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prominent part, as if they had never existed. When one sphere of
life closes against a family, they find room in another. Many kind-



A TALE OF LIFE-ASSURANCE.

hearted persons in Mrs Adams's first circle would have been rejoiced
to be of service to her and hers, but they were exactly the people
upon whom she had no claim. Of a high, but poor family, her
relatives had little power. What family so situated ever had any
influence beyond what they absolutely needed for themselves ? With
an ill grace, she at last acceded to the kind offer made by Mr
Charles Adams, and took possession of the cottage he fixed upon,
until something could be done for his brother's children. In a fit of
proud despair, the eldest son enlisted into a regiment of dragoons ;
the second was fortunate enough to obtain a cadetship through a
stranger's interference ; and his uncle thought it might be possible
to get the youngest forward in his father's profession. The expense
of the necessary arrangements was severely felt by the prudent and
careful country gentleman. The younger girls were too delicate for
even the common occupations of daily life ; and Mary, instead of
receiving the welcome she had been led to expect from her aunt and
cousins, felt that every hour she spent at the Grange was an
intrusion.

The sudden death of Dr Adams had postponed the intended
wedding of Charles Adams's eldest daughter ; and although her
mother agreed that it was their duty to forward the orphan children,
she certainly felt, as most affectionate mothers whose hearts are not
very much enlarged would feel, that much of their own savings
much of the produce of her husband's hard labour labour during a
series of years when her sister-in-law and her children were enjoying
all the luxuries of life would now be expended for their support.
This, to an all-sacrificing mother, despite her sense of the duty of
kindness, was hard to bear. As long as they were not on the spot,
she theorised continually, and derived much satisfaction from the
sympathising observations of her neighbours, and was proud, very
proud, of the praise bestowed upon her husband's benevolence ; but
when her sister-in-law's expensive habits were in daily array before
her (the cottage being close to the Grange) ; when she knew, to use
her own expression, ' that she never put her hand to a single thing;'
that she could not live without port wine, when she herself never
drank even gooseberry, except on Sundays ; never ironed a collar,
never dusted the mantel-piece, or ate a shoulder of mutton roast
one day, cold the next, and hashed the third while each day brought
some fresh illustration of her thoughtlessness to the eyes of the wife
of the wealthy tiller of the soil, the widow of the physician thought
herself in the daily practice of the most rigid self-denial. ' I am
sure,' was her constant observation to her all-patient daughter 'I am
sure I never thought it would come to this. I had not an idea of going
through so much. I wonder your uncle and his wife can permit me
to live in the way I do they ought to consider how I was brought
up.' It was in vain Mary represented that they were existing upon
charity ; that they ought to be most grateful for what they received,



THERE IS NO HURRY!

coming as it did from those who, in their days of prosperity, pro-
fessed nothing, while those who professed all things had done
nothing. Mary would so reason, and then retire to her own chamber
to weep alone over things more hard to bear.

It is painful to observe what bitterness will creep into the heart
and manner of really kind girls where a lover is in the case, or even
where a commonplace, dangling-sort-of flirtation is going forward ;
this depreciating ill-nature, one of the other, is not confined by any
means to the fair sex. Young men pick each other to pieces with
even more fierceness, but less ingenuity ; they deal in a cut-and-
hack sort of sarcasm, and do not hesitate to use terms and insinua-
tions of the harshest kind when a lady is in the case. Mary (to
distinguish her from her high-bred cousin, she was generally called
Mary Charles) was certainly disappointed when her wedding was
postponed in consequence of her uncle's death ; but a much more
painful feeling followed when she saw the admiration her lover,
Edwin Lechmere, bestowed upon her beautiful cousin. Mary
Charles was herself a beauty fair, open-eyed, warm-hearted the
beauty of Repton ; but though feature by feature, inch by inch, she
was as handsome as Mary, yet in her cousin was the grace and
spirit given only by good society ; the manners elevated by a higher
mind, and toned down by sorrow ; a gentle softness, which a keen
observer of human nature told me once no woman ever possessed
unless she had deeply loved, and suffered from disappointed affection ;
in short, she was far more refined, far more fascinating, than her
country cousin. Besides, she was unfortunate, and that at once
gave her a hold upon the sympathies of the young curate. It did no
more ; but Mary Charles did not understand these nice distinctions,
and nothing could exceed the change of manner she evinced when
her cousin and her betrothed were together.

