« السابقةمتابعة »
her list of lovers was but another version of the army list; an army list, as it were, upon the peace establishment. But I will do Georgiana the justice to say, that she was discreet in her advances; that she displayed good generalship in her attacks on the hearts of the warriors. In fact, the intensity of her admiration was regulated by the rank of its object; her love for a captain was great, but for a major, major.
What an event in the life of our martialspirited heroine was a field day! What a day to be marked with a white stone, was a review. Then, as regularly as if she belonged to the staff of the general in command,
"The lady left her peaceful dwelling,
And rode her forth a colonelling."
And after a long and sportive warfare with the heroes under review, in which eyes, sighs, sandwiches, and champagne, were marshalled against crosses, orders, and Waterloo medals, she returned home to dream of little Cupids rendered decent by uniforms, and furnished with epaulettes instead of wings, and regulation small-swords instead of arrows.
Year after year passed in this unprofitable way, and in spite of the ingenuity with which her plans were laid, Georgiana regularly returned to her winter quarters, without succeeding in the grand object of her campaignnamely, winning a husband. The subalterns were afraid to look up to her, the colonels and staff officers too proud to look down upon her, and for some seasons she remained without an offer. At length an Irish major, who claimed acquaintance with her on the strength of having served in the fortieth, whilst her cousin Charles was in the thirtyninth, ventured to throw himself at her feet in the character of her avowed admirer, and would certainly have been accepted, and raised by the hand of the modern Bellona, but that with the peculiar modesty, so inherent in natives of what O'Connell once called "the first flower of the earth, and first gem of the sea," he accompanied his protestations of love by enquiries, which the lady deemed too minute, into the nature of her property. Georgiana's delicacy was offended, (a fact which excited considerable
surprise in the mind of the major,) and accordingly she reversed the order in which the word of command is generally given, and before the bold Milesian had completed his "address," in hopes to "stand at ease" in the good opinion of the fair damsel, she commanded him first to "halt," and then to "march" out of the house.
The major was disappointed, and so, to tell the truth, was the lady. The fates seemed to wage war against her wishes.
"So to a coat of regimental red
She never was, but always to be wed." And she was one and thirty, or to use her own expression, she had had "her majority" ten years, before she got the command of a husband and a household.
When she did, spite of all her protestations never to marry a civilian, the fortunate winner of her hand was not a soldier. She had failed in fixing the affections of one of those avowed slayers of their fellow-creatures, and was fain to accept the addresses of a somewhat kindred spirit, who busied himself only with intestinal wars, and received his commission not from the Horse Guards, but from Lincoln's Inn Fields. In short, Georgiana Dashwood, the maid who loved the military, condescended as a dernier resort to marry a surgeon.
Many and merry were the jokes which were perpetrated on the occasion, at the different mess-tables throughout the kingdom, as soon as the Post and the Court Journal communicated the news. But one alone shall here be immortalised.
"So Georgiana Dashwood is married at last,” said a pert cornet of the — then quartered at Brighton. "What regiment ?" enquired one of his lisping and well-mustachioed compagnons de guerre, to whom our heroine's propensities seemed familiar.
No regiment," was the reply; “although she always said she would marry a soldier, a surgeon is the lucky man."
"Faith, then," said Georgiana's old attaché, the Irish major, who happened to be present; "faith then, hasn't she kept her word, by marrying one of the lancers?”
FIRST Love is like the Violet,
But e'en in death, and fading bloom,
The Love we know in after years
Is like the full-blown Rose, Careless who sees its heart's deep core,
Proud of the tints it shows. Each passer-by a leaf now claims, Till but a scentless stem remains.
It was the morning of the montem. Eton was a scene of the busiest preparation. Clavering was senior colleger, and was therefore to be the chief actor in the pageant of the day. Morley, his friend and cousin, was to be one of the runners, for which he had provided a splendid fancy dress, that bid fair to eclipse every other in the procession. At the appointed hour, the merry collegers proceeded in regular array to Salthill, where the captain of the academic band, ascending a certain eminence, flourished a flag as preliminary to the busy proceedings of the morning. After this ceremony had been duly performed, the runners set out upon their usual expedition of authorised robbery, stopping every passenger from the prince to the bargeman, and demanding salt, an Etonian synonyme for money, under pain of summary castigation.
