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The doctor tells me I must take no wine. Pshaw! It is not that which mounts into my brain; and sometimes—but I must not wander-wine is the best corrector of these fancies. One bottle more of sober claret, and I shall be able to finish before midnight the brief sketch of my life which I promised Travers long ago.
It were worse than useless to set down any particulars of my boyhood. An only son is usually a spoiled one, and that which is so easy and delightful a task to most parents was by no means difficult or unpleasant to mine ; and yet, to do myself justice, I believe I was not more conceited, insolent, selfish, and rapacious than others are during those days of innocence, as they are called,—those days of innocence which form the germ of that noble and disinterested creature, man.
At the age of three-and-twenty I succeeded to my father's estate. It was to divert a sense of loneliness which beset me, that I plunged into—as they term it, but the phrase is a wrong one-that I ventured upon the course of folly and dissipation into which so many young men of fortune like myself hurry themselves, or are led, or are driven. But why recount these scenes of pleasure—so called, or miscalled—whose reaction is utter weariness, satiety, and disgust ?
I was at the theatre one night, when the friend who accompanied me directed
attention to a very lovely girl, who, with her mother and a party of friends, occupied the next box. She was, certainly, the loveliest creature my eyes had ever lighted upon; with a sylphlike form, (that is the usual phrase, I believe,) wanting perhaps that complete roundness of limb which is considered essential to perfect beauty in a woman—but she was barely sixteen- and yet suggesting, too, the idea of consummate symmetry. Her face—but who can describe beauty? who even can paint it? Let any man look at the finest attempts to achieve this impossibility by the old masters, and then let him compare them with the faces he has seen, and may see every day. Heavens! what inanities ! Can a man paint a soul upon canvass? And yet the artist talks of his “expression.”
I watched her closely during the performance, indeed, I had no power to withdraw my gaze from her; and once or twice her eyes met mine, and I thought I could perceive she was not altogether displeased at my attention. Her confusion betrayed that to me, and in one short hour I was a lost man.
When the play was over, I framed a miserable excuse, which I thought at the time a most ingenious one, to my friend for not accompanying him home to supper, as I had promised; and hastening after unknown and her mother, who had left the box, was just in time to see them enter a coach. I contrived to keep pace with it, and saw it deposit its beautiful freight at a house in a small private street near Portman Square.
I could laugh-unaccustomed as I am even to private laughing now-a-days-when I think, as I do sometimes, on those days of sentiment. It were as futile to attempt to renew that sentiment after thirty, as to strive to recal those days, and to bid them stand in next year's calendar.
wood is out of the tree by that time ;
and the trunk becomes hard, and gnarled, and stubborn. Now is the time to enjoy life. At five-and-thirty the blood and the brain act in concert, and the heart beats not one pulse the quicker, while they do their spiriting-not gently always.-To return.
I went home that night altogether an altered man, and rose next morning from a sleepless bed, absorbed with the one idea which had worked so miraculous a change within me. All that day, almost without intermission, did I pace up and down the street in the hope of seeing her; but in vain. Not once did she approach the window; and I did not deem it prudent to question one of the servants who came out of the house several times during the day. I betook myself, therefore, towards evening to a green-grocer's shop in the neighbourhood; and the purchase of some fruit gave me a privilege to indulge in a little chat with the good old woman who conducted the business. I affected to be chiefly solicitous respecting the elderly lady, whom I had seen by chance, and believed to be a friend of my father, but whose name I could not, for the life of me, remember. The old woman smiled at my shallow artifice, but proceeded to inform me that the elderly lady was the widow of an officer who had been killed in the Peninsular War, leaving an only daughter, at that period an infant. I begged pardon-the name ? did she know the daughter's name?
“Oh yes ! it was Isabella Denham.”
It was an era in my life, the first sound of that name. I thanked my kind informant, and withdrew.
I need not tell how unremittingly, and for how many weeks, I paced up and down that street, with various success ; how regularly 1 attended the church she frequented ; and how at length I obtained an introduction to the family.
I found Isabella Denham more captivating than the accumulated fancies and self-willed convictions of months had pictured her to me. It is no unusual result in such cases ; but whether it be that the object transcends the imagination, or that the imagination subserves the object, I know not. It was so, however ; for feeling upon these occasions takes the place of reason, which is an impertinence.
