« السابقةمتابعة »
“ No," said my poor husband, looking around him with a bewildered air ; “I do not wish to see any of you. I wish you would all go away, and leave me to finish my book in quiet."
I looked at the book over which he again bent, and shuddered ; it had been procured for him by one of the servants, and was a little story in verse for children, bound in a gilt cover, and embellished with glaring coloured prints; and this study seemed fully to satisfy the wishes and engross the attention of the fine mind that had so lately been able to understand and appreciate the most abstruse treatises of philosophy and science. Percival carried rather than led me to my apartments.
“ And this was my work," I wildly exclaimed; “O wretch that I am! why am I suffered to live, while I am the cause of misery and destruction to those around me?”.
"It is all permitted for some wise purpose, my poor friend,” said Percival, pressing my hand; "and sad as your visit to your husband has been, it has relieved my mind, because now everything is known to you, and I can confer freely with you on your future plans.”
He then proceeded to inform me that it was the intention of Mr. Neville to take out a statute of lunacy against his brother, who would be placed in a small establishment of his own, with proper attendants.
“ I will take care,” he continued, “ to see that every possible comfort is secured for him, and also that a suitable allowance is made to you from the estates.”
“Do not mention it, I implore you,” I exclaimed ; “ I cannot, will not accept it-my own income is as much as I require, and more, far more than I deserve; but would you procure for me a privilege which I should value in a higher degree than anything yet remaining to me on earth, let me be an inhabitant of the same home with my dear injured husband, let me devote my remaining days to his service, and attempt in some faint measure to repair the ruin I have wrought.”
Percival tried to persuade me from this plan, but when he found all endeavours ineffectual, he mentioned it to the Nevilles. Mrs. Neville, wishing to mortify and circumvent me in every possible way, warmly opposed it; but when the London physician sided with her, saying that persons laboring under mental aberration were far more likely to recover if consigned entirely to the care of strangers than if they remained in the society of their family, she immediately changed her opinion, and said that though Isabel chose to consider her as her enemy, she was sure that she was willing to grant any request of hers that was at all reasonable.”
I will not dwell on every minute particular that ensued; suffice it to say, that when all the necessary arrangements were concluded, I removed to a small but elegant and convenient habitation in a retired part of the country with my poor husband, who was as pleased as a child with the journey and change of scene, several servants, and an experienced and confidential man who had long been accustomed to the care of insane and imbecile patients, and who was highly recommended to us by a noble family with whom he had long resided. Perciv al accompanied us thither, and remained several days, feeling that his society was a comfort to me, although the earl had never shown any symptoms of recognising him. He informed me that the unfortunate Montford, notwithstanding all his efforts to detain him, had persisted in joining a party of settlers who were on the point of emigrating to Upper Canada : civilisation, society, and refinement had lost all attractions for him; his first wish was to avoid the sight of any human being whom he had known in his more happy days, and it was with difficulty that Percival could prevail on him to accept a sum of money which might in some degree lessen the toils and risks of his undertaking. He commended his mother, Ruth Hammond, to the kind offices of Percival, but she did not live long to require them; she soon sank a victim to the trials she had undergone. When Percival left us, I could not help drawing a painful comparison between his situation and my own; he was returning with an easy mind and a quiet conscience to the world, by which he was honoured and respected, to fulfil his multitudinous and pleasant duties as a landlord, a master, à friend, and a neighbour ; while I, blamed and shunned by all, was destined perhaps for many years to watch in sadness and solitude over the wreck that I had myself caused: but I soon reverted to a better state of mind, and sincerely thanked and blessed the Almighty that he had not called me to appear before his awful throne with my crimes unowned and unrepented. I once met with a few old lines, quaint and homely, but so very solemn and striking that I cannot resist quoting them.
“ Whoso him bethought,
Inwardly and oft,
From life into the pit,
Which ne'er shall cease again,
All the world to win!”
husband in the reflection that my deception and wickedness had reduced him to the situation which rendered such inflictions necessary.
