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the wings, then in the head ;-it stood upon its feet again, rushed into the water, drank repeatedly, then proceeded back again to its nest, settled itself upon its eggs, nodded its head three times, and all was over!
Should there be any scepticism respecting this magic swan, let the reader only search out for the account of the Emperor of Russia's mechanical duck, now in his palace at St. Petersburg, and he will not so much wonder that it has been in some degree exceeded by this swan. If he still shake his profound head in doubt, why there is no help for it: I must leave him in that state, or bid him say with Sidrophel, in Hudibras,
“ It must be supernatural!
Hangs like the body of Mahomet!" All I mean to assert is, I saw this magic swan do all these wondrous things; and I also caught a whisper of the Marquis, as he stood between his lady and her friend, the Lady Jane Urquhart, who were both in raptures at the elegant toy,—distinctly did I hear him say, “ This magic swan shall be the property of her who presents me with a son." The ladies exchanged glances, and smiled in perfect amity on each other, but there was a mystery couched beneath that smile, which in the course of a few days was to me, at least, clearly solved.
I had no further opportunity of seeing the Marquis in company with his lady and her friend for the next day or two. No visitors were admitted, but the porter must have had enough to do to answer all the calls, and take in all the cards from the distinguished personages who made enquiries, and expressed their deep interest in the delicate state of the fair Marchioness.
There was a tacit understanding between Lady Jane Urquhart and myself, after she had established herself in the Marchioness's sleeping apartment, and made use of the Turkish couch for her own repose. She was with her friend the Marchioness, Mrs. Cottrell, and myself, when, at about two in the morning, the surgeon pronounced, that the Marquis was at length blessed with an heir ! —that the Marchioness had presented him with a son! Lady Jane Urquhart I thought looked disappointed : agitated she certainly was, beyond every thing I had ever witnessed ; her lips became livid with emotion, and every feature convulsed. I thought she would have died, and so did the surgeon. So very ill was the poor young lady, that the Marchioness, who was doing extremely well, was but little thought of; all was confusion in the apartment for a couple of days; when, with a faint voice, Lady Jane thus spoke to her sympathising friend : “ Dearest Georgiana! let me speak to him before I die" -!
“ Run instantly, Cottrell, and desire the Marquis to come to me,” said Lady L- d, clasping her hands together. “Beloved Jane ! my own dear, dear friend ! say not you are dying! Think of our compact ; think of his bitter disappointment, and try to live.
The Marquis at this moment was entering the room, but the surgeon whispered something in his ear at the door, and he retreated; in a few minutes after, he pronounced that Lady Jane Urquhart was the mother of a girl ; but he ordered Mrs. Cottrell immediately to apprise the Marquis, that his lady had brought him twins ; that a daughter was also born to his high house; he then hastened to the Marchioness, and whispered to her, so that Lady Jane and myself could hear, “ It is a boy, madam ; be comforted, all goes as you could wish."
A violent fit of hysteries, which had nearly carried her off, followed immediately on Lady Jane hearing this observation; after this she became more calm and composed, but asked one question still of her friend, the answer to which seemed most gratifying to her.
“ Is our compact still held sacred ?" was the interrogatory. “ Yes ; even after death,” was the answer. I was in possession now of the whole enigma.
In neither instance had the surgeon uttered truth : the infant to whom Lady Jane Urquhart had just given birth was the boy; the one that had preceded it about eight-and-forty hours, the child of the Marchioness, was a female !
“ Sir," said I to the medical attendant in an anti-chamber, a few hours after the birth of the Marchioness's little feeble girl, “I am at a loss to know what could have induced you to lend yourself to a fraud of this description? Suppose not that I will be a party to it.”
“ Poor little thing !” said the medical gentleman, leaning over the infant, “it has not many days to live! I am perfectly astonished that the Marchioness, in her state of health, should have given birth to a living child."
“Why, Sir, did you pronounce this a male infant ?" said I, in no very gentle voice.
“ For the same reason, my good Mrs. Griffiths,” answered he, smiling with most excellent temper at my abrupt query—“ for the same reason which has induced you not to contradict my assertion—that is, as yet, whatever may be your future intentions."
"I certainly intend to acquaint the Marquis that you have imposed upon him,” said I ; “ and should have done it instantly, but for the alarming state of this unfortunate Lady Jane."
