« AnteriorContinua »
The truth instantly flashed on the doctor's discerning mind. “ She was not his wife-she was not his sister, nor his cousin, nor merely an acquaintance—she was his mistress! poor, lost, degraded young thing—with such a look of innocence too-alas! alas ! He was only to know her, then, by the name of Louisa ? whose idolized, regretted Louisa could she be? What hearth had become mute and desolate, missing the light of her eye, and the music of her laugh? And, oh! what mother's heart had grown dark in the eclipse of her child's innocence ? The youth, too, the almost boy, her companion, appeared to be one of those gay thoughtless beings, who existed in a summer atmosphere of pleasure and dissipation, whose vice, clothed in the specious and dazzling garb of rank, wealth, and fashion, showed to the grosser multitude only as fashionable folly ;-had he no mother mourning over his crimes ? or had she aided and fostered them by her own pernicious example? Woe to her own death-bed, if she had acted so criminally!"
Doctor Hargrave wrote a prescription; gave the requisite cautions carefully to avoid increasing his cold, and to observe strictly the regimen he ordered ; and then took his leave of Mr. Talbot, with the promise of an early call on the following morning.
Although she had listened with intense anxiety, to catch as much as possible of the half-whispered conversation, Louisa had not ventured the slightest remark during the whole visit; but as the doctor was leaving the room, he caught her eye timidly raised to his, and respectfully bowed to her with that instinctive politeness which a well-bred man invariably feels for one of the opposite sex. This unexpected mark of attention encouraged her to follow him out, and to ask, in an earnest tone, “ Whether he considered there was any danger to be apprehended from Alfred's present symptoms ?"
“ Some, I fear; but with great care, and no cause of anxiety, or sudden excitement, I hope to be able to allay it shortly."
“Oh! pray, pray, do, sir,” she exclaimed, energetically; "you do not know how much of my future happiness depends on his recovery, all, all !"-she added, in a tone of thrilling pathos, which came direct from her heart, and went immediately to the sympathizing doctor's.
“Pcor, poor girl !” he sighed, as she closed the door on him; “she has still some sense of feeling left."
He continued to visit Mr. Talbot regularly every day, for the space of a fortnight, devoting his whole skill and attention to his case, which, however, baffled all his efforts, as he gradually grew worse, until at last he was reduced to his bed entirely, Louisa, and a couple of maidservants, being his only, but most indefatigable, nurses ; at the termination of which period he was plunged into a state of considerable embarrassment, at receiving the following letter, in an unknown hand :
“ A mother's anxiety for an only and most beloved son must plead my excuse for this intrusion, and will, I feel assured, with the benign and truly amiable Doctor Hargrave. Oh, sir! it is to the benevolent sympathy of a stranger, that I am alone indebted for the knowledge of my Alfred's present precarious state of health. Must not that bitter reflection add poignancy to my anguish at his danger? So long as he remained virtuous, he delighted in writing to me,-in
imparting every secret of his heart,-its pains and its pleasures its hopes and its fears: I was the sole depositary of all the thoughts of his mind, which, like a fair sheet, were spread before me for the eyes of affection to peruse, rejoicingly. But vice has robbed me of my once fond boy, and shame has paralyzed the willing band, and closed against me the affectionate and duteous heart. Think not, alas! because he remained silent, that I was ignorant of bis mode of life-that I have not prayed for his reform-that I have not wept for him-blessed him-mourned-deeply, deeply mourned for him—that I have forgotten his early purity, or my own affection. Oh! no, no; a mother's heart is not influenced by time or absence; still does its tenderest thoughts aud prayers pursue her child to the remotest corners of the earth,-still does her lips pertinaciously seek the information that must wring it to its core,- still does it sicken for his return, and faint at his indifference; and if it be true that rumour has a thousand tongues, she must have employed them all to speed accounts to me of my son's depravity-for never has mother's ear been so polluted before. Now, however, that he is in danger, I must, and will see him; I must come to watch his dying pillow-to soothe his last moments-to forgive and bless him. Who would dare to rob a mother of the last sigh of her child—the last glance of his eye-the last pressure of bis hand—the last smile of his lips—and the last earthly wish of his heart? They are a mother's rights, granted to her by the unalterable laws of Nature. It is, that I may not be shocked, on my arrival, at finding my son (on the brink of eternity) still living in a manner to provoke the wrath of the Almighty, and, despite his being the child of many prayers,' closing the gates of eternal bappiness against himself, that I implore you to remove an object so repulsive to a mother's sight, as the unfortunate voung person, now his sole associate. I trust to your complying with my request, as a man, and a Christian, and shall immediately commence my melancholy journey. Justice compels me to tell you candidly, ere I close this, to you, perhaps, already too protracted a letter, that I have learnt, from undoubted authority, that this is Louisa's first and only deviation from virtue, and that, save for my son, she might have yet been innocent,—that he employed every species of seduction that rank, wealth, and the fascinations of an extremely handsome person, too fatally and easily furnished him with, to allure her from a modest but happy home, and plunge her into the guilt and infamy you now behold. I blush for my son, while I write this; but it is the sacred truth; and it will be my religious care, should his illness terminate, as I fear it will, fatally, to secure his victim from all further temptation to crime, by amply providing for her every want, and endeavouring to reconcile her to her incensed relatives, who are now implacable, the poor resenting such conduct, as an act of irretrievable disgrace generally. A mother's feelings, and my heart whispers, a woman's pride, make me dread the possibility of encountering her, when on such a mission of sorrow; bence my earnest and reiterated wish for her removal from my son's abode, which will render me,
“ Ever yours most gratefully,
“ BARBARA TALBOT."
