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Page 157

27. XXVII.

In the afternoon, Cecilia went to communicate
the news to Alice with her own lips, thinking it
too important to be intrusted to the wings of the
carrier-pigeon. As she entered the door, the
cheerful doctor was coming out; but this was no
unusual apparition, and excited no alarm. Mrs.
Archer, too, according to custom, was sitting in
the little parlour with her decrepit old neighbour,
who seemed almost to have taken up her abode
under that roof, so many hours of every day did
she pass there.

With a light, elastic step, Cecilia bounded up
to Alice's room. She found her reclining in her
large chair, flushed and excited. Sitting down
by her side, and taking both her hands, she said,
with great emotion in the tones of her voice,—

“Dearest Alice, I have brought you some


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news that I am sure will make you well. For
my sake, you will be no longer ill when you hear
it. I am engaged to Mr. Kavanagh!”

Alice feigned no surprise at this announcement.
She returned the warm pressure of Cecilia's
hand, and, looking affectionately in her face, said
very calmly,—

“I knew it would be so. I knew that he
loved you, and that you would love him.”

“How could I help it?” said Cecilia, her
eyes beaming with dewy light; “could any one
help loving him?”

“No,” answered Alice, throwing her arms
around Cecilia's neck, and laying her head upon
her shoulder; “at least, no one whom he loved.
But when did this happen? Tell me all about
it, dearest!”

Cecilia was surprised, and perhaps a little hurt,
at the quiet, almost impassive manner in which
her friend received this great intelligence. She
had expected exclamations of wonder and delight,
and such a glow of excitement as that with
which she was sure she should have hailed the
announcement of Alice's engagement. But this
momentary annoyance was soon swept away by
the tide of her own joyous sensations, as she


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proceeded to recall to the recollection of her
friend the thousand little circumstances that had
marked the progress of her love and Kavanagh's;
things which she must have noticed, which she
could not have forgotten; with questions interspersed
at intervals, such as, “Do you recollect
when?” and “I am sure you have not forgotten,
have you?” and dreamy little pauses of
silence, and intercalated sighs. She related to
her, also, the perilous adventure of the carrier-pigeon;
how it had been pursued by the cruel
kingfisher; how it had taken refuge in Kavanagh's
tower, and had been the bearer of his
letter, as well as her own. When she had
finished, she felt her bosom wet with the tears
of Alice, who was suffering martyrdom on that
soft breast, so full of happiness. Tears of
bitterness,—tears of blood! And Cecilia, in
the exultant temper of her soul at the moment,
thought them tears of joy, and pressed Alice
closer to her heart, and kissed and caressed her.

“Ah, how very happy you are, Cecilia!”
at length sighed the poor sufferer, in that slightly
querulous tone, to which Cecilia was not unaccustomed;
“how very happy you are, and how
very wretched am I! You have all the joy of


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life, I all its loneliness. How little you will
think of me now! How little you will need me!
I shall be nothing to you,—you will forget me.”

“Never, dearest!” exclaimed Cecilia, with
much warmth and sincerity. “I shall love you
only the more. We shall both love you. You
will now have two friends instead of one.”

“Yes; but both will not be equal to the one
I lose. No, Cecilia; let us not make to ourselves
any illusions. I do not. You cannot now
be with me so much and so often as you have
been. Even if you were, your thoughts would
be elsewhere. Ah, I have lost my friend, when
most I needed her!”

Cecilia protested ardently and earnestly, and
dilated with eagerness on her little plan of life, in
which their romantic friendship was to gain only
new strength and beauty from the more romantic
love. She was interrupted by a knock at the
street door; on hearing which, she paused a
moment, and then said,—

“It is Arthur. He was to call for me.”

Ah, what glimpses of home, and fireside, and a
whole life of happiness for Cecilia, were revealed
by that one word of love and intimacy, “Arthur”!
and for Alice, what a sentence of doom!


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what sorrow without a name! what an endless
struggle of love and friendship, of duty and inclination!
A little quiver of the eyelids and the
hands, a hasty motion to raise her head from
Cecilia's shoulder,—these were the only outward
signs of emotion. But a terrible pang went
to her heart; her blood rushed eddying to her
brain; and when Cecilia had taken leave of her
with the triumphant look of love beaming upon her
brow, and an elevation in her whole attitude and
bearing, as if borne up by attendant angels, she
sank back into her chair, exhausted, fainting,
fearing, longing, hoping to die.

And below sat the two old women, talking of
moths, and cheap furniture, and what was the best
remedy for rheumatism; and from the door went
forth two happy hearts, beating side by side with
the pulse of youth and hope and joy, and within
them and around them was a new heaven and a
new earth!