When Percival again visited us, I inquired of him respecting Lady Barlow; to my great surprise, he informed me that she still retained her place in society : she protested everywhere that she had yielded in the first instance to my earnest request that she would coalesce with
in my deception, as the only means of saving my life, and that she had been deterred afterwards from disclosing the truth, fearing that exposure might drive a person of my strong passions to madness or suicide. I received this information with calmness; some time ago I might have been inclined to murmur, that she who had been my tempter to guilt should have totally escaped the penalty which I was doomed to bear in so signal a degree; but I had learned to value the opinion of man less highly than I had formerly done. I felt myself to be a guilty creature, and it little mattered to me whether the world heightened or diminished the precise measure of that guilt. Solitary and despised as I was, however, I enjoyed many hours of sweet consolation. My husband, when he recovered from his attacks of temporary frenzy, never alluded to the past, nor seemed indeed conscious that any past had existed for him. I then walked with him, sang with him, bent my thoughts and imagination entirely to his amusement, and on the sabbath, after going twice myself to the village church, I would prevail on him to be quiescent and seemingly attentive while I read a few of the striking passages in the psalms and lessons of the day, and afterwards knelt with him to offer a short but fervent prayer.
And who can say that the idiot or the infant may not derive some benefit in such moments of quiescence ?---who can say that the God who has chosen to cloud the mind of the one, and to hold back from immediate developement the intellect of the other, may not vouchsafe to each some occasional mysterious flashes of his mighty spirit, while they are sitting passive auditors of his blessed word ? "No injury, at all events, can result from the trial; and if the holy words of comfort are unheard and unappreciated by the listener, they will still return with a sweet and soothing calm to the mind of the reader. I read the scriptures much in private, and found them a greater solace than I had ever done before. While I was impenitent, and triumphing in the success of my duplicity, I had shuddered at their threatenings, but now I clung with fond trust and belief to their promises, and ventured, sinful as I was, to repose on the kindness of that gracious Lord to whom “ belong mercies and forgivenesses, though we have rebelled against him," and to throw myself on the mediation of that blessed Saviour, who came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”
Nearly three years have elapsed. I feel the hand of death heavily upon me, and I close this sad narrative. I am no longer doubtful respecting its destination. From the worthy and kind-hearted Percival I have received unremitting offices of friendship, yet have I never been able to summon resolution to acquaint him with the exact and accurate detail of the events of my life and feelings of my heart ; he has the best right to them, and to him, when my death takes place, have I directed this packet to be conveyed.
Month after month had elapsed in perfect and uneventful quiet since I closed my narrative; the health and the faculties of my husband remained as heretofore, and since our residence in this secluded place, I had never, with the exception of Percival, exchanged a word with any but the surrounding peasantry. At length I received a letter from Percival, which seemed to open afresh the wounds in my
artit informed me of the death of Montford. Since he had fixed his residence in Upper Canada, Percival had several times beard from him, and he had spoken with respect and gratitude of a worthy and excellent man with whom he had formed a strict friendship. From this person Percival had now received an account of Montford's death, containing gratifying evidences of his religious feelings in his last moments, but expressing the firm conviction of the writer that sorrow and disappointment had injured his constitution and accelerated his death. I felt him to be my victim; I thought of him, of his parents, of Aubrey, of my afflicted husband, of all those who might be now enjoying health and happiness, were it not for my transgression, and I seemed bowed to the earth by the weight of my sin. It was a strange and affecting coincidence, but I had scarcely finished the letter which caused me so much pain, when Lord Ellerton fell from his chair in a swoon, as if by some mysterious channel of communication he had been informed of the death of the supposed son whom he had so fondly loved. We conveyed him to his chamber, and when he recovered, his face had lost the vacant look of idiotism, and recovered much of its former expression. “ It is a bad sign,” said Burton, his attendant, in a low voice ; “ when the senses return, death is generally not far off." “ My Isabel, my dear wife,” said Lord Ellerton, holding out his
“ I have been having the most terrible dreams about you; do you know, I thought that you had imposed a foundling on me for our son Montford, and that his mother came and claimed him. What could put such gloomy fancies in my head ?"
