Page images
PDF
EPUB

my sisters lest it should bring as much disappointment as that I had
lately endured, yet hoping that here, at least, some portion of my riches
might bestow the happiness they could not afford myself. I arrived ;
I saw my sister Venetia : alas ! alas ! how unlike the Venetia I had
left! Then a blooming beautiful girl of fifteen, full of talent, of ani-
mation, and of hope-talent which hardly needed the culture my mother
delighted to bestow-animation which youth inspired, and which poverty
and seclusion could not deaden-hope which looked always to the far
horizon, and which found the present path more than tolerable, because
it led towards the undefined brightness of the future! Now what was
she ? Pale, faded, thin! Time had laid a heavy hand on her, and,
though I was prepared to see, after so many years, a very different
being from her I had iest, still I had not imaged to myself her bowed
form, her faint smile, her languid utterance ! Of Arabella I retained
no distinct remembrance; she was rather handsome, and now, elate
with her recently-acquired possessions, thought only of splendid extrava-
gance and of her approaching marriage ; for she had, I found, accepted
a man much younger than herself, and destitute no less of fortune than
of every other recommendation, except a title; for this Arabella, who
had lived a life of uncertain dependence on a capricious invalid, was
content to barter her present freedom, and, wrapt in gilded clouds, she
had contentedly suffered poor Berkeley to struggle with sickness and
poverty, declaring that she thought she did quite as much as could be
expected for her family in allowing her sister to live with her! But it
ill becomes me to censure her unkindness and neglect. A bright gleam
of her former self came over Venetia's face when I made it my urgent
request that she would come and take up her abode with me Unless,
indeed,” I ventured to inquire," there is some object of your affection
from whom you are divided by prudence ?” “No, no, no, it is too
late!” was her eager answer; and she accepted my proposal; but her
whole countenance was changed, the flush had faded, the light had
passed away! It was long before I prevailed on her to tell me of her
former years; perhaps I might never have succeeded had I not acci-
dentally found some lines which gave a clue I was unable to drop, and
yet afraid almost to follow, for might I not have saved her the anguish
that breathed out in her poetry ?

To
'Twere best to part, since now too well I know

The change I may not, cannot learn to bear,
Yet shall no frantic rhapsody of woe

Proclaim the transports of uncheck'd despair.
Think with what pangs of varying hope and dread

My sorrowing soul has seen thy love decline,
Till passion's earlier energies are fled,

And heartless vows are all I now resign.
Think with what aching patience I have dwelt

On every dear memorial of the past;
Think on the lonely anguish I have felt,

And do not wonder though I sink at last.
Still let me fondly hope that, when thine eye

Shall cease to view the form once loved so well,
These lines may wake a momentary sigh

While thus they speak what I must never tell;

For I will never more in silence gaze

On the faint semblance of thy former smile, Hang on each word that speaks of happier days,

And, spite of reason, hope a little while. I go where thou must never hear again

Of her who, vainly labouring to forget Her past felicity-her present pain,

Will never censure what she must regret. Perhaps, when Fancy pictures to thy mind

The faded image of thine early love, Tranquilly sad, and mournfully resign’d,

With wasted frame and wishes fix'd above, Some faint remembrance of the brighter hues

Of hope and youth may touch thy heart once more, Pity may grant what Passion would refuse,

And Memory paint me fairer than before. Ah! unlamented let me not depart

Give me one sigh like those that once were mine, Breathe one farewell in mercy to a heart

Where thou wast worshipp'd-till thou brok'st the shrine !

I will not strike the chords again

Their only sounds are sounds of woe;
They pour one melancholy strain,
And wake the tears that must not flow.
Still my hesitating fingers

Pause, and Memory still portrays
Scenes where sorrowing Fancy lingers,

Brighter hopes and better days!
How gladly would I bid them thrill

To gayer notes, to loftier themes,
Or paint the glittering forms that fill
The youthful poet's early dreams !
But, ah! too soon the bright creation

Fades from my distemper'd view,
And the heart's chill desolation

Palsies every thought anew.
Of happy love I may not tell —

That theme demands a sprightlier tone;
And can I on such feelings dwell
Who droop in anguish o'er my own?
No-ere the accents of affection

To my trembling lips have sprung,
One oppressive recollection

Chills my heart and checks my tongue.
Away, ye visions of the mind !

