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we pursued our way along the banks of the Severn, till a sudden turning to the right brought us in sight of a miserable-looking habitation. My mother being much fatigued with her walk, and no other resting-place presenting itself
, we approached the dilapidated door, which stood partly open, and knocked: a voice said, “ Come in:" and now what a sight presented itself !
At the feet of a young girl, about seventeen, evidently in the last stage of a consumption, and lovely even in decay, knelt the mother of this miserable family. She was ministering to her sick child, who sate in an old elbow-chair, supported by pillows, her dark eye resting with looks of love upon her kneeling parent, whose tears fell upon the little marble-looking foot, to which she was endeavouring to impart that warmth which the receding powers of nature could no longer supply. At a little distance stood a young woman, apparently about twenty, and of a melancholy dejected countenance, while seated on a stool, near a broken window, patched with paper to keep the wind out, sate a beautiful girl, over whose young head not more than thirteen springs could have shed their blossoms.
On seeing us, Mrs. A- arose, and accosted us with the air and language of a well-bred gentlewoman. Her face, though faded and deeply marked with the lines of care and want, bore still the legible impress of former beauty; and her poor emaciated figure, wrapt in an old black velvet pelisse, the relic of better times, was delicate and interesting. My mother apologised for our intrusion on the plea of her fatigue ; when Mrs. A- begged us to be seated, and we entered into conversation. The hearts of the miserable soon expand into confidence at the soothing voice of real sympathy; and I never knew the being who possessed a soul more tenderly alive to the distresses of others, or who could more felicitously make it apparent to the object of her pity, than that beloved mother who is now reaping the fruits of those virtues that made her name reverenced by all that knew her.
I had now leisure to survey the apartment in which we sate. It was tolerably spacious, but was a dreary, damp-looking place, and apparently a fitting refuge for misery in its final stage. The patched and dingy casement opened upon what might once have been a garden, but was now a wilderness overrun with weeds. With sickness and want for their fire-side inmates, it seemed that this family of helpless females, though evidently once accustomed to far different circumstances, were now precluded from attending to anything but the immediate exigencies of the passing moment. On the mantel-shelf were some vials, a cup or two, and a broken glass : in one corner of the room was an old-fashioned round table, on which lay confusedly halffinished sketches and drawings, old magazines, some cups and saucers, a dish, a plate or two, with some relics of former gentility, such as a smelling-bottle, and a broken fan: against the wall opposite to the window rested a ladder, the use of which I was unable to surmise, and not far from that, all covered with the dust of disuse, stood a nearly stringless harp. Alas! the hand which had once touched those broken chords was now palsied. The poor Amelia, the patient sufferer on whom, when we entered, Mrs. A. was lavishing her maternal cares, had been (as she informed us) struck with paralysis shortly after they took possession of this desolate abode, which was a few months before the period of our thus accidentally finding them. She had not only lost the use of one hand, but had likewise been entirely deprived of speech. From that day the harp and its mistress were alike mute: and as my eye glanced around the scene of misery, it seemed to my mind, as if the broken chords of the one offered no inapt emblem of the state of the other's heart.
We soon learned from Mrs. A that the whole of her domestic afflictions were not yet apparent to the sight; for that Louisa, the eldest of her three daughters, was subject to the most violent fits of epilepsy: thus the only child that could be of any service to her mother was the young thing, Emma, that little wild beauty who had fled from the room like a frightened fawn on our first entrance.
Mrs. A in relating to us some of the particulars of her own history, gave a rather singular and romantic account respecting her mother, who, she said, had been confined for some years in a castle in Scotland, under the care of an old lady, a Mrs. Saxe Hamilton, who was placed as a sort of guardian or duenna over her. She perfectly remembered her mother, (who was very beautiful,) and in fact was for a considerable period the companion of her solitary confinement. Mrs. A named the family to whom the castle belonged; but the particular object of this restraint on her mother's liberty, we were never able exactly to comprehend.
What related more immediately to the distressing state in which we found this unfortunate family, was, however, perfectly clear and intelligible. Mrs. A- had become a widow about a year and a half before we knew her; and at the period of her husband's death, they resided at C-- a beautiful and romantic part of the county of Monmouth, where a gentleman, to whom we afterwards narrated the tale of distress, very well remembered their having lived in great comfort and respectability. The change which had taken place in the circumstances and prospects of Mrs. A- - and her daughters, was as sudden as it was severe. Her husband, Colonel A- formerly of the regiment, had retired from the military profession some time before his death ; and partly with the hope of increasing his income, he took a considerable farm in Monmouthshire, and engaged in agricultural pursuits. But however desirable it may be to see the sword turned into the ploughshare, in a moral, or rather in the scriptural point of view, it is, I believe, very rarely that an individual can hope, in a worldly sense, to better his fortunes by such a change. The colonel of course understood very little about farming, and he was therefore under the necessity of confiding the entire management of this his novel undertaking to a steward or bailiff. The prospect, consequently, of pecuniary advantage was never realized, and Colonel A- experienced the fate which generally awaits the gentleman farmer. When death came, his affairs were found in an embarrassed state; and, to complete the afflictions of his widow and orphan daughters, the small surplus of his property which remained after liquidating his debts, became a prey to the villany of the steward, who absconded with it to America.
“ In this emergency," said Mrs. A “we were under the necessity of quitting our once happy home, and I took a miserable lodging for myself and my children in an obscure part of Bristol. My poor Amelia had a fine turn for painting, which, during her father's life, had been carefully cultivated : and before the calamity which has since rendered her entirely helpless, as you now see her, the productions of her pencil furnished the chief means of our support. I used daily to offer them for sale myself, in the main street of the city; and sometimes I had the good fortune to find a liberal purchaser, amongst the more benevolent of the passers by. It was, indeed, as you may suppose, a painful trial to my feelings, but necessity is a hard taskmaster. This precarious subsistence was eked out from time to time by the gradual disposal, first of our trinkets, and afterwards of all the most valuable portions of our wardrobe. At length these resources began to fail; and being then no longer able to pay the rent of our lodging, I set out one day in search of some place in which to lay our heads; and at last found this, our present solitary abode, which, miserable though it is, has afforded us shelter and protection, and therefore we have reason to be, and I hope are, thankful for it.”
