Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

contemptuously designated the really kind and sensible epistle of her friend.

My poverty, and not my will, indeed consents to this insult," she exclaimed, bitterly, crumpling the cheque between her trembling hands. “Were it not for so vitally important an occasion, I would fling back the bounty she so heavily loads with the vilest sense of obligation, availing herself ungenerously of the opportunity it affords to dare to lecture a mother at such a moment,-she, who never had a child! I, however, despise and abhor all her cant about a disregard for dress; I know the importance the world in general attaches to it, and consider the advocates of simplicity fools and idiots.

“ Isabelle shall go to the altar like a lady, I am resolved. Sir Arthur shall not be ashamed of the wife he will have to submit to the invidious scrutiny of his hateful and haughty relatives. She shall prove on that day that, although, for some time past, her beauty has been hidden beneath the cloud of adversity, that, so soon as the sun of prosperity breaks out again for her, she can appear in all the former radiance of her loveliness, heightened and enhanced by the adjuncts of dress and jewels.

“Oh, how hard is the fate of the widow and the fatherless! The sport and buffet of fortune, gifted with all save wealth, they are spurned and despised by those who possess only that as their sole superiority over them!”

The sight of the money which was to gratify her darling passion, and afford her a triumph over those she looked upon as decided enemies, although her poor child was so soon to become a member of the very family so odious to her, tranquilized her feelings, and mitigated her resentment; and, in the delicious excitement of preparing for the great event, she forgot the chagrin which too frequently rankled at her heart, to stir up all its most evil and vindictive emotions.

Not but what she occasionally reproached her submissive daughter with the immense sacrifices she was making for her, the efforts it cost her to procure the elegancies now so evidently delighting her, the anger she felt at the opposition so long offered to the union about to take place, and the animosity she could not help indulging in against those who had dared to consider her child not good enough to accept, cordially recommending her to show a proper spirit when she was Sir Arthur's wife, and make his family understand how fully aware she was of their base conduct, by treating them with contumely in her turn.

What fatal, what destructive sentiments to her future peace, to instil into the mind of that young creature! Happily, Isa

belle's sweet nature could not be quite perverted by her mother's pernicious doctrines; she saw the dark and turbid source from whence they sprang; she perceived the ruffled under-current of wounded personal vanity and pride, beneath the affected indignation she expressed for the seeming outrage inflicted on her alone. Still, she could not but lament that any cause of complaint, however imaginary, should have arisen to create ill-will in her mother's bosom, for those she so wished to see amicable and united altogether; and many a furtive tear fell on the rich white satin, over which that lovely head drooped in silent sorrow, at the cruel remarks of a parent, she knew it was her bounden duty to love and honour; and a slight smart, a secret fester, seemed to be growing and increasing in her tender, confiding bosom, to pain and annoy, when it was too brim-full of timid happiness to endure a less exquisite emotion.

Nothing is more fatiguing, more wearying, than the final preparations for a wedding. The bride elect, monopolized by milliners and florists, has not one moment to devote to her intended husband, at the very time, too, when unreserved intercourse is so essential to familiarize each to each,—whilst he, in his turn, excluded from the mysterious rites, from which he is banished as a profane intruder, yet longing to catch half an hour of the dear old intimate chat, mopes about like a man who fears that he has only been dreaming of possessing a treasure, and that he has awakened to find it gone, so little tangible is there in his present state of uncertain, bustling, annoying and disturbed enjoyment.

Isabelle was married,-and Mrs. Courtney had the gratification of hearing her dress extolled for its richness and splendour, by ner friends, and Sir Arthur had the mortification of hearing it condemned for its disgraceful and unbecoming extravagance, by his; with the bitter and sarcastic addenda, that, “ if his wife brought him no fortune, it was quite evident, she, showy and expensive as she was, would find no difficulty in spending one; and that when he was utterly and entirely ruined by his beautiful beggar, and her designing mother, he would have ample leisure to brood over the folly of sacrificing rank, name and position, to a pretty face and fascinating manner."

August, 1848.-VOL. LII.—NO. Ccviii.

GG

CHAPTER II.

." It is superfluous to decorate women highly for early youth; youth is itself a decoration. We mistakingly adorn most that part of life which least requires it, and neglect to provide for that which will want it most.”

MRS. HANNAH MORE,

UNDER this most unfavourable impression, Isabelle entered a cold, supercilious, calculating, parsimonious family. People with the pride of ancestry absolutely eaten into their hearts, as the rust eats into the polished mirror, to corrode and tarnish its native lustre; leaving only dark and deadening spots on it, leprous as the plague's, to poison and corrupt all its more kindly and humanizing feelings.

Never possessing sufficient to compete with their equals, owing to heavy mortgages having been left on the estates, by a gambling grandfather; and yet resolving not to abate one iota of dignity and outward state, they endeavoured to supply the deficiency of income by a rigid economy, amounting to the extreme of meanness; and for that purpose they all continued to reside together.

The now dowager, having been left by her husband the house, plate, linen, wine, and furniture, for her life, in addition to a fine jointure, with a portion of eight thousand pounds to his two daughters, who, being still unmarried, generously allowed the capital to remain on the estates, for the consideration of six per cent., paid quarterly; Sir Arthur was constrained to submit to this arrangement, sorely against his will, being an exception to his family, in generosity and candour of disposition.

