Imágenes de páginas

existence. She was conscious, however, for at the moment that her husband noiselessly entered the room, and knelt down by the humble bed-side, she lifted up her thin, uncovered arms, and gazing piteously in his face, burst into tears, -whispering words of trust, consolation, and encouragement, which love rather than hope inspired him with. Nat kissed them off, while his own replaced them—till unable to bear the sight of her sufferings, and maddened by the thought that no effort was being made to save her, he hastened from the room, with a fierce resolution to force attention to. her circumstances, and once more left his house for that of the overseer. In the meanwhile, the report of her condition, and of the cruel indifference with which she had been left to her fate by Dr. Cribb and the Poor-house guardians, spread through the villages But it was (as we have before said) winter time, little work was to be had, the potato scarcity left the inhabitants poorer than ever, and having no pawn-office at hand to raise the required fee, which otherwise would willingly have been subscribed, all that was theirs. to give—deep sympathy—was felt by all; and the heaviest hobnails passed lightly by poor Nat's cottage, while women with tearful eyes stopped one another to inquire after her, and talk over. her sad story, dying in a Christian country for want of the common offices of humanity. - • * * * * * *

It was at this juncture that a peasant girl, upon the point of marriage with a young man of the neighbourhood, inspired by the pure spirit of compassion, and forgetful of everything but the immediate necessity of her neighbour, resolved to sacrifice the purchase-money of the ring and church fees, which her sweetheart, had entrusted to her; and without waiting to hear the result of Nat's last application, which (by the way) proved just as fruitless as the first, she herself hastened to the doctor's, and taking care. to modestly inform him that a friend had been found to come forward with the fee, led the way to poor Lee's cottage, and had the satisfaction to see him enter it, without prefacing his approach by one of those terrific knocks that usually heralds the entrance of a practitioner of the healing art, however humble the abode, or debilitated the state of the patient. We have felt it before now, shaking every nerve in our weakened frame; and when (as is occasionally, the case with simple folk), the fear of professional greatness-is. superadded, we do not wonder at the terror we have sometimes seen expressed at that which should bring hope and comforty--a visit from the doctor. In the meanwhile Lucy Winer had time to recollect that the money she was spending was nother own; that it had been given her for a specific purpose, and that her lover might possibly feel annoyed at having their marriage, which was fixed for an early day, put off for an indefinite period. Yet no portion of regret entered into her speculations; for faith in the righteousness of the action made her bold, and she argued, had he been in her place he would have done as she did. When, therefore, some hours afterwards, Nat Lee, covering her hands with tears and kisses, blest her as the means of preserving his wife and saving his children from being motherless (for the poor woman's life was spared, though at the expense of her infant's), Lucy wanted but George Lovat's approval to be the happiest little woman that ever gratitude for a kind action crowned with blessings. Yet amidst these feelings—for alas ! how few of us know how to “let well alone”—a sudden thought occurred to her—a whim childish, but feminine—she would put his affection to the test— would try if indeed (as he had often told her) there was nothing she could do that would make him doubt her; she would confess to having spent the money, but she would not tell him how, forgetful' that circumstances make up the merit of every action, and that under any less absolute than those which had induced her to part: with it, her expenditure of the sum entrusted to her would have been as unpardonable as it was now praiseworthy. Leaving our patient to the attention of her kind-hearted nurse and husband, (provided, by the way, through Lucy's care, with better restoratives than the preparations of the former had promised) let us step. across the road to Master Winer's cottage, and see how Lucy carried out her enterprise. - It was evening, and a bright wood fire burnt on the newly-swept hearth, and shone on the furniture of the dresser and walls, lighting up the pretty but somewhat anxious countenance of Lucy, who fat at one side of it with her knitting in her hand, and her neck half embraced by the stout arm of a young man who sat beside hor, one russet-gaitered leg thrown over the other, and his goodlooking face beaming with a sense of present happiness not to be attributed to any other cause but the gratulatory circumstances in which we find him. Opposite to them, in his high-backed armchair, with grey hair falling in thin locks to his shoulders, and a ruddy face full of health and kindness, sat the old man, now and then lifting his smiling looks to the pair before him ; but more. frequently with closed eyes and hands, giving way to some long. dream of memory or of anticipation. These lapses were not lost by the lover, who crowded caresses on the arched brow and blushing lips of Lucy, all the while reminding her how soon she would be wholly his own. Still Lucy plied her knitting-needles faster than ever, and her restraint, which had at first been affected, became real, for his reference to their marriage made more difficult any allusion to the affair of the money, and some latent fears of his displeasure would force themselves, in spite of her faith in his generosity and goodness. At last the old man fell fast asleep, and Lucy, after covering his head with a handkerchief, stepped to the casement, and remained looking out on the moonlit road and snowpowdered plants in the little garden. Her unusual reserve had not passed unnoticed by the young gardener, and he stole over to her side, resolved to dissipate it or discover its cause. “How is it, dear Lucy,” he said, passing his arm tenderly around her, “that you do not seem to be half as happy as I am this evening? Why, ever since I spoke to the parson this afternoon I have felt as if nothing could be put in my path so high that I could not leap over it.” “Spoke to the parson 1" echoed Lucy, with a look of almost dismay. “Yes, dear girl; what is there in that to surprise you ? Did we not agree that Thursday should be our wedding-day? and tomorrow, you know, we must start over to Broad-street for the ring and other matters; and who knows?—why, perhaps I should come back too late to see him; so I thought there was nothing like the time present, and have told him we would trouble him on Thursday next.” “You have done wrong,” said Lucy, gravely; “at least you might have spoken to me first, and I would have explained to you, that it is no longer in our power to marry this week—that” “No longer in our power —not marry this week : You are laughing at me, Lucy l’interrupted Lovet. “Indeed I am not,” said the girl earnestly ; “it is the truth, dear George—I have spent the money which you gave me for the ring in another way; but I do not think you will be very angry with me.” “Nay, come,” exclaimed the gardener, perceiving a roguish smile on her lip; “this is beyond a joke—I cannot, will not believe you.” “It is the truth for all that,” rejoined Lucy firmly, though, in spite of the gravity which she assumed, George Lovet detected a sparkling gratification in her look, difficult to account for, and (considering the liberty she professed to have taken with his property) almost impertinent; the indifference, too, with which she

