In the morning, when I opened my eyes, Juliet was so peacefully still, that I listened doubtfully for her breathing; and felt myself relieved by the certainty that she was alive, I was astonished to find that she was awake, though so composed; and was wondering at this unaccountable change, when she suddenly asked me whether Dr. ---- was reckoned a man of any skill in his profession? "for," said she, "he seemed to know nothing at all of my disorder, except what he learnt from myself; so most likely he mistakes it altogether." Shocked to see her thus obstinately cling to the broken reed, yet wanting courage to wrest it from her hold, I entreated her to consider that it would not add to the justice of Dr. ----'s fears, if she should act as though they were well founded; nor shorten her life, if she should hasten to accomplish whatever she would wish to perform ere its close. She was silent for a little; then, with a deep sigh, "You are right," said she. "Sit down, and I will dictate a letter, which you shall write, to my brother."
I obeyed; and she began to dictate with wonderful precision a letter, in which she detailed the opinion of her counsel; named the persons who could evidence her claims; and dexterously appealed to the ruling passion of Mr. Arnold, by reminding him, that if he could establish the legitimacy of his nephew, he must, in case of Lord Glendower's death, become the natural guardian of a youth possessed of five-and-twenty thousand pounds a year. Who could observe without a sigh, that, while with a sort of instinctive tact she addressed herself to the faults of others, she remained in melancholy blindness to her own; and that the transient strength which the morning restored to her mind, could not reach her more than childish improvidence in regard to her most important concerns? But her powers were soon exhausted; before the letter was finished, her thoughts wandered, and she lay for some hours as if in a sort of waking dream.
How little do they know of a death-bed who have seen it only in the graceful pictures of fiction! How little do they guess the ghastly horrors of sudden dissolution, the humiliating weakness of slow decay! Paint them even from the life, and much remains to tell which no spectator can record, much which no language can unfold. "Oh, who that could see thee thus," thought I, as I looked upon the languid, inexpressive countenance of the once playful Juliet,--"who that could see thee thus, would defer to an hour like this, the hard task of learning to die with decency?"
I was sitting by the bed-side of my companions, supporting with one hand her poor deserted baby, and making with the other an awkward attempt to sketch designs for the ornaments which I had undertaken to paint, when the door was gently opened; and the lady for whom I was employed entered, followed by another, whose appearance instantly fixed my attention. Her stature was majestic; her figure of exquisite proportion. Her complexion, though brunette, was admirably transparent; and her colour, though perhaps too florid for a sentimental eye, glowed with the finest tints of health. Her black eye-brows, straight but flexible, approached close to a pair of eyes so dark and sparkling, that their colour was undistinguishable. No simile in oriental poetry could exaggerate the regularity and whiteness of her teeth; nor painter's dream of Euphrosyne exceed the arch vivacity of her smile. Perhaps a critic might have said that her figure was too large, and too angular for feminine beauty; that it was finely, but not delicately formed. Even I could have wished the cheek-bones depressed, the contour somewhat rounded, and the lines made more soft and flowing. But Charlotte Graham had none of that ostentation of beauty which provokes the gazer to criticise.
Her face, though too handsome to be a common one, struck me at first sight as one not foreign to my acquaintance. When her companion named her, I recollected my friend Cecil; and there certainly was a family likeness between these relations, although the latter was a short square-built personage, with no great pretensions to beauty. The expressions of the two countenances were more dissimilar than the features. Cecil's was grave, penetrating, and, considering her age and sex, severe; Miss Graham's was arch, frank, and animated. Yet there was in the eye of both a keen sagacity, which seemed accustomed to look beyond the words of the speaker to his motive.
The deep mourning which Miss Graham wore accounted to me for the cast of sorrow which often crossed a face formed by nature to far different expression. Her manners had sufficient freedom to banish restraint, and sufficient polish to make that freedom graceful; yet for me they possessed an interesting originality. They were polite, but not fashionable; they were courtly, but not artificial. They were perfectly affable, and as free from arrogance as those of a doubting lover; yet in her mien, in her gait, in every motion, in every word, Miss Graham showed the unsubdued majesty of one who had never felt the presence of a superior; of one much accustomed to grant, but not to solicit indulgence.
Such were the impressions which I had received, almost as soon as Miss Graham's companion, with a polite apology for their intrusion, had introduced her to me by name. I was able to make the necessary compliment without any breach of sincerity; for feebler attractions would have interested me in the person with whom Cecil had already made me so well acquainted. But when Miss Graham spoke, her voice alone must have won any hearer.
"If Miss Percy excuses us," said she in tones, which, in spite of the lively imperative accents of her country, were sweetness itself, "my conscience will be quite at rest, for I am persuaded it is with her that my business lies. No two persons could answer the description."
