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THE PENALTY OF YOUTHFUL TRANSGRESSIONS.
BY MRS. EDWARD THOMAS.
" He that acts unjustly,
And one, in their eternal war, must bleed." Young. LORD Ashmore's anguish was considerably heightened by the poignant and stinging reflections of a self-accusing conscience, that implacable enemy, which ever rises up against us in the hour of our greatest trial, armed at all points, to put the torturing and unanswerable question, of-How much of the evil and misery, now so bitterly and hopelessly deplored, has our own misconduct wrought? How much might have been avoided, had we acted differently if we, as parents, and guardians of youth, had studied to “set the beauty of virtue, and the deformity of vice,” only before it, strengthening our precept by our example; and remembering, to “train up a child in the way he should go, that when he is old he may not depart from it?". “ Perhaps all-Oh, perhaps all !” exclaimed the wretched old man, lifting up the rich masses of bright auburn hair from the high fair forehead of his insensible boy (to which it was glued by the clamminess of death). “Oh! what a promise of every thing that is noble and intellectual is there," he continued ; “ had Heaven blessed him with a father to expand his mind, and direct his tastes in each honourable and glorious pursuit, such as trųly ennobles man—such as he alone was created for! But no ! as soon as his judgement had shaken off the trammels of his childish and imposed affection, and he could discern right from wrong," (known alone by intuition,) he learnt to despise and abhor that father, who, in the feebleness and decrepitude of old age, still clung to the vices of his youth.
“ How often has my very soul been wrung with agony, to read the absolute disgust of me in his boyish and ingenuous countenance. Oh! would that that disgust had been strong enough to have secured you against similar excesses, my beloved, my idolized son;—then would your father not have had to weep over your cold remains; but might have hoped, when the grave had closed over mine, and hid my faults, and my secret repentance, nature would have awoke in your heart, to claim one tear for him, who, however guilty, was still your father!
“Oh! if one could only foresee but the smallest portion of the misery our crimes entail upon others, (those most precious to us,) how should we start in horror from the brink of that precipice, whose edge is garlanded with Aowers-whose descent is smooth and gliding as the dreams of childhood,—but whose bottom is covered with thorns and briars, watered by the tears of late and unfruitful repentance. Yet, hath He said, who erreth not: “And I will visit the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children's children, unto the third, and to the fourth generation.'
“ • The fourth generation !'Oh! horror, horror! what multitudes of innocent victims to suffer through me!- The fourth generation ! there are no more, he was all, all! thank God!”
Yes, in the anguish of contrition, the bereaved father, the childless old man-the despised--the forlorn-the isolated and miserable could thank God-(that God who had visited his transgressions so severely,)—for his merciful chastisements. And although there was none to inherit his name, and that in a short time must, of necessity
“ To heirs unknown descend the unguarded store,
Or wander, Heaven directed, to the poor ;' still, his contrite and awakened soul rejoiced that it was so. How tasteless—how joyless—did all the coveted possessions of this world now appear to that grief-stricken, abject man! How he longed to pray for mercy and pardon-yet durst not. His lips feared to pronounce the name of that Being, “who hardly deemeth the angels pure,”-sin-stained, and polluted as they were.
For several months previous to the above melancholy event, he and his son had not had the slightest intercourse. He had written letter after letter to him, filled with expressions of the most tender love and anxiety-not one word of expostulation; no—he felt unauthorized to use it; conscious one word of advice, one shadow of dictation, would bring upon him the taunts, the recriminations, of his child, goading to desperation a father's guilty heart.
In preparing the corpse for its final home,-a ceremony the miserable parent determined (with the tenaciousness of that despair, which will not lose sight of the beloved and lamented remains, too soon to be hidden for ever from us,) to witness, a small packet was discovered by the attendants, bound closely to the young man's bosom.
With trembling eagerness, Lord Ashmore hastened to examine this Jast precious relic of his dead boy.--"Perhaps his own letters, although so cruelly unanswered, yet preserved as a memento in death! Perhaps, one for him ;-oh, how dear! how invaluable now! too flattering, too intoxicating thought.”
