Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

and thither the scene followed him, the dying charge still thrilling in his ear. On the next Sunday his eye wandered unconsciously to the people who entered: and when the orphan girl came in her mourning, the looks of the whole congregation were instantly turned on her; for utter desolation ever commands interest and pity. A stronger feeling was excited in the Curate's mind, as he often sought the cottage, and gazed on her beauty, and loved it. But what had he to do with love, when poverty, like an armed man, stood in his path, and sternly warned the resistless stranger away? Could he, for a moment, think of introducing another to share the small pittance of his household? If he did, the delusive hope flitted in a moment away, like a cloud from the bosom of the rocky hill on which his dwelling stood; yet in spite of fate, he continued to love, and, in the meantime, exerted all his little influence in the parish to improve the condition of the orphan.

Thus passed away a year, at the end of which a change came over his fortunes, a sudden and a great change. An old sister of his mother's died, and left to her nephew the property which had been the reward of a whole life of griping and saving. They were all at their scanty breakfast when a letter, with a black seal, was delivered: the son took and opened it; a sudden light came to his eyes that had long been a stranger there, and a deep flush passed over his cheek; for it was the letter containing the account of the bequest. The strong emotions that seized every one were some time in subsiding. There was now a delightful certainty that poverty would dwell with them no more: life had never brought an hour so elevating; they shed tears, and then they laughed loud and long, in the fulness of their hearts; for the bequest amounted to nearly a thousand pounds. As it was all left to the son, he had, of course, the entire disposal of every farthing; and while the mother and sister naturally wished to surround their little household with comforts and enjoyments, and extend their consequence among the neighbours, he was occupied with different thoughts. The use he made of the money affords an instance of the strange waywardness of the human heart. He no sooner received the sum, than the insatiable desire of increasing it, like a demon, entered his heart. The strong and sudden novelty of the event had its share, perhaps, in this: to a man to whom the command of a few shillings at a time had been an object of desire, the possession of so much wealth was exquisite.

But there was a deeper cause also, and one of longer standing. The extensive parish of which he was the Curate, offered a beautiful and enticing field of speculation, in which any sum, vast or minute, might be quickly employed. The soil was in many parts covered with mines, whose piles of ore, worthless as well as valuable, were strewed over the surface. The Curate had often fallen in company with the miners, who formed, indeed, no small part of his parishioners; and the shrewdness and intelligence of these men had not failed to interest him. Then he had loved to linger, during his various walks, on the brink of these tempting scenes, to survey the various and valuable produce, and to watch the iron-bound vessel that rose every moment to the surface and poured its fresh treasures from the deep caverns of the earth. It had never entered his mind, that he could partake in the mighty adventure, that he could ever blend his own destiny with that of the mine that spread around; but now the face of things was altered, and he resolved to adventure boldly and skilfully the property that had been left him. It was in vain that his parent, and Rachel, his sister, implored him to pause, ere he committed so perilous and fearful a deed,—for they never could survive, they said, the loss of this treasure: the nature of the man was changed; and there never was a more striking proof of the sudden influence of moneyona disposition hitherto untried by it. He returned brief and stern answers to the mother before whom his voice had formerly been subdued and submissive,—looked her full in the face, and met her glance of authority with one of equal command. The unhappy woman sank into a chair, wrung her hands, and said that a curse would come on the money thus awfully risked.

But there was another and more youthful eye and tone, that he dared not thus to meet. In the evening he hastened to the cottage where the daughter of the peasant still lived: his feelings were delightful as he entered; and he grasped her hand fervently, and looked long and earnestly in her lovely face. His own features were full of pride mingled with tenderness: for he felt that she was his own; and, to his ardent imagination, there seemed something exquisite in rescuing her from desertion, and executing the trust of her dying father: for poverty had crushed hitherto the spirit of the Curate, and shrouded every thing that was noble and generous in it. The girl spoke low and passionately, and there was hope in her voice and eye, as she wished him joy of his good fortune; for she had begun to love the kind-hearted Minister, who had been a faithful friend in her distress. By his unceasing efforts he had procured her the situation of lady's maid in the town at about twenty miles' distance, and she was to depart in a few days. "Then you would not wish me to go now," she asked, " now that the world smiles upon you; you would rather, perhaps, that I should stay here?" He returned no answer. "It is a place of pride," she resumed, " and of command; and my father's cottage will be far dearer to me than that lady's house." He turned to the small window, through which the moonlight was shining beautifully, and she saw that his face was pale and agitated. Mistaking the cause, the colour rushed to her own cheek, and she said something about his despising her now he he was rich: he started at the words, and pressed her to his heart, that throbbed with anguish. He had known enough of the delusions of the human spirit in the various scenes of suffering, sorrow, and death, that this extensive parish offered, to be aware that his own was now miserably led captive. "Mary," he said, " the bitterness of parting will be hard to bear: we might now be married, I know, and be happy; but—but I am not rich, as you say,—not rich enough to live in comfort: no, my love, I wish to surround you with enjoyments, with affluence, that all thoughts of poverty may be chased from our dwelling, as chaff before the wind." And then he told her of the purpose he had formed and matured, of laying out the property in a flourishing mine in the neighbourhood, where, in the course of a year, there was a certain prospect of its being doubled.

