Imágenes de páginas

spect of many, many weary years of a tortured existence, for Mr. Douglas, though decayed in mind, is yet strong in body, promising to outlive his malignant helpmate, worn as she is with constant fear and watching, while Rachel fades away with bad temper, disappointed ambition, and the envy which gnaws her heart at hearing of the uninterrupted flow of prosperity attending those from whom, though so nearly connected, she is for ever divorced.

Another painful duty Guy strove to perform soon after his marriage, but which he was doomed to find equally unsuccessful with the task he had imposed upon himself of endeavouring to awaken mutual good will and affection between his beloved Emmeline and his mother and sister in Scotland. He sought out Caroline, and endeavoured with all the tenderness and force of his noble and powerful nature to redeem her from the vortex of vice and dissipation in which she was plunged, but, as I have said before, all his efforts were in vain. He found her still young and beautiful, and not only intoxicated with the adulation she received from those as worthless as herself, but of that bold and hardened levity of character which led her to mock at everything sacred both in morality and religion. Inexpressibly shockedalmost humiliated-he forsook her splendid dwelling in Vienna, and returning to Britain, sought relief for his wounded feelings in the beloved circle reunited at Berlington Castle; and once having entered the precincts of that blessed abode, he found the consolation he required. When again his adoring Emmeline wept with joy upon his bosom, and Christine's fair arms encircled his neck, his sorrows were alleviated; while Lord Berlington's manly sympathy soothed his agitation, Mrs. Mordaunt's placid smile imparted peace, and the admiral's honest cheerful voice roused him to energy and enjoyment.

Christmas Eve in the seventh year of the truly felicitous marriage of Lord and Lady Berlington at length arrives; a season strictly dedicated by the benevolent and rightly thinking pair to their religious duties and the assembling of their dearest and nearest friends around their hospitable hearth. The weather is intensely cold, a hard clear frost, and Guy has been occupied all day in skating, having had Emmeline and little Algernon to admire him, accompanied as usual by the canine favourites of so many days of early hope and blissful certainty, Turk and Bijou. By general vote the family circle has taken possession of Lord Berlington's magnificent library for their place of evening rendezvous, which the gardener, Nanny's son-in-law, has gaily decked with verdant hollies covered with their glowing scarlet berries. A monstrous fire blazes in the antique grate, reflecting brightly on the polished wainscoted panels and richly carved bookcases

filled with all the best literature of ancient and modern times, and on the soft warm hearthrug repose the ever-inseparable friends, the two old privileged dogs. On one side of the fireplace at a little table sits Mrs. Mordaunt stitching at her carpet-work, with Lizzy Macintosh reading the newspapers to her, and on the other, at a still smaller one, are placed the admiral and Mr. Macintosh, deeply engaged at a game of chess. The old sailor has just executed a most knowing move, which threatens the entire discomfiture of his adversary, and has assumed an attitude with him betokening victory, for both hands are clasping one leg, which is laid over the knee of the other, while he waves himself softly backwards and forwards with his mouth pursed up to a most provoking expression of triumph. His puzzled opponent is looking down upon the board with a darkly portentous frown at the same time that his eyes gleam from under his shaggy eyebrows, significant of his firm determination to fight to the last, thereby proving himself a true pertinacious Scotchman, and steel to the back bone. On a sofa near Mrs. Mordaunt and Lizzy reclines Emmeline, who, tired with her walk through the woods to the lake, and her long exposure to the frosty atmosphere while engaged in the pleasing occupation of admiring Guy's skating, is at present half asleep; and the same ungrateful Guy is standing at her back with Algernon in his arms, prompting him to the dutiful act of tickling his mother's pretty little nose with a strong hair which he has just pulled out of Turk's tail. In front of the fire, but at a little distance from it, seated on a high-backed couch, are Lord and Lady Berlington, while a beautiful boy be tween five and six years old, with a blooming girl of four, are playing at their feet with some new toys which the Macintoshes, just arrived before dinner, have brought them from Edinburgh; they are likewise engaged speculating, in a whispered conference together, about what papa and mamma will give them to-morrow for their Christmas boxes.