This truly perplexing letter, Doctor Hargrave immediately resolved to show to his wife; and he determined, also, to be guided implicitly by the advice she should give him, respecting the accomplishment of Louisa's removal, which, in Alfred's present state of health, was an affair of considerable moment, as he appeared only to exist in her devoted attentions: his only hope of success was in persuading her calmly to listen to reason, and to leave the house, for the sake of her lover's comfort, without opposition. These hopes he imparted to Mrs. Hargrave, as soon as she had read Mrs. Talbot's letter; who instantly replied, “I am confident, from what you have told me of the poor girl, that she will do all you wish : you have only to impress on her mind, that the sacrifice you demand of her is for Alfred's advantage, and she will fall on her knees and bless you for suggesting it; for, O George! I am much mistaken in her character, if her error has not alone proceeded from the blindness of affection,-pay, I even doubt if she is aware of the awful offence she has committed : she must be saved!”
“ But where shall I find a proper home for the poor girl, in her distress, my dear love ?”
“ I know not, unless you offer her your own."
“ Mine! what bring the acknowledged mistress of a dissipated young man under the roof with you? You do not reflect on the consequences of such a step! Would it not appear in the eyes of the world, as affording an encouragement to vice? as holding out a sanction to profiligacy? Although I should be fully conscious of the purity of your motives, still, I could not but deplore, dearest, if the sunset of a long life of the brightest virtue were beclouded, even by a seeming deviation from rectitude. I honour the self-denying qualities of your heart, but I am proud of your reputation, and shudder, lest the slightest breath of slander should tarnish its lustre.”
“My dear George ! this is the first time since our union, that I ever knew your benevolence to be influenced by an illiberal prejudice. I am no advocate for vice,- Heaven forbid ! nor do I, for one moment, wish that virtue should descend from its elevated pedestal, to come into promiscuous and sullying contact with it; still, in my opinion, the first attribute of virtue is charity; and I cannot but regret, and condemn, the repulsive and unchristian spirit almost invariably displayed by my sex, to the unfortunate being who secedes from it. Alas ! too truly has the poet said of them
• That every woe a tear can claim,
Except an erring sister's shame.' There is not one of his female acquaintance, who will not lament the untimely death of the handsome and fascinating Alfred Talbot; nay, many will doubtless weep for him, who would yet spury from their path, as a loathsome reptile, the unhappy girl, who, from being exposed to greater temptations than themselves, tell a victim to those very fascinations which render him so interesting to their sorrow. Oh! let us never fear the censures of such an unjust world, while we are supported by conscious integrity, -while we are swayed by the fear of offending God alone, in all our actions. Besides, a long life of goodness, such as mine is universally acknowledged to have been,
(I do not say this from vanity, but to destroy all your idle and ground. less fears,) will surely serve as a shield against the petty shafts of malignity, hurled only by those who are incapable of conceiving the godlike independence of a really charitable heart. Had I daughters, much as my secret inclination might prompt the desire of befriending the lost Louisa, of course, for their sakes, I should restrain the wish of doing it thus openly; but I am childless, aged, and have only to do the deeds that will purchase salvation : so bring her hither, at least for the present,- for would it not be barbarous to cast her forth on the earth alone, unpitied, without one voice to speak peace to her despair, or one eye to look kindly on her anguish; and that, with a heart overwhelmed with self-reproach, and blighted affection? What could be the result of such cruelty, but forcing her into the commission of yet deeper guilt, or some fatal act of desperation against her branded life? Believe me, George, you have no right to arrogate such despotic authority to yourself; and if you insist upon her quitting her present protector, without providing a suitable asylum for her, and a friend to soothe her broken spirit, and she obeys you, from the influence that superior age and moral dignity of character ever exerts over weak and erring minds—recollect, you will be availing yourself of a high privilege only for an unworthy purpose; whereas, if you keep her under your own eye, and by kindness, and paternal admonition, lead her, through gratitude, to repentance, you will derive a gratification from such conduct, that the world can neither give nor take away,' -the certainty, that, by winning her from the error of her ways, you have presented an acceptable offering to the Almighty and his Angels,
-for there is more joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, than over ninety and nine just persons, who need no repentance.'”
