Page images
PDF
EPUB

'" The bees are coming out with you, Freddy," said she. "I have just been round the garden watching them revelling in the crocuses."

'" How delicious!" said Mrs. Frederick Langford, to whom she had offered the sweet-briar. "Give it to him, poor fellow, he is quite knocked up with his journey."

'" O no, not in the least, mamma, thank you," said Fred, sitting up vigorously; "you do not know how strong I am growing." And then turning to the window he made an effort, and began observing on her rook's nest, as she called it, and her lilac buds. Then came a few more cheerful questions and comments on the late notes, and then Mrs. Frederick Langford proposed that the reading of the service should begin.

'Aunt Geoffrey, kneeling at the table, read the prayers, and Fred took the alternate verses of the Psalms. It was the last day of the month, and as he now and then raised his eyes to his mother's face, he saw her lips follow the glorious responses in those psalms of praise, and a glistening in her lifted eyes such as he could never forget.

'" He healeth those that are broken in heart, and giveth medicine to heal their sickness.

'" He telleth the number of the stars, and calleth them all by their names."

'He read this verse as he had done many a time before, without thinking of the exceeding beauty of the manner in which it is connected with the former one; but in after years he never read it again without that whole room rising before his eyes, and above all his mother's face. It was a sweet soft light, and not a gloom, that rested round that scene in his memory; spring tide sights and sounds; the beams of the declining sun, with its quiet spring radiance; the fresh mild air; even the bright fire, and the general look of calm cheerfulness which pervaded all around, all conduced to that impression which never left him.

* The service ended, Aunt Geoffrey read the hymn for the day in the "Christian Year," and then left them for a few minutes; but, strange as it may seem, those likewise were spent in silence, and though there was some conversation when she returned, Fred took little share in it. Silent as he was, he could hardly believe that he had been there more than ten minutes, when sounds were heard of the rest of the family returning from church, and Mrs. Geoffrey Langford went down to meet them.

'In another instant Henrietta came up, very bright and joyous, with many kind messages from Aunt Roger. Next came Uncle Geoffrey, who, after a few cheerful observations on the beauty of the day, to which his sister responded with pleasure, said, "Now, Freddy, I must be hardhearted; I am coming back almost directly to carry you off."

'" So soon !" exclaimed Henrietta. "Am I to be cheated of all the pleasure of seeing you together?"

'No one seemed to attend to her; but as soon as the door had closed behind his uncle, Fred moved as if to speak, paused, hesitated, then bent forward, and shading his face with his hand, said in a low voice, " Mamma, say you forgive me."

'She held out her arm, and again he sank on his knee, resting his head against her.

'" My own dear boy," said she, "I will not say I have nothing to forgive, for that I know is not what you want; but well do you know how freely forgiven and forgotten is all that you may ever feel to have been against my wish. God bless you, my own dear Frederick!" she added, pressing her hand upon his head. '* His choicest blessings be with you for ever." '—Pp. 259—263.

Space precludes us from giving other passages, some pathetic, some playful, from this admirable story, which certainly showed a great advance in Miss Yonge's literary power. 'Kenneth,' a story of the French retreat from Moscow, appeared about the same time; a book, as it seems to us, of still higher merit, and justly deserving the popularity which we believe it has attained. It was Miss Yonge's first attempt at the use of exciting incidents and deep tragedy; her only effort, as far as we know, to delineate the sterner scenes of history; to leave English scenery, and English homes, and draw materials for her fictions from her great knowledge and wide experience. We hope it may not be her last. A person who can write as the author of this book writes, of French society and manners, and who has in her dialogue caught so much of the spirit of the best French authors, should not allow so profitable a mine to remain unworked.

The story is a curious one. Two young children lose their father, a Scottish Colonel, Lindesay, in the Russian service, at the battle of Borodino. Their mother, a silly, but nobly born Frenchwoman, marries a French officer of Napoleon's army during their hostile occupation of Moscow. The Frenchman, irritated with Kenneth's sullen opposition to him, leaves him behind in the retreat, after knocking him down with his pistol, and his little sister Effie, clinging to him in his trouble, is deserted also. In their desolation they are noticed by Ney, and commended by him to a Colonel de Villaret and his nephew Louis, one of those gentle chivalrous characters Miss Yonge delights in. They share the horrors of the retreat, and Louis dies of starvation, feeding Effie with his last morsel. Nothing can be better than this scene:—

'" You must tell my mother the history of to-day's halt," said Louis, iu a voice that, though cheerful, was feeble and drowsy.