On Christine's knee sits a pretty little fat thing, who seems to have numbered about twelve months in this wicked world; she is patting with her dimpled hands her mother's soft white arm, and kissing from time to time a miniature of her father set in brilliants, with which that arm is adorned. Young Cecil and Christine possess the features and complexion of Lord Berlington's family; but little Margaret-so named after Mrs. M'Naughten -is the image of her mother, particularly resembling her in her silky fair hair, and lustrous grey eyes. In a window recess-a little nearer the door-are Mrs. Macintosh and Nanny, holding a confidential conversation about old friends and acquaintances in Scotland for Nanny always comes up to the great house to spend the Christmas week and welcome her former master and

mistress to their happy periodical visit. Christine's love for the kind guardian of her early years rather increases than diminishes with time; she studies to crown her, her daughter, and son-inlaw with benefits-never ceasing to embellish their beautiful garden home and to forward the education of their family-and to Nanny, during his stay, is always ceded the honour of bringing down young Cecil and her sisters between dinner and tea to bid the domestic party good night. Lord Berlington, with one arm thrown over the back of the sofa, is contemplating the bewitching partner of his splendour and her lovely baby; his heart is full of joy, every feature of his fine countenance is irradiated with happiness, and the play of his curved lip betrays that he is just about to express his sense of the blessings that surround him. He is prevented from giving in words evidence of his feelings, however, by Emmeline, who, in a sleepy voice of feigned displeasure at the torments inflicted upon her by unkind Guy and his promising pupil, calls out,

"I wish, Christine, that you would come here and keep your nephew and grand nephew in order."

The venerable aunt appealed to, laughs, and quietly answers: "Well, I shall be very happy to do so, Emmy, provided that you will change places with me, and take charge of your brother and his sisters."

Lord Berlington smiles.

"We are truly a mingled set of relatives," he observes, “but I don't think that the world ever beheld a more united one, and the gem who lights us all to the felicity we enjoy is my brilliant -my beloved Christine."

The fair object addressed raises her bright comprehensive eyes to the lord of her heart, and replies in a sweet low voice, half blended with a sigh, as if she almost feared to touch the sacred subject, lest in doing so it might be profaned :

[ocr errors]

Ah, Cecil! what would poor Christine be without the tender, intellectual, benevolent husband, who seeks his pleasures in participating them with his wife, whose chief occupations are striving to promote the welfare of every one within his sphere of action, and whose munificence is as unbounded as his rank is made glorious by his virtues? I do not speak in exaggerated enthusiasm," she continues, animatedly and impressively, while her cheek glows with the force and earnestness of her words, "I only utter the feelings ever living in my soul. God has had the goodness to bless us immensely, He has privileged us with the inclination to be dispensers of His bounty, gifted us with the means without which even the kindest intentions are as nothing for, although it is said-and said truly-that 'riches do not constitute happiness,' yet, nevertheless, all those who have had the misfortune to be poor are but too well aware that there cannot

exist any degree of either peace or tranquillity without a certain proportion of wealth. Look round this room, full of merry faces," she continues, " and think how different would have been their expressions if they had had to contend with pinching want and sordid cares. I never witness the felicity of dear generous Guy and Emmeline, I never note the placid contentment of your beloved aunt, nor hear the cheerful laugh of the admiral in our blessed abode, without fervently thanking God for having bestowed that abundant wealth on its noble master which enables us to lead together an existence so full of ease and contentment, while, with our full purses in our hands, we can aid and relieve all those in whom we are interested, and to whom fortune has not been equally propitious. If we are favoured in thus being the means of contributing to the enjoyment of our richer relatives, what may we not esteem ourselves when we look at those whom we have had the power to redeem from positive poverty? Regard my kind uncle and aunt Macintosh, and poor Lizzy," she went on in a lower voice, "and remember the difficulties from which your generosity enabled me to extricate them; and my dear old Nanny, how different would have been the expression of full contentment and happiness now beaming on her honest face, if she had been obliged to struggle on to old age in toil and anxiety! Oh, Cecil! we are blessed indeed, and to you, and you alone, we owe the perfection of our felicity.

