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CHAPTER VIII.

Man must either believe in the perfectibility of his species, or virtue and the love of others are but a heated and objectless enthusiasm. E. L. BULWER.

We return to Brookshaw and to Maple Hatch, where, in the interval since we left them, considerable changes had occurred. Hargrave making frequent visits to the Norberries, and thus maturing a passion which had continued to increase since his first interview, at last made a formal offer of his hand to Lucy, as they were strolling one morning over the common in front of the house. Too sedate a suitor to affect raptures and ecstasies, or despondency and despair, as the alternatives of his reception or rejection, he avowed his attachment with a frank fervour; pointed out the domestic advantages that would attend such a union by its enabling her still to remain in the immediate vicinity of her father and sister, from whom she would scarcely be separated; regretted the narrowness of his income, which merely amounted to a competency; but expressed a confident persuasion that, if she would become his wife and share his humble abode, they might be blessed with a mutual happiness that would leave them nothing to desire.

"Dear! dear!" cried the blushing Lucy, clasping her hands together as he concluded, "Are you really in earnest, Mr. Hargrave?"

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"Can I be otherwise? Why should you for an instant doubt me?"

"Because it seems scarcely credible that so clever, so learned, so superior a person as you are, should condescend to think seriously of such a wild, giddy, inexperienced uninformed girl as I am."

"Your humility makes you unjust. Say not wild and giddy, but delightfully sportive and vivacious; attractions which, in combination with your innocence and simplicity, constitute the great charm of your character. Uninformed I know you are not; this, indeed, would be impossible in the pupil of Miss Norberry; and, as to your inexperience and unacquaintance with the ways of the world, believe me, dear Lucy, they only make me love you ten thousand times better."

"Oh, Mr. Hargrave! how very kind and good you are! I must run and tell Chritty: she will be so delighted! you cannot imagine how highly she thinks of you."

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'Stay, stay!" cried the lover, clasping the hand of his lively mistress, who was about to fly towards the house. “I would rather hear that you were delighted, that you thought favourably of me. Tell me, I beseech you, that I am not indifferent to you, that you accept my offer, that you will allow me to consecrate my future life to your happiness."

"What am I to say, Mr. Hargrave? Chritty has taught me never to utter a falsehood, which I am sure I should be doing, were I to deny that I feel most highly honoured and sincerely gratified by your offer.'

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May I then infer that you do not reject it?" asked the - suitor, eagerly.

"I don't know what I ought to reply on such an occasion, and you will pardon me, I hope, if I should confess No, there cannot be any impropriety in speaking the truth; I shall accept your offer with joy, if papa and sister think that I ought to do so."

"Ten thousand thanks, dear Lucy!" cried Hargrave, pressing to his heart the hand which he still held captive. "Of their consent and approbation I have little doubt, now that you allow me to cherish the delightful hope that I have succeeded in winning your affections. I hardly expected at first that I should ever be so fortunate."

"Why not? I am sure you did me injustice, I have always had more regard for you than for any body-except

papa

and dear sister., I love Chritty better than any thing in the world, and if my acceptance of your offer would have carried me far away from her, I must positively have rejected your suit."

"I feel too grateful, dear Lucy, for the first part of your avowal to be offended at the second; nor shall you make me jealous of your excellent sister. May you always remain as frank towards me, and as affectionately attached to her, as you are at the present moment!"

There was, indeed, something singularly touching in the mutual attachment of these most amiable girls, the difference of whose years, though not sufficient to impair the sympathy of feeling, or congeniality of pursuit, which usually prevail between unmarried sisters, had blended with the fond familiarity of Lucy an admiration, gratitude, and respect, that partook of filial reverence; while Chritty, in guiding and instructing her pupil, and supplying the place of the mother whom they had lost, became imbued with a maternal tenderness, free from any restraint or assumption that could encroach upon the perfect equality of a sister's love. Hargrave, struck with this picture of pure, innocent, and disinterested affection, had often exclaimed, when first he bent his regards upon Lucy—“ Oh, if this beautiful and sportive girl, volatile as she seems, can instantly become meek, obedient, and sedate, when checked, even by a look, from the sister whom she loves; if, while she shares her pastimes with an almost exuberant vivacity, she can assiduously participate in her graver duties; if at one time she can cheer her moody father by her gaiety or her gambols, and at another sooth his sickness by the tenderest solicitude and the most watchful forethought, surely she possesses all the requisites of a maturer age for discharging the duties of a wife, and ensuring the happiness of a husband."

