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There was, indeed, in the whole aspect and getting up of the scene, something truly elegant and fanciful; for nearly every house had been decorated, as we have already mentioned, with shrubs and green branches, interspersed with lamps, which were now lighted up in profusion, converting the twilight, as it were, into an artificial day; and, whilst the elder part of the community sate beneath the silvered foliage on hospitable cares intent, and the younger, with features tinted by the glare of fire-light, were dancing with undiminished glee, music from unnumbered groups, as well itinerant as domestic, sometimes warbling close at hand, and sometimes heard remotely, amused and occupied the ear.
More particularly opposite New-Place, then, perhaps, the best house in Stratford, and, beyond every other distinction, the residence of its beloved bard, and which was now rendered more than usually conspicuous by the taste in which its front had been illumined, and above. all, by the party assembled before its porch, had the charm and interest of the evening been concentrated. Here danced the most elegant
group of young people, and here, too, came the best musical performers which the festivity of the occasion had called forth; whilst Shakspeare, in order to encourage their exertions, had not only himself, to a certain degree, provided for their refreshment, but had given directions likewise to his opposite neighbour, Julius Shaw, the honest landlord of the Falcon, and who was then, indeed, the annual bailiff of the borough, and consequently entrusted with the care and safety of the town, to supply them with whatever might, in his opinion, be thought, within the bounds of moderation, additionally requisite.
It was in one of these pauses for reflection, and whilst all was comparatively still, that the sound of a harp of uncommon sweetness, and evidently touched with a master's hand, was heard approaching towards New- Place. The attention of Shakspeare and his party, and especially of the ladies, was soon almost exclusively engaged by the magic influence of these unwonted tones, which, as they drew nearer, soothed and fascinated the ear with strains of the most delicious melody. Nor was the appearance of the minstrel, as he somewhat slowly came for
ward, scarcely less interesting than the music he had so happily called forth. He seemed, indeed, as he paused, and bowed with great deference to our bard and his little group of friends, to possess a figure of peculiar symmetry and manly beauty; but his features were partially, and, as it appeared, purposely shaded. In his dress it was easy to perceive that he had copied for the occasion a considerable part of the costume which half a century before had so remarkably distinguished the minstrel tribe; being clothed in a mantle of Kendal green, gathered at the neck by a gorget and clasp, from which depended a silver chain and medal, and girt round the waist with a belt of scarlet velvet. To these were added a turban of black cloth, with a laced fringe which hung half over his face, and surmounted by a plume of the same colour as the girdle, a ruff after the Elizabethan fashion, a doublet and hose of tawny camlet, worked at the wrists and seams with raised green silk, and buskins of dark brown leather fringed with scarlet.
The striking character of this garb, the grace and spirit, both of form and manner, which ac
companied him who wore it, and the skill with which he struck his harp, had drawn after the youthful minstrel a concourse of all ranks and ages, who now stood opposite New-Place in eager and almost silent expectation of once more hearing the sounds which had so lately and so singularly delighted them.
It was not long before they were again gratified; but scarcely had he closed the prelude, and commenced, in a rich and mellow tone of voice, a little madrigal, whose words were those of wild and plaintive tenderness, than a considerable degree of agitation was perceptible in the features and manner of Helen Montchensey. She leant trembling, and with nearly her whole weight, on the arm of Mrs. Hall, and seemed to listen with an almost breathless intenseness of curiosity, mingled with alarm, to the song of the harper. It became evident, indeed, to Mrs. Hall, whose scrutiny had been powerfully awakened by the distress of her friend, that, notwithstanding the semi-veil which shaded the brow and eyes of the minstrel, both Helen and herself had been for some time the objects of his close and unwearied attention; and he had
even contrived during the execution of his interesting little ditty, gradually, and almost imperceptibly, to approach the spot where they stood, so that when Helen, whose eyes had been cast on the ground, as she anxiously listened to the recognition of tones which had never been heard by her without emotion, raised them as the voice seemed to vibrate on her ear, she beheld the minstrel at her side. It was at this moment, and whilst she involuntarily started at the close and hitherto unnoticed approximation of the seeming stranger, that carelessly, as it were, and as if by accident, and whilst his face was turned towards her own, he struck aside the veiling fringe, and instantly as her eye met his, the name of Hubert convulsively and unconsciously escaped her lips, and she sank powerless and fainting to the ground.
The confusion and alarm which this incident occasioned were such, that though the exclamation of Helen had reached the ears of her father, and had brought with it the most painful emotions, yet such were his apprehensions for the immediate safety of his daughter, that he suffered her, notwithstanding he entertained