'*' O, when shall we come to her!" sighed Kffie.

'" Iu a few days," said the Colonel. "Even if we should be disappointed in our hopes of a little repose at Wilna, the present state of things cannot continue much longer; we must soon be beyond reach of the enemy."

'" I am afraid you are very tired, Louis," said Effie; observing that he sat still on a grave, resting his head on his hand, instead of being, as usual, the most active in the arrangements for the night.

'"Thank you," replied he, raising his face, while a faint, though still a bright smile played on his thin blue lips, and heavy eyelids; "it is lazy in me to leave all the trouble to our friends, especially when your brother has

had so long a march to-day; but . Ah! well done, Lfion, that is a

noble faggot; but take care you do not smother the feeble spark which Mademoiselle is fanning so carefully."

'"And see what I have found !" cried Kenneth, triumphantly, as he came up with his arms full of rotten thatch, pulled from the roof of a deserted hut, which' he had been so fortunate as to be the first to discover, and throwing it down before the lean and wretched-looking horse.

'"Ah! Rosinante," said the Colonel, "I suspect you will fare better than we shall to-night. I know of nothing except that oat-cake which you, Louis, saved at breakfast this morning. You could procure nothing more, I fear, L€on?"

'" No, mon Colonel," replied Leon; "I hoped to have had a loaf of bread to-day, but it was gone before I came up; and what is worse, there is scarcely a drop of the brandy left."

'"Well," said Colonel de Villaret, "let us see whether our comrades within can spare us anything."

'The soldiers within the Church had a small supply of food, but not more than sufficient for themselves; and neither Colonel de Villaret's rank, his representations of the destitution of his party, nor even his offers of a considerable price, would induce them to part with one morsel of their provisions.

'When the Colonel came back, slowly and sorrowfully, from after his fruitless attempt, Louis, for a moment, raised his head with an almost famished look of eager expectation; then, when he heard of the failure, let it sink down again on the arm which rested on his knee; and Kenneth, who alone marked the gesture, remembered that Louis had, that very morning, given a portion of his scanty meal to Effie, aud reserved another part for the evening. It was this single oat-cake that was now to serve them all; and so small was it, that every one declared that it was useless to divide it, and gave it to Effie, who could scarcely be prevailed on to eat it, and offered-half to each of her companions in turn. Louis thanked her, without looking up: "No, no, eat it yourself; I mean to make rest serve instead of food," said he, stretching himself out on the grave on which he had been sitting, and speaking in a weary tone, "I shall sleep soundly— good night, Euphemie—good night, uncle—good night, Kenneth"—and, lastly, he murmured in a lower, more sleepy voice, "Good night, mother." »

'The Colonel said, with a smile that had something sad in it, "Poor boy, he is asleep already; his dreams are at home. But make haste, it is time we all were resting."

'They then diluted the small remains of the brandy with a far larger proportion of heated snow water; and, after drinking it, prepared for their short repose. Effie was placed between the fire aud the wall of the Churchyard—a bed which, six weeks ago, she would have looked on with the utmost dismay, but which now gave her an idea of comparative comfort; and, rolled carefully in her cloak, with a snow-ball for her pillow, she fell sound asleep.

'It was about midnight when she was awakened by Kenneth's cold hand, touching her cheek with a tremulous pressure, and then an eager kiss as she moved, and opened her eyes. The strange emotion of the manner, so different from usual, startled her; and, looking into his face, by the pale silvery light of the moon, she saw an expression there which caused her to exclaim, hastily, "What is the matter? Let me see, Kenneth. Where are the rest V

'Still he did not move from between her and the others; but, flinging his arm round her, he whispered, "Dear Effie, we have had a great loss!"

'" Come, my friend," said Colonel de Villaret from behind, in a broken voice, "we have no time to spend in mourning. Your sister must mount directly, if, indeed, she can yet be awakened."

'Kenneth helped Effie to rise, still keeping his arm round her waist. She turned, trembling, and saw the patient horse, held by Leon, at a little distance, while Colonel de Villaret hung over the grave, along which lay Louis de Chateauneuf, just as he had fallen asleep in the evening, his head resting at the foot of the Cross, and his arm thrown round it. His cap had been taken off, and his fair hair had fallen in thick masses round his placid features, composed as in a tranquil sleep, and scarcely more colourless than they had been from the time she had first known him. "He is asleep!" she cried. "You have not tried to waken him."

