CHAPTER I. A MEMORABLE NEW YEAR'S DAY.
Dorothy to Eleanor,
You have so often reminded me how rapidly the most startling facts pass from the memory of man, and I have so often thereupon promised to write down a full account of that mysterious affair in which I was providentially called upon to play so prominent a part, that it is with shame I reflect that the warning has been unheeded and the promise unfulfilled. Do not, dear friend, accuse my affection, but my engrossing duties and occupations, for this neglect, and believe that I now take advantage of my first quiet evening for many months to fulfil your wish.
Betty has just brought me a cup of tea, and I have told the girl to be within call; for once a heroine is not always a heroine, dear Nell. I am full of childish terrors, and I assure you it is with no small mental effort that I bring myself to recall the terrible events of the year 1813.
Oddly enough, it was on the first day of this year that I made the acquaintance of Mr. George Manners; and I think I can do no better than begin by giving you an extract from the first page of my journal at that time.
"Jan. 1, 1813.—It is mid-day, and very fine, but it was no easy matter to be at service this morning after all good Dr. Penn's injunctions, as last night's dancing, and the long drive home, made me sleepy, and Harriet is still in bed.
"Though I am not so handsome as Harriet, and boast of no conquests, and though the gentlemen do not say the wonderfully pretty things to me that they seem to do to her, I have much enjoyed several balls since my introduction into society. But for ever first and foremost on my list of dances must be Lady Lucy Topham's party on New Year's Eve. Let me say New Year's Day, for the latter part of the evening was the happy one to me. During the first part I danced a little and watched the others much. To sit still is mortifying, and yet I almost think the dancing was the greater penance, since I never had much to say to men of whom I know nothing: the dances seem interminable, and I am ever haunted by a vague feeling that my partner is looking out over my head for some one prettier and more lively, which is not inspiring. I must not forget a little incident, as we came up the stairs into the ball-room. With my customary awkwardness I dropped my fan, and was about to stoop for it, when some one who had been following us darted forward and presented it to me. I curtsied low, he bowed lower; our eyes met for a moment, and then he fell behind. It was by his eyes that I recognized him afterwards in the ball-room, for in the momentary glance on the stairs I had not had time to observe his prominent height and fine features. How strangely one's fancy is sometimes seized upon by a foolish wish! My modest desire last night was to dance with this Mr. George Manners, the handsomest man and best dancer of the room, to be whose partner even Harriet was proud. Though I had not a word for my second-rate partners, I fancied that I could talk to him....