Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

of passionate grief. “What will become of us? We are homeless and friendless indeed !”

“ You are young, Mrs. Selby, and must work for her and yourself," said Mr. Cooch. " There is work for all who are willing to gain an honest livelihood. We are told to pray for our daily bread, but I am not aware that we are directed anywhere in the Scriptures to pray for superfluities. You must cease to struggle against the Divine will, and learn to bear your loss in a spirit of resignation. You say you have no friend in the flesh : I have written to your rich aunt, Mrs. Burrow, in your behalf, stating your position, and asking her to come forward and aid you in this season of affliction.”

Mrs. Selby, even in her moment of trial, shrank from this step, which, though kindly meant, she thought wanting in delicacy : she did not say so, however, but merely explained to her friendly neighbour that she scarcely knew Mrs. Burrow, who had never forgiven her father for having induced her to embark a little money in a mining speculation, which had proved unsuccessful; that she herself had rarely been noticed by her aunt, who had not, when her father died, come forward to offer even sympathy.

6 Well, well,” said Mr. Cooch, “it is our duty to use all lawful means to help ourselves. If Mrs. Burrow refuses to assist you, on her be the sin."

He then entered on matters connected with the approaching funeral, said his wife would select, if Mrs. Selby wished, the mourning garbs which the customs of the world prescribed for herself and her child, but which, in her case, he would do without ; and, after promising to attend to all other details, left Mrs. Selby alone with her dead.

No sooner was Mr. Cooch gone, than a thought, which had not before assumed a distinct form, struck poor Mrs. Selby with a thrill of new and unspeakable anguish. Money! What should she do for money even to pay for her husband's funeral ? With trembling hands she unlocked the drawer in which all their worldly riches had been kept; and, pouring the contents of the little silk purse into her lap, counted ten sovereigns. She had before known the amount, but now, somehow, it seemed less than she expected. Five of those precious pieces had been intended by herself and Henry to supply all household wants for the next four or five weeks.; and the other five to pay in part the halfyear's rent for their small cottage at the coming Midsummer. There was no lack of tears now, as she recalled all the self-denial they had practised to make up and keep together that small sum! When they married, poor young things! they had agreed to give up all expensive pleasures ; one in the year was to be all they would indulge in, and that was to be a day spent among the rocks and beaches of their own most romantic and beautiful coast. This year they had been compelled to give up the thoughts of their one pleasure, that one day of freedom from care and toil; for they could not afford a journey of fifteen miles in a hired carriage ; they had yet to add two pounds to the sum required for the rent. Then there came the recollection of poor Henry's somewhat shabby suit of clothes, which had been made to last some months longer than usual; and, worst of all, the thought that he had denied himself medical aid, rather than break in on the treasured sum.

- At length the day of final separation came, and the widow, leading her child, and supported by Mr. Cooch, followed Henry to his last home. She had promised him once that if he died before her, she would not leave him until the last sod was laid on his narrow bed. Poor fellow! Some presentiment of coming doom had perhaps induced him to make the request. There were no hired mourners, no state, no ceremony, at that simple funeral; but, as is always the case in Cornwall, there was. plenty both of outward respect and of inward sorrow: neighbours, acquaintances, even strangers were there, eager to show every mark of reverence to the dead, from a mixed feeling of sympathy for the living, regret for the departed, and a religious awe of death itself. When the young widow had taken her last look of all which had made life happy in this world, many weeping tenderly, or gazing solemnly, pressed towards the edge of the humble grave, to take a last farewell of one who had moved among them respected and beloved. The earth was then cast on the coffin, and all was over.

On the day after the funeral Mr. Cooch called to see the widow, and, laying two sovereigns on the table before her, put into her hand a letter which he had received from her rich aunt, in answer to his communication. Mrs. Burrow said, “She was sorry for her young niece's misfortune, but what but trial could be expected in this world if young people would marry so early? She had always thought that no woman should ever marry until she was forty at least : that was quite early enough to get into trouble.” (The old lady herself had married a widower with a large family when she was fifty.) Then she went on to say that “if Mrs. Selby's father had taken her advice, and saved the money spent in teaching his daughter a parcel of music, and drawing, and trash, she would have been better off; but he, poor man, never would take advice, and so he had died insolvent. However, she had enclosed two pounds, which, she hoped, would enable Mrs. Selby to bury her husband decently; she could not do more, for times were very bad, and she could scarcely get in a farthing of her rents, and was afraid she never should.”

There was a postscript which ran thus :

" I suppose Agnes Selby will keep a school or something of that sort. I hope she will bring up her child differently from herself, so as to be useful, and able to struggle through the world. It would, perhaps, be a happy thing if the child were taken too. I shall be glad to hear from Agnes when she is settled. Please to acknowledge the receipt of this."