Agile as the mountain chamois, Lucy, on reaching the gate of the cottage, scudded up the garden, and panting with agitation, while she buried her glowing face in her sister's bosom, pressed her fondly to her heart, murmuring, "We shall not be separated, dearest Chritty! I shall still see you almost every day, or I never would have given my consent."

"What has happened? what has happened?" demanded the sister, tenderly returning her embrace. Lucy stole her eyes upwards, and was so much amused with the expression

of alarm in the countenance before her, that her own blushing features became suddenly mantled over with arch smiles, and she burst into laughter, exclaiming:-"Oh! nothing very terrible; only Mr. Hargrave has made me an offer of his hand. Are you not surprised?"

"Not in the least; on the contrary, I fully expected it, and am delighted beyond measure at finding I was not mistaken; of all men in existence, Mr. Hargrave is the one to make you happy. My dear, dear Lucy! my heart is too full for utterance,-I give you joy with all-" The tears trembled in her eyes, and an affectionate kiss supplied what her faltering words had failed to express. After a brief interchange of the fondest endearments and congratulations, Lucy ran to communicate the happy tidings to her father, who received them with a rare avowal of satisfaction, though he could not refrain from ungraciously adding,"Eugh! wonder what he could see in you to make you his wife."

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"That is the very thing that puzzles me," replied Lucy, only he is so very good and kind."

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Ay, you may well say that. What are you crying about?"

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"Am I crying? I was not aware of it; only dear Chritty broke into tears when I told her of it, and so I suppose cried for company."

"Then you are a couple of geese for your pains. You know I hate blubbering, it always makes me low; but nobody cares for me." An affectionate embrace reproached this unkind assertion. Chritty and Hargrave soon after made their appearance, and as the old gentleman, in spite of his grumbling propensities, was highly gratified by the projected match, he gave it a glad sanction, and was mollified, for the remainder of the day, into a mood of almost unprecedented complacency.

The fit of gloom and despondency into which Middleton had been thrown by the unexpected rejection of his suit, was not only of a more sombre hue, but of longer endurance than any he had previously experienced. Enshrouding himself in a moral and physical darkness, which involved this world and the next, the past, the present, and the future; he would admit only partial glimpses of light into his study and his laboratory; he abandoned his pleasant walks, and the cheering face of nature, that might have dispersed his black

melancholy; sitting at home, day after day, he fed the bypochondria that oppressed him by seclusion and inoccupation, and remained unsusceptible of even a momentary solace, except when he drew the inseparable miniature from his bosom, and pressed it reverentially to his heart and to his lips. Hargrave, having at length succeeded in gaining admittance, enticed him from his benighted room, and prevailed upon him, though not without difficulty, to stroll through the plantation, as far as his favourite rural picturegallery. The day being remarkably serene and splendid, the beauties of the landscape shone forth with such an overcoming effect upon the dejected gazer, who had been latterly moped up in the obscurity of a dim chamber, that he stood for some moments in a silent ecstasy, drinking in the scene with his tear-filling eyes, and then ejaculated with a pious fervour,"Oh! the beauty, the loveliness of the world! Oh! the greatness, the glory, the goodness of God!"

"Enough!" said his companion; "be sensible of thesefeel them as you ought-come hither daily to impress them upon your heart, and you cannot relapse into a prostration of spirits equally unworthy of you as a Christian and a

man."

From this moment Middleton began in some degree to recover his self-possession, though he found it impossible to shake off altogether the incubus that darkened and oppressed his spirit. During the blackness of his fit he had repeatedly conned over the defamatory letter respecting Chritty Norberry, without perceiving, until his mind had recovered its lucidity, that the slanderous scroll which accused her of inveigling his affections for some unworthy purpose, was refuted by the fact of her having peremptorily rejected his suit; and he would indignantly have torn the letter to pieces, had he not reflected that its preservation might possibly lead to a detection of the infamous writer. In proportion as this epistle lost its power of annoyance, Chritty's acquired that of consoling him, even while it so firmly declined the tender of his hand. It avowed no objection that was morally insuperable; it contained the most flattering expressions of regard; nay, it even made him an offer of her continued friendship, and he accused himself of the rudest ingratitude in having omitted to acknowledge this kindness, as well as of a culpable inattention to his own interests in not having eagerly accepted a privilege which might eventually lead

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