The first object that met his anxious eye, was the miniature of a young lady (Lady Emily Somerville);-she whose praise was on every lip, and whose image dwelt in every heart. The bride he would have sought from Fortune, in her blandest mood, for his son,—the lovely, the noble, the high-minded, the virtuous Lady Emily! She, who would indeed have proved “a pearl of highest price to her husband;"—the one his thoughts had so often-so fondly—and, as he feared, vainly pondered on, for that cherished boy. “They had loved, then ! and he was denied the sweet participation of a parent in his child's felicity!"
"O curse of sin !” he bitterly exclaimed, “ behold another of thy punishments! I was not worthy to know his happiness,-he cared not for my gratulations—he valued not my blessing, to crown and hallow his love,-Oh! oh!"
There was a letter also to the following effect :“ Ob! what a fatal-a deplorable discovery have I made! My adored Henry-my affianced husband-my first, last love, is then the son of Lord Ashmore !--the son of that man who first awoke a horror of your sex in my young bosom, long ere I knew that it was, by nature, the arbiter of ours. The son of him who sent to the grave that being who watched over my orphan infancy with more than a mother's care. Yes!-to your mother am I indebted for every virtue and womanly grace I possess, (now more than ever valued, since admired and commended by you). To her am I also indebted for those holy precepts and examples of our divine religion, which will now teach me resignation, to bear this first, overpowering sorrow of my life as becomes the Christian it was her only aim to make me !
“I saw that mother die, and learnt from her expiring lips, that it was your father who had remorselessly consigned her to an early grave
- that it was Lord Ashmore who was her murderer. Yet shall I never forget the fervent prayer that burst from those lips for pardon and peace for him for the mercy of God, to watch over her child, and soon to reunite them in bliss eternal, ere death silenced them for ever ;-nor the smile of triumph that broke over her seraphic features immediately after dissolution, as if her last prayer was accepted at the Throne of Grace! How then, think you, I could become the wife of his son ?-his daughter?—To voluntarily consent to come in contact with such a monster? Oh! horror, horror! No, Henry, no! Although I pronounce the sentence of my own death by it,-never, never will I become the bride of one who must call Lord Ashmore father!
“ Had you been candid when first we met—had you revealed your real name to me, it would have been sufficient to have driven me from you, despite your fascinations, to hide in terror from so deeply abhorred a sound! But your long-practised deception-your deliberate and useless perseverance in falsehood and disguise-too plainly tell, that your education has been only what such a father could bestow,impregnating your young heart with the seeds of his own vices schooling every thought to deceit, and every look to betray, so that a young nobleman at last learns to think there is no crime in imposition, and no dishonour in a lie.
"O Henry, Henry! had you been left to your pious mother's instructions, how different would have been every sentiment of your heart! Then, with every thought trained to virtue and truth, you would have scorned that crooked path which has conducted us both to misery and despair; for well do I know how bitterly, how acutely, you will bewail this cruel, but necessary resolve of mine : Oh! as sorrowfully as I now do-and that is past description !
“Then, instead of shrinking with instinctive dread at your very name, I should have mingled it in my hourly prayers, and blessed that fate which made me Lady Ashmore's child indeed, binding me to her by a stronger and dearer tie, and drawing her for ever to this idolizing and grateful heart; while she, rejoicing in the virtues of her son, would have, in the holy exultation of her soul, pardoned his father for his very sake! Farewell! oh! for ever, ever, farewell! Had you been the son of the meanest peasant, and as dear to this heart as you now, alas ! are,-title, wealth, rank—all, all, would have been willingly and unhesitatingly sacrificed by Emily Somerville, in exchange for that real and permanent happiness you alone could bestow-but which, in a son of Lord Ashmore's, she never could hope or expectyet still, as the son of Lady Ashmore, you will for ever claim the prayers, the wishes, of the miserable heart-broken Emily. Oh! that we may both soon rejoin your sainted mother above, and leave your guilty father, yet a little longer, in the enjoyment of those pleasures, This sole portion here,) and which are but for a day: for it is too surely written, where truth alone is recorded,
“ I myself have seen the ungodly in great power ; and flourishing like a green bay tree. ,
“I went by, and lo, he was gone : I sought him, but his place could no where be found.
“Such is the denunciation against those, who, like your father, seek enjoyment in vice, and prefer the vain pleasures of this life to the joys of immortality, gratifying the senses at the expense of the soul."
