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ST. MARTIN'S EVE.
BY THE AUTHOR OF " THE UNHOLY WISH,"
THE dull, sombre light of a November afternoon, was giving place rapidly to twilight. The day had been wet and cold, and the soddened leaves that strewed the park of a fair domain in England, did not contribute to the cheerfulness of the scene. But if the weather rendered the outward demesne desolate, it seemed not to affect the stately house pertaining to it; for lights gleamed from many of its windows, passing and repassing from room to room, from passage to passage, and fires were casting their blazing glow around. A spectator might have said that some unusual excitement or gaiety was going on there. Excitement in that house there indeed was, but of gaiety none ; for grim death was about to pay a visit there : not to call one, waiting for him in a green old age, but to strike the young and lovely. The servants of that mansion were gathered in groups, sorrow and consternation imprinted on their faces : or they moved, with noiseless tread, attending to the wants of two physicians, who were partaking of refreshment in a reception-room : or they stole along an upper corridor, pausing and holding their breath, in awe, at the door of one of its chambers, for there lay their lady, at the point of doom.
In an adjoining chamber to this, standing over the fire, was a middleaged woman, more intelligent-looking than are many of her class. The fire-glow shone full in her eyes, showing that tears were glistening in them. Strange sight! for the continuous scenes of sickness and sometimes of death in which these monthly-nurses' lives are spent, tend to render them partly callous to outward emotion. The family medical attendant was pacing the room, his footsteps falling noiselessly on the soft carpet. His hands were clasped behind him, resting on his back as he walked, and his face, worn and anxious, was never lifted from the ground.
“ This will make the second case we have lost this year,” suddenly observed the woman, in a whispered tone. “What can have made it so unlucky a year ?"
The doctor gave no answer. Perhaps he did not like the “we” in her sentence. But he knew that his duty was always performed to the utmost of his skill and power, and his conscience, on this point, stood at peace before God.
“ There are no further means that can be tried ?" exclaimed the woman, using the words more as an assertion than a question, as she glanced towards the partially-opened door connecting the apartments.
“ None,” was the conclusive reply of the surgeon. “She is going rapidly.”
The fire had burnt down to embers in the sick chamber; a pale light was emitted from the shaded lamp ; and perfume, almost to faintness, was perceptible in the atmosphere. They had been sprinkling essences about in profusion: as if that would make pleasant the way to death. The heavy velyet curtains were thrown up from the bed, and, lying there,
was a form young and fair, with a pale, exhausted face. Every appurtenance in the chamber spoke of wealth : but not all the world's wealth and luxury combined, could have availed to arrest that fastly-fleeting spirit. Close by stood a cradle ; an infant, who had seen the light scarcely two days, quietly sleeping in it.
Leaning over the bed was a young man, bowed down with grief, of attractive features and gentlemanly bearing. Not long had they been man and wife, but a year at most, and now it was hard to part, doubly hard with this new tie which had been born to them. Yet they both knew it must be so; and he had thrown his arm lightly across her, and laid his cheek, wet with tears, against hers, vainly wishing that his prayers could renew her life. There had been a long, agonising silence between them : each heart was full of painful thoughts; yet it seemed, in that last hour, as if they could not give them utterance. But an anxious care, one of the many she must leave on earth, was pressing upon that lady's brain, and she broke the silence.
“ When the months, the years, go by," she panted, feebly clasping her hands together in the attitude of prayer, “and you think of another wife, oh choose one that will be a mother to my child! Be not ensnared by beauty, be not ensnared by wealth, be not ensnared by specious deceit; but take one who will be to him the mother that I would have been.”
6 I shall never marry again,” he passionately interrupted. “You, my first and dearest love, shall be the only wife I will take to my bosom. Never shall another usurp your place; and here I swear "
“ Hush! hush !” she murmured, laying her hand upon his lips. " It would be cruel of me to exact such a promise from you, and it would be useless for you to make it ; for you would never keep it, save with selfupbraiding. The remembrance of this scene, of me, will pass away, and you will begin to ask yourself, why should your life be condemned to solitude. No, no. To remain faithful to the dead, is not in man's nature."
He thought in his own heart, honestly thought it then, that her opinion was a mistaken one, and that he should prove a living refutation of it.
“ Yet oh forget me not wholly !" she whispered. “ Let there be brief moments when my remembrance shall return to you ; when you will dwell upon me as having been the one you once best loved on earth !"
Another deep silence, but the pulses of his heart might have been heard, beating wildly in its anguish. She spoke not from exhaustion.
