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"Whom was he like?"
You may partly guess what he
"He looked like Charlotte's uncle." Richard inquired no further. thought.
Days passed without any communication between Richard and Charlotte, of whose term of probation-if I may use the phrase-only another day remained. Richard was confined to the house, lying raving mad. He had made every attempt to obtain an interview with his mistress, but in vain. The accustomed place of meeting, the accustomed hour, still saw him once or twice, but alone, and in fruitless, agonizing expectation. Determined to see her, he called at the house, but she was invariably denied to him. He wrote to her, but she never vouchsafed a reply. The tavern now became more frequented than ever. The bowl was in constant requisition. The foreign stimulus added to that of intensely excited feelings, was too much for the brain. He sank under an attack of delirium tremens! He lay in the critical extremity of danger. As I said, it wanted but a day to complete the period which was allotted to Charlotte for deliberation.
"Charlotte!" said a young friend to her, who happened to call upon the morning of that day, " is it true that we are so soon to give you joy? Every body says that you are going at last to be married."
My uncle and my father have so arranged it," replied Charlotte, calmly; "and of course I have no option but to comply with their wishes."
"Well," rejoined the other, with a sigh, "I am heartily sorry for poor Richard.
"Why should you be sorry for him?" inquired Charlotte.
"How can you ask the question," rejoined her friend. "The poor fellow is truly attached to you, my brother says-fondly!-devotedly! It is a hard return for his love; though, to be sure, from his indulgence of that fatal propensity of his, he almost deserves it as a punishment."
"That you should give your hand to another." Charlotte looked steadily in the face of her friend, who continued, "And yet, dear Charlotte-pardon me for saying so-but I did believe you had a little more of the obstinacy of our sex in you!"
"I shall call it steadfastness-constancy, then."
Why, that is something nearer the mark," interposed Charlotte.
"Well, then, as I was saying, I did hope that you possessed more of the constancy of our sex, than to allow an old friend to be supplanted by one who is comparatively a stranger to you."
Charlotte had been employing herself in arranging some needlework; here she laid it down, and again fixed her eyes steadfastly upon the countenance of her friend, but without speaking.
"No woman," continued the other, "could desire to be better beloved than, as my brother tells me, you have been; for he knows Richard well; and he says, he could swear that from the moment Richard and you became intimate, until now, he has never once be
stowed a thought upon any other woman. he is entitled to some consideration."
On that account, at least,
"I grant it," said Charlotte; "but something more than mere consideration for that is requisite if he depends upon me for his happiness."
"The same exclusive attachment on my part."
"I am sorry that he has forfeited that?" said the other, half musingly. "Many a fault should be excused for constancy in a lover. No wonder it should drive him mad to see that the door which is always open to another, is always closed upon him. Last Tuesday he knocked at it, I was told, and no sooner did it open, than it was shut in his face; and not five minutes afterwards young Captain R, your uncle's friend and your admirer, was admitted. No wonder it should drive him mad! My brother met him at a party an hour or two afterwards, and he looked, he said, the very image of misery and desperation. They had mixed a bowl of their usual beverage, and asked him to partake of it; but without heeding them he filled a tumbler from a bottle of raw spirits that happened to be lying on the table, and swallowed the contents at a single draught."
"Madness indeed!" exclaimed Charlotte. "No consideration for me! No compassion!-He should not want trust in me!-He cannot!"
"Cannot !" echoed her friend. "Cannot!" she reiterated, "and you upon the point of being married to another!"
"Sophy!" cried Charlotte, starting to her feet, and drawing up her fair form to its full stature, "Sophy, you talked just now about the constancy of our sex."
"I did," said Sophia, startled by the earnestness of her friend. "Do you believe in it?"
"Do you believe that I am worthy of belonging to that sex ?" "I do."
