Imágenes de páginas

scantiness of his pecuniary means. He placed her at an expensive school; for the daughter of Lieutenant M. must attain at any price, however enormous, all the useful knowledge, all the elegant accomplishments, which could fit her to adorn that sphere of society in which the ancient rank of her family entitled her to move. The consequence was, therefore, that although he spent little or nothing upon his own person, he became involved in increasing debt, and inextricable embarrassments. To what quarter should he turn for assistance? Although his wife was dead, he scorned a reconciliation with those, who had affronted her while living. Nor had his own relatives the power, more than the disposition to relieve him, from his distresses. His brothers, brought up with the same notions, steeped like himself in family pride, and extravagant ideas of their consequence, and the lustre which was reflected upon them by the great names which flourished in their domestic annals, had followed almost the same course, and were plunged in difficulties almost equal to his own.

He tried his only remaining chance. He came to London, and offered his military services to the commander-inchief, in any climate, and in any employment, where they could be required. But he had little interest, and every vacancy was supplied. Still, however, no absolute refusal was returned to his application ; he lived from week to week in the sickening misery of hope deferred, and that melancholy and wasting hope was to close in final disappointment.

It was at this period that my acquaintance with him was most intimate. Drawn by some brother-officers, whom he occasionally met, into expenses which he could ill afford ; fearful of his creditors, and struggling to conceal his poverty by every device to which a proud and lofty spirit could submit; the uncomfortableness and wretchedness of his situation may be better imagined than described. How light is the misery of the very beggar in comparison. His subsistence is indeed precarious, but habit has nearly rendered him indifferent to the uncertainty of procuring food. If his present hunger is satisfied, he is seldom troubled by the anticipation of future want. Few mental apprehensions imbitter his waking hours ; few horrible



suspicions compose his midnight dreams. The vulture of self-reproach or self-abasement is not gnawing at his heart : he is not worn down and consumed by the keen sensitiveness of his own mind. He fears only the overseer or beadle of the parish ; and, as long as he is unmolested, he is almost happy ;-he has at least his occasional moments of revelry and enjoyment. But my poor friend- I cannot pursue the parallel.

I could not but guess his circumstances from his appearance. How was he changed from the gay, gallant, young man, whom I had known not many years before! If age is to be reckoned simply by the number of years which have passed over our heads, he was still in the prime of life : he could not have reached his fortieth birth-day. But his face was furrowed with care, his figure was emaciated by disease, his form was bowed with infirmities, and the hand of death was evidently upon him. It is very difficult to be admitted to the confidence of such a man. I long attempted it in vain ; I spoke to him frankly; I wished to speak to him kindly; but he replied only by cool and general answers. There was at times, indeed, a gloomy sternness in his manner which precluded any farther question on subjects immediately interesting to himself. Above all things, he shrunk from pity and condolence, as if they carried with them, on the part of those who expressed them, something of superiority and condescension. It was a considerable time before he would inform me of the place of his abode. His stubborn spirit yielded at length, not to his personal necessities, but to his anxiety for his child; and he sent for me, on her account, when the illness which hung always about him had increased so alarmingly as to confine him to his bed; and he felt with a cold shudder, as he reflected on her destitute situation, that he had not long to live.

I found him on the second floor of a decent house in one of the streets which lead from the Strand down to the river. When I had inquired after his health, and was going up the stairs, the landlady hastened after me, and whispered that the poor gentleman was starving himself; that he had hardly taken any nourishment for the last week ; that, for her part, she believed he did not take sufficient sustenance to support nature. His meagre aspect told me the same story at my entrance in stronger and more intelligible terms. There was little furniture in the room, and it had altogether the mournful appearance of indigent gentility. When I mentioned my hope, that he would soon find himself better, he shook his head with a languid smile, of which the sad and peculiar expression can never be effaced from my remembrance. He then requested me to sit down by his bed-side, and spoke at some length in a faltering and hurried tone, without interruption, but not without apparent and extreme difficulty. The topics, which he felt obliged to introduce were evidently irksome and disagreeable to him. I cannot pretend to give you his exact words ; but the purport of what he said was nearly as follows :