“ Her life hangs upon a fibre, slight as a spider's thread," said the surgeon, significantly; “ you had better not meddle in the concern; it is complicated enough already, in all conscience.”
" It is clear enough to you,” I muttered, as he was leaving the room; “ you will receive a handsome bribe for this day's work, and that is all you care about.” But I wronged him; not interest alone had swayed him ; he knew more than I did; and he had suffered pity to hoodwink his principles. Have I not followed his example ?
The little daughter of the Marchioness evidently took not to life kindly; the air of earth pleased her not : it was with difficulty that she was persuaded to breathe it for three or four of our human days; she panted for a wider range--for eternity; and departed to it, like a bird to its nest. When this circumstance was told the Marchioness, her only answer was, “Thank heaven! it is not the boy !"
This speech determined me how to act; for I saw well enough that it was the intention of both the ladies, assisted by the surgeon, to palm off the infant of Lady Jane to the Marquis and the world as his own ; so I watched my opportunity, when I knew he was in the library, where he often took his wine, of going thither, under the pretext of returning the old manuscript book I had taken from one of its topmost shelves, to its former place.
“ Pray come in, Mrs. Griffiths,” said the Marquis, with much urbanity of manner, and a certain undefined tone, which all people have when they wish to conciliate either favour, respect, or affection, which I have learned to call the crocodile tone; “pray come in, I was going to send my man to request your attendance here for a few minutes, that is, when you were at leisure, for you have had more employment here than I think you anticipated ?"
I have always found it the wisest plan, when I know that there is some secret machinery at work, as at the present time-some purpose to be gained, to guard well the outposts ; not to give any advantage to the enemy by word or gesture of encouragement or approval; so I merely bowed to the last insinuation, coldly and reservedly enough, and then observed, “ That I wished also to speak to his lordship."
“Then pray sit down," said the Marquis, handing me a chair," and let me request the favour of you, to drink the Marchioness's health, and—and the little one that remains, in this glass of Burgundy,"-50 he poured me out one from a bottle that was nearly emptied; I perceived also that he had evidently taken more wine than had done him good. I declined the Burgundy, but took the proffered chair; and then we sat opposite to each other, the great diplomatist and “The Monthly Nurse,” each determined to play their several parts with tact and address. But I had one advantage over the politician and tactician that he seemed not aware of; I had not taken a couple of bottles to my own share of generous Burgundy, and my head was the cooler for the omission.
“ How very extraordinary !” said his most noble lordship, taking from my hand the vellum MS. I still held,“ that you should hold there the very book I have been searching for the whole morning, with the assistance of Jenkinson to boot. I declare this is one of the oddest circumstances I could have imagined I”
"Well done, diplomatist!" I thought, “ beginning your operations a great way off; but I shall watch every movement." Then, with dignity of manner enough to petrify any one, I apologised for having the book in my possession when his lordship needed it, and was going on to say, that I had received full permission to range about at my will amongst the books by his lady, when he stopped me by observing, “The whole thing has quite an air of magic about it, Mrs. Griffiths ; I only wanted the book that I might shew it you."
“This is bad generalship,” thought I; “if you did not play your cards better than this at the Court of — , I wonder you got off with so much éclat and your magic swan to boot; I suppose this clumsy manœuvre, that an infant might circumvent, but which I disdain to take any notice of, is owing to the Burgundy." I merely hinted that I could not long be spared to have the honour of his lordship's most salubrious conversation.
" You think that I am not serious," said my most noble host ;" I will soon convince you that I am ; look here-this book was written above two centuries ago by a Romish priest, the confessor in the family of one of my ancestors-he was a man of strange habits, a studier of the planets, and their influences ; he has left several works behind him of great research and originality ; but this volume I hold in my hand, my father always imagined of prophetic character, and now I am assured that it is so."
“I will not sit here to be fooled in this manner," I exclaimed men. tally; and I have no doubt my features expressed my thoughts, for the Marquis smiled, as much as to say, “ What an impracticable woman I have to deal with.” “Have you read all this MS.?” he enquired, swallowing the last glass of Burgundy that remained in the bottle. “No, I see you have not, or all the mysteries you have witnessed in this house would have been explained.”