“My noble-minded wife !” exclaimed Doctor Hargrave, in a voice of deep emotion, “ you are always superior to me in every sentiment of your heart. Louisa shall come to you, and yours shall be the triumph of rescuing her from evil; for the seeds of virtue are strong in her bosom yet, and only want the fostering hand of female piety to bring them to angelic perfection;—so, prepare to receive the poor penitent, and to be a mother to her.”
On his arrival at the cottage, before ascending to Alfred's room, as was his general custom, Doctor Hargrave desired the servant, who answered his ring at the door-bell, to inform Louisa that he wished to speak to her particularly in the parlour below. When she appeared, pale and haggard from constant watchings, and her eyes red and swollen from recent weeping, his heart smote him for the pang he was about to inflict on her.
After questioning her relative to the manner in which his patient had passed the night, which he found had been unusually restless and feverish, attended with slight delirium and harassing dreams, he shook his head despondingly, preparatory to entering on the painful subject of his requesting the present private interview,-conscious she would, with all a woman's tact, understand by it that he apprehended an increase of danger for Alfred, better than the most eloquent expressions could explain, and that her alarmed affection on his account would second the scheme he meditated for her removal from him; nor was he deceived in his conjecture, for, with lips of an ashy paleness, she exclaimed, “You think him worse, Doctor Hargrave, I know you do; you cannot deceive the eyes of an affection such as mine!"
“I do indeed consider him much, much worse-in fact, in extreme danger, and that nothing short of a miracle, I fear, can snatch him from the grave. I feel bis indisposition a serious responsibility on myself, and would wish, if possible, to get some of his more immediate connections about him. Has he no relations? Does he never express a desire to see any one? He must be aware of his situation, for I thought it my duty to inform bim of his danger some days since. Have you never heard him intimate a wish to have others near him besides yourself? Answer me truly, mind! for you will be sorry for your deception when it is too late to repair the consequences of it."
Awed by the solemnity of the doctor's manner, his respectable and dignified demeanour, and the painful and humiliating conviction that he divined her real position with respect to her intimacy with Alfred, she replied, almost choked by her convulsive sobs, “ I will tell you the truth, as the Angels will record every word I utter, for me to answer at the general judgement. Often and often he speaks of his mother, longing to see her, and weeping over the cause of their estrangement; and I am even jealous to bear her name so much more frequently than mine in his prayers-1, who have done so much for him! Oh! if he could but behold his mother once again, I feel assured he would die without a regret.”
“And he must see her," rejoined Doctor Hargrave vehemently, "he must and he shall !"
Louisa was completely confounded at his unwonted energy, and exclaimed, while her face became suffused with the deepest blushes.“ How can that be? she will not come where I am, alas !_and that, poor Alfred only too well knows, sir !"
“Of course not, you could not expect it!"
“How? why, by your leaving the house for a short time, which, I am sure, you will not object to do, if you really love him, as I have no doubt you do, with all the unselfishness of woman's early love."
“Leave the house !-leave Alfred to die without me! Oh! never, never! She would not, could not, have the cruelty to separate us at such a moment. Oh, my God! no;-it is impossible to imagine it."
“Cruelty! do you call it, Louisa ? Reflect a moment dispassionately, and you will find that it is not to that poor, bereaved, heart-broken mother, that such a charge ought to be laid.”
“ To whom, then? Is it not the height of cruelty-the height of barbarity-to wish to part us now ? now! that he is actually dying ?"
“ And is it not equally cruel, equally barbarous, now that he is supposed to be actually dying, for you to wish to keep his mother from him ?--the mother who bore him—the mother who watched over his helpless infancy--the mother who still prays and mourns for himthe mother, who, but for you, would yet be in the enjoyment of his affection ? Who deserves to be taxed with cruelty now? on your soul, answer me that.”
“I cannot--I dare not answer you !" almost screamed the dis