ページの画像
PDF
ePub

not look back with wilder affright upon the tortures of the Inquisition, from which he was flying in unexpected escape, his limbs yet quivering with recollections of the rack!

It was an evening in March, in the ensuing year, that was appointed by Miss Edwards for communicating to me the particulars of her history -of her sufferings and her shame. She shruuk from the dreadful task -self-imposed though it was-saying, the only satisfaction she should experience iu telling it, would be a feeling that it was in the nature of an expiation of her guilt. I had promised the preceding day to spend a long evening with her for the purpose of hearing her story. I arrived about half past six o'clock, and the purse, according to her instructions, immediately retired.

I wish the reader could have seen Miss Edwards as I saw her on that evening! She recliner, propped up by pillows, upon a couch that bad been ordered for her, and which was drawn near the fire. In the beautiful language of Sterne, saffliction had touched her appearance with soinething that was unearthly.' Her raven-black hair was parted with perfect simplicity upon her pale forehead; and the expression of her full dark eyes, together with that of her pallid wasted features, and the sletder, finely-chiselled fingers of the left hand, which was spread open upon her bosom, reminded me forcibly of a picture of tbe Madonna, by one of the greatest oli painters. I defy any person to have seen that unfortunate girl's face, even in total ignorance of her bistory, and ever to have forgotten it. On my entering the room, she laid aside a book she had been reading, and seemned, I thought, a little fluttered, aware of my errand of the heavy task she had undertaken. I apprize the reader at once, that I fear I can give him but a very imperfect account of the deeply-interesting narrative which I received from Miss Edwards's lips. I did not commit it to paper till about a week after I had heard it, circumstances preventing my doing it earlier. I have, however, endeavored to preserve, throughout, as much of her peculiar turns of expressionsometimes very felicitous—as possible.

Doctor,' said she, speaking faintly at first, how I have longed for, and yet dreaded this day!' She paused, unable to proceed. I rung for a glass of wine and water; and after she had taken a little, her agitation gradually subsided.

• Take time, Eleanor,' said I, gently-don't hurry yourself.-Don't tell me a syllable more than is perfectly agreeable to yourself. Believe mebelieve me, I have no impertinent curiosity, though I do feel a profound interest in what you are going to tell me.'

She sighed deeply.

* But, Doctor, the blessed Scriptures say, that if we confess our sins' – the poor girl's voice again faltered, and she burst into tears. I was affected and embarrassed—so much so, that I hesitated whether or not I should allow her to go on.

“Forgive me, Doctor,' she once more resumed, if I am shocked at finding myself beginning my bitter and disgraceful history. I do it in the spirit of a most humble confession of my errors. It will relieve my heart, though it may make you hate the poor fallen creature that is talking to you. But I know iny days on earth are numbered.' • Eleanor! Don't say so; I assure you I have great hopes'

Doctor-forgive me,' said she emphatically, waving her arm with a serious air, I do not doubt your skill; but I shall never recover; and if it be the will of God, I would a thousand times rather die than live !- Oh, Doctor! I find I must begin with the time when you saw me both happy and virtuous, living with my mother. How little did I then think of what was before me!-how differently you were hereafter to see me! Perhaps I need scarcely tell you that my heart in those days was rank with pride a pride that aided me in my ruin! My poor mother has often, I dare say, told you of the circumstances which led her to seek a livelihood by keeping a boarding house at a summer watering-place. I endured the change of circumstances ; my mother reconciled herself to them and a thousand times strove, but in vain, to bend the stubborn heart of her daughter into acquiescence with the will of Providence. I concealed my rebellious feetings, however, out of pity to her, but they often choked me! They said, Doctor, that at that time I was beautiful. Yes, Doctor, look at me now, said she with a bitter smile, and think that I was once called beautiful! Beautiful!-oh! that this face had been the ugliest of the ugly-frightful enough to scare off the Serpent!- But Heaven is wise! I am not vain enough to hesitate about owning that I saw how much I was admired—and admired sometimes in quarters that made my pulse beat high with ambitious hopes-hopes framed in folly, and to be, I need hardly say, bitterly disappointed. I read daily in the hateful novels which helped to unsettle my principles, of beauty alone procuring what are called high marriages; and would you believe, Doctor-foolish girl that I w18-—I did not despair of becoming myself the wife of a man of rank-of wearing a coronet upon my brow! -Oh! my guilty heart aches to think of the many worthy and admirable young men who honored me with proposals I spurned with scorn-with insolence. If reason—if common sense had guided me-had I rather listened to the will of Heaven, uttered through the gentle remonstrances and instructions of my poor mother-I might have been, to this hour, a blooming branch upon the tree of society, and not a withered bough soon to fall off-but not, oh, no, my gracious God and Father !-not into the burning ! exclaimed Miss Edwards, her voice faltering, and her eyes lifted up towards Heaven with a kind of awful hope._I need not weary you with describing the very many little flattering adventures I met with; and which, alas ! I met with too often to allow of the common duties of life being tolerable to me: Your Indy, Doctor, in happier timcs, would listen to them, and warn me not to be led away by them.