“ What will you have him named?” he asked abruptly, pointing towards the cradle.
“ Call him Benjamin,” she replied with difficulty, after a minute's thought. “He cost Rachel her life, as this child has cost me mine. And oh may he be the solace to you that Benjamin was to old Jacob, and may you love and cherish this child as he did his !"
Her voice suddenly failed her, a spasm smote her features, and she lay more heavily on the pillow. Her husband raised her; he clasped her fluttering heart to his, and wildly kissed her pallid face. But that face was losing its look of consciousness, and no tenderness could recal the departing spirit. He called to the medical man in the adjoining chamber.
The latter came forward. He gave one glance at the bed, and then whispered the nurse to summon the physicians. He knew their presence was useless : but, at such times, man deems it well to fulfil these outward forms.
In the local newspapers, there appeared that week two paragraphs : one, announcing a birth; the other, a death.
“ On the 10th inst., at Alnwick Hall, the wife of George Carlton, Esq., of a son and heir."
« On the 12th inst. at Alnwick Hall, in her twenty-third year, Caroline, the beloved wife of George Carlton, Esq.”
II. “ To remain faithful to the dead, is not in man's nature.” Such were the words used by Mrs. Carlton in dying, and a greater truth was never uttered or written by Solomon.
It was in the middle of September, but ten months after the decease of Mrs. Carlton, that Alnwick Hall was the scene of great festivity. Brilliant groups were in the park, in the temporary marquee on the lawn, and in the house itself; a sort of fête champêtre. Whether to escape the sad reflections left by the death of his wife, or that he found his own house monotonously dull, it was seen that Mr. Carlton had that summer joined in many of the festal meetings of his county neighbours, and he, in his turn, was now holding a fete. Rumour, with its many tongues, had likewise begun to whisper that he was already seeking a second wife.
In a pleasant room, opening to the conservatory, several ladies were gathered. They were of various ages and degrees of beauty. One stood conspicuous amidst the rest: not for her beauty, though that was great; not for her dress, though that was all that can be imagined of elegance ; but for a certain haughty, imperious manner, and a malicious glance that, in unguarded moments, would gleam from her countenance. She was tall and finely formed; a profusion of raven hair was braided over her pale, regular features ; but in the jet-black eye and compressed mouth, might be read an expression strangely disagreeable. Beautiful she undoubtedly was, but not pleasing. She carried her age well : few would take her to be four-and-twenty, yet she had, in reality, seen nearly thirty summers. Her mother, Mrs. Norris, stood by her side, a showy woman still. Could report speak truth in asserting that the first match in all the county was about to be laid at Charlotte Norris's feet? If so, it would, indeed, be a triumph for her, hitherto so proud and portionless.
In the centre of these ladies stood a young woman, holding a fine baby. He was not, indeed, what could be called a pretty child, but a pleasing look of intelligence, unusual for one so young, pervaded his features. And had he possessed all the beauty that since the creation of man has been said or sung, those fair women, now gathered round, could not have bestowed on him more courtly praise-for he was the heir of Alnwick.
“ Yes, he is a fine fellow for his age,” observed Mr. Carlton, with a flushed cheek and gratified eye, as he listened to the flattery, for he was fondly attached to his child.
" Pray is that his nurse ?” inquired Mrs. Norris, scanning the maid through her glass. " What is your name, young woman ?"
“ I have had the charge of him since his birth, madam,” said the girl, looking pleased and curtseying: “ And my name is Honoria, but they call me Honour, for shortness."
“ And what is the name of this dear child ?" asked Miss Norris.
“ Well, his name gets abbreviated for the same reason,” laughed Mr. Carlton. “ He was christened Benjamin, but is universally known amongst us as Benja.”
A sharp, angry feeling of jealousy shot through the heart of the beautiful Miss Norris as she stood there, for Mr. Carlton bad taken his infant and was fondly caressing it. She hated the child from that hour. “ Will he ever love another child as he loves this?" was the thought that rose involuntarily to her mind. No, never, Miss Norris; you need not ask or wish it : man never loves another as he loves his first-born.
Miss Norris composed her features to the smoothness of glass, and drew near to Mr. Carlton. " Do let me nurse him,” she said, in a low tone. “I adore children, and this one seems made to be loved."
He resigned it to her, and she carried it to a distant seat, out of sight, and, letting it rest on her knee, amused it with her gold neck-chain. Mr. Carlton followed her.
“ Look at him,” she exclaimed, as if in raptures, glancing up to Mr. Carlton's face; “ look at his nimble little fingers and bright eyes. How happy he is !"