I shall make no apology, my dear Sir, for asking you to pay me this visit, nor even for the troublesome office which I am about to impose upon you. The confidence which I repose in you is the best proof of my friendship and my thanks; and the worthiest reward which you could receive for your kindness, will be the reflection, that you have done a service in their need to a dying father and a desolate girl.-But I must be more explicit : it will be necessary to recur to some painful circumstances which have lately happened, in order to excuse myself in my own eyes, if not in yours. You know, that I was never rich ; but you can hardly know to what a degree I have been embarrassed and distressed ; you can hardly know what privations I have undergone, and what anguish of soul I have endured. My endeavours to obtain a commission in some regiment, which was going abroad, have been completely frustrated. But their success or failure is now a matter of little consequence. My campaigns are over; I have fought my last battle with disease; and it has vanquished me. Death must soon lay me low; and for myself I care not how soon! I bow with resignation to the will of Heaven. This dispensation, indeed, is the least part of my regret. My life has not been so happy, that I should look with dread upon the loss of it.

But I have a daughter. I need not say how entirely I have loved her. “ You need not,” I exclaimed hastily; “ I too have had a son.” “ It would be idle," he continued, without regarding, perhaps without hearing, what I had said, “to relate to you, what I have done and suffered for her sake. But ke two instances at once of my affection and my distresses. Almost the whole amount of my pay has gone for the last three years to the charge of her education. I have lived, I can hardly tell you how. It is enough, that I have contracted many debts; and that whatever was of value about my person, my watch, my rings, part even of my clothes, have been sold. Two things only remained ;-my wife's picture, and my sword: I still keep, indeed, the features of my poor Julia ; but I have parted with the gold and jewels which surrounded them in those younger and prouder days, when I first received the gift from her hands ; and thought, in the fondness of my ad. miration, how little the miniature could express the beauty of the original. But why should I trouble you with recollections such as these? How strange is it, that they should come across me even at this moment; how strange, that even at this moment they should have power to console and to revive me! Yet so it is. But I beg your pardonI will proceed.

My sword was now the only possession which I had saved amid the shipwreck of my fortunes—my sword, which I had ever imagined would be only wrested from me at the latest moment of my existence. But integrity, sir, is a nobler feeling than obstinate haughtiness; it is better to be honest than proud. I neither could, nor would, live here without paying for my lodgings. This then was the only alternative. There is an actor and a celebrated one—who lives on the first floor; he is, I firmly believe, as fine and generous a fellow as ever figured in any profession. He had often made me offers of pecuniary assistance, but I had uniformly rejected them. At last, he pretended to have taken a fancy to my sword; he wanted it, he said, as a conspicuous ornament in his first-rate characters-and proposed to give me far more, I am certain, than he conceived it to be worth. I would not accept the whole amount ;--but my sword is gone. You may smile, perhaps, at the melancholy earnestness with which I speak on such

a subject. But things must not be judged by their apparent value. Of all the painful incidents of my life, this is the one which has given me the sharpest pang. This seems the lowest depth of degradation, to which my necessities have reduced me. My sword seemed to pierce my heart as I parted with it. It was like parting with my honour. Yet you may, perhaps, enter into my feelings. The blade, which had been at my side throughout all my campaigns, with which I had encountered the enemies of my country; which had been my defence, my protection, my companion, and my friend-was now to flourish in mock-contests on the stage-was to be drawn with a spouting rant, and sheathed in bloodless imaginary triumph, amid the tears of sobbing girls, and the applauses of greasy mechanics ; and the end, it may be, of a soldier's sword, is to be hacked about in a farce or a pantomime, or rust amid the wardrobe of a strolling player. No, no, sir, you cannot half conceive my infinite humiliation. But let us turn from this disheartening occurrence. I have already dwelt too much upon it in secret for my own quiet. What I have farther to say will not detain you long.

“In one word, I have a favour to request of you, which I would not, and dare not, ask of another man living. I am destitute ; I am enfeebled; I am sinking; I feel that but few more suns shall shine upon me in this world. But I would see my daughter before I die. I would fain leave my benediction upon her; and breathe my last prayer in her presence, that her destiny may be more prosperous than her father's. Will you, then, be my friend, as you have ever been. Will you fetch her to me now ? hereafter will you protect her? I trust to your age; I trust to your character; and when I place this precious deposit in your care, I know you will remember, that you too have been a parent."

Lieutenant M. here ended his communication. He had exerted himself too much: he drew his breath with pain. My first care was to send for a physician; and order those nutriments and restoratives, which his weak and dangerous state too evidently demanded. I then told him, that I had time upon my hands, and money at my command, that he

« AnteriorContinuar »