As Morley was traversing a retired road on his return from a most profitable predatory excursion, he observed a very extraordinary figure standing in the centre of his path. He appeared to be a man upwards of fifty, upon whose brow, however, suffering rather than years seemed to have indented many deep lines, which imparted to his countenance an expression of sternness rather than amenity. His eyes were dark, prominent, and full of fire, showing that in spite of wrinkles, which traversed his forehead in broad and clearly defined ridges, the spirit was yet unsubdued by the great conqueror Time; and that though he had passed into the "yellow leaf," his faculties were still green. His hair was short, thick, and grizzled; his eyebrows exceedingly bushy and prominent, while the flowing beard, which almost covered his expansive chest, was nearly white, except that portion of it which grew high upon the cheek and upper lip. This was quite black, and blending with the exuberant growth beneath his chin, gave him an appearance, though by no means repulsive, yet somewhat approaching to the superhuman. He had evidently been handsome. The wreck of beauty was indeed upon his lineaments, but they were neverthe
less noble in ruins. Though the hand of time had begun to crumble the fabric, still the grandeur of the present was enhanced by associations of the past.
The stranger's figure was tall, and of fine proportions. He wore a sort of tunic, confined by a thin silk girdle, which showed it to great advantage. It was evident that he affected singularity, and he certainly had attained his object. Upon his head he had an undress hussar cap, and from his shoulders hung a mantle of purple cloth, edged with tarnished silver. His hose were of grey cotton, carefully gartered with white ribbons, and he was shod with a short buskin which reached just above the ankle. He seemed fully to have subscribed to the court fool's maxim, that "motley's the only wear." Though, however, there was something fantastic in his dress, it was by no means unbecoming. There was an odd sort of elegance about it, which arose perhaps more from the fine symmetry of the figure which it covered, than from any harmonious combination of the colours which composed it. Morley remembered to have heard that a person had been frequently seen in the neighbourhood who was supposed to be mad, and who it now occurred to him precisely answered to the description of the figure before him. He nevertheless advanced boldly towards the stranger, and demanded salt. "Salt? what mean you?"
"We exact from rich and poor alike.” "Exact! thou art then both publican and sinner."
"Come, wilt thou depose thy tribute?" and he extended the mouth of a richly embroidered bag. "Let me beg, venerable Sir, that I may not be detained."
"Beg? Thou art too fine for a beggar; thy livery belies thy calling. I should have taken thee for some knave's serving man, who had robbed a theatre to apparel thee; but that I am more charitably disposed to think thou art some ape's serving monkey." The blood rushed to Morley's cheek in a tor
rent. "I tell thee again thou art too fine for a beggar. Go to-go to—silly dog!” "I beg not, but exact."
"And suppose I should refuse thy demand -thou art not a very formidable assessor."
"Then force should compel it." The stranger smiled scornfully. "Come, disburse; a sixpence will purchase your security from any further molestation: we take anything but copper."
"If a sixpence could be divided into intangible atoms, I'd rather blow them to the winds than give thee one. Fie upon your custom. You rob!-aye, you may frown, young bully, and strut like a peacock round a well-I say it at all risks, and in good current English,— you rob in order to make a gentleman of your school-fellow, and purchase an honourable title with the fruits of knavery. Beware of him, young man! He will be a serpent in your path, and sting the hand that fosters him. Take heed, I say; he will repay thy legalised larceny in his behalf, with the devil's requital. A word to the wise-if thou'rt a fool, why thou wert born no better than thy kind, and wert therefore born to be fooled."
Morley was staggered. He felt his heart throb with indignation, but was absolutely overawed by the manner of the mysterious person who addressed him. There was a something in it at once so commanding and uncommon, associating, too, with it, as Morley did, an idea of insanity, that he could neither summon resolution to exact a contribution from him, nor divest himself of an apprehension that there was a prophetic spirit in his words; for impressions often get the better of our judgments, and force us to be lieve, in spite of the contradictions of our Belief is independent of our wills, and we are frequently conscious of a credulity which we should be extremely reluctant to avow, and of which our very consciences make us feel ashamed. Morley tried to shake off the impression which had so suddenly overcast his spirits, but no appeal to his better sense could overcome its influence. He felt unaccountably depressed; nevertheless, affecting to laugh at the ominous prediction, with a smiling countenance, but a throbbing heart, he said to his mysterious interlocutor, in a tone of assumed pomposity, "How long
hast thou been a prophet, sage sir? I cry thee mercy; I thought the season of prophecy had gone by. Art thou another Cornelius Agrippa, or a male Mother Shipton, whose vaticinal, like the sibyl leaves, contained prophecies that never came to pass, except when some kind soul was sottish enough to do a silly thing, merely for the sake of realising the prophecy. Nay, tell me, thou modern Archimago, can'st thou really look behind the curtain of the present, down the dark vista of the future, and tell of things to be? 'Thou art beside thyself,' as the Roman said to the Apostle of Tarsus, too much learning has made thee mad.'”