But let me come at once to the commencement of my woes. You may recollect the pleasant banks of the - ? Oh, the happy hours I have spent there! I was walking, one Sunday evening, along the river side, reading some book-I now forget what-when I almost stumbled against a gentleman that was similarly engaged. He started back a step or two. looked at me earnestly for a moment-and, taking off his hat, with a highbred air, begged my pardon. He looked so hard at me, that I began to fancy he knew me. I colored and my heart beat so quick and hard, that I could hardly breathe ; for I should, indecd, have been blind not to see that my appearance struck him; how his affected me, let the remainder of my life from that hour tell in sighs and groans of anguish! He was the the handsomest man I think I have ever seen. He seemed about thirty years old. There was something about his face that I cannot express ; and his voice was soft-his manuers were kind and dignified. Indeed, indeed, it was the hour of fate to me! He said something about blaming not each other for the interruption we had experienced, but the authors, whose works kept us so intently engaged,' in such a gentle tone, and his dark eyes looking at me so mildly, that I could not help listening to him, and feeling pleased that he spoke to me. I begged that he would not blame himself, and said he had done nothing to apologize for. He said not another word on the subject, but bowed respectfally, and talked about the beautiful evening, the silence—the scenery—and in such language! so glowing, 80 animated, so descriptive, that I thought he must be a poet. All the while he was speaking, there was a diffident distance about him—a sort of fear least he was displeasing me, that charmed me beyond what I could express, and kept me routed to the spot before him.

i« I presume, madam, as you are so fond of waterside scenery,” said he, “ you often spend your evenings in this way?”

I replied that I often certainly found my way there.' "“Well, ma'am,” said he with a sweet smile, “I cannot think of interrupting you any longer. I hope you will enjoy this lovely evening."

With this he took off his hat, bowed very low, and passed on. If he had but known how sorry I was to see him leave me! I felt fascinated. I could not help looking behind me to see him, and, to be sure, caught him also looking towards me. I would have given the world for a decent pretence for bringing him to me again! My heart beat-my thoughts wandered too much, to admit of my reading any more ; so I closed my book, sat down on the white roots of a great tree that overshadowed the river, and thought of nothing but this strange gentleman. I wondered who he was—for I had never seen hiin before in the place, and teased myself with speculations as to whether he really felt towards me any thing further than towards a mere stranger. I went home. I sat down to the piano, where I began twenty different things, but could finish none of them. My mother wished ine to write a letter for her; I obeyed, but made so many mistakes, that she got angry, and wrote it herself after all. All night long did I think of this fascinating stranger. His soft voice was perpetually whispering in my ear; his bright piercing eyes were always looking at me. I woke almost every half hour, and began to think I must be surely, as they say, bewitched. Igit quite alarmed at finding myself so carried away by my feelings. Can you believe all this? You may call it love at first sight-any thing you choose. Would to Heaven it had been hatred at first sight! That evening fixed a spell upon me. I was driven on I do not know how. I could not help taking a walk the next evening. It was nonsense—but I just needs take my book with me. My heart beat thick whenever I saw the figure of a gentleman at a distance; but I was disappointed, for he whom I looked for did not come that evening. The next evening, and the one after that, foolish woman that I was !-did I repair with a fluttering heart to the same spot-but in vain the stranger did not make his appearance. On the Sunday evening, however, I upexpectedly met him, arm in arm with another gentleman. Gracious Heaven! how pale and languid. he looked and his right arm in a sling! He bowed

-smiled rather pensively at me-colored a little I thought-and passed me. I found soon afterwards that a duel had been fought in the immediate neighborhood, on Tuesday last, tbe day but one after the meeting I have described, between a Lord and Captain , in which the latter was wounded in the arm. Yeg-then there could be no doubt-it was Captain — whom I had talked to. And he had been in a duel! Ob, Doctor, I dropped the newspaper which told me the circumstance. I trembledI felt agitated, as if he had been, not a stranger, but a relative. There was no concealing the truth from myself. I felt sick and faint at

the thought of the danger he had been exposed to ; and such an interest in him altogether, as I could not describe. Doctor--fool, wretched, weak fool that I was already I loved him.-Yes, an utter stranger--one who had never given me even a look or word beyond the commonest complaisance! The absurd notions I had got from novels came into my head. I thought of fate, and that it was possible our feelings were mutual-with much more nonsense of the same sort. I was bewildered all day-and told my mother I felt poorly. Poor, good, deceived mother ! she was for having advice for me!

