« VorigeDoorgaan »
low, she dropped down, Lord Iona assured her, so as perfectly to represent the very best Stilton cheese. “I believe," he added, “ that in choosing a new dress, Anne, you always have this graceful achievement in view, and pay a shilling a yard more for one that will stand out properly. It is the only thing on earth that I cannot do!”
“I could name a million of things you cannot do, Iona! Is there anything indeed that you can do well?"
“How very malicious, Anne, when you know that in your service I echo every laugh, chorus every song, start every jest, follow up any joke, am in every part of a room at once, arranging or disarranging, ordering or disordering—enliven the merriest party, and can always detect a coming marriage, even before the parties themselves have thought of it! Besides, Anne,” added her lively cousin, with a seriously warning look, “I can also find out a coming perversion, before the victim apprehends any danger. Beware, Anne, for the ice is shaking under your feet, and, once engulphed in Romanism, the Humane Society does not exist that could rescue you from what is far worse than death,-the degradation of body and soul in a convent,
The object of all exciting amusements is to escape from self-consciousness, and whether it be competing at a show of roses, or of black-cattle, writing a book, or running a horse at the Derby, dancing, acting, rowing, riding, or driving, every one seeks to forget his own identity, his cares, his hopes, and his sorrows. Children delight in being
anything but themselves; they act the part of tutors or governesses, kings or queens, thieves or policemen, thus trying, whether in leisure or in exertion, they can forget; and those who make religion a mere piece of scenic representation, thus at once recommend themselves to the natural craving of sinful man, whose object is to hide himself from himself.
The laughing hours at Eaglescairn were now spent by the juvenile members of the party in a state of strenuous idleness, for it is thought better by Papists for the young to do anything, rather than to think. Mr. Ambrose, having incidentally mentioned that the monks of St. Bernard's amuse themselves during the long winter evenings with whist, round-games, and dancing, Lord Iona said he thought it too good an example not to be followed. He joyously ordered up the Highland piper im mediately, and according to Highland practice all the servants were invited to join in reels and country dances. A gay scene took place now in that grand saloon, which had seemed hitherto dedicated only to dignified dulness, and Beatrice felt in a surprising dream when she heard the bagpipes playing their noisiest measure, and when she saw round her the merriest party ever assembled together for diversion, even in the merriest of houses.
Beatrice knew that the personages most supernaturally proud towards their equals, are those who delight most to excite themselves by performing some piece of miraculous condescension
towards those immeasurably beneath, and she saw this confirmed when Lady Eaglescairn, with a smile of almost royal suavity, permitted herself to be placed at the head of a country dance, opposite to her greatly honoured, but rather intimidated partner, Mr. Macgregor, the head gardener. The Duke of Dorchester stood next below, with the very prettiest dairymaid who ever handled a churn, all dimples, smiles, and blushes, but evidently uplifted by this unusual honour far above the plebeian valets and grooms, whose attentions had hitherto been very acceptable; and as Beatrice took her place with Lord Iona, who seemed quite in a happy frenzy, they both laughed immeasurably to observe the enchanting mixture of dignity and frolic with which Miss Turton consented to perform with the gamekeeper. The poor man, with a head like a Scotch terrier, looked in a state of frantic awkwardness, under the overwhelming honour of such a partner.
“ Sir Allan," said Lady Anne, who had been in very deep conversation with the Chief for nearly an hour, evidently on some topic of the gravest interest, we shall soon take leave for ever of scenes such as these ; but nuns abroad often bid farewell to the world by giving a ball, and dancing their last gay steps, before the final important step of all! Now let me tell you in the very strictest confidence, that I am actually disengaged for the next country dance."
“ Indeed!” replied the young Chief, his handsome care-worn countenance relaxing into some
thing very like the cheerful smile of his early days, and he looked now, dressed in the McAlpine tartan, the very image of Sir Evan.
Pray, Sir Allan !” said the lively Lady Anne, stirring up a whirlpool in her tea-cup, “ am I talking to my parrot, only to receive one word of reply! The remark I laid before you is, that a country dance, when well played, is very apt to make one think of dancing!”
“ An exceedingly natural association of ideas,” replied Sir Allan: “I am quite a paragon in everything except dancing, but that, for some years, has not been, as you know, my forte."
“What! a Highland Chief, and not dance to your own enlivening bagpipes ? Impossible! You could not sit still if you tried ! I certainly cannot!"
“And why should we?” said Sir Allan, rising with all the alertness of his boyhood. “You have made me feel ten years younger to-night, and certainly in my Oxford days I was reckoned great in a reel, and magnificent in a polka, Lady Anne! Pray let us go through the solemnity of a Highland reel together, and I shall perform it as if we were both competitors at the Holland-House games. I suppose you would not accept of me for a partner."
“Of course not !” said Lady Anne, in a tone of good-humoured caprice, “I have been very tired you
for the last hour! How dull and hum-drum we both are !”
“ Then the best way to get rid of each other's
tiresome conversation is, to dance, and I am wearied to death of yours.”
“Well!” said the spoiled beauty, with a look of amusing caprice, “I delight in hearing pleasant truths! I always said of you, Sir Allan, at Rome, that no one did a graceful thing so gracefully as the Chief of McAlpine, and your way of taking a hint is beyond all praise."
“I wish you would hint something more ! Go all round the room and see if
any as anxious to please you as I! Name your wishes, and I am the most obliging person on earth. As soon as I ascertain that it can be done without the possibility of putting myself to the very smallest inconvenience, I really do comply with the wishes of a friend ; therefore, tell me yours?"
"No! for then I should see you beating a most graceful retreat. If some very particulare somebody were to ask what I ask, you would do it," said Lady Anne, with a look of playful hilarity, very unlike the sombre expression her attractive countenance had sometimes recently assumed. “If I ask a favour then, perhaps, down may go my house of cards, for you will certainly negative the request!"
Perhaps not! try me! I am in a state of invincible good humour, and there is nothing within the range of thought I could refuse you. I might even say to you, in the words of Sheridan,
"Friends in all the old you'll meet,
And partners in the young.'”