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There was a radiant fascination in their countenances, of which neither language nor limner could convey any adequate idea. In figure, both were tall, and of faultless symmetry.—Julia's eyes were violet-blue, and her hair, the purest auburn; while Matilda's orbs and tresses had that Italian shade and brilliancy, more commonly suggestive of intellect than heart; but, saving this slight contrast, there was a striking resemblance between the 'witches,' upon whom the compliment of uniting the brightness of stars, to the sweetness of flowers had-not been improperly or ungracefully bestowed. In disposition, both were so truly amiable, that it would have perplexed many an anxious enquirer to have determined which was the better adapted to ensure the perfect harmony of connubial life. Still, if we might be permitted to draw a distinction,—without involving any personal prepossession,we should say that there was more tenderness and sympathy in Julia's countenance, than the darker glances of her younger sister were calculated to express. In unaffected elegance--the result of high cultivation, and fine natural endowments, the sisters were as secure from rivalry, as in that dazzling loveliness which had obtained for them a celebrity which was certainly not attributable to any premeditated designs of their own, and whose existence they would have been more alarmed than gratified to discover.
Senor Lauza had-not been married, many weeks, when he received intelligence of the death of his father, an event which compelled his return to Mexico, at an earlier period than he had originally contemplated. In consequence, however, of madame Lauza's health being exceedingly delicate, the Isle of Wight was selected for her residence during her husband's temporary absence, -it being his intention to dispose of his Mexican estates, preparatory to a final settlement in his adopted country. As soon, therefore, as the necessary arrangements were complete, Senor Lauza embarked in an American vessel, bound direct to Vera Cruz, leaving his lady with her sister, Matilda, as a companion, and recommending her to the counsel and protection of an eccentric, old gentleman, who was also sojourning in the Island, partly for the benefit of his constitution, but more especially for meteorological science,
Mr. Middleton was a stout, cheerful and enthusiastic old bachelor, between fifty and sixty years of age. In early life, he paid-his-addresses to a young lady of distinguished beauty, who died on the day appointed for their nuptials. Since then, Mr. Middleton had constantly worn mourning; and though several intelligent widows had looked upon him with pensive sympathy, yet, true to his first impression, he had, smilingly, shaken his head at them all, resolved, evermore, to wear the miniature of his Miranda next that heart, where her memory had so long been fondly cherished. Having a small independence, Mr. Middleton, who had been educated for the bar, relinguished his prospects of forensic eminence, in order to devote-himself, with greater diligence, to the improvement of its glorious constitution, and the study of those physical agencies, by which it is most generally and potentially affected, amongst which, meteorology, of course, held a prominent station. For this purpose, he had travelled pretty nearly over all the continent, to determine, from personal experience, the relative advantages which various climates
presented to the fastidious invalid. A journal, in which his observations were daily or hourly recorded, he had long been preparing for publication, and only hesitated respecting the meridian, in whose favor he should ultimately strike the balance of his sanatory accounts. In order to ensure unquestionable accuracy in his observations, Mr. Middleton kept a wind-guage and a rain-guage-an anemometer, and a sympiesometer—and the vigilant watehing of these instruments, with the registration of the phenomena which they disclosed, constituted the principal business of his life, and caused his authority upon the subjects, which occupied his almost undivided attention, to be universally recognised and respected.
CHAPTER II. Mr. Middleton made it his universal practice, to call every morning upon the ladies, at their villa, to enquire after their health, and ascertain if he could execute any little commission for them in town. One day, madame Lauza was engaged at her embroidery-frame, and Matilda was practising at the harp, when Mr. Middleton made-his-appearance, with much bustle and animation in his deportment-a telescope under his arm, and bearing a large bouquet of roses, which he had just gathered for the purpose of presenting it to his fair neighbours.
" Good morning, ladies," cried Mr. Middleton, in his clear and cordial tone. “I hope you were-not much alarmed at the wind last night.”
“Matilda heard it, but I did-not,” replied madame Lauza. “Was it, then, very violent, Mr. Middleton ?"
“Not hear it!” exclaimed the old gentleman, with astonishment. “Bless me. Why, it blew all the blossoms from off our cherry-tree, and played-the-dickens with Mrs. Maberly's sweet-peas."
“How distressing," observed Matilda. “I hope we shall-not have a repetition of such unruly behaviour, while we remain upon this sweet, but solitary, little Island."
“The wind has got more round to the south, now," rejoined Mr. Middleton, approaching the window, and contemplating a gilded vane, which surmounted a neighbouring dove-cote. “At 2 a.m. it was north-east by east.”