Miss Rebecca, the elder of the young ladies, tall and masculine in person, morose and sullen in temper, was the terror of all the children in the neighbourhood, -the noisiest, the most unruly little urchin was hushed to instantaneous silence at her approach, stealing close to its mother, and hoping, like the ostrich, not to be seen, by burying its face in her lap.

She had long, long since abandoned all idea of sacrificing herself and fortune to any mercenary wretch; and only thought of swelling her hundreds into thousands, as the untouched interest was allowed to accumulate at her banker's.

She boasted of the rudest health and appetite, could brave all weathers with perfect impunity, and could digest any species of food. She was equally indefatigable in her devotions and in scolding the maid-servants; and her harsh, shrill voice, often mingled in the early summer's dawn, with the clear trill of the lark, in its matin song of love and adoration.

If she had one peculiar antipathy stronger than another, it was in her cordial hatred of the young and beautiful. She had never had any youth. She was old, staid, formal and moneygetting, at fifteen. She had never been taught to know that she had a heart-she had never been made to blush and tremble, beneath the ardent gaze of spontaneous and involuntary admiration. She had never had her coldly encrusted heart kindled by the divine fire that purifies as it glows. She had never learnt, with a sweet ecstatic consciousness, the greater the sublimer joy of living for the happiness of another-of the empty, sickening dissatisfaction a love of self engenders in the bosom. No, no, no, she was so plain, so repulsive, no one had ever taken the trouble, even out of christian charity, to try to perforate the adamantine rock surrounding that heart, to penetrate to the one mysterious pulse, hidden in its deepest recess, to throb to ecstacy at the kindred touch of congenial affection; and so she was left lonely and lonesome, to chew the betel-nut of selfishness, which not only blackens the lips but the soul also.

Miss Matilda, the younger, was not quite so gaunt, quite so ugly, quite so repelling. She had not abandoned all pretensions to juvenility, all hope of being made a blushing bride-she still curled her flaxen hair in ensnaring ringlets, still called up a bewitching smile when in company, still studied the fashions, played, sang, drew and danced a little, a very little, was overpoweringly fond of romances and handsome curates, careful not to expose her complexion to the vicissitudes of the seasons, and invariably selected the shady side of the dinner-table, taking most pains not to approximate too closely, during the odious process of eating and drinking, to any one younger or lovelier than herself; choosing rather some withered old crone, which, by the uninitiated, was thought so amiable !

She rather lisped in conversation, but, as she said, “that infantile accent being born with her, was her misfortune, not her fault;" a misfortune, however, which she bore with the most triumphant resignation.

She loved of all things to be reproved in company, for her exuberance of spirits, called a giddy girl, a thoughtless chit, with the well-expressed wonder, whether she ever intended to be serious, with, but who can expect an old head on young shoulders ? Matty will be steady enough in time!"

She did not hate beauty, with the virulence of her sister, simply because she did not so disparage herself as to fear constant rivalry from it; but she had a charming talent of lessening

its standard of value in the estimation of others, if she perceived its star very much in the ascendant, by a playful and sarcastic depreciation of the other qualities possessed by the fair creature under discussion.

The Dowager Lady Fortescue had but one decided passion, which was, to make every thing go as far as she possibly could, and to get as many gratuitous dinners for her coachman and footman as she could, out of her more liberal and unsuspecting neighbours; which she contrived most admirably to effect, by timing her visits so as to arrive just as the servants hall bell rang; and luncheon was also ready for the family; of which she amply partook, when, what with that, feed for the horses, flowers and fruit begged for the dear girls at home, she considered herself almost indemnified for the one turnpike it was impossible always to avoid.

Such were the three uncongenial beings, it was the destiny of that sweet, gentle creature to dwell with. Not one of them possessing an idea in common, one sympathy, one feeling, one thought with her who had come amongst them like a seraph strayed from paradise, and whose beseeching eyes seemed so to implore their love.

They only saw, with their jealous and envying ones, the style of her dress, the elegance of her taste, and the expense their indulgence was sure to entail on her poor deluded husband; whilst Isabelle, young and inexperienced, and trained from infancy by a weak, vain mother to believe, that a splendid costume alone distinguished the lady, and was, moreover, the only means a woman had of preserving the affections of her husband, unwittingly aggravated their ire, by setting no bounds to her desires in that respect; religiously believing, that every new ornament was but another and more enduring bond of union between her and her most idolized Arthur.

Instead of kindly admonishing her, of humanely pointing out the mistaken folly of such an erroneous supposition, of correcting with leniency the false impressions so early instilled into her ingenuous mind, they seized every opportunity of talking at her, of ridiculing the vulgar habit she had of always being in full dress; of the want of original high-breeding it evinced, and the utter ignorance of the world it shewed in her poor, penniless mother, to teach her to squander so recklessly the money of another, and provoke comparison to her former poverty with her ostentatious display now; until the poor thing, wearied and miserable, would rush to her own room, and flinging herself on the bed, ease her bursting heart with a wild, passionate flood of tears, sobbing with convulsive anguish, as if that heart were really breaking.

« ZurückWeiter »