Two or three evenings after, we met again. My heart melted to see his pale features, his languid air. Somehow or another-İ forget how - we got again into conversation; and I at once taxed him with having fought a duel. What-oh what could have prompted me! He blushed, and looked quickly at me, with surprise but not displeasure ; saying, in a low tone, something or other about his 'pride at being an object of my sym pathy. Doctor - I can but again and again ask you to bear with me in this history of my guilt and folly! Before we parted, I was actually imprudent enough to accept his arm. We often meť at that spot afterwards, and by appointment. I was enchanted with my new companion. there was something so elegant, so fashionable, so refined about him. I found he was an officer in a regiment of cavalry, and staying at on account of ill health. He must have been blind, indeed, not to have seen that I doated-yes, sigh, Doctor!--that I doated upon him: but when I was one evening infatuated, mad enough, to beg him not to appear to know me, if he should happen to meet me walking with my mother, or any one else, you will surely believe that I must have been possessed by Satan! The moment the fatal words were out of my mouth, I snatched ny arm out of his, started back, and turned very pale and faint. I am sure I must-for he instantly asked me with alarm if I was ill. Ill! I was ready to sink into the earth out of his sight! His winning ways, however, soon made me forget all-forget even, alas, alas ! that I now stood fatally committed to him! When I returned home, I felt oppressed with a guilty consciousness of what I had done. I could not look my mother in the face. I felt stupified at recollecting what I had said, but with great effort concealed all from my mother. It is needless to say, that after this Captain — and I met on the footing of lovers ; I expecting him, on each occasion, to propose marriage; and he walking by my side, talking in a strain that set my soul on fire with passionate admiration for him. What a charming, what a delightful companion ! Forgetting, for a moment, all the nonsense of novels, I felt I could have adored him, and made him my husband, bad he been the poorest of the poor! When he was not with me, he would write me sometimes two or three letters a day-and such letters ! If you even you, had seen them, you would have owned how unequal was the struggle! At length I felt piqued at his hesitation, in not saying something decisive and satisfactory on the subject that was nearest my heart; but on the very morning when I thought I had made up my mind to tell him we must part, for that I should get myself talked of in the town, and alarin my mother-he saved me all farther anxiety, by telling me, in enthusiastic terms, that he felt he could not live without me, and asked me if I had any objection to a private marriage; adding, that his father was a haughty, selfish man, and all the other falsehoods that have ruined and alas, alas! will yet ruin, so many wretched girls! Woe, woe, woe is me that I listened to them—that I believed all-that, indeed, Captain could have scarce said any thing I would not have believed! I must have

been, alas! given over to destruction not to understand-pever once to reflect on the circumstance of his refusal ever to come to our house to see my mother, or allow me to breathe a hint about what had passed between us! Alas, had but a daughter's heart glowed with a thousandth part of the love towards her mother, with which that mother's yearned towards hera moment's sigh-an instant's confidence-would have broken the charmwould have set me free from the spoiler! 'I must keep my old father in the dark about this matter, as you your mother, Eleanor,' said he, till the marriage is over, and then they cannot help themselves! He talked to me in this strain for nearly a month; for my better angel helped me to fight against him so long-flashing incessantly before me the figure of my poor, precious, heart-broken mother-and I refused to listen to his proposals. But at last he prevailed. He talked me to death on the subject; persuaded me, that if I would elope, I could leave a letter, telling my mother how soon she would see me the wife of Captain ; and at last I began to think in the sanie way.

*** Dear, dear Captain ! How much I am trusting to you!” said I, one night, weeping, after he had wrung a reluctant consent from me. « Oh, don't, don't bring down my poor mother's grey hairs with sorrow to the grave !"

My dear, dear, good girl!” he exclaimed, folding me fondly in his , arms, and kissing me in a sort of transport. I felt then confident of my

safety! That very evening did I write the proposed letter to my mother, telling her of all. Oh how I tried to crowd my whole heart into every word! My color wept and came-my knees shook-my hands trembled

-my head swam round-I felt. cold and hot by turns. I got the letter written, however, and stepped into bed- a sleepless one you may imagine, That nighi-that very night I dreamed a dream that might have saved me : tliat I looked out of bed, and saw a beautiful but venomous snake gliding about under the chest of drawers, near the windows. It shocked me as I gazed shudderingly at it, but I did not once think of Captain Alas, I have since !

The next day, my injured, unsuspecting mother had fixed for paying a visit to a friend who lived some few miles off, from whence she would not return till the day after, Monster-monster-perfidious creature that I was! I chose tric first night that my mother and I had been separated for years--the time when she had left all in my care-to forsake her and home, to elope at midnight with my destroyer in a coach and four for Gretna Green! We set off-oh, that horrible night-tbat' Here Miss Edwards turued suddenly deadly pale. Her manner bad for some time shown increasing agitation, though she spoke with updiminished energy till she uttered the last words.

I cannot suffer you to proceed any farther this evening, Eleanor,' said I, forcing on her some wine and water, your efforts have exhausted you!'

She nodded, and attempted to speak, but her voice failed her.

«To-morrow shall I come, if you find yourself better?' She nodded aequiescence. I called in the nurse immediately, ordered some little quieting medicine for Miss Edwards, and left the nurse to prepare her for her.

I have nmitted much that she told me-much that might have added to the powerful effect her simple and touching mode of telling it might have proiluced upon the reader, had I given it entire-lest I should fa-, tigue his attention.

« 前へ次へ »