As Mrs. Selby began to read the letter, Mr. Cooch, with an uneasy, unsettled movement, took up a book and appeared to be examining the titlepage very minutely; but when the little hand which was holding the paper dropped, and the other was pressed over her eyes, he laid down the book and gazed earnestly at her. There were tears trickling through the white slender fingers; but in a moment they were brushed hurriedly away, and Mrs. Selby raised her brimming eyes to his face.

"I am wrong to feel thus," she said, “Mrs. Burrow means kindly, and I have no right to dictate what assistance she ought to afford. I will try to write and thank her gratefully for this."

“ Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven!” said Mr. Cooch. “ I was afraid that the old Adam which ever dwells in the carnal heart would triumph, and that you would desire to return this mite from the rich man's treasury: but you are quite right. And now tell me,” he continued, “ what you intend doing. I suppose you are not over well stocked with money, and this has been a time of expense as well as of trial to you."

Mrs. Selby did not shrink from the direct questioning; but, bringing forward all her little store, now reduced to eight pounds, told him how it was to have been used. Mr. Cooch heard the account without apparent emotion, and, at the widow's desire, took the money with him ; first, to pay for the coffin and other expenses, and then, if any were left, for the plain mourning worn by Mrs. Selby, her servant, and child. In the evening he came back with the bills, which were all receipted, and which amounted to thirteen pounds.

“ Five,” he said, “ I have advanced myself ; if you can ever repay me, do so ; for, as you know, I am not a rich man; if not, is it not written, "He that giveth to the poor lendeth to the Lord ?' In all this," he continued, “ it seems unfortunate that Dr. Barfoot, the head-master of the school, is not at home; but all is ordered for the best in this world; we will wait a little before we decide on anything for the future-the doctor may suggest something. Mrs. Barfoot has written to him, and is rather surprised that there is no answer. Did you tell me there was a quarter's salary due ?”

“Oh, no!" replied Mrs. Selby, “not until Midsummer; and, perhaps, now we have no right to expect it.”

« We shall see,” said Mr. Cooch ; “ though I differ in many points of discipline from the doctor, I believe him to be a good and a just man. My wife," he added, with some slight hesitation, “ will call on you tomorrow, if you have no objection, and will tell you that if you should find the way made plain before you, and be led to open a school, we shall be pleased to place our two young daughters under your care. Good night, Mrs. Selby ; and may He, who hath promised to be a husband to the widow, and a father to the fatherless, guide and support you."

II. THE morrow came, and so did Mrs. Cooch; a plain woman, plainly dressed-after the fashion of the more strict members of the body to which she belonged. She spoke in a high-pitched, crying tone, very different from her husband's deep and stern accents : but their voices were not more dissimilar than their natures; for while a strong spirit of kindness beneath the rough exterior made him really estimable and respected, in his wife all was little, selfish, mean, and hypocritical

." I am sure,” she said, “I am very sorry for you, Mrs. Selby; my heart bleeds for you and your poor little girl; but then such dispensations are sent for our good ; you must bear your troubles patiently, for, no doubt, you have well deserved a chastening. And then, as I said to my husband, Mrs. Selby is better off than thousands.' See to me, with six children! If I should lose my husband, what could I do? As it is, with the small salary he earns as an attorney's clerk, I assure you I have my share of trials. Mr. Cooch says that if you keep a school, he will send you our two girls ; but I'm sure I don't know where the money is to come from to pay for them. It is well for you, I am sure, that you were educated to be a governess ; if I were you I would get a situation; anybody would take your little girl to board for 2s. or 2s. 6d. a week, and that, in my opinion, would be the best plan for you. You do not like parting with the child? Well, you can do as you please, but that's what I think you ought to do,” &c., &c.

No sooner had Mrs. Cooch taken her leave than two ladies were announced, who, though living in the same town, had never before honoured Mrs. Selby by any notice. As is too often the case in small towns, an extremely jealous distinction was kept up in St. Bennett's between different ranks-a distinction, indeed, which it would puzzle any stranger to define. In some places it is an aristocracy of wealth, in others, an aristocracy of birth ; the stock of either, on which the assumption of superiority is founded, being in most cases so very small as to be invisible to any but the fortunate possessors. In St. Bennett's, the party considering themselves the gentry of the town consisted principally of the professional men and their families. The society, perhaps, was somewhat of the dullest, but Mrs. Selby had nothing to do with that; for, though well educated, and improved by companionship with her husband-who was a scholar and a gentleman-she, as the daughter of a tradesman and wife of an usher, had not the open sesame into the “first circles," as they called themselves. She heard, then, with some surprise, that Mrs. Stoneman and Mrs. Carthew, the ladies of a surgeon and an attorney, had called to see her ; but gentle and lady-like, she received them quietly, and waited patiently to hear the object of their visit. Mrs. Stoneman bowed stiitly, and spoke not; Mrs. Carthew, however, talked fast enough for both.