"And you can harbour the thought that I am going to abandon poor Richard? Never! No; though he should abandon himself yet more than he has already done! Are you a woman? Do you not know that friend after friend has turned against him, in consequence of the fatal propensity to which he has given way ? Are you, I say, a woman, and can you not divine the effect which such desertion must have produced upon me?—To make him dearer to me, Sophy, than ever! Abandon
him! Oh, Sophy! did not you know me? For seven years have Richard and I been engaged to one another, and never, for one moment even, have my affections faltered!-far less swerved in their devotion to him! My uncle has made a proposition, to which my father has acceded. A fortnight has been given me for reflection. The period is almost expired. To-morrow my hand is at my own disposal! Think you I have debated the question as to whom I shall give it? Not a moment! There, where my friends see nothing but desperation, my every earthly wish and hope are founded! To-morrow I shall go with Richard to the altar!"
Sophia stared for a time almost vacantly, in the glowing countenance
of her friend. Her eyes then wandered here and there, as if she was in a state of indecision and alarm, and her colour wavered.
"What is the matter?" inquired Charlotte.
"It will be too late!" at length burst forth, with a deep drawn sigh. "Too late! What? For Heaven's sake, what do you mean?Speak!"
"Richard, I hear, is dying!"
The blood fled from Charlotte's face; her eyes looked as if they would start from their sockets; a spasmodic movement became perceptible in her throat. She gasped-shrieked-and fell back.
It was the crisis with Richard-the momentous tug between disease and nature. The issue, life or death! For four days sleep had never once visited him. Fearful had been the activity of his brain, which conjured up, as it were, vision after vision, in uninterrupted succession, accompanied with every imaginable circumstance of horror. To combat the preternatural strength which, in such cases is generally, if not always, induced, all the customary modes of restraint were necessarily resorted to; while the conviction of the sufferer as to the reality of what he fancied he saw was so intensely earnest, as almost to infect the attendants with a touch of his delusion; so that at times they would turn towards the direction in which he looked, as if in quest of the phantoms that attracted his inflamed eyeballs, riveting them, and almost drawing them from their sockets. But a change was taking place. The exacerbations of nervous irritability had given way to something. Either life was making a feeble but successful stand; or death, the final effort.
For upwards of twelve hours lay Richard, without exhibiting the slightest signs of life-cognizable to a common observer-except that the remains of natural heat were yet traceable, and that the flesh retained that softness which indicates the absence of stagnation in the vital juices. Thoughtfully the medical attendant looked on, and thrilling was the anxiety painted in the countenances of those who watched him-yearning for answers to questions which they durst not give utterance to, and which pressed and crowded round their hearts, and would not be quieted.
But there was one whose eyes never wandered from the face of the patient, except when they were occasionally cast upwards in straining supplication whose hand held his within its tender, wakeful clasp, on the watch for hope, through the movement of a joint, or the vibration of a fibre.
"He will live!" murmured the medical attendant, as if speaking to himself. "He will live!"
Every countenance but one indicated the blest transition from suspense to hope. That one never varied in its expression, wherein was depicted all the cleaving tenacity with which the soul of woman grasps the object of its devotion, under the dread of removal or loss. But here was now a change. The white arched neck was gradually stretched forwards the lips parted as those of one who gasps for breath-the pale, wan cheek began to flush, though slightly-the veins of the forehead to swell, while the hand that remained disengaged was slowly, tremblingly raised, and kept suspended as in the act of enjoining
silence and attention. The coverlid rose and sank-a deep sigh issued from the sick couch-the eyelids of the occupant quiveredopened but still, from the vacant expression of the orbs which they disclosed, it was evident that perception, if restored, was yet but wavering and dim. Another and another sigh succeeded-an effort was made as if to turn in the bed-it was assisted-the face lay opposite to that of the watcher, but without recognising it, or the flood of interest and tenderness that kept pouring from it!
"Richard!" breathed the sweetest voice that ever gave utterance to the full throb of affection-" Richard !-dear Richard!"
It was unheeded. Again and again it essayed to recall consciousness from the paralyzing effects of its lapse, deepening in pathos at every reiteration-the lips increasing their proximity to the ear which they solicited, till at last cheek was touching cheek, and tears began to flow as if to add enforcement to the accents, whose efforts seemed as yet to be fruitless.
"Constrain your feelings, madam," said the medical attendant. "In his present condition perhaps it is better that he should not recognise you;" and at the same moment he attempted to raise her.
"No!" was faintly articulated-so faintly as to be scarcely audible.