[ocr errors]

spoke of it, and talked of putting off, as a mere matter of course, the event he had so long looked forward to as the dearest hope of his existence, galled and offended him; and perceiving that as his vexation and perplexity increased, the more distinct became the laughing mischief in her looks, his temper gave way, and the evening in which he had anticipated the planning of so much happiness, was upon the point of ending, as our plans of joy too often do, in bitter disappointment, for Lucy, piqued at finding he could so easily conclude her fallible, offered no explanation, while her lover felt too angry to ask one ; when, fortunately for both, Nat Lee made his appearance, and, seeing the young gardener, he must needs, for the fiftieth time during the day, go over all its history, from his first application to the overseer and doctor, to his piteous request for five shillings (from the former) towards making up, with the assistance of his neighbours, the fee which Mr. Cribb required, before he could be brought to exert his skill for the benefit of the dying woman. Then he described how, when all hope had left them, and the miserable sufferer was fast sinking for want of medical assistance—how Lucy had come forward and paid the doctor, and purchased nourishment, and by her interference saved her life, which would otherwise have fallen a sacrifice to poor-law inhumanity and individual sordidness. “Ah! I knew,” said Lucy, lifting up her happy face to that of her lover, who, long before Nat Lee had finished his story, had clasped her fast to his heart; “I knew you would forgive me, and not mind waiting a few weeks longer, when you knew a neighbour's life had been at stake ; indeed I could never have forgiven myself, having the means at hand, if I had scrupled tomake use of it.” “Nor should I have forgiven you, my own bright girl, if I thought you could have had any doubt of my wishing you to act otherwise,” exclaimed George; “but why not tell me all about it at first, dear Loo! Were you too modest to speak of your own goodness 2" “I am ashamed now, though,” said Lucy, ingenuously, “to tell you why I did not do so, but I wished to tease you a little, to try if you could be angry with me, which you have so often told me you could not.” “Ah, Lucy,” whispered George, “love trusts without trying. Let me have all your confidence, and I do not think I shall ever have it in my power to be angry with you; or if you will keep a secret from me, let it be one like this, that will make me love you ten times dearer when I find it out.”

To be brief, the whole circumstances of the case were so bruited about, and such deep indignation was felt by the inhabitants at the brutal conduct of the parish authorities, that the affair ended in a public inquiry, at which one of the former had the modesty to taunto the doctor with his inhumanity, in having left the sufferer in the hour of “nature's sorrow” upon so base a plea as the want of a ten-shilling fee; while the other retorted back the poor man's evidence of the refusal of the parish officers to afford medical assistance or pecuniary aid ; while, amidst all the details of suffering and poverty on the one side, and of heartless, iron-handed inhumanity on the other, the conduct of the cottage girl, beautiful in its simple earnestness; and negligence of SELF, shone: out a salient, sun-touched figure on the darksome background, drawing to itself heart-admiration from all, Nor did the want of the money so generously sacrificed prevent their marriage taking place on the day projected, for the clergyman of the village insisted on performing the ceremony without fees; and the appreciation of rich neighbours, when startled into an acquaintance with the facts, added a purse to the bride of ten times the amount she had expended. - - - - - - - C. W... .

* -----


- - - - - -- - - • THE . who tends the world's sweet flowers, * : " And decks them by night with the silver dew,

[ocr errors]

Haverhill. John HAMILTON DAvies.

« AnteriorContinuar »