Mary thought her cousin rude and petulant ; but the true cause of
the change never occurred to her. Accustomed to the high-toned
courtesy of well-bred men, which is so little practised in the middle
class of English society, it never suggested itself that placing her
chair, or opening the door for her to go out, or rising courteously
when she came into a room, was more than, as a lady, she had a
right to expect ; in truth, she did not notice it at all ; but she did
notice, and feel deeply, her cousin's alternate coldness and snappish-
ness of manner. ' I would not,' thought Mary, ' have behaved so to
her if she had been left desolate ; but in a little time, when my
mother is more content, I will leave Repton, and become independ-
ent by my talents.' Never did she think of the power delegated to
her by the Almighty without feeling herself raised ay, higher than
she had ever been in the days of her splendour in the scale of
moral usefulness ; as every one must feel whose mind is rightly
framed. She had not yet known what it was to have her abilities
trampled on or insulted ; she had never experienced the bitterness

18



A TALE OF LIFE-ASSURANCE.

consequent upon having the acquirements which, in the days of
her prosperity, commanded silence and admiration sneered at or
openly ridiculed. She had yet to learn that the Solons, the law-
givers of English society, lavish their attentions and praise upon
those who learn, not upon those who teach.

Mary had not been six months fatherless, when she was astonished
first by a letter, and then by a visit, from her former lover. He
came to renew his engagement, and to wed her even then, if she
would have him. But Mary's high principle was stronger than he
imagined. ' No,' she said ; ' you are not independent of your father,
and whatever I feel, I have no right to draw you down into poverty.
You may fancy now that you could bear it ; but a time would come
if not to you, to me when the utter selfishness of such conduct
would goad me to a death of early misery.' The young man appealed
to her uncle, who thought her feelings overstrained, but respected
her for it nevertheless ; and, in the warmth of his admiration, he
communicated the circumstance to his wife and daughter.

' Refuse her old lover under present circumstances ! ' repeated her
cousin to herself as she left the room ; ' there must be some other
reason than that ; she could not be so foolish as to reject such an
offer at such a time.' Unfortunately, she saw Edwin Lechmere
walking by Mary's side under the shadow of some trees. She
watched them until the foliage screened them from her sight, and
then she shut herself into her own room, and yielded to a long and
violent burst of tears. ' It is not enough,' she exclaimed in the
bitterness of her feelings, ' that the comforts of my parents' declining
years should be abridged by the overwhelming burden to their
exertions another family added to their own ; it is not enough that
an uncomfortable feeling has grown between my father and mother
on this account, and that cold looks and sharp words have come
where they never came before, but my peace of mind must be
destroyed. Gladly would I have taken a smaller portion, if I could
have kept the affections which I see but too plainly my cousin has
stolen from me. And my thoughtless aunt to say, only yesterday,
that " at all events her husband was no man's enemy but his own."
Has not his want of prudent forethought been the ruin of his own
children ? and will my parents ever recover the anxiety, the pain,
the sacrifices, brought on by one man's culpable neglect ? Oh,
uncle, if you could look from your grave upon the misery you have
caused ! ' and then, exhausted by her own emotion, the affectionate
but jealous girl began to question herself as to what she should do.
After what she considered mature deliberation, she made up her
mind to upbraid her cousin with treachery ; and she put her design
into execution that same evening.

It was no easy matter to oblige her cousin to understand what she
meant ; but at last the declaration that she had refused her old lover
because she had placed her affections upon Edwin Lechmere, whom

19



THERE IS NO HURRY !

