Imatges de pÓgina


“ Hush, Margaret, I see it again! poor little thing, how it limps ! Hush! I declare it has gone through the hedge into the churchyard. Wait one, only one moment, dear Sister, and I shall certainly catch it,”—and over the churchyard stile bounded Rose Sunderland, as lightly as a sunbeam, or, I should rather say, to be in keeping with the time and place, as lightly as a moonbeam ; for that favourite orb of love and ladies had risen, even while the golden hue of an autumnal sun lingered in the sky, and its pale, uncertain beams silvered the early dew-drops, which the gay and thoughtless girl shook from their verdant beds in her rapid movements. But Rose cared little about disturbing dew-drops, or indeed any thing else that interfered with the pursuit that occupied her for the moment. With the eagerness of sixteen she had pursued a young wounded leveret among the silent tombs, as thoughtlessly as if she trod only on the sweet wild thyme, or humble daisy; and when she had nearly wearied out the object of her anxiety, she saw it take shelter under the worn arch of an ancient monument with evident satisfaction, convinced that now she could secure her prize if Margaret would only come to her assistance.

“ Sister, Sister,” repeated she, eagerly, “come! if we do not take it, it will surely become the prey of some weazel or wild cub-fox before morning."

Margaret slowly passed the stile.

“One would think you were pacing to a funeral,” said Rose pettishly. “If you will do nothing else, stand there at least, and now I have it !" 'exclaimed she joyously; "its little heart pants-poor thing! I wonder how it got injured !”

Stop," replied her sister, in a low, agitated voice; "you forget ---yet how can you forget?—who it is that rests here; who—” She placed her hand upon a plain stone pedestal, but strong and increasing emotion prevented her finishing the sentence.

“My dear Margaret, forgive me! it is ever thus; I am fated to be your misery. I am sure I never thought—"

“ Think now then, Rose, if it be but for a moment; think, that only one little year has passed since he was with us; since his voice, so wise, and yet so sweet, was the music of our cottage ; his kindness, the oil and honey of our existence. Though the arrow had entered into his soul, it festered not, for no corruption was there. When he was reviled, he reviled not again; and though his heart was broken, his last words were, “Lord, thy will, not mine, be done.' My dear, dear father,” she continued, sinking at the same moment upon her knees, and clasping her hands in devout agony, “ teach me to be like thee.”—“ Say me, rather,” ejaculated the sobbing Rose, whose grief now was as vivid as her exultation had been : “say, teach Rose to be like thee; you are like our father; but I am nothing ! anything! Oh, Margaret, can you forgive me? There, I'll let the hare go this moment; I'll do any thing you wish ; indeed I will."

“Do not let it go," replied Margaret Sunderland, who had quickly recovered her self-possession ; “It would be ill done to permit any suffering near his grave. After a brief pause she rose from her knees,

and passing her arm through her sister's, left the churchyard to its moonlight solitude.

The silence was soon broken by the younger, who observed,

“Sister, I forgot to tell you that I met Lady Louisa Calcraft this morning at the Library, and she took no notice of me."

“ The ban is upon you, and upon us all, Rose,” replied Margaret, turning her pale, but beautiful countenance towards her sister_"The bán

of buried hopes

And prospects faded.' Would to God that that were all ; that any sacrifice on my part could pay the debts my poor father in his honest, but wild speculations, incurred. The Calcrafts in Lincoln -but they are everywhere. I could ill have borne a scornful look from one of them.”

“They are friends of Ernest Heathwood's, are they not ?”

A deep and glowing crimson, which luckily the obscurity of the night preserved from observation, mantled the cheeks of Margaret Sunderland, while she replied

“ Yes, I believe so ; but, dear Rose, you might have spared me the mention of his name.” : “I am ever doing wrong," murmured poor Rose, as her sister withdrew her arm from within

her's. Margaret and Rose Sunderland were the daughters of a ruined merchant-of one, indeed, who had been a prince yesterday, and a beggar to-day—of one whose argosies had gone forth, but returned no more--whose name one year would have guaranteed millions-yet who died the next, wanting a shilling. Maurice Sunderland had cheerfully surrendered all to his creditors, yet that all was insufficient to satisfy any thing like the claims made, and justly made, upon him. House, plate, jewels, servants, had all been sacrificed. Not a vestige of their former prosperity lingered ; and they who had revelled in superfluities, now wanted the most common necessaries. A small jointure alone remained ; and in that his wife had only a life interest.