Hence, faded phantoms of the past!
And be my aching heart resign'd
To lifeless apathy at last.
Cease, ah! cease, my mournful numbers ;

Tears have quench'd the poet's fire,
And in never-ending slumbers

Rest, my unregarded lyre.

I learned at last, and with unavailing regret, that early in life she had engaged herself to a mau as poor as herself, but with talents which authorized a hope that he would soon obtain at least independence. He was an orphan, and nearly all his little inheritance had been expended on his education; not in vain, for Venetia spoke with enthusiasm of his various acquirements, his reach and power of mind. Their engagement was a secret known only to themselves, and Venetia was urged by her family to accept an offer of marriage made to her by a gentleman in affluent circumstances and of unexceptionable character; but she resisted all entreaty, all remonstrance, and, though now beginning to despair of Mr. Li's success in the profession he had chosen, loved on, as only women love, and trusted to his faith. “I might have made ber happy!" was my feeling as she thus confided to me what she had thought and hoped. Year followed year, and sometimes they met to renew their assurances of constancy, but in vain, for still he barely obtained a competency for himself, and at length she saw that his aitachment was fading away. Time, absence, weariness of a tie that continued for ever the same, gradually wore out his love; and, when she could no longer delude herself into the belief that he was unaltered in affection, she set him free, him-not herself, for not only when she told me all this, but whenever any allusion faint and far brings these circumstances to her mind, I can see the cloud come over her, transitory indeed, but still a cloud. I feared to pain her when I hinted that, as poverty had divided them, they might be re-united now, when I had both the power and the wish to make them happy; but she shrank from the suggestion, and said again—"It is too late." Little did she know what these words made me suffer. Their acquaintance had never been wholly broken off, though distance of place had long prevented their meeting, and I have sought his friendship for Venetia's sake. It is true that she receives him cheerfully and converses with him without any apparent recollection of what has been, but I can yet perceive in her a keener sense of pleasure at his presence, a deeper interest in his conversation. Perhaps it would be wiser not to bring back to her remembrance these visions of the past, but I can do no more than this now to make her even transiently happy, and what I might have done, it is now vain to think, to speak of! Poor Berkeley is dead! for him, as well as for Venetia, it was, “ too late!and I have returned with a hoard of wealth nearly useless to myself and others, for whom can I render happy now ? To whom can I bequeath it? How can I restore my family? or how can I now build castles in the air ?

1

THE STORY OF MARY ANCEL.

“Go, my nephew," said old Father Jacob to me," and complete thy studies at Strasburg; Heaven surely hath ordained thee for the ministry in these times of trouble, and my excellent friend Schneider will work out the divine intention."

Schneider was an old college friend of uncle Jacob's, was a Benedictine monk, and a man famous for his learning; as for me, I was at that time my uncle's chorister, clerk, and sacristan; I swept the church, chanted the prayers with my shrill treble, and swung the great copper incense pot on Sundays and feasts; and I toiled over the Fathers for the other days of the week.

The old gentleman said that my progress was prodigious, and without vanity I believe he was right, for I then verily considered that praying was my vocation, and not fighting, as I have found since.

You would hardly conceive (said the Major, swearing a great oath) how devout and how learned I was in those days; I talked Latin faster than my own beautiful patois of Alsatian French; I could utterly overthrow in argument every Protestant (heretics we called them) parson in the neighbourhood, and there was a confounded sprinkling of these unbelievers in our part of the country. I prayed half-a-dozen times a-day, I fasted thrice in a week, and as for penance, I used to scourge my little sides, till they had no more feeling than a peg-top; such was the godly life I led at my uncle Jacob's in the village of Steinbach.

