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eyes, as if to
'it is painful, and you must prepare yourself, my dear child, to hear something that will shock and grieve you. Henry' (she looked into my face with intense anxiety) — Henry has made us all very unhappy, but you, my child, you' (she seized both my hands and put them
her give herself courage to speak)—it will make you miserable. What shall I say to you, my own love? He is utterly unworthy of you; he has forgotten you, Ellen--given up all thoughts of you; he is'
'Is he going to be married ?' I eagerly exclaimed ; speak, dearest aunt, speak—is it so ?'
'He is married,' she replied in a tone of deep dejection, -disgracefully married !'
She looked up in my face and seemed quite bewildered at the expression of my countenance. I was expecting her next words with breathless anxiety, and could only repeat, 'To whom, to whom?'
You could not have imagined it,' she answered; you could not have believed it possible; he has married that girl whom you saw at Bridman-Alice Tracy.'
Married to Alice Tracy! Was it possible? What a crowd of conjectures, recollections, suppositions, and fears, rushed upon me at that moment !
What does he say about it? What does he write ? When did it happen? May I see his letter?' were the questions which I addressed with breathless rapidity to Mrs. Middleton, who seemed entirely taken aback by the manner in which I received this startling intelligence.
'Here is a strange letter,' she said, “from Henry himself; another from my father, who, as you may imagine, is indignant; and one from Mrs. Tracy, which is at once impertinent and hypocritical. I hardly know whether I am acting rightly in showing you Henry's. It is so extraordinary; but you must explain to me several things which I have
never hitherto questioned you about; and perhaps, together, we may find out the secret of this wretched marriage. I have not ventured to show this strange letter to your uncle ; he thinks that it is only from my father that I have heard of Henry's marriage, and I am afraid I am doing wrong in letting you see it; but I am so bewildered—–
I interrupted her by drawing the letters almost forcibly out of her hand. She suffered me to do so, and watched me while I read them. I was conscious of this at first; but the interest was so absorbing that I soon forgot her presence, and everything but the letters themselves. I read Henry's first; it was as follows:
'MY DEAR SISTER—You have known me long enough not to be surprised at any extravagance that I may be guilty of. You know also that I am somewhat of a fatalist, and that I maintain that our destiny in life is marked out for us in a manner which we can neither withstand nor counteract. I have just done what is commonly called a foolish thingvery likely it is foolish; all I can say is that I could not help doing it. It is done, and therefore the fewer remonstrances or lamentations that are made on the subject the better. I am married. Last Thursday I married at Church, Mrs. Tracy's granddaughter. Her name is Alice; she is very pretty, and has been well brought up. She has five thousand pounds of her own, left her by an uncle, who died some time ago. I have, as you know, about as much. My father, of course, refuses to see her, and I conclude Mr. Middleton will do the same. Do you remember, Mary, the time when, sitting at my bedside, you would kiss my forehead and tell me how you would love my wife? We used to talk of her and describe her. She was to be tall; her eyes were to be dark, and their long fringing lashes were to sweep her cheek; her throat was to be white and graceful as
a swan's; genius was to give light to her eyes and eloquence to her words; and you, sister---you, on my marriage-day, were to have placed the blossoms of orange flower in the dark hair of my bride. You remember it, don't you? Well, my bride is fair, very fair; but not like the bride we had imagined, or rather that we had foreseen; for, sister, we have seen her, have we not, walking in beauty by our sides? Have we not gazed upon her till we have fancied her a thing too bright, too lovely, for the earth she treads upon? My bride was not kissed by you; she stood by my side and you were not there to say, “God bless her!” She put her cold hand into mine and looked steadily into my face; there was no colour in her cheek—no emotion in her voice. It was all as calm as the life that lies before me. Mary, you had better write and wish me joy, and tell Ellen to wish me joy too; but do not show my letter to your husband : it is not calm enough for his inspection.-Yours, dear Mary, ever yours,
There was something inexpressibly painful to me in the tone of this letter; it seemed the sequel of one part of my last conversation with Henry; a pure and innocent existence, he had said, must be sacrificed, and doomed to hopeless disappointment if I persisted in my refusal. I had persisted, and Alice was sacrificed, though to what I knew not; but to some mysterious necessity—to some secret obligation. A loveless marriage, a lonely passage through life, and God only knew what secret trials, what withering of the heart, what solitude of the soul, what measure of that hope deferred which makes the heart sick, of that craving void which nothing fills, were to be hers who had grown up
and blossomed like the rose in the wilderness, and who had been, like her own poor flower, too rudely transplanted, doomed perhaps like it to wither and to die. It was strange that, never
having seen Alice but once, I should have felt such a deep and complete conviction of her goodness and purity, of the angelic nature of the spirit which was shrouded in that fair form; that as the idea of guilt in her intercourse with Henry, so now, that of worldliness, of ambition, or of indelicacy, in having made this secret marriage, never presented itself to my mind. Perhaps it might yet turn out well; he might grow to love and to prize her, and she would stand between him and me like an angel of peace. He could not but admire the faultless beauty of her face, the poetical nature of her mind, the calm simplicity of her character. I said this to myself; but, while I said it, my heart whispered a denial. I knew Henry too well. I had seen too clearly what he admired in me, what subdued him in some measure to my influence, even in his fiercest moments of irritation. It was the very points in my mind and character which were most different from hers. The very defects in myself that made me look upon her, as a lost and ruined sinner might gaze on a picture of the blessed Virgin,-these very defects were what riveted and enthralled him. His last words rang in my ears as I looked on his blotted and hasty signature, and my heart sunk within me as I felt that all was not over between us.'
The next letter I read was from Mr. Lovell ; it was thus worded :
‘MY DEAR MARY_Your affection for your brother has always been so great that I dread the effect which my present communication will have upon you.
It will take you by surprise as it has done me. That Henry should give us subjects of regret and annoyance would be no strange occurrence, but that he (the goodness of whose understanding, at least, has never been called in question)—that he should have acted in so deplorably foolish a manner is
more than one would be prepared for; the natural refinement of his character alone might have preserved him from a connection which is really disgraceful. It is better to tell you the fact at once, for you certainly could never have imagined or foreseen such an event. Your brother, without having made the slightest communication to me or to any one else, as far as I can find out, married last Thursday, at Bromley Church, the granddaughter of the woman who was your nurse and afterwards his.
He looks wretchedly ill and unhappy, and gives no explanation of his conduct further than by repeating that, as he was certain that I would not give my consent to his marriage (and he is right there), he thought it best to put the matter at once beyond discussion. In some ways, bad as it is, it might have been worse. I find that the girl is only seventeen-very handsome—has been well brought up for a person in her rank of life, and has a fortune of £5000. I have refused to see her, as I am determined to mark my indignation to Henry in the strongest manner; and I never, under any circumstances, will consent to see her relations, who have behaved, in my opinion, as ill as possible in hurrying on this marriage.
"Some time hence it may be advisable to notice his wife, and, for his sake, to try as much as possible to withdraw her from the society and the influence of her relations; but this will be a subject for after-consideration.
“And now, my dear Mary, God bless you. I feel for you, as I know you will for me, in this unpleasant affair. I hope your beautiful Ellen will not take to heart this abominable marriage. Mr. Middleton was perfectly right in preventing her from throwing herself away on that worthless brother of yours; but I wish with all my heart they had eloped together.—Your affectionate father,
Mrs. Tracy's letter was as follows :