Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

father had made himself universally respected. Since that time, however, he had mixed with associates who thought differently, and had gradually learned to think differently himself. He had :: heard the clerical character frequently ridiculed ; and, while his own opinion of its dignity and holiness remained unaltered, he dared not encounter the contempt in which he fancied it was held by the many. He remembered that one of his fashionable friends thought there was something very low in the employment of writing sermons, and that another had discovered something irresistibly laughable in the exterior of a preacher's gown. For such reasons as these he finally abandoned all thoughts of taking orders; and, after a lapse of some months, a commission in the Army was purchased for him. His Father had seen the destruc- - '; tion of his favourite hope with the deepest regret, but had given up his opposition to the wishes of his son, when he perceived that it was fruitless.

Good advice was again exerted, as they parted for the last time ; and again it produced a momentary effect. For a time the young officer preserved himself carefully from those excesses into which he had once fallen, and the commencement of his military life gave a fair promise that the follies of his youth would be redeemed by the virtues of his manhood. But his inherent want of principle prevented him from keeping up his exertions, when the immediate stimulus which had excited them existed no longer. While his Father's countenance seemed still before him, wearing that benevolent smile which looked a blessing upon him as he left him; while his father's voice seemed still to sound in his ear, as when it spoke to him the encouragement and the admonition, which perhaps he might never hear from those revered lips again ;-so long was his strength of mind unshaken and his confidence in Heaven unimpaired. But the derision of the companions who were around him, and the temptation of the pleasures which were constantly before his eyes, by degrees overpowered the recollection of a parent who was far removed from the object of his anxiety. Lionel soon began to give way to the arguments and solicitations of his friends : at first he imitated only their follies; afterwards he learned to participate in their vices; the compliance, which was at first only absurd, became in a short time criminal. In the mean time the compunction of unstified conscience was carefully hidden, and the virtues which he still exercised in secret were concealed, as if he was ashamed of their practice. His warm imagination and ready command of wit made him the idol of the dissipated set into which he had thrown himself; the talents which he possessed were only exercised for the entertainment of the sensual and the profligate ; from his enlivening sallies the

Ball derived its animation, the Faro table its interest, the Champagne its zest; and he sought no higher reputation.

Once more he was roused from this slavery of the mind before he became finally its victim. He had sat with a convivial party a much later than usual ; and, rather than submit to the designa

tion of a milksop, had compelled himself to drink more wine than his inclination prompted, or his constitution could bear. The young men of the party were all much inebriated, when the conversation turned upon the common-place topic of the necessities of youth, and the unreasonable frugality of old age. Lionel took no part in the discussion ; his heart could not but remind him at that moment that he had a Father whose every wish was centred in him, who had attended to all his wants, and had been indulgent to all his foibles. He fell slowly into a mental reverie, and became inattentive to what was passing around him. Suddenly he heard a toast given from the chair, and received with rapturous plaudits :-“ May the branches flourish when the root is under ground !” He was struck with horror at the impious idea; he looked round, and fancied that the eyes of the company were upon him; he felt a detestation of their behaviour, yet he dared not incur their ill opinion. An undefinable sensation of dread came over him as he lifted his glass from the table.

At that moment a letter from the country was handed to him. Pip It was in the hand-writing of his Father's Steward; the paper

was edged with a wide black border, and sealed with a black seal. He broke it with a hurried and desperate hand. His eye glanced at the first few lines, and they were sufficient. His Father had died that morning. He felt his senses fail him; his eyes wandered, the paper dropped from his hold, and he was led from the room, conscious of nothing but that he was an Orphan, and that he deserved to be so.

His agitation, joined to the intemperance of that fatal evening, produced an immediate illness; in a few hours he was in a high fever. When, for the first time, he recovered in some measure his senses, and endeavoured to look back to the circumstances which had preceded his illness, he shuddered inwardly at the recollection of the toast in which he had been about to join. “ That impious cup!” he exclaimed, “ Thank God that I did not drink it!" and then the remembrance of what followed recurred to his mind, and he became again delirious. It would be needless to detail the progress of his disorder. His recovery was a long time retarded by the bitter reflections in which he indulged whenever he was visited by a gleam of reason. After a lapse of some months, however, his health was tolerably re-established, and he returned into life with a constitution unbroken by disease, but

with a gloom upon his spirits, which, apparently, no length of time would efface.

It was impossible that, in this frame of mind, he could return immediately to the haunts of profligacy, and to the society of the dissipated. His visits were confined to the intimate friends of his Father, whose acquaintance he had neglected while engaged in his thoughtless career. Here he found sources of enjoyment which until now he had never known to exist. His talents were improved by listening to the conversation of men of letters, and his taste was refined by mingling in the society of amiable women. Innocence and peace began to return to his bosom, and his prospects in life again looked fair and flattering, save when remorse brought past transactions before him, and clouded the sunshine of to-day by the recollection of yesterday's darkness.

