘cues’ and balls showed traces of an interrupted game. Flowers were scattered on the rustic tables in the garden, half-made into nosegays, and beginning to wither already. The very dogs wandered in a moody, unsettled way about the house, missing the friendly hands that had fondled and fed them for so many days past, and whining impatiently in the deserted drawing-rooms. The social desolation of the scene was miserably complete in all its aspects.
Immediately after the departure of his guests, Mr Langley had a long interview with his wife. He repeated to her the conversation which had taken place between Mr Streatfield and himself, and received from her in return such an account of the conduct of his daughter, under the trial that had befallen her, as filled him with equal astonishment and admiration. It was a new revelation to him of the character of his own child.
‘As soon as the violent symptoms had subsided,’ said Mrs Langley, in answer to her husband’s first inquiries, ‘as soon as the hysterical fit was subdued, Jane seemed suddenly to assume a new character, to become another person. She begged that the doctor might be released from his attendance, and that she might be left alone with me and with her sister Clara. When every one else had quitted the room, she continued to sit in the easy chair where we had at first placed her, covering her face with her hands. She entreated us not to speak to her for a short time, and, except that she shuddered occasionally, sat quite still and silent. When she at last looked up, we were shocked to see the deadly paleness of her face, and the strange alteration that had come over her expression; but she spoke to us so coherently, so solemnly even, that we were amazed; we knew not what to think or what to do; it hardly seemed to be our Jane who was now speaking to us.’
‘What did she say?’ asked Mr Langley, eagerly.
‘She said that the first feeling of her heart, at that moment, was gratitude on her own account. She thanked God that the terrible discovery had not been made too late, when her married life might have been a life of estrangement and misery. Up to the moment when Mr Streatfield had uttered that one fatal exclamation, she had loved him, she told us, fondly and fervently; now, no explanation, no repentance (if either were tendered), no earthly persuasion or command (in case Mr Streatfield should think himself bound, as a matter of atonement, to hold to his rash engagement), could ever induce her to become his wife.’
‘Mr Streatfield will not test her resolution,’ said Mr Langley, bitterly; ‘he deliberately repeated his repudiation of his engagement in this room; nay, more, he —’
‘I have something important to say to you from Jane on this point,’ interrupted Mrs Langley. ‘After she had spoken the first few words which I have already repeated to you, she told us that she had been thinking — thinking more calmly perhaps than we could imagine — on all that had happened; on what Mr Streatfield had said at the dinner-table; on the momentary glance of recognition which she had seen pass between him and her sister Clara, whose accidental absence, during the whole period of Mr Streatfield’s intercourse with us in London, she now remembered and reminded me of. The cause of the fatal error, and the manner in which it had occurred, seemed to be already known to her, as if by intuition. We entreated her to refrain from speaking on the subject for the present; but she answered that it was her duty to speak on it — her duty to propose something which should alleviate the suspense and distress we were all enduring on her account. No words can describe to you her fortitude, her noble endurance —’ Mrs Langley’s voice faltered as she pronounced the last words. It was some minutes ere she became sufficiently composed to proceed thus:
‘I am charged with a message to you from Jane — I should say, charged with her entreaties, that you will not suspend our intercourse with Mr Streatfield, or view his conduct in any other than a merciful light — as conduct for which accident and circumstances are alone to blame. After she had given me this message to you, she turned to Clara, who sat weeping by her side, completely overcome; and kissing her, said that they were to blame, if anyone was to be blamed in the matter, for being so much alike as to make all who saw them apart doubt which was Clara and which was Jane. She said this with a faint smile, and an effort to speak playfully, which touched us to the heart. Then, in a tone and manner which I can never forget, she asked her sister — charging her, on their mutual affection and mutual confidence, to answer sincerely — if she had noticed Mr Streatfield on the day of the levée, and afterwards remembered him at the dinner-table, as he had noticed and remembered her? It was only after Jane had repeated this appeal, still more earnestly and affectionately, that Clara summoned courage and composure enough to confess that she had noticed Mr Streatfield on the day of the levée, had thought of him afterwards during her absence from London, and had recognised him at our table, as he had recognised her.’
‘Is it possible! I own I had not anticipated — not thought for one moment of that,’ said Mr Langley.
‘Perhaps,’ continued his wife, ‘it is best that you should see Jane now, and judge for yourself. For my part, her noble resignation under this great trial, has so astonished and impressed me, that I only feel competent to advise as she advises, to act as she thinks fit. I begin to think that it is not we who are to guide her, but she who is to guide us.‘
Mr Langley lingered irresolute for a few minutes; then quitted the room, and proceeded alone to Jane Langley’s apartment.
When he knocked at the door, it was opened by Clara. There was an expression partly of confusion, partly of sorrow on her face; and when her father stopped as if to speak to her, she merely pointed into the room, and hurried away without uttering a word.