Let me be just. I think, had I loved Isabella Denham less, I should equally have admired her. She had a mind and a heart; she was accomplished; she was beautiful, gentle, and good ; and she loved me. Yes, she loved me. I believed it then, and I am certain of it now. How I loved her, she never knew : that was for Time to show, and he has shown it.
I offered her my hand in due time, and was accepted. How I despised the sneers and banter of some of my friends who could not conceive the idea of a marriage with fortune on one side, and none on the other, and yet were endeavouring at the same time to effect an engagement of a similar nature in their own favour ! How I disregarded the gratuitous advice of sundry of my officious relatives, who thought that all love had died when their own gave up the ghost, and who sometimes prophesied truly because they were always prognosticating evil!
We were at length married; and the close of the fourth year saw no diminution of our happiness. We were domestic enough without seclusion, and went into as much company as sufficed to make
us feel that home was the happiest place after all. One circumstance had contributed to augment my felicity,—the birth of a son, which took place about a year after our marriage.
I know not what some people mean, who tell you that when a man becomes married, love subsides into affection, and friendship takes the place of passion. It was not so with me. I loved the wife as much as I had adored the mistress. To make her happy was myself to be so; and to have made her so, I would have laid down my life. Some, indeed, hinted that I indulged her too muchthat I let her have her own way in everything. And why not? Did I marry to make my wife the creature, or the slave, of some system of management, rule of action, or principle of conduct ? phrases which I abhor. No—no; be they as wise as they will, I was right. I am convinced of it. That was not the cause. We were happy.
It was by the merest chance that I one day encountered Hastings in the street-my friend Hastings. We had been companions at Eton, and at college our intimacy had grown into friendship. Were I now asked for what particular quality of mind or heart I had chosen Hastings for a friend, I should find some difficulty in answering the question. He was what is termed “a good-natured fellow;" there was nothing gross or offensive in his gaiety, and he was always the same. His feelings never led him to make a fool of himself, which is much to say of a young man. They might be called good plated feelings, which answered the purpose well enough, and sometimes passed for more costly articles. It is much, after all, to possess a friend between whom and yourself you can draw comparisons favourable to the latter, and who is perfectly content that you should do so.
He dined with me on the next day. His powers of conversation were certainly much improved since we had last talked together. He could turn the most superficial reading to admirable account; and so minute was his observation, and so faithfully and graphically could he describe manners, and the surface motives of men, that it almost appeared like a profound knowledge of mankind. Isabella was pleased with his society; and after she had retired to the drawing-room, my friend expatiated somewhat at large upon her beauty and elegance, and, above all, upon the good sense which characterised her. I need hardly say that I also was delighted with him, and when we shook hands for the night, I could have hugged the man for his glowing eulogy. I almost loved every one who admired her. I was too weak - too weak.
He visited us often, for his time was altogether his own. living upon expectancy, and accordingly had more leisure than money. At various periods I pressed him to make my purse his
own, and he did so. I had, indeed, more money at my disposal than I cared for, or knew what to do with ; and at that time I thought, when I served a friend, that I had found the best employment of it. It is strange,--and yet perhaps it is not by any means strange,-how men alter in this particular as they grow older. The heart-strings and the purse-strings are not so easily drawn then.
Well, I was his banker, and felt myself sufficiently repaid by his society. About this time, also, I was greatly occupied in business of a somewhat troublesome nature, to conclude which it was necessary
that I should visit my estate. My probable term of absence was to be about six weeks. The fashionable season was in its meridian, and I could not be cruel enough to ask Isabella to accompany me. She had latterly taken more pleasure in parties, and balls, and concerts than heretofore. Perhaps I had kept her too close ; we were too domestic. After all, it was not the way of the world. I thought so, and Hastings agreed with me ;-I would see it reformed altogether when I returned.
In the mean while I begged Hastings to look in now and then, and see that she was not lonely and out of spirits. It was natural to expect that my first absence from her would cause her to feel so. He promised to do as I requested, and I set off into the country, where I was detained more than two months ; and at length, finding myself released from an irksome attendance on very unpleasant business, I took post-horses, and with all the ardour of a lover returned to London.
I returned to London.
I remember the minutest particulars of that scene so well! Not a tittle of it has escaped my memory--not a word, not a syllable! It will never depart from my mind — from my soul!