“Do you think we shall have any rain, Mr. Middleton ?" enquired Julia. “ For we thought of walking as far as St. Lawrence, this afternoon, to make some trifling purchases."
" I looked at my 'friar,' before I came out,” replied Mr. Middleton, “and he says-no-most emphatically; but my sea-weed prognosticates a decided change for wet. I fear my friar is somewhat out of order. Mrs. Maberly had some little folks to see her, one day, last week, and, in my absence, the young rogues got pulling his cowl over his head; since which, his powers of prophecy have been very much weakened, as you may naturally suppose. Let the wind only get-round another point to the south, and we must have a fall of something, there's no question about that.”
“Is it not rather too cold for rain, Mr. Middleton ?" said Matilda, who delighted in drawing-out the old gentleman, upon those crotchets which most interested him.
o “My glass stands at fifty-three degrees, in the shade,” replied Mr. Middleton, putting-on his spectacles, to inspect a thermometer over the mantle-piece. “Yours, I see, is sixty degrees ; that's not very low. I directed Mrs. Maberly, when the glass fell to forty-seven degrees, to have my lambs'-wool socks well aired, fancying I should require them; but, 'pon my word, I think of waiting a little longer, and making forty-eight degrees the signal for change of hosiery.”
“Ah! Mr. Middleton,” said madame Lauza, distributing the flowers into little, china vases, “ see what it is to be a philosopher, and to regulate even one's personal comforts by rule and figures. But shall we have an opportunity of seeing that grand, lunar eclipse, to-night, which you have so long promised us ?"
"The grand, lunar eclipse ?" returned Mr. Middleton, with an air of perplexity. “O!—true. Why, what a blockhead I am-that's the very subject I came to speak to you about; but, first, I must tell you of a little adventure I met-with in my travels, yesterday."
" An adventure, Mr. Middleton ?" cried Matilda, placing a lump of sugar between the wires of the brass cage, which contained her favorite canary. “O! let us hear it-if it be ever so little, it will be acceptable. Julia and myself are quite faint from the lack of news. It's six weeks since Mrs. Newton met with that ill-looking man on the highway; and we have-not had a morsel of any kind, since."
“Excepting,” said madame Lauza, “our new curate, having been seen to comehome with an umbrella, which he must have borrowed of one of the miss Atkinsons ---a circumstance which speaks volumes, at least, in Mrs. Maberly's opinion.”
“ You are depriving us of a most interesting romance," cried Matilda, addressing her sister. “Now, Mr. Middleton, pray favor us with your little adventure, there's a kind creature.”
Thus entreated, the meteorologist placed his telescope on the sofa ; then, drawing a chair between his expectant auditors, he cleared his voice, and, with pleasure beaming in bis benevolent eye, commenced as follows :
“When I was in Wales, about two years ago, of course I paid a visit to its most stupendous lion, mount Snowden, but not alone, my fellow-traveller, on that occasion, being a highly intelligent, and gentlemanly young man, whom I accidently picked-up at the Inn, from which I started, and who had come thither upon the same errand as myself—namely, to enlarge-his-mind, by contemplating the majestic works of Nature. What he was, then, I do-not know; nor what he is, now, have I been able, exactly, to discover."
“How very mysterious," observed Matilda, who was well acquainted with Mr. Middleton's discursive mode of narration.
“But, from certain hints,” pursued Mr. Middleton, with a wink at the lady who had just spoken, “which fell from him in the course of conversation, I suspect that he was engaged in writing a book—a sort of descriptive tour, with illustrations from his own hand. Well! We dined together; we had very nice veal-cutlets, and some thin rashers of bacon. We drank a bottle of port between us—told stories—cracked jokes-exchanged snuff-boxes—lit our candles—bade each other "good night,' and when I got-up, in the morning, and enquired for my companion, I found he was gone, having booked his place in the identical coach, by which I had intended to travel, but was prevented, because there was no room for me—a singular coincidence, certainly."
“ I suppose he had settled his account, and everything before his departure ?" said Matilda, " though his sudden disappearance would seem to imply his omission of that important duty."
“No-no!" returned Mr. Middleton, rapidly taking snuff. “A highly honorable man! but rather eccentric in his movements—the creature of impulse, probably. Well, I saw no more of him; and being constantly occupied with a multiplicity of affairs, I had almost forgotten him, till, yesterday afternoon, as I was strolling down by Shanklin Chine, I observed a gentleman seated on one of the ledges of the rocks, engaged with pencil and portfolio, in making-a-sketch of the surrounding scenery, and, on examination, who do you guess this landscape-sketcher proved to be ?".
