OF A LADY OF SENSIBILITY THAT, BEING AWKWARDLY PLACED, MIGHT EASILY HAVE SET MATTERS RIGHT, BUT DID NOT: WITH MUCH BESIDE.
It is hardly necessary by this time to inform my readers that Miss Priscilla Limpenny was a lady of sensibility. We have already seen her obey the impulse of the heart rather than the cool dictates of judgment: her admiration of natural beauty she has herself confessed more than once during the voyage up the river. But lest more than a due share of this admiration should be set down to patriotism, I wish to put it on record that she possessed to an uncommon degree an appreciative sense of the poetic side of Nature. She was familiar with the works of Mrs. Hemans and L. E. L., and had got by heart most of the effusions in “Affection’s Keepsake” and “Friendship’s Offering.” Nay, she had been, in her early youth, suspected, more than vaguely, of contributing fugitive verse to a periodical known as the Household Packet. She had even, many years ago, met the Poet Wordsworth “at the dinner-table,” as she expressed it, “of a common friend,” and was never tired of relating how the great man had spoken of the prunes as “pruins,” and said “Would you obleege me with the salt?”
With such qualifications for communion with nature it is not wonderful that, on this particular afternoon, Miss Limpenny should have wandered pensively along the river’s bank, and surrendered herself to its romantic charm. Possessed by the spirit of the place and hour, she even caught herself straying by the extreme brink, and repeating those touching lines from “Affection’s Keepsake":—
“The eye roams widely
o’er glad Nature’s face,
To mark each varied and delightful scene;
The simple and magnificent we trace,
While loveliness and brightness intervene;
Oh! everywhere is something found to—”
At this point Miss Limpenny’s gaze lost its dreamy expansiveness, and grew rigid with horror. Immediately before her feet, and indelicately confronting her, lay a suit of man’s clothing.
It is a curious fact, though one we need not linger to discuss, that while clothes are the very symbol and first demand of decency, few things become so flagrantly immodest when viewed in themselves and apart from use. The crimson rushed to Miss Limpenny’s cheek. She uttered a cry and looked around.
Inexorable fate, whose compulsion directed that gaze! If raiment apart from its wearer be unseemly, how much more—
About thirty yards from her, wading down the stream, and tugging the painter of his recovered boat, advanced Mr. Fogo.
To add a final touch of horror, that gentleman, finding that the damp on his spectacles completely dimmed his vision, had deposited them in the boat, and was therefore blind to the approaching catastrophe. Unconscious even of observation, he advanced nearer and nearer.