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It so happened that my last landlord's two daughters had been educated at a boarding-school in that town; and they, knowing my penchant for ladies' society, gave me letters of recommendation to a family with whose numerous members and their connexions they became acquainted while at school. I dwell on the recollection of this incident with pleasure, as it recalls to memory the charms of person and mind of two very amiable girls, both of whom shared my admiration in their days of youth and innocence, and each of whom I lived to see happy grandmothers!
By means of this introduction I became a daily visiter in the house of Farmer Halesire of Beechwood, for in those days a farmer did not aspire to the rank of esquire. He was a prosperous worthy old man, who, by hard industry as a master husbandman, had brought up no less than thirteen children to a station of wealth and respectability. Of primitive simplicity of manners, and little conversant in worldly affairs, beyond the state of the markets, it was a great source of delight to him and his old dame to hear me talk of Ireland as of a country in another hemisphere. The old gentleman spoke of the approaching marriage of one of his girls, a staid lady of fortyfive, with an ancient lover after twenty-five years courtship, as an event which, by bringing all his children together, would afford me an opportunity of being introduced to the whole of
his family. This marriage actually did take place during my sojourn in Berkshire; and I had the great delight of sitting down at the table of the patriarch, in company with three generations, assembled under the parent roof, to the number of thirty-three persons! In the evening we had a hop on the lawn; and long ere night drew her curtain over the festive scene the veteran lover had trundled off his long-sought bride in an old-fashioned buggy to the hall of his fathers on the Hampshire hills.
There were two daughters at home, the one three, the other four years my senior, to whose attractions a youth of my temperament could not remain altogether insensible. There was also a son who conducted the farm, about the age of twentyfive, one of the best-hearted, unaffected young men I have ever met with. He became very much attached to me; and while describing the safe and tranquil pleasures of their rural life, almost succeeded in diverting the current of my mind from the unsettled and stormy track I had chosen, the more particularly as his sisters, both fine girls, joined their entreaties not to " go to the wars.". I slept at the house frequently during my stay in their neighbourhood : after the ceremony of prayers, the old couple retired for the night at nine o'clock: we four sat up chatting till midnight; while, with an arm round each waist, I listened to their artless stories. Although I loved them both, loved their society, and almost shuddered at the thought of that order for march which must ere long separate us, yet with every opportunity, which the most unbounded confidence afforded, I can with truth assert that, up to that period, never one unhallowed thought entered my imagination. The kiss which their fond brother bestowed on them at parting for the night, was not more chaste than that which custom, after a few nights' acquaintance, allowed me to enjoy! but my continence was doomed to a severe trial on one occasion, during my visit to this family.
I had retired to my bed as usual at nearly midnight, and might have slept for two hours, when my slumbers were not abruptly, but gradually broken by a noise of the gentle and cautious opening of my door, and the appearance of a person moving into the room. Never having been what is called a heavy sleeper, my alarmed senses were ere long collected, and by the light of the declining moon I beheld, with a sense of terror which it is impossible to describe, a figure all in white, gliding about the bed with noiseless footsteps. In drawing aside the window-curtains it revealed to me the fine propor.' tions of a tall and well-formed female. My ghost-like visiter moved from the window, proceeded to the table, and standing before the dressing-glass, appeared to be engaged in arranging
her hair: I could, however, although almost dead with terror, perceive that the hair was not touched. The head was enveloped in a white cap, around which the arms appeared to move mechanically: but what were my feelings when the figure approached my bed-side, and after regarding me for some time, turned down the bed-clothes as if about to enter! A long and deep-drawn sigh from the fair spectre somewhat relieved my almost exhausted courage, as it gave me assurance that my visiter was of earthly mould; and in the gray light which still lingered in the room, I fancied I could trace the beautiful outline of the fine and finished form of the innocent Caroline.