[ocr errors]

Lord Berlington takes Christine's hand in his and gently presses it.

"Stop, my dear enthusiast," he says; "your love for your unworthy husband hurries you too far. It is necessary that you should see things in a truer point of view; so now for my side of the case. Had it not been for the beautiful, the pure, the gifted Christine, who crossed my path of gloom like a vision of light, time would have hurried me back to those follies and vices that stained my early years, and led me to form a matrimonial connexion that ultimately would have proved my ruin, by destroying all my good opinion of the sex. My beloved but thoughtless Emmeline-if, indeed, she had survived without your tender care and companionship-would in all human probability have imbibed the levity of the fashionable world, where ultimately she must have taken her place; this would have crushed my heart and have driven me to desperation. Guy, that beloved friend and relative, without your noble energy and disregard of self, would but too certainly have fallen under the dagger of the assassin, while your heroic daring and presence of mind saved the life of the object on whom his future happiness depended. No, no, my Christine! it is to you alone we owe the blessings we possess; it was in your warm, devoted heart and gifted spirit that was deposited the germ from which has sprung the tree of prosperity,

under which now repose all those with whom you have anything to do. I, who, although nearly twenty years your senior, never ask your opinion or advice without being enlightened and benefited by it, who never see you enter the gay world without your eliciting the enthusiastic admiration of every one, who never behold you in your home, surrounded by your lovely, merry children, without experiencing an overflowing of joyful self-congratulation, it is I who am the debtor to you for a degree of felicity perhaps never before possessed by any man on earth."

Let not my readers judge sarcastically of this conjugal conversation, for they must keep in mind that the wife has been raised from a state of solitude, anxiety, and threatened degradation, into the highest walk of life, to be idolised by her husband in the quiet shelter of the domestic circle, and worshipped by the crowd wherever she shows herself in public. Let them likewise keep in mind that the husband, who has the happiness of possessing her entire affection, esteem, and confidence, is no longer young; and although at forty-four a man can scarcely be reckoned elderly, yet Lord Berlington's mind has been prematurely sobered by the misfortunes attending his first thoughtless marriage, and the consequent anxiety arising from his being the youthful father of a delicate, and worse than motherless daughter. Christine's eyes rest upon her baby; she must acknowledge the truth of much that her husband has advanced, but she feels that she is blest to the fullest extent that is permitted to us here below; so, finding herself unequal to argue longer upon a point which she knows he will not yield, and the other members of the party having awakened to a rather noisy demonstration of sociability and mirth, she thinks that it will be as well to break up the têteà-tête, and go to the rescue of Emmeline, who, pinioned by Guy upon the sofa, is obliged to submit to the tyranny of little Algernon. She therefore takes the part of a politic wife, and, laying her hand softly on her adoring husband's arm, says, with a sly smile, "Sia come vuole, caro marito mio."*

Adieu fair Christine, thou child of beauty, genius, and heart! Adieu brave, generous, wife-tormenting Guy! Adieu to the noble master of the mansion, the happy Emmeline, the gentle Mrs. Mordaunt, the cheerful old admiral! And with them adieu to the attached and benevolent Nanny, carrying off the little girls to bed; to Mr. Macintosh, snapping his fingers, to the great delight of Cecil and Algernon; to his good-natured wife and Lizzie, engaged in petting the fat lazy fellows Turk and Bijou! "To each and all a fair good night !" May many, many a merry Christmas again reunite the happy family circle around the hospitable hearth of Berlington Castle.

*Be it as you will, my dear husband,

« AnteriorContinuar »