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Often and often was she found in this pitiable situation by her astonished husband, who, at a loss to understand such violent grief in one who had apparently every wish gratified, almost before it was conceived, imputed it, as men constantly do, to his inability to render her happy, and consequently, her repentance and sorrow for their union.
It was in vain, amidst his tender reproaches, his protestations of unalterable affection, his disappointment at this frustration of his brightest hopes, that she threw herself on his bosom, strained him to her own, declaring that he wronged her, that he was totally and entirely mistaken in his injurious suspicions, that she loved him beyond description, and rejoiced in being his wife. Then why weep? Alas! she could not say; she only felt that she must, or die !
How could she, indeed, clothe that vague, that indefinable agony, in common words, so as to render it capable to his comprehension ? How could she say to so dutiful a son, so kind a brother, your mother and your sisters are the tormenting fiends, torturing the wife you doat on to despair? No, no, no; they might compel her to suffer, but it should be in silence, he should never know it.
It never struck Sir Arthur, fund and devoted as he was, anxious and vigilant for her comfort, that the home to which he had brought Isabelle might be repugnant to her warm, confiding, and impressionable nature. That the three withered women, like the weird sisters on the blasted heath, although objects of love and respect for him, were not calculated to woo and win her coy affections. He did not remark that his freshly expanding flower drooped beneath the baleful shade, their hatred and envy flung over it; that silence succeeded to vivacity, fear and recoiling to candour and ingenuousness, closeness and caution to the delightful expansion of feeling so lately her most fascinating qualities.
The best, the most clear-sighted husband, has no idea of the very trifle it requires to make or mar the happiness of the being for ever in his heart and thought; he cannot conceive, he cannot comprehend how any creature, who has not absolute occasion to complain of the outward and visible ills which afflict humanity, can still find cause of annoyance and chagrin. The delicate and intricate workings of a sensitive mind are beyond his capacity; he does not know that a furtive arrow, launched by the hand of malice, causes a faint, sickening thrill of agony, like the sudden blow on an old, but still festering wound. He does not consider that the young wife, if taken to a home not strictly and entirely her own, is placed in a false position from the first ; that, in fact, she is not mistress of it;
that she has nothing to do, no domestic duties to occupy her time, no sweet, endearing cares to engage her attention. She feels that she is a mere cypher, a showthing, a puppet; one that the servants study not to please, because having no authority, she cannot punish them for their insolence; nor yet which any one else regards with respect, deference, or admi. ration, because it is immaterial what she thinks, having no power to promote the self-interest by which almost all are governed, in their mutual actions and intercourse with others.
Thus deprived of wholesome excitement, the mind stagnates, the sensibility is benumbed, the health declines, the spirits fail, and a deadening lassitude steals over the senses, like the midnight incubus, to destroy by the intolerable oppressiveness of inactivity and ennui.
Isabelle sank into a state of such pitiable depression and melancholy, as seriously to alarm Sir Arthur, and even arouse a latent commiseration in the bosoms of his obdurate relatives; who, struck with compunction at her pale cheek and hollow eye, remembering what she was, endeavoured when almost too late, to repair the evil their cruelty had wrought, by a sort of awkward tenderness, foreign to their natures, but for which the dear, greatful girl was most thankful, forgiving all, forgetting all.
A change of scene being recommended by the physician, sent for expressly from London, who strongly advised the inclination of the invalid being alone studied on that point; Isabelle, with the yearning of childhood, decided on going home. She felt that nothing but being there could be of the slightest benefit to her; home, therefore, she went, accompanied by her tender, watchful husband, to help her mother to restore his soul's treasure to health again.
Whether it was the actually being at home, beholding the dear familiar scenes of her happier girlhood, talking without reserve to her mother, brother, and husband, or, whether it was the fortunate finding of the sensible, judicious Mrs Macgreggor on a lengthened visit to her mother, which caused the rapid improvement in Isabelle's health and spirits, it is impossible to say; but the change for the better astonished and delighted the anxious hearts trembling for her recovery.
Many and long were the secret tête a tétes indulged in, between this lovely girl and the more experienced woman of the world. Mrs. Macgreggor soon read the young wife's heart, soon learned the malady under which that bruised and broken heart was suffering; and in the causes of complaint alleged against her husband's family, discovered, as she had foreseen, the occasion of animosity and estrangement existing between them; and while she kissed away the streaming tears, and soothed to peace the agitated breast, she gradually and effectually instilled the means of conciliating those cold calculating creatures, and yet retain a perfect hold on her beloved Arthur's affection.
It was beautiful to see the artless incredulity of those upturned eyes, as the words of wisdom and instruction flowed from the eloquent lips, almost, as it were, inspired at the moment, to convince and improve; then the heightened colour that spread over the childlike face, the broad, bright smile that illumined it, and the glad, bounding, leaping, embrace of joyous exultation, when conviction broke, radiant as a summer's morn on that doubting heart, and Isabelle felt convinced that dress was not essential to happiness nor affection; that in her simpler toilette, she looked infinitely lovelier, more lovable; that ber husband evidently admired her more, and that even her mother could not deny that her natural beauty appeared to more advantage, now that she depended alone on it for all her attractions.