"O, do-not impose too severe a task upon our ingenuity, Mr. Middleton," answered madame Lauza, with a smile.
“We do-not imagine, for one moment," said Matilda, “ that it was the mysterious gentleman, with whom you exchanged snuff-boxes, and whom you so uncharitably thought capable even of writing a book.”
“Himself, alone!" exclaimed Mr. Middleton, while his spectacles seemed to sparkle with the radiance of his intellectual glances. “We recognised each other without the employment of any masonic symbols; and, as he is really a very pleasant and gentlemanly fellow, I gave him an invitation to dinner, which he accepted, and will be with us at five p.m. precisely."
“ To-day, Mr. Middleton ?" said madame Lauza, assuming an expression of surprise.
“ To day, madam,” replied the old gentleman, with a firm and steadfast look, "unless you know any just cause or impediment, in which case you are bound to declare it.”
“Well, then, Mr. Middleton," said Matilda, “ if we are bound to declare it, I shall-not hesitate to express my opinion, that you hail no authority for inviting any gentleman to dine with you to-day.”
“On what ground,” demanded Mr. Middleton.
“I am-not aware of any prior engagement,” rejoined Mr. Middleton; "perhaps, you will explain.”
“O, that is very unkind!” said Julia, who, with an ivory stiletto was directing a stream of blue ribbon through the sinuosities of a blond-lace cap, "did you not promise that we should have the advantage of your telescope and instruction, this evening.”
“My dear ladies," exclaimed Mr. Middleton, regarding his fair pupils with unquestionable sincerity and good-faith, “ you shall-not be disappointed; everything shall be arranged to your perfect satisfaction.—Do your really think that I had forgotten the eclipse ?"
Matilda shook her head with an expression of distrust, which induced Mr. Middleton to vindicate, the reputation of his memory, with all his constitutional warmth and earnestness.
“Why, that nothing may be wanting to facilitate our views, on this occasion,” said Mr. Middleton, looking around him with feelings of pardonable vanity, "I have had a sort of triangle, or rest, for my telescope, erected in the balcony, and thus I propose to manage; we dine at half-past five-Mrs. Maberly having underto be ready at that time, under heavy penalties—at half-past six, you and Miss Leighton will drop-in, as it were, accidentally, and, at my pressing solicitation, will stay and make tea for us.-Do not your hearts reproach you, now, for having suspected me of culpable forgetfulness ?”
"Your defence is very ingenious, as are those of most counsellors," replied Matilda, laughing ; "but it affords but a sorry reparation to the poor complainants.”
“How so? demanded Mr. Middleton, arresting himself in the act of opening his snuff-box, "you will-not allow my proposed guest to interfere with the gratification of a laudable curiosity ?"
"I should like to see the eclipse, very much, indeed," said Matilda,“ but my curiosity does-not extend to gentlemen, who leave their hotels in the abrupt manner which you have already described."
Mr. Middleton was going to rebut this insinuation, when madame Lauza, moved by compassion, released him from the perplexities which he had accumulated upon himself.
“There might be no impropriety," she said, addressing her sister, “in our just calling en passant; we need-not stay-I am sure Mr. Middleton would-not wish us to do so, if we experienced any thing which was-not perfectly agreeable."
Mr. Middleton re-iterated his assurances of his friend's respectability and unexceptionable deportment, but, notwithstanding the fervor of his eloquence, he couldnot remove Matilda's scruples to his generous but eccentric proposition.—With Madame Lauza he was, however, more successful; for, although Julia possessed, in an equal degree with her sister, the good-taste and sense of propriety which might be expected from their education and position ; yet, being of a more pliant disposition, and less fastidious, or, perhaps, discreet, in what she considered things of trifling import, Mr. Middleton had little difficulty in obtaining her compliance, upon the understanding that Matilda should consent to accompany her, and that they should be permitted to leave immediately after the performance of the special duty for which their company was solicited.-Prognosticating rain, in less than two hours, Mr. Middleton took-his-departure, highly gratified with the result of his application.
CHAPTER III. MATILDA having consented to accompany her sister to Mr. Middleton's, would not retract her promise, though she still adhered to her opinion of the imprudence which such a proceeding involved. She impressed upon Julia, the danger to which she exposed-herself, by mingling with persons of whose principles and circumstances she was equally ignorant, more especially when she considered the disposition of her