As he spoke on the tempting theme, his eye flashed, his voice rose, and his gestures were impassioned. The girl gazed in surprise and sorrow, and thought of the gentle tone, the happy smile, the look full of hope and affection, with which he had been wont to enter her dwelling. It was clear that she must part from her home, and its wild and loved scenes, from which she had never wandered before; for till his golden expectations were accomplished, as he admitted, the day of their union could not come, and he would be, in fact, as poor and dependent as ever. Her tears fell fast at the thought, and a warning conviction seemed to rush over her mind. She knelt before him, and, clasping his hand in her own, blessed him for all the care and tenderness with which he had watched over her orphan state, and besought him not to cast away the only prospect that might ever be of their union,—not to love gold better than her love; and then she pointed to the chamber in which her father died. The Curate's spirit was-severely tried: the look, the action, the sorrow of the kneeling girl, were almost irresistible, and he felt them to be so: the struggle was violent: but pride, a new sensation, at last came to his aid. "Why will you not," he said, "be guided by my advice? Have I not in every thing sought your welfare ? and you blame me because I seek to make our home a more wealthy one' Bear this absence of a few months with patience, and then I will come and bring you to our home."

She rose, and spoke not another word of complaint or sorrow; and soon after he parted from her kindly as ever, and sought his own dwelling on the hill. On the following day she left her home, and went to the distant town.

And now the Curate knew no rest night or day. He was not lone in deciding in what adventure to place his money; and yet the moments of suspense, ere he came to that decision, were beautiful. He traversed the whole neighbourhood every day with rapid and eager steps, canvassed with his own eyes the bearings and value of every enterprise. But how different were his air and tone! No longer bending and dependent, but firm, elevated, and clear. And many attentions and civilities were paid him; for, as the precise amount of the bequest was not known, people began to imagine it much greater than it was.

At last he fixed upon a very flourishing, or rather promising, copper mine, that had not been discovered more than twelve months; and here he embarked the whole of his property. The moment he had done this, a devouring thirst and gnawing anxiety seized on his soul: the traveller, dying in the desert, does not long more intensely for the cooling water, than the Curate did for the gains that were so soon to flow from his adventure. Religion; the sermons and prayers of the Sabbath; the visiting of the sick; the comforting of the dying:—all these were light as the autumn leaf, compared to the beloved, the glowing, the golden speculation. He was thin before, but now he wasted to a shadow. Murmurings began to rise in the parish at his neglect and insensibility; several people, who lived at the distance of many miles, in their last moments had longed for the sacrament, and seemed to linger on life's fading shore, unwilling to leave it without that consolation: yet it never came. But the misery or happiness of others was now become quite indifferent to him: he rose with the earliest light, quitted the house before either of its inmates was stirring, and repaired, over the moor, to the scene of the distant mine. The living object of his attachment he visited once or twice in the distant town, and told her, with a sparkling eye, of his ardent hopes; but no lover ever hung with more fondness over the untimely grave of his mistress, than the Curate did, morn and eve, over the black heaps that rose at his feet, in which he felt his owr fate involved. He sate beside them, took the moist stones in his hand; minutely, darkly, distinctly traced were the veins of the rich mineral; and then he retraced the path to his dwelling, and sat down silent and abstracted. The puny income, that had so long been his sole resource, he now thought of with perfect contempt. "Ten pounds a quarter!—he had not the slightest intention of retaining his cure beyond the time when the returns of the mine began to pour in." And these returns really seemed, for a short time, about to realize his most sanguine anticipations: a small vein of valuable copper was cut into; the shares rose greatly in price; and his own, for which he had given nearly a thousand pounds, might now be sold for fifteen hundred. A few months before the receipt of this sum would

have been felt to be the greatest blessing that ever fell to man; but now the prospect of the future was so glorious, that he received the tempting offer with no small scorn, observing, "that he should be a fool to part with what would soon gain him many thousands." Could a man whose every thought and imagination were thus deliciously occupied, attend earnestly to the poor, cold, rugged realities that called every moment for his exertions? It isa painful and a bitter thing, however, when our enjoyments depend wholly on the uncertain chances of each coming day and hour: the reports from the mine beneath were not always favourable; there were some moments when the vein of copper began to be less productive, at others a total extinction was threatened. The Curate gazed on the countenances of the miners, just ascended from the scene of toil, with a lynx and scrutinizing eye, that said, ere the tone could utter, "Oh say that my hopes still live!" But death came at last; and the Curate felt the barbed arrow in his soul. Not the extinction of being—that, perhaps, had been mercy; but the withering for ever of every happy and every golden hope. After a few weeks of thrilling suspense and joy, the vein of ore failed utterly: other parts of the ground were explored, and excavations made in every direction, but all in vain; and, in a few months, the whole speculation fell through. The legacy was entirely gone, and not the slightest addition had been made to the real comforts and enjoyments of the possessors. The miserable man now allowed the truth of this, and the words of his mother fell awfully on his ear: they were fierce, unsparing, and ceaseless; and he listened to them in silence, but not in calmness. There was a voice that would have brought comfort, that he loved to hear: but it was afar, and he had long been a stranger to its sweet tones; for, during the fever of speculation, he had neglected the orphan girl, and had lately heard that she had gone to a more distant residence. Nearly twelve months passed away: the Curate's mind, that had borne calmly the long pressure of real poverty,could not support the fearful blow that cut off his expectations: a deep despondency grew on his spirits daily, and the care of his parish seemed to be a heavy burden. It was strange, but his thoughts still hovered around the scene of his ruin. One evening he had wandered thither, and was seated on one of the scattered heaps that attested with what avidity riches had been sought: it was an evening in autumn, and the rays of the sun, setting in the sea, that was full in view, were thrown on the waste spot. The stones, containing a portion of the rich mineral, gleamed with a golden hue, as the fading beams rested on them, as if in mockery of the hopes of the wretched man who sat there. But he needed no illusions of fancy to swell the sum of real anguish: thought after thought coursed wildly through his brain, and in them were de

« AnteriorContinuar »