'"Do you think we have not, Euphemie?" said his uncle. "Oh! my sister ! my sister! how shall I meet thee?" And he gave way to so violent a burst of grief, that Effle shrunk, terrified, to her brother's side. She touched the hand, and almost screamed at the chill it sent through her frame, but still she clung to hope, and whispered, "But, Kenneth, our hands are often very cold, and if we rub them with snow"

'" It has been tried," replied Kenneth, "and it is all in vain. And there would be little hope, even if we could have revived him for a moment. Every morsel of food, every drop of liquor, is gone."

"0 Kenneth, how could you make me eat all 1" cried she, bursting into tears.

* " We must go," said Colonel de Villaret, kissing the icy brow.

'Effle whispered to her brother, " Cannot we take his mother a lock of his hair?" And the Colonel, catching the words, said, "Thank you for reminding me, my dear; it is the only memorial she will ever have of her son." '—Pp. 122—126.

They escape; and after many difficulties they arrive in France, where Ney's patronage promises a distinguished and successful career to Kenneth in the French army. But he will not join Ney in his desertion of Louis XVIII., and resisting all the persuasions of his French friends, and the desires of his

fentle and affectionate, but unheroic, little sister, he comes to iondon to his uncle and begins life afresh in this country. There is, perhaps, less of elaborate character in this volume than in most of Miss Yonge's stories; incident being more relied upon than is usual with her: yet some of the persons are beautifully sketched; the two orphans, Louis and his mother, Madame de Chateauneuf; and though slighter, General de Villaret and Ney himself are very well drawn. The teaching of the story is as usual practical and good, and never obtruded on us in a sermonizing fashion. The whole of Kenneth's miseries and trials arise from a want of dutifulness towards his mother, whom he treats with a contempt and rudeness which her silliness accounts for, but does not justify.

In spirit and variety, however,' The Two Guardians' is certainly a still further advance. Here again the scene is laid in English society, and chiefly amidst country life: the growing up of a family of boys and girls; the different effect upon two orphans of their two guardians, one a young high-principled soldier, the other an ordinary somewhat vulgar man of the world; the influence of one high and noble character upon every one brought within the sphere of her influence; these are the sources upon which Miss Yonge draws in this volume. There is still a want of plot; but the characters are selected from a wider sphere, and painted with a bolder hand. Nothing can be finer than the conception of the heroine Marian—an upright, truthful character, wanting in tact, and not free at first from grave faults; yet full of deep feeling and true religion; strongly consistent; winning her way, and inspiring hearty affection by her goodness, her real kindness, and her entire honesty. Lionel, the blind boy, and Caroline his sister, have both a pathetic interest; and Gerald, Marian's brother, is a picture from the life of a goodtempered and clever, yet somewhat selfish and consequential, Eton boy. But, in truth, a few short sentences cannot by any means do justice to the completeness and delicacy of her delineation; and the fine shades of alteration which circumstances and even lapse of time effect in youthful characters, can hardly be expressed in criticism, and must be studied and appreciated in the book itself. Few volumes will better repay a careful and critical study.

We have now arrived at the last and by far the ablest of her compositions, of which it is difficult to speak in terms which will not, to those who have not yet read it, appear exaggerated and impossible. It is not that the * Heir of Redclyffe' is a faultless work. On the contrary, a critical inspection, and a thoughtful judgment, will detect many artistic errors in the conduct, and some considerable improbabilities in the incidents, of the plot. The characters, as always, are not all delineated with the same amount of clearness, nor with equal pleasure. Nor is the style, though in general excellent, free from those defects which, strangely enough in so well-educated a writer as Miss Yonge, are frequently to be met with in her pages.1 But it is a book of unmistakeable genius and real literary power; a book to make men pause and think, to lift them out of themselves and above the world, and make them, unless they are hard-hearted and cold-natured, the wiser and the better for their reading. A great man said of Sintram that it was like a very solemn sermon. The life and death of Guy, and the widowhood of Amy, in the ' Heir of Redclyffe,' are more affecting and far more practically useful than the run of moral treatises or pulpit exhortations. No one can read of these two characters without longing to be like them. Some at least will turn their longing into serious effort. 'And when I rose I found myself in prayer' would be no unfitting sentence for the frame of mind in which most readers of any religious feeling will close this striking book.

The justice of these general remarks will be more apparent as we proceed to an examination of the book itself. It commences with the death of old Sir Guy Morville, and the entrance

1 Miss Yonge is very fond of such expressions as 'Would you wish for me to read:' 'Would you like for me to go,' &c. They are of perpetual recurrence, and appear to be considered by her to be English, which they certainly arc not. So pure a writer should beware of such slips of grammar.

« PreviousContinue »