The Twin Sisters

Wilkie Collins

The Twin Sisters Page 02

At last, just as he had vainly inquired of everybody that he knew, just as he was standing in the hall of the club-house thinking where he should go next, a friend entered, who at once relieved him of all his difficulties -- a precious, an inestimable man, who was on intimate terms with Mr Langley, and had been lately staying at Langley Hall. To this friend all the lover's cares and anxieties were at once confided; and a fitter depositary for such secrets of the heart could hardly have been found. He made no jokes -- for he was not a bachelor; he abstained from shaking his head and recommending prudence -- for he was not a seasoned husband, or an experienced widower; what he really did, was to enter heart and soul into his friend's projects -- for he was precisely in that position, the only position, in which the male sex generally take a proper interest in match-making: he was a newly married man.

Two days after, Mr Streatfield was the happiest of mortals -- he was introduced to the lady of his love, to Miss Jane Langley. He really enjoyed the priceless privilege of looking once more on the face in the balcony, and looking on it almost as often as he wished. It was perfect Elysium. Mr and Mrs Langley saw little, or no company -- Miss Jane was always accessible, never monopolised -- the light of her beauty shone, day after day, for her adorer alone; and his love blossomed in it, fast as flowers in a hot-house. Passing quickly by all the minor details of the wooing to arrive the sooner at the grand fact of the winning, let us simply relate that Mr Streatfield's object in seeking an introduction to Mr Langley was soon explained, and was indeed visible enough long before the explanation. He was a handsome man, an accomplished man, and a rich man. His first two qualifications conquered the daughter, and his third the father. In six weeks Mr Streatfield was the accepted suitor of Miss Jane Langley.

The wedding-day was fixed -- it was arranged that the marriage should take place at Langley Hall, whither the family proceeded, leaving the unwilling lover in London, a prey to all the inexorable business formalities of the occasion. For ten days did the ruthless lawyers -- those dead weights that burden the back of Hymen -- keep their victim imprisoned in the metropolis, occupied over settlements that never seemed likely to be settled. But even the long march of the Law has its end like other mortal things: at the expiration of the ten days all was completed, and Mr Streatfield found himself at liberty to start for Langley Hall.

A large party was assembled at the house to grace the approaching nuptials. There were to be tableaux, charades, boating-trips, riding-excursions, amusements of all sorts -- the whole to conclude (in the play-bill phrase) with the grand climax of the wedding. Mr Streatfield arrived late; dinner was ready; he had barely time to dress, and then the bustle into the drawing-room, just as the guests were leaving it, to offer his arm to Miss Jane -- all greetings with friends and introductions to strangers being postponed till the party met round the dining-table.

Grace had been said; the covers were taken off; the loud cheerful hum of conversation was just beginning, when Mr Streatfield's eyes met the eyes of a young lady who was seated opposite, at the table. The guests near him, observing at the same moment, that he continued standing after every one else had been placed, glanced at him inquiringly. To their astonishment and alarm, they observed that his face had suddenly become deadly pale -- his rigid features looked struck in paralysis. Several of his friends spoke to him; but for the first few moments he returned no answer. Then, still fixing his eyes upon the young lady opposite, he abruptly exclaimed in a voice, the altered tones of which startled every one who heard him: 'That is the face I saw in the balcony! -- that woman is the only woman I can ever marry!' The next instant, without a word more either of explanation or apology, he hurried from the room.

One or two of the guests mechanically started up, as if to follow him; the rest remained at the table, looking on each other in speechless surprise. But, before any one could either act or speak, almost at the moment when the door closed on Mr Streatfield, the attention of all was painfully directed to Jane Langley. She had fainted. Her mother and sisters removed her from the room immediately, aided by the servants. As they disappeared, a dead silence again sank down over the company -- they all looked round with one accord to the master of the house.

Mr Langley's face and manner sufficiently revealed the suffering and suspense that he was secretly enduring. But he was a man of the world -- neither by word nor action did he betray what was passing within him. He resumed his place at the table, and begged his guests to do the same. He affected to make light of what had happened; entreated every one to forget it, or, if they remembered it at all, to remember it only as a mere accident which would no doubt be satisfactorily explained. Perhaps it was only a jest on Mr Streatfield's part -- rather too serious a one, he must own.

Wilkie Collins

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