When the porter opened the door, I hastened through the hall, and sprang up stairs into the drawing-room. She was not there; but my little boy, hearing my well-known footstep, came from the adjoining room and ran towards me. I caught him in my arms, and gave him a thousand kisses.
“ Well, my dear little fellow, and where is mamma ?”
“ Not here— not here," said the boy, looking around; “ but I'm so glad you ’ve come back !”
Isabella was gone out, doubtless. I rang the bell. I did not observe Mrs. Martin, the housekeeper, enter the room,–I was still caressing the child.
“ Ha! Mrs. Martin-But what's the matter? You look ill.Where is Mrs. Saville ?"
The woman spoke not, but trembled violently, and turned very pale. I motioned her to take a seat.
She did so. “My dear madam, you alarm me,” said I. “ Is anything wrongyour mistress
Tears were streaming down the woman's face, as she arose suddenly, and with her hands clasped before her she came towards me.
“ Oh, sir! bear it like a man," she cried, weeping bitterly :-“ do bear it like a man, sir! That I should live to tell you this !-1, who have carried you in these arms, and have prayed a thousand times for your happiness when I should be dead and gone !"
She paused. Perhaps my face revealed the sickness of heart which at that moment overcame me. I could not rise from my seat; I could not lift the child from my knee, as he lay upon my bosom with his head pressed against my heart.
“Merciful Heaven !- Isabella is ill—she is dying !-at once, at once tell me
“ No, no," said the woman bitterly," she is not ill or dying. Mr. Saville, I durst not tell you my suspicions before you left town—I durst not, sir. For mercy's sake compose yourself! My mistress left this house last Tuesday night with Mr. Hastings."
That horrible shriek still rings in my ears. I remember thrusting the child from me, and clasping my head with my hands; and then I was smitten down-struck to the earth-worse than dead-oh, how much worse than dead !"
It was a long, long, hideous dream that succeeded, full of woe, and lamentations, and weeping, and curses, and despair. But I awoke at last from that dream. Where was I? It was a very narrow, but lofty room ; the walls were whitewashed, and there was one small window about twelve feet from the floor. I was seated on a low truckle-bed ; and as I turned my eyes from the light of the window, they fell upon my hands, which were laid before me. wrists there were deep marks, as though they had been tied together with cords; and when I moved, a sharp pain went round me, like a girdle. But the rope had been loosened, and was no longer about me. A man entered the room.
“ How do you feel yourself now ?” said he, laying his hand upon my shoulder.
I looked up. Methought I recognised the voice, and the face was almost familiar to me, and repulsively so.
“ I am well — very well,” I answered. “ Where am I ?"
The man said nothing, but silently left the room, presently returnįng with a gentleman, of whom, as of the man, I had an indistinct remembrance.
“ You will be better soon, sir,” said this person kindly, as he felt my pulse ; and he turned towards the man, and spoke to him in an under-tone. “Let him be kept very quiet,” was all I heard, and he retired shortly after.
Yes :- I had been mad—raving mad—for two years, and was now slowly struggling back into consciousness. Feeble glimmerings of the past came upon me at first, and then farther half-revelations were extended to me; until at length the cause, dimly and remotely, but gradually nearer and more near, stood before me like a curse. It is well for me that I did not then relapse into madness; but I wrestled with it, I overcame it, and in a month was taken away in my own physician's carriage, and brought back home. Home ?—that had been destroyed.
My friend, Dr. Herbert, was, and is, the best fellow breathing. He devoted for some weeks nearly the whole of his time to me. deavoured to draw my mind away from the one subject, which might, he thought, if entertained, once more overthrow my reason. mistaken. The very endeavour to discard that memory, as often as it recurred, would soon have distracted me. I encouraged it, therefore, and was strengthened by it;-my mind throve upon it,-it was a comfort to me.
The many slight indications of an attachment-of a passion-between her and this man Hastings,—and they must have been but slight indications,—were presented to me now grossly and palpably. I could see them all,—they stung me ;—and I would curse my fool's nature that was blind, or would not see and provide against the consequence. And why did I curse my easy nature ? Could I have borne to live a wretched turnkey, a miserable listener at key-holes, a dealer out of " punishment, the drudgery of devils ?” Did I marry to suspect virtue, or to control vice? Neither ; and I was glad that,