"Stop!" interposed the watcher.
"What is the matter?"
"It was he! He spoke !"
"It were better you left him!
Come-pray come!" said the physician, gently persisting in his effort to withdraw her.
"Merciful Heaven!-he holds me! His hand has closed upon
She had turned towards the physician while accosting him. She now turned again to the patient.
"Richard !-dear-dear Richard !" she meltingly reiterated.
Intelligence now shone in the eye of him whom she addressed, and with it, love; and though feeble was the voice of Richard, yet strong in tenderness was the accent with which he uttered, in reply, the beloved name of "Charlotte!" Here the medical man interfered.
"I must impose silence on both," said he; "but since he recognises you, and wishes you to stay, sit by him, and give him to understand that you are prohibited from speaking."
"Richard !" said Charlotte, bowing her lips to his ear, "hear me, but do not answer, otherwise the doctor will remove me. Quietude
will expedite your recovery. When that is perfect, I am your wifemy father no longer opposes our union. Hush! if I have made you happy!"
She was obeyed-but the discourse which their lips were forbidden to hold, was carried on by their eyes, till, with extreme exhaustion, Richard, through the healthful reaction of nature, sank into a profound and reinvigorating sleep.
No sooner had Charlotte recovered from the swoon into which the intelligence communicated by her friend had thrown her, than, rushing into her father's presence, she related what she had heard; implored him, as he valued her life, to wave at once his opposition to her union with Richard; and having at last wrung from him his acquiescence, in
stantly repaired to her lover's, where the scene took place which we have been just describing.
In a fortnight Richard was convalescent-in a month he became the husband of Charlotte. One year of uninterrupted happiness, the result of undeviating self-control upon the part of Richard, bore witness to the rooted nature of their attachment, and to the influence of female character in correcting and reforming the habits of a dissipated man. Another year was in progression-was half expired-without any variation, unless increase of connubial bliss could be called so, when the unexpected insolvency of a merchant to whom Richard had given credit to an enormous amount, gave such a shock to his circumstances, as to threaten him with the most harassing embarrassments, if not with inextricable involvement. Now was the hour of trial-whether the mind should find support in its own resources, or fly to foreign means for the fallacious purpose of recruiting and sustaining its energies. The contest was for a time severe. The strength of old habits was at length made manifest." Might he not yield a little?" A strong man he, who only yields a little when the influence of an abandoned vice is allowed to resume, however partially, its former sway! YIELD NOT At ALL! The injunction is a sufficient comment upon the danger! Alas for Richard! The tavern became again frequented. At first be timed himself" He would stop till such an hour; but then he would go home;" and he did go home then, for a time. Not soon was the confiding wife aware of the relapse.
"His affairs," she would say to herself, "naturally prevent him from spending, as usual, the whole of his evenings at home!" But the portion of the day, devoted to domestic society, became less and less; and at last the hour of return was most frequently the hour of repose, when the brain, burning and rending from the excitation of the cup, was eager and impatient for the quiet of the pillow. "It was too clear! Richard had yielded again to the seductions of intemperance!" Still did the patient wife forbear. Reproach never escaped her, except, indeed, where she could not help it-in the effects which care began to produce upon her person and countenance.
I now come to a circumstance which is directly introductory to the main incident of my narrative, and which affords a striking illustration of the weakness and inconsistency of human nature; for can it be credited that a man, beloved as Richard knew himself to be, who had offended so much, and who had been so heartily, angelically forgiven, when he still continued to offend-is it to be credited that such a man should, without the most positive proof, believe the being to whom he owed so much, to be guilty, not only of an act of theft, but of deliberate, obstinate falsehood in persisting to deny that she had committed it?
Most unseasonable were now the hours which Richard kept. By his repeated express injunctions, Charlotte no longer waited up for him; a light was kept for him, and by the assistance of a latch-key, he constantly let himself in, sometimes at two, three, four, or even five o'clock in the morning.
One day he happened to receive in payment the sum of one hundred pounds in a single bank-note. It was too late to send to his bankers, and omitting, through hurry, to put it into his escritoire, where he had already deposited his pocket-book, previously to going out for the