ページの画像
PDF
ePub

ed him from error. With a share of personal charms, uncommon even in our favoured land of pure and healthful beauty, Louisa united an extraordinary degree of talent and mental energy, which had been carefully assisted by every advantage of judicious education. To Frederick the lovely girl was alternately the grave and playful monitress, long before she was sensible how deeply her own happiness was committed in his course. She had been taught from early associations to regard him somewhat as a brother, and he now listened to her admonition with the pleased attention of one who finds himself an object of interest with the being whom he loves most upon earth.

He vowed all reformation, all change that could be desired, if she would be ever at his side as his guide and counsellor ; and he extorted a promise, that whenever he should give substantial proofs of a serious determination to withdraw from his career of dissipation, he might hope to call her his own. She would hear of no concealment from her uncle, and he was made acquainted with their attachment.

The information was to the anxious guardian a source of poignant regret ; he despaired of the young man's rescue from habits which he could not approve. From such a connexion he saw nothing but misery in store for his niece—all whose worth he most fully appreciated—and he made one powerful effort to dissuade her from the encouragement of Frederick's addresses. To all his representations of the young man's wildness, of his dissipated pursuits, of his extravagance, she had nothing to oppose, but the hope, that for her sake he would no longer be what youth and thoughtlessness had made him. The guardian perceived that his arguments had power to distress and pain poor Louisa to the soul, but none to remedy the evil there was too much in the picture that he drew, of which she could not deny the fidelity ; but when in such cases did reason ever prevail over the enthusiastic feelings of a girl of eighteen? He saw sufficient to convince him that whatever he might obtain from her deference to his wishes, and her almost filial affection towards him, it would be in vain at the time to attempt to destroy the effects of his own imprudence in introducing Frederick so frequently into his family. Her good sense told her all the errors of her lover ; and yet, with their sum upon his head, she could not conceal that, without him, there would be no happiness for her. Her uncle was glad then to compound the matter, by promising to yield his consent to their union, if a probation of twelve months should be found to confirm Frederick's sincerity in reform.

The condition was gladly accepted, and the period passed with some appearance of favourable change. The name of Templeton blazoned but once in the Newmarket meetings, and then it was a horse which he had already pledged himself should run, and he could not in honour withdraw him. In three accidental morning calls which the uncle made on Frederick in town, he had but on one occasion found him in bed at two, from the effects of the preceding night's debauch, and there was an air of rather more regularity in his household. perhaps, the dawnings of an amelioration which it could scarcely be expected, could at once appear in fulness, and Louisa strove to hope the best ; but there was still something to see, and much to hear, that

These were,

grieved her beyond expression ; and she had often to sigh at the re. Aeotion how far Frederick Templeton, with his talents, with all that nature had lavished upon him, how very far he was from that which he might be.

At length, the twelve months were over, and without producing either of the alterations which the fond uncle had rather prayed for than hoped. Templeton was little other than the man of two years before ; and Louisa was unabated in her attachment to him, with this difference only, that she was infinitely less sanguine in the belief that her influ. ence would entirely overcome what she could not behold with indifference, until she should be his wife, and then, she thought, much might be done

and his wife she did become. Her uncle gave her away at the altar, with the observation to his family, that she was now committing the first rash folly of her life, and that he feared she would long and heavily suffer for it. During her infancy and youth, he had watched over her welfare with the eye of a father, and his last act of guardianship was to secure the settlement of her property upon her. self.

Louisa had been brought up a good deal in retirement, and was accustomed to centre every wish and to seek every pleasure in home ; but Templeton had so long moved in the world of fashion, that the feverish excitement of splendid dinners and crowded assemblies had become almost indispensable to his happiness. In the early days of their marriage, he was all tenderness and affection to her, and she could do no less than sacrifice her own tastes to his. To please him,she entered into scenes whence it was impossible that she could derive gratification ; and their whole life grew into a whirl of heartless gaiety. They were never alone for an evening, and met rarely during the day. To rise unrefreshed and without appetite to a mid-day breakfast, to yawn for an hour on a sofa, saunter through the fashionable lounges of the morning, return just in time to dress, and close the day in the monstrous ab. surdity of an eight o'clock dinner, and half-a-dozen routs, composed the life which Templeton endeavoured to convince himself presented the only chance of earthly felicity. From sharing in so fruitless a search for its attainment, 'Louisa received a temporary respite in the birth of their first boy. Frederick was at first delighted with the little stranger, but his avocations left him no leisure to play the father-such a round of engagements, he could rarely spare time to see even his wife, and she was frequently for days without beholding him, except in the five minutes of morning enquiries how she had rested. Often did the bitter tear of wounded affection fall over her slumbering infant, while its father was mingling in the loud laugh and insipid jest of his vapid associates. Not that he was really indifferent to his amiable wife ; for his attachment to her was at bottom as warm as it had ever been ; and, could he have witnessed some of her solitary moments, he would have been stung to the quick ; but it was that his habits had rendered him unconscious that he was guilty of neglecting her by an absence which appeared to him unavoidable.