she was endeavouring to ' entrap,' was not to be mistaken ; and the
country girl was altogether unprepared for the burst of indignant;
feeling, mingled with much bitterness, which repelled the untruth.
A strong fit of hysterics into which Mary Charles worked herself
was terminated by a scene of the most painful kind her father being
upbraided by her mother with ' loving other people's children better
than his own,' while the curate himself knelt by the side of his
betrothed, assuring her of his unaltered affection. From such a
scene Miss Adams hastened with a throbbing brow and a bursting
heart. She had no one to counsel or console her ; no one to whom
she could apply for aid. For the first time since she had experienced
her uncle's tenderness, she felt she had been the means of disturbing
his domestic peace ; the knowledge of the burden she was, and the
burden she and hers were considered, weighed her to the earth ; and
in a paroxysm of anguish she fell on her knees, exclaiming : ' Oh !
why are the dependent born into the world ? Father, father ! why
did you leave us, whom you so loved, to such a fate !' And then
she reproached herself for having uttered a word reflecting on his
memory. One of the every-day occurrences of life so common, as
to be hardly observed is to find really kind, good-natured people
weary of well-doing. ' Oh, really I was worn out with so and so ;
they are so decidedly unfortunate that it is impossible to help them,'
is a general excuse for deserting those whose continuing misfortunes
ought to render them greater objects of sympathy.

Mr Charles Adams was, as has been shewn in our little narrative,
a kind-hearted man. Estranged as his brother and himself had been
for a number of years, he had done much to forward, and still more
to protect, his children. At first this was a pleasure ; but somehow
his ' benevolence,' and ' kindness,' and ' generosity ' had been so talked
about, so eulogised, and he had been so seriously inconvenienced by
the waywardness of his nephews, the thoughtless pride of his sister-
in-law, the helplessness of his younger nieces, as to feel seriously
oppressed by his responsibility. And now the one who had never
given him aught but pleasure, seemed, according to his daughter's
representations, to be the cause of increased sorrow the destroyer
of his dear child's happiness. What to do he could not tell. His
daughter, wrought upon by her own jealousy, had evinced under its
influence so much temper she had never displayed before, that it
seemed more than likely the cherished match would be broken off.
His high-minded niece saved him any further anxiety as far as she
was concerned. She sent for, and convinced him fully and entirely
of her total freedom from the base design imputed to her. ' Was it
likely,' she said, ' that I should reject the man I love lest I should
drag him into poverty, and plunge at once with one I do not care
for into the abyss I dread ? This is the common-sense view of the
case ; but there is yet another. Is it to be borne that I would seek
to rob your child of her happiness ? The supposition is an insult



A TALE OF LIFE-ASSURANCE.

too gross to be endured. I will leave my mother to-morrow. An
old school-fellow, older and more fortunate than myself, wished me
to educate her little girl. I had one or two strong objections to
living in her house ; but the desire to be independent and away has
overcome them.' She then, with many tears, entreated her uncle
still to protect her mother ; urged how she had been sorely tried ;
and communicated fears, she had reason to believe were too well
founded, that her eldest brother, feeling the reverse more than he
could bear, had deserted from his regiment.

Charles Adams was deeply moved by the nobleness of his niece,
and reproved his daughter more harshly than he had ever done
before for the feebleness that created so strong and unjust a passion.
This had the contrary effect to what he had hoped for : she did not
hesitate to say that her cousin had endeavoured to rob her both of
the affection of her lover and her father. The injured cousin left
Repton, bowed beneath an accumulation of troubles, not one of
which was of her own creating, not one of which she deserved ;
and all springing from the unproviding nature of him who, had
he been asked the question, would have declared himself ready
to sacrifice his own life for the advantage of that daughter,
now compelled to work for her own bread. To trace the career
of Mary Adams in her new calling would be to repeat what I
have said before. The more refined, the more informed the gover-
ness, the more she suffers. Being with one whom she had known
in better days, made it even more hard to bear; yet she did her
duty, and that is one of the highest privileges a woman can enjoy.