Only those who have lived in a small town can
really know how great an event therein is a new
engagement. From tongue to tongue passes the
swift countersign; from eye to eye flashes the
illumination of joy, or the bale-fire of alarm; the
streets and houses ring with it, as with the penetrating,


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all-pervading sound of the village bell;
the whole community feels a thrill of sympathy,
and seems to congratulate itself that all the
great events are by no means confined to the
great towns. As Cecilia and Kavanagh passed
arm in arm through the village, many curious eyes
watched them from the windows, many hearts
grown cold or careless rekindled their household
fires of love from the golden altar of God, borne
through the streets by those pure and holy hands!

The intelligence of the engagement, however,
was received very differently by different persons.
Mrs. Wilmerdings wondered, for her part, why
any body wanted to get married at all. The little
taxidermist said he knew it would be so from the
very first day they had met at his aviary. Miss
Hawkins lost suddenly much of her piety and
all her patience, and laughed rather hysterically.
Mr. Hawkins said it was impossible, but went
in secret to consult a friend, an old bachelor, on
the best remedy for love; and the old bachelor,
as one well versed in such affairs, gravely advised
him to think of the lady as a beautiful statue!

Once more the indefatigable school-girl took
up her pen, and wrote to her foreign correspondent
a letter that might rival the famous epistle of


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Madame de Sévigné to her daughter, announcing
the engagement of Mademoiselle Montpensier.
Through the whole of the first page, she told her
to guess who the lady was; through the whole of
the second, who the gentleman was; the third
was devoted to what was said about it in the
village; and on the fourth there were two postscripts,
one at the top and the other at the bottom,
the first stating that they were to be married
in the Spring, and to go to Italy immediately
afterwards, and the last, that Alice Archer was
dangerously ill with a fever.

As for the Churchills, they could find no words
powerful enough to express their delight, but
gave vent to it in a banquet on Thanksgiving-day,
in which the wife had all the trouble and the
husband all the pleasure. In order that the
entertainment might be worthy of the occasion,
Mr. Churchill wrote to the city for the best
cookery-book; and the bookseller, executing the
order in all its amplitude, sent him the Practical
Guide to the Culinary Art in all its Branches, by
Frascatelli, pupil of the celebrated Carême, and
Chief Cook to Her Majesty the Queen,—a
ponderous volume, illustrated with numerous engravings,
and furnished with bills of fare for every


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month in the year, and any number of persons.
This great work was duly studied, evening after
evening; and Mr. Churchill confessed to his wife,
that, although at first startled by the size of the
book, he had really enjoyed it very highly, and
had been much pleased to be present in imagination
at so many grand entertainments, and to sit
opposite the Queen without having to change his
dress or the general style of his conversation.

The dinner hour, as well as the dinner itself,
was duly debated. Mr. Churchill was in favor
of the usual hour of one; but his wife thought it
should be an hour later. Whereupon he re

“King Henry the Eighth dined at ten o'clock
and supped at four. His queen's maids of honor
had a gallon of ale and a chine of beef for their

To which his wife answered,—

“I hope we shall have something a little more
refined than that.”

The day on which the banquet should take
place was next discussed, and both agreed that
no day could be so appropriate as Thanksgiving-day;
for, as Mrs. Churchill very truly remarked,
it was really a day of thanksgiving to Kavanagh.
She then said,—


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“How very solemnly he read the Governor's
Proclamation yesterday! particularly the words
`God save the Commonwealth of Massachusetts!'
And what a Proclamation it was!
When he spread it out on the pulpit, it looked
like a table-cloth!”

Mr. Churchill then asked,—

“What day of the week is the first of December?
Let me see,—

`At Dover dwells George Brown, Esquire,
Good Christopher Finch and Daniel Friar!'

“I could have told you that,” said his wife,
“by a shorter process than your old rhyme.
Thanksgiving-day always comes on Thursday.”

These preliminaries being duly settled, the
dinner was given.

There being only six guests, and the dinner
being modelled upon one for twenty-four persons,
Russian style in November, it was very abundant.
It began with a Colbert soup, and ended with a
Nesselrode pudding; but as no allusion was made
in the course of the repast to the French names
of the dishes, and the mutton, and turnips, and
pancakes were all called by their English patronymics,


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the dinner appeared less magnificent in
reality than in the bill of fare, and the guests did
not fully appreciate how superb a banquet they
were enjoying. The hilarity of the occasion
was not marred by any untoward accident;
though once or twice Mr. Churchill was much
annoyed, and the company much amused, by
Master Alfred, who was allowed to be present
at the festivities, and audibly proclaimed what
was coming, long before it made its appearance.
When the dinner was over, several of the guests
remembered brilliant and appropriate things they
might have said, and wondered they were so
dull as not to think of them in season; and when
they were all gone, Mr. Churchill remarked to his
wife that he had enjoyed himself very much, and
that he should like to ask his friends to just such
a dinner every week!