Very shortly after the birth of her boy, a real misfortune befel the young mother in the death of her uncle. The worthy man had ob

served the course into which Templeton had drawn his wife, with an aching heart. He could not blame her: for he knew her too well to imagine that the life she was induced to lead could be congenial to her own inclinations, and he understood the motive of her compliance in follies which must be foreign to her choice. He saw her more seldom than his fondness for her would have caused him to wish ; but he de. clared that it was more than he could bear, to witness the uncomplaining melancholy that would frequently steal over her for the moment, and the sources of which he had no difficulty in tracing to this mode of life, and the negligent conduct of her husband. In his will, he spoke of her with the warmest remembrance, and left her a memorial of his affection ; while he bequeathed to her boy a large legacy, to be paid, with its accumulated interest, when he should arrive at the age of fiveand-twenty; but the name of Templeton was not even mentioned. The only allusion to him was in the avowal, that he left the legacy to his grand-nephew, and not to his beloved niece, that the extravagance of others might not leave the boy wholly a beggar.

This was the first direct conviction which was forced upon Louisa, that a continuance in their present style of expenditure must terminate in ruin ; for she rightly argued, that her uncle was not a man to re ord so strong an expression of his opinion on the subject without good grounds. Yet hitherto she had scarcely perceived the approach of the storm. There had at times, indeed, been some difficulty, when money was suddenly required for payment of bills ; but her husband had only d- _d the inattention of his, steward, and the requisite sums had been finally procured. A very few months, however, had followed the decease of her uncle, when more unequivocal symptoms of impending embarrassments manifested themselves, to prove the correctness of his predictions. There had, in fact, been no bounds to the overwhelming torrent of dissipation on which Frederick had chosen to embark them : one expense entailed another, the evil increased with frightful magnitude, and the farther they advanced to the brink of ruin, with the more infatuation did he rush blindfold towards it. Clamorous duns multiplied round their doors, and it became daily more difficult to repel them. At first, Templeton had laboured to conceal their real situation from his wife ; and as long as there had remained a stick to cut down on his estate, or an acre of his own to mortgage, he had been tolerably successful in veiling her eyes to the precipice on which they stood ; but things were approaching too near their climax to continue the delusion, and, when the truth was somewhat bared to her observation, he no longer wore the mask of cheerfulness. He was gloomy and irritable, torn with shame and remorse, and unable to repress the indulgence of ill humour, even to the gentle creature who would have soothed the bitterness of his anguish. Still the ball and the rout blazed with undiminished frequency and splendour, under the roof which contained hearts tortured with a crowd of harassing feelings. 6. The world at least,” said Frederick, 66 must not see that we suffer ; appearances must yet be supported.” Strange weakness ! as if the very attempt to de. ceive the world by persisting in extravagance were not the most infallible means of hastening the dreaded exposure.

ܪ

Louisa drank deep of the draught of misery in the brief period which now drew their fashionable life to its close; she looked around her for comfort, and all was a blank ; beggary seemed the inevitable lot of her children (for she had already given birth to a second boy ;) and her husband, her natural protector, on whom she should have rested for consolation and solace under every affliction, to whom she should have looked up for counsel and exertion, was himself the cause of their misfortunes, and totally incapable of arresting their destruction. It was then that the native strength of mind, and decision, which marked her otherwise feminine softness of character, came to her aid, and roused her into that energy of which the enfeebling influence of habit seemed to have bereaved her husband.-She was soon called upon for the test of her resolution.