“ Happy in all things, save one,” whispered Mr. Carlton, leaning over the child, but gazing at her. “ He has no mother to love and guide him,”
Those black, unpleasing eyes of hers were cast down, so that the eyelids entirely hid them, and a crimson flush rose to her usually pale cheek.
“He wants a mother,” proceeded Mr. Carlton; "he must have a mother. Not now will I urge it, when so many are near; but, Charlotte, you know whom I would entreat to be that mother, and my beloved wife.”
“Ought you to talk of a beloved wife?” she asked, glancing up for an instant, and speaking in an impassioned tone. “She who lies buried in her grave was yours.”
"I did not love her as I now love you," he hastened to avow. “Had I known you better then, I never should have chosen her.”
“ Yet see how you love her child !”
“And I will passionately love yours, Charlotte,” he whispered, suffering his face to rest against hers, as it had once rested against that of his dying wife. She resisted not: but when a host of intruders came flocking in, she raised her haughty head, and swept on with a scornful step, as she resigned the infant into the arms of its nurse.
George Carlton had loved his first wife with the fresh, rapturous feelings that he could never know again, and he loved her memory. Yet here he was, ere twelve little months had elapsed, willing to swear to another that she was the first object who had ever awakened passion in his heart! But Caroline Carlton had faded away from his sight, and Charlotte Norris stood before him in all her beauty. To remain faithful to the dead, is not in man's nature.
But a little while, and again an announcement, as connected with this history, went forth to the world in the county papers. Read it:
“Married. On the 2nd January, by the Rev. Dr. Graves, George Carlton, Esq., of Alnwick Fall, to Charlotte Augusta, only daughter of the late Herbert Norris, Esq.”
III. The time passed on. Mr. Carlton was now in parliament, and consequently spent part of his time in London. But, when sojourning at Alnwick, it seemed that he never wanted an excuse for being away from home. He would go out shooting, or coursing, or to visit his neighbours, or to attend public meetings in the county town, or would be riding over the land with some of his tenants, superintending improvements-in short, he was always out. What his wife thought of these frequent absences, was not known; but the dark cloud was rarely removed from her brow. It was whispered that Mr. Carlton had not found her the angel he had anticipated—how many men have secured angels, in marrying for beauty? A child had been born to her in due time after her marriage, yet she had shaken over it in an agony of passion, for Alnwick and its broad lands were entailed on Benja, and hers was but a younger son. Her selfish love for her own child made her unjust, and she actually began to regard him as the rightful heir, and that other as a usurper. The servants were not deceived: they saw, from the first period of Mrs. Carlton's entrance to the house, that she hated Benja with a deep and bitter hatred. It aroused in Honour's heart a rebellious feeling of indignation, and this sometimes peeped out in her manner. There was never sufficient, however, for her mistress to find open fault with : and she thought the girl had a quick temper. Mrs. Carlton, in her husband's absence, was cruelly unjust to Benja : and indeed we will describe one scene that took place in his presence.
It was the Thursday in Passion week. Mr. Carlton was expected from town to spend the Easter holidays, and the pony-carriage had gone to the railway station to meet him. It was a warm, brilliant April day, one of those lovely days that sometimes come in spring, raising many a heart to Heaven. The two nurses with their charges, Honour leading Master Benja, and the other one carrying Mrs. Carlton's infant, were strolling in the park, whilst Mrs. Carlton sat at an open window, having them full in view. Presently the carriage came rattling along, Mr. Carlton driving ; but, upon meeting the children, he threw the reins to the groom, and leaped out. Little Benja danced about his father in an ecstasy of joy, and Mr. Carlton clasped him in his arms.
He turned to the baby to caress it, but his voice and face were strange, so of course it set up a loud cry, and Mr. Carlton walked on with Benja, leaving it far behind. The boy was sometimes caught up in his arms for a kiss, sometimes flitting before him along the grass, the buttons of steel on his bright green velvet dress gleaming in the sun. He had taken off his cap, and thrown it to Honour, and his hair waved aside with his every movement, displaying that winning look of feeling and intelligence of which his features had given promise in his infancy.
To many a woman this might have been a pleasant sight, but to Mrs.. Carlton it simply presented cause for jealousy. She remained at the window, looking on, anger and passion working in her mind. All she saw, all she felt, was, that her husband was betraying his affection for Benja, and passing by her child. During her girlhood she had been subject to fits of ungovernable rage, so violent, that they seemed to
Nov.-VOL. XCIX. NO. cccxcy.