Leaving Mary for a moment, let us return to Repton. Here
discord, having once entered, was making sad ravages, and all were
suffering from it. It was but too true that the eldest of the Adamses
had deserted : his mother, clinging with a parent's fondness to her
child, concealed him, and thus offended Charles Adams beyond all
reconciliation. The third lad, who was walking the London hospi-
tals, and exerting himself beyond his strength, was everything that a
youth could be ; but his declining health was represented to his
uncle, by one of those whom his mother's pride had insulted, as a
cloak for indolence. In short, before another year had quite passed,
the family of the once rich and fashionable Dr Adams had shared
the fate of all dependents worn out the benevolence, or patience, or
whatever it really is, of their best friends. Nor was this the only
consequence of the physician's neglect of a duty due alike to God
and society : his brother had really done so much for the bereaved
family, as to give what the world called just grounds to Mrs Charles
Adams's repeated complaints, ' that now her husband was ruining his
industrious family to keep the lazy widow of his spendthrift brother
and her favourite children in idleness. Why could she not live upon
the "fine folk" she was always throwing in her face?' Their
daughter, too, of whose approaching union the fond father had been



THERE IS NO HURRY !

so proud, was now, like her cousin whom she had wronged by her
mean suspicions, deserted ; the match broken off after much bicker-
ing ; one quarrel having brought on another, until they separated by
mutual consent. Her temper and her health were both materially
impaired, and her beauty was converted into hardness and acidity.

Oh how utterly groundless is the idea, that in our social state,
where one human being must so much depend upon another, any
man, neglecting his positive duties, can be called only 'his own
enemy!' What misery had not Dr Adams's neglect entailed, not
alone on his immediate family, but on that of his brother ! Besides,
there were ramifications of distress ; he died even more embarrassed
than his brother had at first believed, and some trades-people were
consequently embarrassed ; but the deep misery fell upon his
children. Meanwhile, Mrs Dr Adams had left Repton with her
younger children, to be the dependents of Mary in London.

It was not until a fatal disease had seized upon her mother, that
Mary ventured to appeal again to her uncle's generosity. ' My
second brother,' she said, ' has, out of his small means, remitted her
five pounds. My eldest brother seems altogether to have disap-
peared from amongst us : finding that his unhappy presence had
occasioned so fatal a separation between his mother and you a dis-
union which I saw was the effect of many small causes, rather than
one great one he left us, and we cannot trace him. This has
broken my poor mother's heart ; he was the cherished one of all her
children. My youngest brother has been for the last month an
inmate of one of the hospitals which my poor father attended for so
many years, and where his word was law. My sister Rosa, she upon
whom my poor father poured, if possible, more of his affection than
he bestowed upon me my lovely sister, of whom, even in our
poverty, I was so proud so young, only upon the verge of woman-
hood has, you already know, left us. Would to God that it had
been for her grave, rather than her destroyer ! a fellow-student oi
that poor youth, who, if he dreamt of her dishonour, would stagger
like a spectre from what will be his death-bed to avenge her. Poverty
is one of the surest guides to dishonour ; those who have not been
tempted know nothing of it. It is one thing to see it, another to
feel it. Do not think her altogether base, because she had not the
strength of a heroine. I have been obliged to resign my situation to
attend my mother, and the only income we have is what I earn by
giving lessons on the harp and piano. I give, for two shillings, the
same instruction for which my father paid half-a-guinea a lesson ; if
I did not, I should have no pupils. It is more than a month since
my mother left her bed ; and my youngest sister, bending beneath
increased delicacy of health, is her only attendant. I know her
mind to be so tortured, and her body so convulsed by pain, that I
have prayed to God to render her fit for Heaven, and take her from
her sufferings. Imagine the weight of sorrow that crushed me to



A TALE OF LIFE-ASSURANCE. ,

my knees with such a petition as that ! I know all you have done,
and yet I ask you now, in remembrance of the boyish love that
bound you and my father together, to lessen her bodily anguish by
the sacrifice of a little more ; that she, nursed in the lap of luxury,
may not pass from life with starvation as her companion. My
brother's gift is expended ; and during the last three weeks I have
earned but twelve shillings ; my pupils are out of town. Do, for a
moment, remember what I was, and think how humbled I must be
to frame this supplication ; but it is a child that petitions for a
parent, and I know I have never forfeited your esteem. In a few
weeks, perhaps in a few days, my brother and my mother will meet
my poor father face to face. Oh that I could be assured that
reproach and bitterness for the past do not pass the portals of the
grave ! Forgive me this, as you have already forgiven me much.
Alas ! I know too well that our misfortunes drew misfortunes upon
others. I was the unhappy but innocent cause of much sorrow at
the Grange ; but oh ! do not refuse the last request that I will ever
make ! ' The letter was blotted by tears.