“How d'ye do, Mrs. Selby? Hope you are tolerable. How is your sweet little girl? We have called on you, Mrs. Selby, to tell you that Mrs. Stoneman and myself have been consulting with several other ladies about your melancholy position, and we have come to ask you to open a day-school. A school is so very, very much wanted here, and we think you would be just the sort of person to suit us.”

“ Indeed, madam," said Mrs. Selby, “I had feared that there was no opening here for any effort of mine in that way; there are already two good schools, and St. Bennett's is not a large town.”

“Oh!” replied Mrs. Carthew, “we know that. There is Miss Bradford's establishment: she is a very nice sort of person, to be sure, and I believe she grounds children very well; but then she takes farmer's daughters !-(Mrs. Carthew was herself a farmer's daughter)-she takes the daughters of small farmers and tradesmen. Of course we wish to avoid such companionship for our children. And as for Miss Smyth, she keeps school only as a sort of lady-like amusement, and does not consider it as a matter of business, I assure you. Indeed, I may say to you, in confidence, that ladies don't like to find their school-mistresses affecting equality with them. No; what we want is a person who will pledge herself not to take any but gentlemen's children, and who is capable of instructing them in the usual routine of an English education, French, music, drawing, ornamental work, and all that kind of thing. A little dancing might be added before they take lessons from a regular master. They could pick that up, you know, Mrs. Selby, as a sort of amusement, out of school hours; that would not give you much trouble, it would be rather a pleasure to you; with only one child of your own, you will have nothing else to do."

A short pause in Mrs. Carthew's discourse was filled by Mrs. Stoneman, who said, slowly and proudly:

“ If you undertake this, Mrs. Selby, we will engage to give you three guineas a year for each single pupil : where two or three are sent from one family, you will, of course, make some abatement.”

“ Now do consider of it,” said Mrs. Carthew, “ that's a good soul! We can promise you ten pupils—very well for a begioning, I think.”

“ You understand," said Mrs. Stoneman, “ we expect a promise that you will confine yourself to the children of professional men ; it really is shocking to see the neglect of such distinctions which is creeping in amongst us." · Poor Mrs. Selby thought of kind Mr. Cooch, who had promised to send his daughters, and had made no conditions ; but she merely replied that, her affliction having been so recent, she had as yet had no time to consider what had best be done, but would send an answer in a few days. The ladies then took their leave, Mrs. Carthew chattering as they went about the situation of the house, the weather, and other nothings; at the gate of the little garden they paused, and, after a minute or two spent in whispering, Mrs. Carthew pattered back to add:

“We think it right to tell you, Mrs. Selby, that if you accept our offer, we consider it necessary for you to take a larger house: your rooms are so small that we fear they would be close and unhealthy for the children. Remember, you will have ten to begin with, and a large, lofty, airy room would be desirable. Good-by! Good-by!”

Mrs. Selby sat down to reflect. The incessant chattering of Mrs. Carthew had jarred upon her nerves, and now to her other troubles was added that most wretched feeling-doubt and indecision as to how she should act. She felt very miserable ; but she would not murmur-she tried not to be as one without hope. “I will struggle, dear Henry," she said, as if addressing him; “ for our child's sake, I will try to be comforted.” And then a fresh and uncontrollable burst of weeping shook the frail frame almost to dissolution. Jane, her old servant, hearing the bitter sobs of her mistress, came into the parlour:

“Oh, don't cry so," she said, “ Miss Agnes!"-she had lived with Mrs. Selby and her father from the time the former was born—" don't cry so, ford ear little Nelly's sake!"—the poor woman was sobbing as she spoke.

“Poor dear little Nelly is looking quite ill: I am afraid she will die too-dear, sensible little darling!-if you do not get better.”

“ You are very, very kind, Jane," sobbed her mistress, “but what can I do ? Even you may have to leave me: how can I keep a servant ?"

Even I, mistress, have to leave you ?” said Jane, indignantly. “ Haven't I lived with you ever since you were born ? Leave you?-I should think not indeed! Besides, I've saved up in your service and your father's a matter of forty pounds : I've given notice to the savings bank to draw it out, a little at a time, for we shall want it now. Leave you indeed, and dear, darling little Nelly! I should think not! Whatever could you do without me, mistress ? You, so young and so pretty, and without friends or relations ! No, no! you will want your old Janey now

« AnteriorContinuar »