“ Tell him he has dreamed it all," whispered Burton, in the background; there is no use in making any words about it.”
For a moment I was disposed to yield to the temptation of fresh artifice, but I had suffered so much from deception that I was determined never again to have recourse to it. “Reginald," said I, “in as firm a tone as I could command, “
have not been dreaming ; your poor, sinful, misguided wife has been guilty of the crime you imagine. She has suffered severely for it: she trusts she has obtained the forgiveness of her God, and earnestly, humbly, she entreats that she may also receive that of her husband.
He clasped me in his arms, and fervently pronounced my pardon.
“ Let me collect my thoughts, Isabel,” he said ; “ I can scarcely reconcile these rapid events with reality."
I walked to the window ; in a few minutes he recalled me.
“ My own Isabel,” he said, “ your late confession shows that you love and regard the truth; I have a vague and strange thought that years have elapsed since those fatal circumstances took place ; if so, reason has deserted me during the interval,--tell the truth to me-a dying man has a right to claim it.”
hand to me,
“ I will tell you the truth," I replied. “Three years have elapsed since the fatal night when Ruth Hammond claimed her son; your mind has been under a cloud during that time ; you have passed it in this tranquil abode, situated in a retired village, and I, the repentant, truly repentant wife, who so deeply injured you, have been your constant companion and assistant. I have watched you, and prayed for you, and Heaven always seemed to encourage my exertions by holding out to me a cheering promise that one day you would recover, and bless and forgive me.
“ And have you devoted yourself to a helpless, senseless being for three years in solitude and sadness ? O Isabel, you have transgressed, it is true, but humbly and meekly have you expiated your transgression, as far as expiation lies in mortal power. Poor Montford 1” he continued, “ is he still in a world of trouble ?"
I sobbed aloud : it was a sufficient reply.
“ Nay, Isabel,” he continued, “this is no time for weeping ; God has graciously granted me a short revival of my senses to bear my dying testimony to his many mercies ; but I feel the shadows of death fast coming upon me; do not then shed tears for me, my beloved wife. I shall soon meet with dear Montford and Aubrey, and I feel that ere long I shall be followed by you, my devoted Isabel.”
“ You will, you will,” I exclaimed; “ all my cares, all my comforts, will expire with you. I must wait the Lord's allotted time to call me hence, but I feel it will not be long."
A pause ensued. I was fearful of agitating him by pursuing the theme.“ My Isabel,” he said, after a pause, “ I seem to have wild, unconnected remembrances of some of the occurrences that have happened since we left Ashburn Park: have you not sometimes knelt with me, and prayed for me ?-do it yet once more, I entreat you ; it may be the last time.”
I knelt down. Earnestly and humbly I prayed for him and for myself, that God would smooth our passage to the grave, protect us from the snares of the enemy, forgive us our sins, and finally take us to himself, through the mediation of his blessed Son.
“ You believe and trust in that gravious Saviour ?" I asked, as I rose from my knees.
“ I do,” he replied, clasping my hand; “ fervently, entirely I do."
I spoke again to him, but he sank back motionless on his pillow. I called for assistance, but that trance was the deep sleep of death ; he had died without a pang or groan, with the praises of his Saviour on his lips, and had gone to be received to the mercy of that adorable Saviour in Heaven.
“ Here the manuscript concludes,” said Percival ; “ Lady Ellerton wrote the last sheet the day succeeding her husband's death; she never wrote another line.
She had despatched a messenger to me immediately after the sad event took place. When I arrived, she was herself on the very brink of that awful change which her husband had so lately undergone. I could not mourn for her fate ; her allotted task on earth had been completed, and her last words were those of penitence and resignation. She died in three days after my arrival.”