Charles Adams was from home when it arrived, and his wife,
knowing the handwriting, and having made a resolution never to
open a letter ' from that branch of the family,' did not send it after
her husband, ' lest it might tease him.' Ten days elapsed before he
received it ; and when he did, he could not be content with writing,
but lost not a moment in hastening to the address. Irritated and
disappointed that what he really had done should have been so little
appreciated, when every hour of his life he was smarting in one way
or other from his exertions broken-hearted at his daughter's
blighted health and happiness angered by the reckless wildness of
one nephew, and what he believed was the idleness of another and
convinced that Rosa's fearful step was owing to the pampering and
mismanagement of her foolish mother Charles Adams satisfied
himself that, as he did not hear to the contrary from Mary, all
things were going on well, or at least not ill. He thought as little
about them as he possibly could, no people in the world being so
conveniently forgotten (when they are not importunate) as poor
relations ; but the letter of his favourite niece spoke strongly to his
heart, and in two hours after his return home, he set forth for the
London suburb from whence the letter was dated. It so chanced
that, to get to that particular end of the town, he was obliged to pass
the house his brother had occupied so splendidly for a number of
years ; the servants had lit the lamps, and were drawing the curtains
of the noble dining-room ; and a party of ladies were descending
from a carriage, which prevented two others from setting down. It
looked like old times. ' Some one else,' thought Charles Adams,
' running the same career of wealth and extravagance. God grant
it may not lead to the same results !' He paused, and looked up the
front of the noble mansion ; the drawing-room windows were open,



THERE IS NO HURRY!

and two beautiful children were standing on an ottoman placed
between the windows, probably to keep them apart. He thought of
Mary's childhood, and how she was occupied at that moment, and
hastened onward. There are times when life seems one mingled
dream, and it is not easy to become dispossessed of the idea when
some of its frightful changes are brought almost together under our
view.

'Is Miss Adams at home?' inquired her uncle of a woman leaning
against the door of a miserable house.

'I don't know; she went to the hospital this morning; but I'm
not sure she's in. It's the second pair back; it's easy known, for
the sob has not ceased in that room these two nights; some people
<lo take on so '

Charles Adams did not hear the concluding sentence, but sought
the room : the door would not close, and he heard a low sobbing
sound from within. He paused; but his step had aroused the
mourner. ' Come in, Mary come in. I know how it is,' said a
young voice; 'he is dead. One grave for mother and son one
grave for mother and son ! I see your shadow, dark as it is. Have
you brought a candle? It is very fearful to be alone with the dead
even one's own mother in the dark.'

Charles Adams entered the room ; but his sudden appearance in
the twilight, and evidently not knowing him, overcame the girl, his
youngest niece, so much, that she screamed, and fell on her knees
i>y her mother's corpse. He called for lights, and was speedily
obeyed, for he put a piece of gold in the woman's hand : she turned
it over, and as she hastened from the room, muttered, ' If this had
come sooner, she'd not have died of starvation, or burdened the
parish for a shroud : it 's hard the rich can't look to their own.'

When Mary returned, she was fearfully calm. ' No; her brother
was not dead,' she said. ' The young were longer dying than those
whom the world had worn out; the young knew so little of the
world, they thought it hard to leave it;' and she took off her bonnet,
and sat down; and while her uncle explained why he had not
written, she looked at him with eyes so fixed and cold, that he
paused, hoping she would speak, so painful was their stony expres-
sion. But she let him go on, without offering one word of assurance
of any kind feeling or remembrance; and when she stooped to
adjust a portion of the coarse plaiting of the shroud that mockery
of ' the purple and fine linen of living days ' her uncle saw that her
hair, her luxuriant hair, was striped with white.

' There is no need for words now,' she said at last ; ' no need. I
thought you would have sent; she required but little but very
little ; the dust rubbed from the gold she once had would have been
riches. But the little she did require she had not, and so she died.
But what weighs heaviest upon my mind was her calling so continu-



Online LibraryWilliam ChambersChambers's miscellany of instructive & entertaining tracts (Volume 4) → online text (page 18 of 58)