“A clear understanding, my lord," said I, as dry as a salamander, “ can comprehend them all without the aid of the writings of a deceased monk to interpret them. I wished to inform your lordship-”.
" What I already know better, perhaps, than yourself, but which I give you full credit for seeking to explain to me. Your intention has been most upright, and mine is so also, at least now. Leave me to settle it with Him who knows all the intricacies of my present situation ; my complicated position, as regards my principles-still," and he smiled good humouredly, “I must draw upon your patience largely enough to make you ponder upon these strange couplets in the old monk's book ;” and he turned and read me the following lines, spelt in old English, which was under-scored with pale red ink, and had an index finger drawn opposite to it, of the same colour, in the margin :
“ The stars have foretold! It shall sure come to pass !
Two wymen shall bring forth a lad and a lass!
And be Lorde of the lands of an ancyent Race!" “ There !” exclaimed the Marquis, returning me the book, " you see the thing is decreed !”
“Are you, then, my lord, the avowed father of Lady Jane's child ? " I demanded with unfeigned astonishment.
A crimson blush of shame, and a look of extreme embarrassment, pervaded the countenance of my noble host as I thus spoke. “Is it possible,” he at length said in a stammering tone, “that you were not aware of this circumstance! I thought the Marchioness, or my poor cousin, had acquainted you with our strange story. It is due to the the reputation (he did not like that word)--to the feelings of us all, that you should hear some palliation of what, at the first blush of the thing, must appear so, so very extraordinary, so very immoral."
“I have no right, my lord, to expect any explanation," I observed, most frigidly, I have no doubt, “ of a transaction which, I own, has much surprised me; more especially from the extreme friendship of the two ladies to each other. It seems so out of nature ; so very singular, that I am altogether puzzled : but indeed, my lord, I shall be wanted ;''
and I rose again, but the marquis, with great agitation of manner, would not permit my departure.
“You must not go until you have heard some extenuation of my conduct, and have learned to pity poor Jane Urquhart.”
"I do pity her already," said I involuntarily, whilst a tear started to my eyes; “so young! so very lovely! so full of tenderness and feeling! thus to be blighted, and by him—forgive me, my lord—who ought to have protected her-her near relation!”
I spoke with the severity of a Roman matron, and was astonished at my own boldness, still more at the effect I produced upon the Marquis ; he turned of an ashy whiteness, seemed almost choked ; and at length, after a strong internal struggle, he relieved himself by what nature intended should do so, a violent flood of tears.
When women weep, so softly descends the kindly moisture, that it resembles a summer shower, and is often as quickly followed by a bright sun-shine ; but it is otherwise with men ; it is like a fierce tornado, a simoom, and alarms you by its violence."
"Calm yourself, my lord ;" I cried, much moved, forgetting the crime in witnessing its punishment. “Calm yourself, my lord,” I repeated in a still tenderer voice ; " and may God pardon you all !”
As I spoke, I removed the cambric neckerchief from the swelling throat of the marquis, who, pouring out for himself a full bumper of brandy from a glass decanter that stood near, drained it to the bottom. “I am better now," he said, grasping my hand ; “but I am not quite so great a villain as you think me-hear me patiently, in justice hear me."
I had no help for it, so resumed my seat; but inwardly determining, after looking at my watch, that he should not, on any pretext, keep me longer than five minutes, although I knew the Marchioness's favorite woman, Mrs. Cottrell, was in her lady's apartment, and would fully supply my place in my absence.
“Lady Jane Urquhart is, you know, my near relative,” said the Marquis - d; “we were betrothed together from our very childhood, and she loved me as few women are capable of loving ; I thought I loved her too; and I did so, but not as she loved me. We were just on the point of marriage ; the bridal vestments were prepared, the bride's maids selected. One of them, the bosom-friend of Lady Jane Urquhart, I had never, by some chance, seen before ; would that I had never beheld her, then all this misery, all this disgrace, would have been saved. Bat I saw her, and in a moment, as if the Promethean spark had then first shot into my being, I knew what poets meant by love!
• All-engrossing! all-pervading!
I touched my repeater (yes, gentle reader, and a very superb one it is), and recalled the Marquis from his quotation, for so I suppose it was, to go on with his story.