It is impossible to describe the various and contending emotions, which rapidly succeeded each other, (like the waves of a storm-tossed sea,) in the agitated bosom of Lord Ashmore, as he perused this fearful and appalling letter, which he did twice over, with that almost savage deliberation of a truly desperate man, who is resolved to register every malediction denounced against his crimes, in his heart for ever, as a partial atonement for their enormity, from the pangs now inflicted. But, sorrow for his son-sorrow for the fond, the gentle Emily-sorrow, that two young hearts should be thus blighted in the spring of early, innocent affection, (when it is so dear to garner up the blossoms of Love, to expand in fragrant beauty round the confiding heart, wreathing it with the gay flowers of promised happiness-never, never to fade, or decay,) through his vices;- deep, inexpressible, enduring sorrow, was the most predominant.
“Oh! if my sins had been visited on this guilty head alone!” he exclaimed; “I would have bowed in grateful contrition to the chastening blow, rejoiced I was not utterly forgotten of the Lord-glad that he remembered me, although in his wrathful justice, hoping, by penitence, to awaken his mercy in the end, for them. But for my child to be the victim of his father's transgressions—is too, too much to bear! Would that I could die this moment! for my very soul sickens at the prospect of longer life !-For what is it but a state of lingering, hopeless, incurable anguish and despair ? Truly, alas ! may I exclaim,
“ I have lived long enough: my way of life
Is fallen into the sear, the yellow leaf :
Prophetic reflection !—for on folding up the letter, which had so unexpectedly renewed all his misery and self-upbraiding, he perceived these few hasty, incoherent sentences, scrawled on the back of it by his son:
“My father !—Yet, I will not curse him !-I dare not, dare not curse my father! for the remembrance of a mother's prayer rises, like light, to chase the hellish thought! That early prayer, which taught his was a name to love, and venerate, before I knew it steeped so deep in crime-before I had learnt aught of sin myself! But were he not my father, I would curse,-ay, doom him to eternal misery : nor would, relenting, stretch the helping hand, if wolf-dogs bayed him till he reeked with gore :--so much I loathe the man, who's wrought this woe. Yet, God! when thou sendest vengeance on the earth, remember, he's my father, and spare him-oh! most for my poor murdered mother's sake.”
“ Not curse me!-oh! not curse me!—but you have cursed me, for ever, in that last sad prayer. May I not hope, O thou eternal Judge! that this worst, dreadful punishment of all, will lessen that dire store awaiting me hereafter ?”
Lord Ashmore, at the age of twenty-one, came into a large unincumbered fortune ;
" Lord of himself,—that heritage of woe,”— he plunged, with the headlong impetuosity of unrestrained youth, into every species of vice and dissipation; gloried in riding by the side of his mistress's carriage (one of the most notorious women of the day) in the Park; being seen with her in the most conspicuous box at the theatre, and delighted to drive her on the Sabbath-day (in his phaeton) in the vicinity of some popular place of divine worship; and, in fact, showed, by every action of his life, that he only derived pleasure from his excesses, in proportion to the power they afforded him of outraging morality and decency. By some he was called “a high-spirited, fashionable young man, rather inclined to gaiety and extravagance :" by others, “a capital fellow, living just as a man of large fortune ought:" but by the reflecting and virtuous part of the community, "a decided libertine, disgracing the name of man, and furnishing a fatal and most pernicious example to the unthinking and profligate, who are only too proud to imitate their superiors, even in their crimes."
At the age of five and twenty, he joined a party in an excursion to Scotland, for grouse-shooting-eager for any new excitement; for it was not then, as it is now, common alike to the gentleman and the poacher, but a pleasure confined to the rich and high-born alone, obtained only at a vast expense and trouble, and therefore prized, from its erclusiveness—a great quality to those who have it in their power to gratify every wish and desire. This rank was a sufficient introduction to all the first families in that beautiful part of the world, (proverbial, to this day, for their hospitality to strangers,) who, in their happy and innocent seclusion, were totally ignorant of the particular traits of character which so distinguished their handsome and agreeable guest among his gay companions, or they would have closed their hearts, and their doors too, against the wily serpent, discovering, be
X. S.-VOL. vi.