Mrs. Sunderland was vain, weak, selfish; a woman who knew not what it was to grow old gracefully, and who haunted youthful pleasures with a wrinkled brow, a flaxen wig, and a painted cheek; her mind was inconceivably small. She wept more for the loss of her diamonds and Dresden than for her husband's misfortunes.

Pecuniary difficulties were only the commencement of Margaret's trials. The family removed to Lincoln, as one or two relations lived there, who could forward the plans Miss Sunderland had formed for their support. Her affection for her father would not permit her to leave him to the care of a giddy, childish sister, and her almost idiotic mother ; particularly as his health was visibly sinking, and nature appeared unable to repair the inroads of disease. She therefore accepted, most joyfully, the charge of the education of four little girls, her cousins. Her father raised no obstacle to this plan ; though his withered cheek Aushed, and his hand trembled the first day that he saw his beautiful Margaret quietly arranging and superintending her élèves in the back parlour of their cottage ; but her mother's caprice and spirit of contradiction, was a constant source of mortification, although it tended still more to draw

forth her daughter's virtues : she was never satisfied; always regretting their past splendour, always reproaching poor Margaret with having degraded her family, by condescending to become a - School Mistress;" and yet thoughtlessly squandering her hard earnings on selfish enjoyments: this was not one who has only read of “ The delightful task of teaching the young idea how to shoot,” can form any estimate of the self-denial, the self-abasement which must be the portion of an instructress ; particularly if she be conscientious in the discharge of her duty. All influences, to be useful, must be exercised with discretion ; and alas! it is but a short step from dominion to tyranny. Margaret was obliged to practise as well as preach; and indeed, the one without the other is always unavailing : she had to watch not only herself, but others; so that her maxims might be really useful to those she sought to improve. She wished to make them not only accomplished, but informed; and her new system," as it was called, was subject to many animadversions, both from her relatives and their friends, who, as usual on such occasions, quite forgot what Miss Sunderland had been, in what she was ; treated her merely as “the governess,". and admitted her only as such into their houses. At one of those visits, which she continually shrank from, and only endured as an occasional penance, she met the very Ernest Heathwood, whom Rose so unwittingly alluded to during their evening's walk. The eldest son of a Baronet, who, with his new honours, had changed, it was understood, a mercantile for a somewhat Aristocratic name, was a likely person to attract the attention, and win the civilities of all within his sphere; and he was welcomed to the mansion of one of Miss Sunderland's relatives with extraordinary courtesy. Margaret, always collected, always dignified, neither sought nor avoided his attentions ; but silently suffered all the little manæuvres of second-rate country-town society to take their course. The anxiety that some mothers evinced, to crowd a tribe of illdressed daughters to a tuneless piano, and there show off their skill in the various departments of first, second, and third harmony; while others contented themselves with exhibiting the more quiet, and consequently, more endurable litter of card drawings and Poonah painting, could only excite a feeling of pity in such a mind as Margaret's. Pity, that woman should so thoroughly mistake the end and aim of her creation, as to descend to be the mistress of a puppetshow—and something more severe than pity, towards the other sex, who outwardly encourage, while they inwardly despise such petty traps of slavery!“ An age," reflected Margaret, “ which values itself on caricature, parody, or burlesque, can produce little that is sublime, either in genius or virtue. Yet those qualities, and the display of imperfect, and, in nine cases out of ten, most senseless accomplishments, amuse; and we live in an age that must be amused, though our best and noblest feelings pay the forfeiture ;” and she employed her slender fingers with tenfold care to build up the card castle which her little pupil

, Cicely, had thrown down. " It is abominable,” whispered her sister, “ to hear such bad music, while you could give us so much that is good.” A quiet motion of her sister's finger to her lips prevented farther observation ; and the card castle bade fair to mount three stories high, when suddenly Ernest

Heathwood turned round, and, addressing himself to the fair architect, asked if now she would favour them, for he was sure she could. ' “ Oh, yes,” observed one of the Dowagers, “ of course Miss Sunderland can and will; she teaches so well, that she must be a proficient.” Some feeling of pride, perhaps, for it will linger, despite our better judgment; called so exquisite a blush to Margaret's cheek; and young Heathwood gazed on her with such respectful, yet visible admiration, that, were she not “only a governess," the entire female sex, likely to be married, or given in marriage, would have thrown up the game as hopeless; but the eldest son of a rich baronet would never think of the daughter of a broken merchant--and a governess! the thing was impossible-quite.