All past alarms yielded to a sense of coming joy, which in the first transport of relief from terror had seized my senses. Gracious powers! can it be possible, I thought, that the lovely Caroline, in the still and silent hour, steals from the couch of innocence, voluntarily to invite the embraces of him, who, however beloved as a friend, never dared aspire to the happiness of a nearer or dearer connexion? I knew not what to think. A moment's reflection induced me to steal, but with a motion as gentle as her own, from the bed, and watch her movements from the opposite side. She passed her hands over the surface of the bed and the pillow as if seeking for its inmate. A gleam of the moon at that minute shone on the face of the fair intruder: I was at once satisfied that it was the beautiful Caroline herself, but in a state of sonnolency. I then recollected that I had succeeded to the occupancy of her eldest sister's chamber, with whom, before her marriage, Caroline and her sister occasionally slept. I feared to move, lest I should awake, the dear girl; I therefore waited in almost breathless'silence, the issue of this nocturnal visit, and felt my heart relieved from a heavy weight as I beheld her once more glide from the room, retiring with the noiseless motion of a shadow. I stole on tiptoe to the door, and followed her with strained eyes, as well as the dim light allowed, while she ascended the three steps which led to the chamber in which her sister and herself slept at the extremity of the passage; then gently closing the door, I turned the key within to guard against another visit, through which my virtue probably would not have borne me so honourably. I thought it certain that had she not felt the bed untenanted, she would have entered it. I shall not attempt a description of the sensations which that thought excited, but sleep did not again visit my eyes. I had seen a young and lovely woman, fresh from the hands of nature, almost within my embraces. I have often thought how I could have risked the soul-distracting view. The happy and unblushing confidence of the dear and innoVOL. II.
cent girl the next morning when relating to the family that she had been dreaming of me all night, fostered those dark and dangerous designs, which in spite of my best resolves found entrance in my mind. My conduct towards her the whole of that day was so peculiar, that it could not escape even her own observation. The warm pressure of my hand was no longer that of mere friendship; I sought every opportunity for being alone with her; yet when alone I knew not what to say. The insidious and oft repeated kiss, half stolen, half bestowed, fired the innocent bosom of the gentle Caroline with sensations hitherto unknown. I saw the struggle in her throbbing breast, between the sense of propriety, and the first-felt passion which eonscience whispered was a crime. We were alone, and in a shady bower. It was the lovely evening of one of those delicious autumnal days which sometimes bless our clime, when every breeze is hushed : naught was heard but the half-broken murmurs of mutual caresses. The happy Caroline had already sunk an unresisting victim on my panting bosom, when her guardian angel in the form of my adored Maria, floated before my vision, and in an instant restored me to my sense of ho
I hailed the heavenly monitor as the harbinger of future peace
both; and, delighted with my conquest over a fiend-like passion, hurried the blushing agitated girl from the bower; and as I pressed her to my bosom with respectful tenderness, exclaimed, “O Caroline! I wish I had a heart to offer you!" Future reflections must have convinced her how deeply she was indebted to my fortunate forbearance !
To remain any longer an inmate of this house would have been to tempt my fate. I framed an excuse for terminating my visit before the appointed day; and took leave of this abode of innocence and virtue, happily before I had stained its peaceful threshold with pollution.
“For you've only to Holland to sail, d'ye see,
And the French we'll drive back to their nation:
Will sit down to a jollification." -FODGE !
On looking over the papers at the reading room at Speen. hamland, to my great astonishment I saw my name gazetted for a cornetcy in a regiment of dragoon guards ! I could scarcely believe my eyes, and read the paper again and again; yet for the life of me I could not conjecture by what means this unexpected greatness had been thrust on me. A letter waited for me in the hands of the drum-major: it was from my father. Impatiently I burst the scal; this, thought I, will explain all! My eyes hurried over the first, second, and third pages, and then the crossings added by my fond sister; still not one syllable of the wished-for intelligence. I was confused in the variety of conjectures: my first feelings were, I confess, those of pride and exultation; but these were checked by more sober thoughts. The cavalry was a service which my limited circumstances wholly unfitted me to embrace; and the regiment to which I found myself so unaccountably posted was peculiarly a patrician one, boasting amongst its members some of the junior branches of the noblest families in the kingdom; many even amongst the subalterns, who possessed their parks, their pack of bounds, and their thousands per annum.
I received the congratulations of the corps; and with that vain feeling of independence of control which is but too natural to youth, set about packing up my baggage, and was actually preparing to take my leave at once, and on the authority of the Gazette to proceed to London, when the commanding officer, the senior major, reminded me that he had a voice as to the disposal of my time and services; and that, until an official communication reached him, I was still under his orders. Having been too forward with my arrangements for the journey, and boasting of them regimentally, I felt myself awkwardly circumstanced, and when ordered into the major's presence, instead of acknowledging the error of my precipitancy, and throwing myself on his indulgence to excuse it, I added to my fault by appearing very much huffed at the strictly proper conduct of this rigid officer, and thereby Jessened, if not totally