Among the persons at whose houses Lionel was most frequently a guest was a widow lady of the name of Herbert. She was a Frenchwoman by birth; but had married an Englishman early in life, and since that time had resided principally in this country. Her husband was a man of powerful talents and considerable attainments; and left her at his deceasé possessed of a fortune, not indeed large, but amply sufficient for her retired manner of life. She had a daughter in whose character the natural liveliness of her mother was beautifully united to the scientific habits of her father. At the period when Lionel was introduced to her, she was in her nineteenth year, very beautiful, and very amiable, as Lionel soon discovered, without appearing conscious that she was either. Lionel in a short time became deeply attached to her; and the sincere passion which he felt occupied in a great measure his thoughts, and diverted them from the melancholy channel in which they had been wont to run. It is not our intention to detail in this place the incidents of a love-suit, which, however interesting to lovers, are commonly very insipid to readers. Suffice it to say, that the affection which he felt wás reciprocal; and that, when a sufficient length of time had elapsed to persuade both ladies that his reformation was complete, and the only obstacle to their marriage was removed by his quitting the army, he was allowed to hope for a favourable résult. The fortune of Louisa was small, but that of Lionel was independent. Their union was only delayed that Captain Herbert, the brother of Louisa, who was quartered with his regiment at some distance, might procure leave of absence, in order to be introduced to his future brother-in-law, and to be present at his wedding.

Things were in this state when Lionel went into the country, to prepare his residence for their reception. As he wandered through the solitary rooms which he was now about to inhabit for

[ocr errors]

walis return, litees of her be Louisa.aptain Herbertowse

the first time since the death of their beloved owner, a thousand sad reflections came across his mind, and bitter repentance for the past gave rise to good resolutions for the future. He was oppressed by the ideas which the scene recalled, and although all his affection for the spot, and all his veneration for its former possessor, were at once revived, he felt much relieved when he hurried from the dwelling-place of his childhood, and from the recollections which the sight of it awakened. .

Upon his return he went immediately to the house of Mrs. Herbert. He was informed that Captain Herbert had been in town some days;, and while Louisa dwelt with enthusiasm upon the good qualities of her brother, and the delight which she felt in his return, he thought she had never looked so beautiful. He was invited to meet young Herbert on the evening of the next day, and left the house in unusually good spirits.

As he walked towards his hotel he was met by Captain Grahame, one of the dashing associates whose company he had for some time carefully shunned. Upon the present occasion, however, it was impossible to avoid the usual salutations. After these had taken place, his friend indulged in many sarcastic guesses at his reasons for leaving the regiment, which Lionel listened to with a very ill grace. He assigned a thousand fictitious motives for his conduct; but his dread of ridicule prevented him from declaring that he had resolved to relinquish his former companions, and to abandon his former mode of life. Ultimately his friend desired him; if his apostacy from all good-fellowship was not quite complete, to accompany him to a neighbouring coffee-house, where they would probably meet some of their old acquaintances.. Lionel complied, inwardly determining that this should be the last time he would give way to such solicitations. Alas! how frequently are such determinations made, and how frequently are they made in vain.

In the coffee-house they found, as they expected, several officers of Lionel's regiment; and, in the trifling conversation which ensued, he forgot in a great measure his promises of amendment. The topic of marriage was discussed, and the usual commonplace sarcasms upon the subject were repeated and received with unanimous applause. This had lasted for some time, when one of the company observed, “ We are wrong, Gentlemen, to indulge in these satirical reflections, when one of our number is so 'shortly to be made a bridegroom.” He was immediately overwhelmed with queries and conjectures, which he stopped by desiring all present “ to drink at their clubs that evening the health of Mrs. Vernon.”

At the mention of that name, a young officer, who had been sitting unobserved at the other end of the room, raised his eyes

from the newspaper which he held in his hand, and looked earnestly at the group. Finding himself noticed, he returned hastily to his reading, but appeared to listen attentively to what followed.

The good-natured communicant unfolded to his hearers, as far as he was able, the particulars of Lionel's amour, mixing from time to time various embellishments derived from his own invention. The Lady's name was given, her fortune guessed, her features described. Lionel, in the mean time, unable to brave the storm of prejudice and ridicule which he saw ready to break over his head, endeavoured to invalidate the speaker's assertions. He confessed “ the girl was pretty; he had admired her; trified with her occasionally; possibly his attentions might have made her vain ; he might have mentioned marriage in jest—but for serious thoughts of it-impossible.” By such expressions as these, he avoided an avowal of his actual intentions; and chose rather to allow that he had sported with the feelings of a virtuous woman than to set himself in opposition to sentiments which he knew to be those of profligacy and libertinism.

The party broke up. Lionel, with his friend Captain Grahame, left the room the last of the company. As they were rising to retire, the young officer who had been sitting apart came up to them, and requested to be allowed to speak a few words with Captain Vernon. After a short pause, he said, “ Mr. Vernon, I must request that you will immediately unsay the expressions you have used with regard to a lady who is very dear to me.” The tone in which he spoke, although a little hurried, was low and composed; but there was a sudden flush upon his cheek, and a slight quiver on his lip, that betrayed the deep emotion which he laboured to conceal.

Lionel was thunderstruck. His first impulse was to confess at once that he had spoken thoughtlessly and inexcusably—that he saw his error and begged forgiveness for it. But the fear of appearing ridiculous or dastardly checked these honourable feelings; and he was silent. His friend spoke for him. He demanded to know “ by what right a stranger remarked in this manner upon the language used by a gentleman among his intimate friends by what authority he assumed the character of a spy and a dictator ?” “ Sir," resumed the stranger, “ before a gentleman gives an unrestrained licence to his conversation in a public place, he should reflect that what he is about to say may possibly hurt the feelings of some individual present; I am neither a spy nor a dictator, but there are honourable motives which require my interference upon this occasion. I am the natural guardian of a woman whose equal you will not find among her sex. To you, Mr. Vernon, I need hardly add, that I am the brother of Louisa Herbert.”

« AnteriorContinuar »