Our family had long dwelt in this place, and a large farm and a pleasant house were then in the possession of another uncle-uncle Edward. He was the youngest of the three sons of my grandfather ; but Jacob, the elder, had shown a decided vocation for the church from, I believe the age of three, and now was by no means tired of it, at sixty. My father, who was to have inherited the paternal property, was, as I hcar, a terrible scamp and scape-grace, quarrelled with his family and disappeared altogether, living and dying at Paris; so far, we knew through my mother, who came, poor woman, with me, a child of six months, on her bosom, was refused all shelter by my grandfather, but was housed and kindly cared for by my good uncle Jacob.

Here she lived for about seven years, and the old gentleman, when she died, wept over her grave a great deal more than I did, who was then too young to mind anything but toys or sweetmeats.

During this time my grandfather was likewise carried off: he left, as I said, the property to his son Edward-with a small proviso in his will that something should be done for me, his grandson.

Edward was himself a widower, with one daughter, Mary, about three years older than I, and certainly she was the dearest little treasure with which Providence ever blessed a miserly father; by the time she was fifteen, five farmers, three lawyers, twelve Protestant parsons, and a lieutenant of dragoons had made her offers ; it must not be deni that she was an heiress as well as a beauty, which perhaps had something to do with the love of these gentlemen. However, Mary declared that she intended to live single, turned away her lovers one after another, and devoted herself to the care of her father.

Uncle Jacob was as foud of her as he was of any saint or martyr. As for me, at the mature age of twelve, I had made a kind of divinity of her, and when we sang Ave Maria on Sundays I could not refrain from turning to her, where she knelt, blushing and praying and looking like an angel, as she was ;-besides her beauty, Mary had a thousand good qualities; she could play better on the harpsichord, she could dance more lightly, she could make better pickles and puddings, than any girl in Alsace ; —there was not a want or a fancy of the old hunks her father, or a wish of mine or my uncle's, that she would not gratify if she could-as for herself, the sweet soul had neither wants nor wishes except to see us happy.

I could talk to you for a year of all the pretty kindnesses that she would do for me; how, when she found me of early mornings among my books, her presence “would cast a light upon the day;" how she used to smooth and fold my little surplice, and embroider me caps and gowns for high feast-days; how she used to bring flowers for the altar, and who could deck it so well as she? but sentiment does not come glibly from under a grizzled moustache, so I will drop it if you please.

Amongst other favours she showed me, Mary used to be particularly fond of kissing me--it was a thing I did not so much value in those days, but I found that the more I grew alive to the extent of the benefit, the less she would condescend to confer it on me, till at last, when I was about fourteen, she discontinued it altogether, of her own wish at least ; only sometimes I used to be rude, and take what she had now become so mighty unwilling to give.

I was engaged in a contest of this sort one day with Mary, when, just as I was about to carry off a kiss from her cheek, I was saluted with a staggering slap on my own, which was bestowed by uncle Edward, and sent me reeling to the further end of the room.

The old gentleman, whose tongue was generally as close as his purse, now poured forth a flood of eloquence which quite astonished me. I did not think that so much was to be said on any subject as he managed to utter on one, and that was abuse of me; he stamped, he swore, he screamed; and then, from complimenting me, he turned to Mary, and saluted her in a manner equally forcible and significant : she, who was very much frightened at the commencement of the scene, grew very angry at the coarse words he used, and the wicked motives he imputed to her.

“The child is but fourteen,” she said, “he is your own nephew, and a candidate for holy orders—father; it is a shame that you should thus speak of me, your daughter, or of one of his holy profession."

I did not particularly admire this speech myself, but it had an effect on my uncle, and was the cause of the words with which this history commences. The old gentleman persuaded his brother that I must be sent to Strasburg, and there kept until my studies for the church were concluded. I was furnished with a letter to my uncle's old college chum, Professor Schneider, who was to instruct me in theology and Greek.

I was not sorry to see Strasburg, of the wonders of which I had heard so much, but felt very loth as the time drew near when I must quit my pretty cousin, and my good old uncle. Mary and I managed, however, a parting walk, in which a number of tender things were said

« PreviousContinue »