"It is well, boy; thou art a cunning simpleton, but a mole would have perception enough to discover how poorly that smirk and flippant wagging of the tongue hides the tremour within. There's lie written upon thy face; 'tis marked as legibly as coward upon thy heart; for while the one assumes the smile of incredulity, which is unblushingly contradicted by the pallid cheek and quivering lip, the throb of apprehension disturbs the other." Morley was struck dumb. He felt this to be too true, and his awe of the stranger increased. The latter continued-"Remember, I have warned thee. Thou art young, and hast not yet tasted the bitters of disappointment. I have wrung them out.' They are prepared for thy speedy quaffing, and they shall be as 'the gall of asps' within thee. Again, I bid thee beware of Clavering. Farewell!"
He was about to depart, when Morley, impelled by a superstitious excitement, which he had never before felt, but could not now controul, exclaimed
Stay; one question more before we part. As I am to be unhappy, is my life to be long or short ?"
"Let me see thy palm." He took Morley's hand, and after having attentively surveyed it for several moments, said, in a tone of most painful and almost appalling solemnity, "Thou wilt not count the midnight hour of thy thirty-fourth birth-day; death will take thee with the bloom upon thy cheek-the worm will feed daintily upon it—but we must all die; what matters it when ?"
Saying this he slowly turned, slightly bent his head, and left the astonished Morley almost transfixed to the spot. A sudden thrill passed through his whole frame. His brain began to whirl, and his heart to sicken. It passed, however, in a few moments, but was succeeded by a depression which fell like a paralysis upon his hitherto buoyant spirit. He was ashamed of his want of energy, still
he found it impossible to baffle the despondency which was stealing upon him. He felt as if he was about to be the victim of some indefinable visitation. He was conscious, it is true, of the utter absurdity of such an apprehension, yet he could not stifle it; he could not get rid of the awful impression which the words, and especially the last words, of the stranger had left upon him. It seemed as if his inmost soul had been laid bare to the scrutiny of that mysterious man, for he was evidently acquainted with the emotion which his warning had excited within him, and which Morley used his best endeavours to disguise.
"Is it possible," he thought, " that I can have anything to dread from Clavering? We have been reared together. We have been attached from infancy, and he has never wronged me. Why then should I suspect him? It were unjust-nay, it were base to question his integrity or to doubt his love."
Morley was extremely distressed, and joined his companions in no very enviable frame of mind. It was some days before he entirely recovered his spirits; and even when he had recovered them, the recollection of that mysterious being who had cast such a dark shadow before his future path, would frequently intrude to perplex and disquiet him. He had no absolute faith in the gift of vaticination. In all appeals to his reason upon this question, the answer was brief and unequivocal. Nevertheless, whatever might be the suggestions of his reason to the contrary, he could not, against the direct bias of his feelings, shake off the impression so emphatically forced upon his mind, by the prophetic caution which he had received to beware of Clavering. Time, and a change of scene, however, at length weakened in his mind the freshness of this strange event; and the remembrance of it eventually became no longer painful.
To account for the bitterness of the stranger's expressions against Clavering, it will suffice to state that the latter had seduced, and heartlessly abandoned, a poor, but amiable girl in the neighbourhood. This Morley knew; yet such is the force of that happy liberality of principle inculcated among the better born of the land, when in statu pupillari at those great fountains of learning, our public schools, that he never allowed it for a moment to engender a thought, that such a trifling accident could in any way operate upon Clavering's friendship for him. He therefore could not make up his mind to suspect his cousin's integrity of feeling towards himself; and, in
spite of the stranger's warning, treated him, as he had ever done, with confidence and regard.
Four years soon passed, and the friendship of the cousins had not abated. Clavering had passed through his academic ordeal, and taken his degree, though his character at college had been anything but unblemished. He had acquired some equivocal propensities, and had been suspected of some very questionable acts, which had nearly been the cause of his expulsion from the university. This was not unknown to Morley; and occasionally the warning of the stranger shot like a scathing flash across his memory, leaving a momentary pang at his heart; but that regard which had been nurtured in infancy and matured in manhood, was too deeply rooted within him to be staggered by what might after all be nothing more than a whimsical caution, the mere chance ebullition of madness. Shortly, however, after Clavering quitted the university, he associated himself with a set of men whose characters were at the best doubtful, and Morley was earnestly advised to break off all intercourse with a man, who was evidently declining every day in the good opinion of all who knew him. Morley, however, could not make up his mind to relinquish the society of his kinsman, for whom he had so long felt a very sincere attachment, because some few rumoured deviations from strict propriety of conduct were laid to his charge, but which had not been substantiated even by the shadow of a proof. His eyes, however, were unexpectedly opened to the baseness of his kinsman's character. To Morley's consternation, Clavering was suddenly taken up on a charge of forgery to a very considerable amount, and upon his examination he had the atrocious audacity to implicate his relative, who was in consequence apprehended as an accomplice, put upon his trial, but, though not indeed without a very narrow escape, honourably acquitted. Clavering was found guilty and executed.