My mother and I were greatly affected by all that we had seen and heard, since we entered this house of misery. The shades of evening were now falling apace, and warned us that it was time to depart. My mother placed some money in Mrs. A—'s hands, for the relief of their immediate necessities; and promising a very early renewal of our visit, we set out on our return home; not without some feelings of anxiety and alarm at the lateness of the hour, and the distance we had to go. However, the scene of real misery which we had just witnessed served to occupy our thoughts, and to withdraw our minds from imaginary dangers ; and after a walk of nearly an hour, we reached our own abode in safety.
We took the carliest opportunity of making known the case of the distressed family amongst our friends and acquaintances, and raised a sum of money for their relief. Scarcely a day passed without my bending my steps to the ruined cottage under the hills, and every succeeding visit improved my estimation of its desolate inmates. I found Mrs. A
on a further acquaintance, to be a woman not only of elegant manners, but highly cultivated mind. She was also extremely delicate in her feelings, and could not easily be induced to advert to anything which she, or even the poor sick Amelia, might stand in need of ; and which it was therefore necessary either to find out, or conjecture. But to no one were the widow and orphans so much indebted as to a quaker lady of the name of Gurney, one of those benevolent beings who “do good by stealth,” gliding about the world with noiseless steps, on the blessed mission of comfort to the comfortless. She exerted herself with a Christian's zeal in behalf of this afflicted family; and having succeeded in raising for them (upwards of a hundred pounds, she greatly enhanced the value of her kindness, by judiciously dispensing it from time to time in such necessaries and comforts as their situation required.
At length the sufferings of poor Amelia drew to a close. The meek submission and angelic patience displayed by this gentle girl,
under all her severe trials, won so much upon our hearts, as to make us regret almost to hear of her death, though such a blessed release to her own worn-out spirit. She died in the night-time; and the circumstances attending her dissolution were painful in the extreme. It was on this melancholy occasion, that I first learned the use of the ladder, which I before mentioned as resting against the wall of their apartment. This ladder, then, was the only means of communication with an upper chamber, or rather loft, (for it was without even a window,) which fear, and the total want of accommodation for the purpose below, had led Mrs. A to convert into a sleeping-room : and up this ladder had the anxious mother nightly borne in her feeble arms, for many months, the poor fading Amelia. One bed, it appeared, was all they had had to accommodate four persons; and to make that bed a better resting-place for the invalid, the comforts of the other three were cheerfully sacrificed. With books and some old muffs, (for lack of better pillows,) Mrs. A-— had contrived to support her daughter's head at night as high as the painfully waning breath of the consumptive requires.
It was at midnight that Amelia died. Waking out of sleep, Mrs. A-- found her in the last struggles of expiring nature. In utter darkness, with one daughter dead on her bosom, and the eldest of the other two in strong convulsive fits, occasioned by the fright of her sister's death, did this afflicted mother watch through the remainder of that awful night; which was enough to have unseated reason, and calls to mind those lines of the old Welsh bard and warrior, Llywarch, after the loss of all his sons in battle:
“ From frenzy dire, and wild affright,
Keep my senses through this night.” At day-dawn the miserable family arose ; and Mrs. A-collecting all the little decencies she possessed, bore her dead child in her own arms down the ladder into the lower room, where her cold remains were prepared for the grave. A few hours after her death, all its former beauty, save its healthful colour, had returned to Amelia's face. The cheeks, so sunk and hollow, had resumed their natural plumpness, the complexion, white and glossy as marble, the rich black hair, parted over her high and beautiful forehead—the long eyelashes, of the same jetty colour, lying like a deep fringe upon the cheeks and the small white hands, laid across her virgin bosom, as though in prayer-formed altogether as sweet and moving a picture of the dead, as ever living eye beheld, and on which it was impossible to look with feelings of a common interest. So young, so beautiful, so gifted, and so pious—and all sacrificed. All ! the victim lamb, and its sweet spring flowers, upon the altar of adversity! But we only speak in reference to this world. The victim was not too fair, nor its blossoms of promise too bright, for Him, who is “the resurrection and the life !"
Many of the friends, who had previously sympathized with Mrs. AL-'s distresses, it will readily be supposed now assisted her in laying the remains of the departed Amelia with decent solemnity in the grave. I still continued my visits to the cottage, during the short period that we remained in the neighbourhood: but we removed from it a few months afterwards, and then lost sight of this unfortunate and interesting family. The last account I ever had of them was from a lady living in the neighbourhood; she informed me, that Mrs. A-(who certainly had spoken of having some friends in Italy,) had received remittances from that country, discharged all her debts, and with her two daughters set off for London : and where, perhaps, they may be even now living, and I may have passed them in the streets and looked upon their faces as those of strangers. But the greater probability is, that the poor mother, at least, is long since gone to her rest. If so, may a merciful Providence have protected and watched over her orphans ! and may the little Emma have escaped the snare laid for beauty like hers, in such a place as London ! Better were it, otherwise, that she had always remained (with no worse companion than poverty) in the ruined cottage under the hills; or gone, in her days of innocence, to share the cold grave of the spotless Amelia !
(To be continued.)
STANZAS ON MISS CATHERINE DOUGLAS.
BY L. M. MONTAGU.
In Kitty's eye of heavenly blue