Mr Langley had been prepared by his wife for the change that had taken place in his daughter since the day before; but he felt startled, almost overwhelmed, as he now looked on her. One of the poor girl’s most prominent attractions, from her earliest years, had been the beauty of her complexion; and now, the freshness and the bloom had entirely departed from her face; it seemed absolutely colourless. Her expression, too, appeared to Mr Langley’s eyes, to have undergone a melancholy alteration; to have lost its youthfulness suddenly; to have assumed a strange character of firmness and thoughtfulness, which he had never observed in it before. She was sitting by an open window, commanding a lovely view of wide, sunny landscape; a Bible which her mother had given her, lay open on her knees; she was reading it as her father entered. For the first time in his life, he paused, speechless, as he approached to speak to one of his own children.
‘I am afraid I look very ill,’ she said, holding out her hand to him; ‘but I am better than I look; I shall be quite well in a day or two. Have you heard my message, father? have you been told?’
‘My love, we will not speak of it yet; we will wait a few days,’ said Mr Langley.
‘You have always been so kind to me,’ she continued, in less steady tones, ‘that I am sure you will let me go on. I have very little to say, but that little must be said now, and then we need never recur to it again. Will you consider all that has happened, as something forgotten? You have heard already what it is I entreat you to do; will you let him — Mr Streatfield —’ (She stopped, her voice failed for a moment, but she recovered herself again almost immediately.) ‘Will you let Mr Streatfield remain here, or recall him if he is gone, and give him an opportunity of explaining himself to my sister? If poor Clara should refuse to see him for my sake, pray do not listen to her. I am sure this is what ought to be done; I have been thinking of it very calmly, and I feel that it is right. And there is something more I have to beg of you, father; it is, that, while Mr Streatfield is here, you will allow me to go and stay with my aunt. You know how fond she is of me. Her house is not a day’s journey from home. It is best for everybody (much the best for me) that I should not remain here at present; and — and — dear father! I have always been your spoiled child; and I know you will indulge me still. If you do what I ask you, I shall soon get over this heavy trial. I shall be well again if I am away at my aunt’s — if —’
She paused; and putting one trembling arm around her father’s neck, hid her face on his breast. For some minutes, Mr Langley could not trust himself to answer her. There was something, not deeply touching only, but impressive and sublime, about the moral heroism of this young girl, whose heart and mind — hitherto wholly inexperienced in the harder and darker emergencies of life — now rose in the strength of their native purity superior to the bitterest, cruellest trial that either could undergo; whose patience and resignation, called forth for the first time by a calamity which suddenly thwarted the purposes and paralysed the affections that had been destined to endure for a life, could thus appear at once in the fullest maturity of virtue and beauty. As the father thought on these things; as he vaguely and imperfectly estimated the extent of the daughter’s sacrifice; as he reflected on the nature of the affliction that had befallen her — which combined in itself a fatality that none could have foreseen, a fault that could neither be repaired nor resented, a judgement against which there was no appeal — and then remembered how this affliction had been borne, with what words and what actions it had been met, he felt that it would be almost a profanation to judge the touching petition just addressed to him, by the criterion of his worldly doubts and his worldly wisdom. His eye fell on the Bible, still open beneath it; he remembered the little child who was set in the midst of the disciples, as teacher and example to all; and when at length he spoke in answer to his daughter, it was not to direct or to advise, but to comfort and comply.
They delayed her removal for a few days, to see if she faltered in her resolution, if her bodily weakness increased; but she never wavered; nothing in her appearance changed, either for better or for worse. A week after the startling scene at the dinner-table, she was living in the strictest retirement in the house of her aunt.
About the period of her departure, a letter was received from Mr Streatfield. It was little more than a recapitulation of what he had already said to Mr Langley — expressed, however, on this occasion, in stronger and, at the same time, in more respectful terms. The letter was answered briefly; he was informed that nothing had, as yet, been determined on, but that the next communication would bring him a final reply.
Two months passed. During that time, Jane Langley was frequently visited at her aunt’s house, by her father and mother. She still remained calm and resolved; still looked pale and thoughtful, as at first. Doctors were consulted: they talked of a shock to the nervous system; of great hope from time, and their patient’s strength of mind; and of the necessity of acceding to her wishes in all things. Then, the advice of the aunt was sought. She was a woman of an eccentric, masculine character, who had herself experienced a love-disappointment in early life, and had never married. She gave her opinion unreservedly and abruptly, as she always gave it. ‘Do as Jane tells you!’ said the old lady, severely; ‘that poor child has more moral courage and determination than all the rest of you put together! I know better than anybody what a sacrifice she has had to make; but she has made it; and made it nobly — like a heroine, as some people would say; like a good, high-minded, courageous girl, as I say! Do as she tells you! Let that poor, selfish fool of a man have his way, and marry her sister — he has made one mistake already about a face — see if he doesn’t find out, some day, that he has made another, about a wife! Let him! — Jane is too good for him, or for any man! Leave her to me; let her stop here; she shan’t lose by what has happened! You know this place is mine — I mean it to be hers, when I’m dead. You know I’ve got some money — I shall leave it to her. I’ve made my will: it’s all done and settled! Go back home; send for the man, and tell Clara to marry him without any more fuss! You wanted my opinion — there it is for you!’