“Ah !” she exclaimed, in the contrition of newly awakened repentance, as she beheld the marvellous change for the better in her darling child, “if I had but thought the same, formerly, how much pain, anxiety, and mortification I might have escaped; how much more independent I might have been, how many more real comforts I and my children might have enjoyed! I see at last, that extravagant dress does not enhance the outward appearance, nor raise us in the estimation of our friends, nor yet our own : that there is no merit in covering our persons with lace, satins, and jewels—but there is a merit, and a great one, in crushing the far-spreading parasite of innate vanity, and being superior to such frivolous distinctions as it copfers!”
When Isabelle returned with her husband, to the gloomy and cheerless abode, which he called home, and to which she now went without reluctance, armed, as she hoped, with a talisman to enchant the dragons who guarded the golden fruit of peace and concord there; the change in her appearance created such an agreeable surprise, that, thrown off their guard by it, the stiff and stately group actually welcomed her back, with a degree of warmth startling to herself, and delightful to her husband.
Now that she was dressed fit to be seen, and could brave the weather without risking a bad cold and the spoiling of an expensive satin, Miss Rebecca softened towards her, marvellously, inviting her to join in her long country rambles, and soon yielding to the irresistible charm of her innocent gaiety and childlike confidence, felt as much invigorated by them as by the fresh breezes of the clear autumn air.
Miss Matilda, also, now that she was no longer totally eclipsed by the more fashionable exterior of Isabelle, took her under her wing, too, making her the sole depository of her hopes and fears regarding a new importation to the vicarage, in the shape of a tall, handsome Irish curate, who, from their first introduction, was deeply and irretrievably enamoured, and who was in such extreme despair and confusion of mind, that in publishing the banns of marriage, he actually mentioned theirs.
“Could she doubt his love ? Did not such interesting mistakes show how much his dear thoughts were engrossed by one object - by herself? O Isabelle ! advise me for the best. Ought I, with my youth and inexperience, place implicit confidence in his precious and reiterated protestations of undying affection, of being no longer able to endure existence without me? Yet, beware how you decide hastily, for the life, the happiness of two fond young creatures depend upon your opinion. Yes! I confess that I love, I adore the noble-minded, generous, disinterested fellow; for despising my fortune, he loves me for myself alone.”
Isabelle, perceiving that whatever advice she might give, her foolish, romantic sister-in-law was pre-determined to act upon her own in this important affair, and trusting to the proverbial warmth and generosity of the Irish character, for a tolerable amount of comfort and kindness for her, strongly urged Matilda to accept her lover's vows, and secure her own felicity at the same time.
The dowager, influenced by the example of her daughters, became kind and gentle to her sweet new child, astonished, with a grieving astonishment, how she could have been so long, so wilfully blind as not to discover long, long since, the fund of amiable tenderness, of grateful feeling, and unwearied affection, in that so cruelly-checked and forgiving girl, so calculated to render the cold, dreary twilight of her days, bright, beautiful, and serene; and with one of those sudden, heaveninspired pangs of compunction, she folded Isabellé to her bosom in one fond, natural, spontaneous embrace, and gazing into her mild, beaming eyes, glistening through her tears, she implored, in an agitated voice, to be pardoned for the sake of her son, to be loved for his sake; and she was.
Gradually and imperceptibly, a change was wrought in their whole natures; warmed and vivified by a constant intercourse with youth and beauty, love and hope, their crisped-up hearts uncurled and expanded like frost-nipped flowers, beneath the fervent rays of the sun, growing liberal one towards another. Those frigid and reserved beings had now a tear for the woes of others, a smile for their joys; the tone of sarcastic censure and vituperative reproof gave place to the benign construction of that charity which hopeth all things, and to the mild, conciliatory expostulation.
Cheerfulness began to preside at the table, and laughter to resound through the house; the mirth of the heart irradiated the countenance, lending a beauty and a fascination never seen before.
Parties were given as well as accepted, and from the ample board, the poor and needy, the sick and sorrowful, were provided. Now was learned the admirable Christian lesson, taught in the widow's cruse of oil, and handful of barley-meal, that in proportion to our assistance to the children of want, so shall our wealth increase—the wealth of the soul, which is subject to no loss, no fluctuation, no diminution, but remains the same for ever.
Never, never did that enfeebled old lady feel such a glow of intense rapture, when gloating in secret over her unspent hoards, and counting the gains of thrift, as now, when leaning on the arm of her beautiful child, and followed by her son, she entered the cottage of the deserving destitute, and poured into the lap of the amazed mother the means of feeding her famished babes.
Never, never did the austere Miss Rebecca feel such exultation, when the children in terror fled from her presence, as now, when they rushed forward to meet her, emulous of her acceptance of the fresh.gathered nosegay, the fragrant offering of gratitude, in return for the comfortable clothing and fire she gladdened their winter with. And never did Miss Matilda shake her still lovely ringlets over her face, to hide more genuine blushes from the gaze of her intended husband, than when, seated with him by the bedside of some suffering parishioner, her name was mingled with the prayers that went up to heaven, in the simple eloquence of sincerity, “that she might be blessed as she knew how to bless !"