Every expedient of raising money had been exhausted by Frederick's necessities, and yet his wants were only the more importunate ; but the principal of his wife's fortune remained untouched, though the income from her estate had been long anticipated. He had hitherto been restrained by pride and better feelings from suggesting that this means of relief was still in her hands ; but the crisis of their fate had now arrived, and the sale of her estate could alone enable them to hold their place in society for another hour. The proposal to sell the property was broached to her, and conveyed as the alternative between a gaol and the support of their establishment. To his utter astonishment, she gave, though with mildness, a firm and decided negative to the proposition. She had wound her feelings to the point where a sense of sacred duty told her it was fit she should stand, and she was not to be shaken.

“ No Frederick ;" was her reply, “I cannot, must not consent to put the finishing stroke to our ruin, and that of our children. If this last hope for the future be sacrificed, if we dispose of the only means of support which is left to our family, we may indeed find the power of continuing for some time longer in our present station, but it is impossible to blind ourselves to the conviction, that we only delay, and do not avert, the ruin which is before us. I will cheerfully,—Heaven knows how cheerfully-support all privations, go through all humiliation with you—and I can foresee that there will be many trials of pride for us—but I cannot, will not put my hand to a deed which is to robe my helpless babes of their all.”

Surprise and indignation at this first refusal which she had ever opposed to his wishes, and doubt of her attachment to him, were the first feelings which flashed through the mind of Templeton, and they were vented in passionate upbraidings. She had reason to feel that she merited any thing but unkindness from him. Worlds would not have tempted her to go through the bitterness of that hour again ; but she yet had courage to support it, though her utterance was choked, and she was for minutes insensible to every thing but the tones of anger which rung in her ears as he rushed out of the apartment.

But that day gave the first hope of returning happiness. Templeton had already been agonized by the endless causes for self-reproach which haunted his memory. The recollection of neglected talents, slighted

ence.

opportunities, and misspent time ; the reflection how miserably he had fallen from the promise of early youth ; how many pangs he must have inflicted upon the bosom which beat only for him ; how unworthy he was to dwell in its pure affection-all this, and much more, had conspired to wound and humble him in his own esteem, and now he had crowned the whole by repaying years of unrepining submission to his errors, with brutal cruelty and ungenerous suspicion. He never was so fully aware his own inferiority, never more thoroughly convinced, that she was born to be his guardian angel. It was the work of a moment to pour out his whole soul in confession before her, to implore her forgiveness, to seek her opinion for future measures.- _That moment might be termed the first of their real union.

Louisa could be but little versed in the details of pecuniary affairs ; as a girl, she had of course scarcely needed a thought of money; as a wife, she had never been permitted to acquire an insight into such matters : she was apparently, therefore, as little qualified to take the helm at the moment of difficulty, as her husband ; but it was astonishing how her latent powers of judgment and decision developed themselves as the occasion summoned them into action. She remembered that her uncle had reposed great confidence in the probity of a gentleman of Lincoln's-Inn, who had been at once his friend and legal adviser. She wrote immediately to solicit an interview with him. The lawyer came, and she entered directly upon business with him. The husband was present, but he felt his incapacity, and listened in silence to the confer

He could not, indeed, even give an idea of the amount of their debts, or of the property that might be set against them. Their affairs were a perfect chaos ; neither husband nor wife knew a syllable of particulars, and the steward was sent for. The disclosure which was then made, looked sufficiently appalling ; there were debts without number, and a long series of embezzlements and peculations which the steward had securely been carrying on for years ; for he had possessed the entire control, without superintendence, without examination, of the whole of Templeton's property. The lawyer was touched by the situation of the niece of his old friend, and pleased with the energy which she displayed. He besides felt that inclination for the detection of roguery, which in professional men of tolerable honesty is an excellent substitute for the desire of practising it themselves, and he engaged to give a thorough sifting to the accounts of the steward. In the mean time every dun was to be referred to him, and his card gradually cleared their doors of such intruders. Templeton slept soundly for the first night for several months, and rose resigned to every thing which might be nesessary for their future conduct. His lovely wife knew her first dawn of happiness since she had quitted her uncle's roof ; for Frederick might yet be what nature had designed him for, and all that her fond affection would joy to see him.

Meanwhile their legal friend had no easy task before him ; but he was perfectly versed in the management of such business, of high reputation, and invincible acuteness. The steward soon found this out to his cost, and held himself fortunate in retaining one third of the appropriations which he had, with great kindness, destined for his own

« 前へ次へ »