What Ernest Heathwood did think while Margaret commenced that sweet ballad of Moore's “ All that's bright must fade," it is impossible to say ; but a thrill, amounting to anguish, was felt by I every one in the room, by the peculiar manner in which she pronounced the following lines,

" Who would seek or prize

Delights that end in aching ?
Who would trust to ties

That every hour are breaking.” Then it was that Ernest Heathwood saw into her very soul; and felt that she must have indeed known change and misfortune. Music is dangerous from lips of beauty ; but more dangerous from those of feeling : the union of both was too much for Ernest's philosophy, and he was, it must be confessed, somewhat bewildered during the remainder of the evening. She inspired him not only with interest, but admiration; and he experienced more anxiety than he cared to express, when her history was truly, though it appeared to him, coldly communicated by her relative, the next day, with the additional intelligence, that her father had been seized only that morning with paralysis ; and little hopes were entertained of his recovery! He called constantly at the cottage ; but it was not until some time after the bereavement which Margaret, above all, lamented, that he saw the being who had more interest for him than ever. There are peculiar circumstances, which train our susceptibilities to receive impressions ; and misfortune either softens or hardens the heart: the incapacity of her mother, the volatility of her sister, rendered them both unfit companions for the high-minded Margaret; and she might well be pardoned for anticipating the evening that now invariably brought Ernest to the cottage, as the time, when, freed from toil and restraint, she would meet the sympathy and tenderness, without which a woman's heart must be indeed sad and unsatisfied: she was not, like

many other wise and prudent people, at all aware of the danger of her position. She had no idea that while seeking to alleviate and dispel her sorrows, by what she termed friendly converse, a deep and lasting sentiment was silently, but surely, implanting itself in her bosom; and that time and opportunity were fostering it, either for her happiness or misery. Her girlhood had passed without any of what we call the frippery of i love how she had escaped the contagion of firtation, heaven knows !

perhaps it might be attributed to a certain reserve of manner, which served as a beacon to fools and puppies, to warn them off the rocks

sands of female intellect, whenever it was their fortune to encounter Margaret Sunderland.

Amongst the wealthy citizens, many had sought her hand; but she was not to be courted in a golden shower; and after her father's failure, none remembered the beautiful daughter of the unfortunate

I merchant; it was therefore not to be wondered at, that she valued him who valued her for herself, and herself only; and dreamt the dream that can be dr mt once.

Many evenings were spent in that full and perfect trustfulness, which pure and virtuous hearts alone experience. So certain, indeed, appeared the prospect of her happiness, that she sometimes doubted its reality: and when a doubt as to the future did arise, it pressed so heavily, so very heavily, upon her heart, that, with a gasping eagerness, which excited her own astonishment, she cast it from her, as a burden too much for her to bear.

She had known and loved Ernest for some months, when, one morning, their only servant interrupted her little school, by saying, that a gentleman in the parlour wished to speak with her.

On entering the room, a short dark elderly man returned her graceful saluta-, tion, with an uncouth effort at ease and self-possession.

“ Miss Sunderland, I presume."

She bowed ;-a long pause succeeded, which neither seemed willing to interrupt, and when Margaret raised her eyes to his, there was something-she could hardly tell what, that made her think him the bearer of evil tidings. Yet was the countenance not unpleasing to look upon--the expanded and somewhat elevated brow--the round full eye that had rather a benign than stern expression, would have betokened a kind and even gentle being, had not the lower portion of the face boded meanness and severity--the mouth was thin and compressed—the chin lean and short-the nose looked as if nature had intended at first to mould it according to the most approved of Grecian features, but suddenly changing her plan, left it stubbed and stunted at the end, a rude piece of unfinished workmanship.

“ Madam,” he at last commenced, “you are, I believe, acquainted with my son.

" Sir!”
“ My son, Mr. Ernest Heathwood.”
Again Margaret replied by bowing.

“ I have resided many years abroad, but if your father was living he would know me well."

The word “ Father was ever a talisman to poor Margaret, and she looked into his face, as if imploring him to state how he had known her parent; he evidently did not understand the appeal, and continued in a constrained manner, his lips compressed, so as scarcely to permit egress to his words, and his eyes bent on the carpet, unwilling to meet her now fixed and anxious gaze.

“ I have every respect for you, Miss Sunderland; and yet I feel it but right to mention in time, that a union between you and what I never could never will agree to. The title,” (and the new baronet drew up his little person with much dignity,) "I cannot prevent his having, but a shilling of my money goes not with it, unless he marries with my perfect consent; forgive me, young lady, I es

[ocr errors]

my son is

« AnteriorContinua »