At last Mr Langley decided. The important letter was written, which recalled Mr Streatfield to Langley Hall. As Jane had foreseen, Clara at first refused to hold any communication with him; but a letter from her sister, and the remonstrances of her father, soon changed her resolution. There was nothing in common between the twin-sisters but their personal resemblance. Clara had been guided all her life by the opinions of others, and she was guided by them now.
Once permitted the opportunity of pleading his cause, Mr Streatfield did not neglect his own interests. It would be little to our purpose to describe the doubts and difficulties which delayed at first the progress of his second courtship — pursued as it was under circumstances, not only extraordinary, but unprecedented. It is no longer, with him, or with Clara Langley, that the interest of our story is connected. Suffice it to say, that he ultimately overcame all the young lady’s scruples; and that, a few months afterwards, some of Mr Langley’s intimate friends found themselves again assembled round his table as wedding-guests, and congratulating Mr Streatfield on his approaching union with Clara, as they had already congratulated him, scarcely a year back, on his approaching union with Jane!
The social ceremonies of the wedding-day were performed soberly — almost sadly. Some of the guests (especially the unmarried ladies) thought that Miss Clara had allowed herself to be won too easily — others were picturing to themselves the situation of the poor girl who was absent; and contributed little towards the gaiety of the party. On this occasion, however, nothing occurred to interrupt the proceedings; the marriage took place; and, immediately after it, Mr Streatfield and his bride started for a tour on the Continent.
On their departure, Jane Langley returned home. She made no reference whatever to her sister’s marriage; and no one mentioned it in her presence. Still the colour did not return to her cheek, or the old gaiety to her manner. The shock that she had suffered had left its traces on her for life. But there was no evidence that she was sinking under the remembrances which neither time nor resolution could banish. The strong, pure heart had undergone a change, but not a deterioration. All that had been brilliant in her character was gone; but all that was noble in it remained. Never had her intercourse with her family and her friends been so affectionate and so kindly as it was now.
When, after a long absence, Mr Streatfield and his wife returned to England, it was observed, at her first meeting with them, that the momentary confusion and embarrassment were on their side, not on hers. During their stay at Langley Hall, she showed not the slightest disposition to avoid them. No member of the family welcomed them more cordially; entered into all their plans and projects more readily; or bade them farewell with a kinder or better grace, when they departed for their own home.
Our tale is nearly ended: what remains of it, must comprise the history of many years in the compass of a few words.
Time passed on; and Death and Change told of its lapse among the family at Langley Hall. Five years after the events above related, Mr Langley died; and was followed to the grave, shortly afterwards, by his wife. Of their two sons, the eldest was rising into good practice at the bar; the youngest had become attaché to a foreign embassy. Their third daughter was married, and living at the family seat of her husband, in Scotland. Mr and Mrs Streatfield had children of their own, now, to occupy their time and absorb their care. The career of life was over for some — the purposes of life had altered for others — Jane Langley alone, still remained unchanged.
She now lived entirely with her aunt. At intervals — as their worldly duties and worldly avocations permitted them — the other members of her family, or one or two intimate friends, came to the house. Offers of marriage were made to her, but were all declined. The first, last love of her girlish days — abandoned as a hope, and crushed as a passion; living only as a quiet grief, as a pure remembrance — still kept its watch, as guardian and defender, over her heart. Years passed on and worked no change in the sad uniformity of her life, until the death of her aunt left her mistress of the house in which she had hitherto been a guest. Then it was observed that she made fewer and fewer efforts to vary the tenor of existence, to forget her old remembrances for awhile in the society of others. Such invitations as reached her from relations and friends were more frequently declined than accepted. She was growing old herself now; and, with each advancing year, the busy pageant of the outer world presented less and less that could attract her eye.
So she began to surround herself, in her solitude, with the favourite books that she had studied, with the favourite music that she had played, in the days of her hopes and her happiness. Everything that was associated, however slightly, with that past period, now acquired a character of inestimable value in her eyes, as aiding her mind to seclude itself more and more strictly in the sanctuary of its early recollections. Was it weakness in her to live thus; to abandon the world and the world’s interests, as one who had no hope, or part in either? Had she earned the right, by the magnitude and resolution of her sacrifice, thus to indulge in the sad luxury of fruitless remembrance? Who shall say! — who shall presume to decide that cannot think with her thoughts, and look back with her recollections!
Thus she lived — alone, and yet not lonely; without hope, but with no despair; separate and apart from the world around her, except when she approached it by her charities to the poor, and her succour to the afflicted; by her occasional interviews with the surviving members of her family and a few old friends, when they sought her in her calm retreat; and by little presents which she constantly sent to brothers’ and sisters’ children, who worshipped, as their invisible good genius, ‘the kind lady’ whom most of them had never seen. Such was her existence throughout the closing years of her life: such did it continue — calm and blameless — to the last.
Reader, when you are told, that what is impressive and pathetic in the Drama of Human Life has passed with a past age of Chivalry and Romance, remember Jane Langley, and quote in contradiction the story of the TWIN SISTERS!
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