For a considerable period after this tragical event, the warning and prediction of the stranger were constantly recurring, with the most painful intensity, to Morley's mind. He had been warned by that extraordinary man to beware of Clavering, and by neglecting the warning his life had been placed in jeopardy. He remembered the prediction which limited his life to his thirty-fourth birth-day. He was now scarcely three-andtwenty, but eleven years seemed so short a term to one who had a strong desire of life,
that he became melancholy as he looked forward to its terminating so speedily. In spite of himself he could not bring his mind to feel, though he could easily bring his reason to admit, the absurdity of a prediction of which no human creature could have a divine assurance, because such divine communications have long since ceased to be made; and he seemed to grow daily more and more convinced that the hour of his death was written in the lines of his palm, and had been read by the mysterious stranger. He knew the idea was weak-that it was superstitious, but he could not controul it. It was a sort of mental calenture, presenting to his mind what his reason readily detected to be a figment, but which his morbid apprehensions substantiated into a reality. He became so extremely depressed, that his mother, his now only surviving parent, began to be exceedingly alarmed. Seeing her anxiety, he fully stated to her the cause of his unusual depression. She argued with him upon the folly, nay, the criminality of giving way to an apprehension which, in the very nature of things, must be perfectly groundless; since even the sacred scriptures represent the hour of death as a matter hidden amongst the mysteries of Providence, and therefore beyond the penetration of man. The caution which the stranger had given him to beware of Clavering afforded no proof of extraordinary penetration, since one who had shown himself to be so wantonly profligate in youth, as Clavering had done, was a very fit object of warning; and surely it could be no evidence of supernatural endowment, or the gift of more than ordinary foresight, to bid a person beware of a bad man. These representations were not without their effect; yet as the clouds of despondency dispersed but tardily, his mother persuaded him to go abroad with some sprightly friends, hoping that change of scene might restore his mind to its wonted repose. Nor was she deceived; after an absence of three years he returned quite an altered man. The impression left by the prophecy of the stranger seemed to have entirely passed from his memory. He had formed new friendships, marked out new prospects, and appeared to look forward without any withering apprehensions of evil. His mother was delighted to observe the change, though even she, as he advanced towards his thirty-fourth birth-day, could not help entertaining certain misgivings, when she thought upon that melancholy prediction, which had so long cast a shadow across the course of her son's peace.
Year after year, however, rolled on without any event happening to interrupt the uniformity of a very unchequered life, until Morley entered upon the thirty-fourth year of his age. The impression originally left by the stranger's prediction had been entirely effaced, and as he never mentioned the circumstance, his mother justly surmised that he had forgotten it altogether. She had not, however. She watched the days, weeks, and months roll on, with the most painful anxiety; not that she believed the stranger's prophecy was about to be accomplished, but because she longed to be assured of its fallacy. Anxiety and belief clashed, and the latter was shaken by the perpetual collision. The possibility of its fulfilment was ever present to her mind, and this possibility, however apparently remote at first, was brought nearer and nearer every time it recurred to her thoughts, until at length it appeared before her with all the vividness and amplitude of reality. The death of her only son was an idea continually presented to her waking thoughts, as well as to her slumbering faculties; so that however strongly her reason might argue against its probability, still the phantoms of thought would arise without any formal evocation, and they addressed themselves more potently to the mind's eye, than the wiser suggestions of reason to the understanding. So manifest was Morley's emancipation from the fetters of that moody apprehension which had formerly enslaved his mind, that not only was his spirit buoyant, and his peace undisturbed, but he evidently looked forward to happiness in time as well as in eternity, since he had paid his successful addresses to a very beautiful girl, and the period was appointed for their union. It was fixed for the day after the lady should attain her one-and-twentieth year, which would carry Morley nearly to his thirty-fifth; so that it was clear he anticipated no intervening evil: on the contrary, he talked of the consummation of his happiness with a fluency and earnestness, which clearly showed that he fully expected to see it realised. His mother was pleased to observe that he no longer clung to those old recollections, which she even now feared to revive, and to which she could not herself revert without a strong but indefinite apprehension of danger.
The morning of the thirty-fourth birth-day at length dawned, and Morley rose from a night of peaceful slumber in the best health and spirits. He seemed not to have a single care upon his thoughts, which were apparently undimmed by one painful recollection.