"You may remember," said her companion, smiling at my surprised and inquisitive look, "I yesterday mentioned a friend who was in search of a young lady of your name. We are now in hopes that her search ends in you; and this must be our apology for a great many impertinent questions."
"Oh! no," said Miss Graham, "one will be sufficient. Suffer me only to ask who were your parents."
I answered the question readily and distinctly. "Then," said Miss Graham, with a smile, which at once made its passage to my heart, "I have the happiness to bring you a pleasant little surprise. My brother has been so fortunate as to recover a debt due to Mr. Percy. He has transmitted it hither; and Sir William Forbes will honour your draft for 1500L."
There are persons who will scarcely believe that I at first heard this intelligence with little joy. "Alas!" thought I, looking at poor Juliet, "it has come too late." But recollecting that I was not the less indebted to the kindness of my benefactors, I turned to Miss Graham, and offered, as I could, my warm acknowledgments. Miss Graham assured me, with looks which evinced sincerity, that she was already more than repaid for the service she had rendered me; and prevented further thanks, by proceeding in her explanation.
"My brother," said she, "traced you to the house of a Miss Mortimer, and from thence to Edinburgh; but here he lost you; and being himself at a distance, he commissioned me to search for you. I received some assistance from a very grateful protegee of yours and mine, whom I dare say you recollect by the name of Cecil Graham. She directed me to the Boswells; but they pretended to know nothing of you: so I came to town a few days ago, very much at a loss how to proceed, though determined not to see Glen Eredine again till I found you."
"And is it possible," exclaimed I, "that I have indeed excited such generous interest in strangers?"
"Call me stranger, if you will," said Miss Graham, "provided you allow that the name gives me a right to a kind reception. But do you include my brother under that title? I am sure the description he has given of you shows that he is, at least, well acquainted with your appearance."
"The dimple and the black eye-lashes tally exactly," said her companion. "And I could swear to the smile," returned Miss Graham. "Nevertheless," said I, "it is only from the praises of his admirer, Cecil, that I know Mr. Kenneth Graham, to whom I presume I am so much indebted."
The playful smile, the bright hues of health, vanished from Charlotte's face; and her eyes filled with tears. "No," said she, "it is not to--" She paused, as if to utter the name had been an effort beyond her fortitude. "It is Mr. Henry Graham," said her companion, as if to spare her the pain of explanation, "who has been so fortunate as to do you this service."
I know not exactly why, but my heart beat quicker at this intelligence. I had listened so often to Cecil's prophecies, and omens, and good wishes, that I believe I felt a foolish kind of consciousness at the name of this Henry Graham, and the mention of my obligation to him.
"Have you no recollection then of ever having met with Henry?" inquired Miss Graham, recovering herself.
I rubbed my forehead and did my very utmost; but was obliged to confess that it was all in vain. The rich Miss Percy had been so accustomed to crowds of attending beaux, that my eye might have been familiar with his appearance, while his name was unknown to me.
"Well," said Miss Graham, "I can vouch for the possibility of remembering you for ever after a very transient interview; and when you know Henry better, I dare say you will not forget him."
We now talked of our mutual acquaintance, Cecil; which led Miss Graham to comment upon the peculiar manners of her countrymen, and upon the contrast which they offered to those of the Lowland Scotch. Though her conversation upon this, and other subjects, betrayed no marks of extraordinary culture, it discovered a native sagacity, a quickness and accuracy of observation, which I have seldom found surpassed. Her visit was over before I guessed that it had lasted nearly two hours; and so great were her attractions, so delightful seemed the long untasted pleasures of equal and friendly converse, that I thought less of the unexpected news which she had brought me, than of the hour which she fixed for her return.
My thoughts, indeed, no sooner turned towards my newly acquired riches, than I perceived that they could not, with any shadow of justice, be called mine; and that they in truth belonged to those who had suffered by the misfortunes of my father. I therefore resolved to forget that the money was within my reach; and to labour as I should have done, had no kind friend intended my relief. Still this did not lessen my sense of obligation; and gratitude enlivened the curiosity which often turned my speculations towards Henry Graham. Once as I kept my solitary watch over Juliet's heavy unrefreshing slumbers, I thought I recollected hearing her, and some of our mutual acquaintance, descant upon the graces of an Adonis, who, for one night, had shone the meteor of the fashionable hemisphere, and then been seen no more. I had been present at his appearance, but too much occupied with Lord Frederick to observe the wonder. I afterwards endeavoured to make Juliet assist my recollection; but her memory no longer served even for much more important affairs; and all my efforts ended at last in retouching the pictures which I had accustomed myself to embody of this same Henry Graham. I imagined him with more than his sister's dignity of form and gesture,--with all her regularity of feature, and somewhat of her national squareness of contour,--with all the vivacity and intelligence of her countenance, strengthened into masculine spirit and sagacity,--with the eye which Cecil had described as able to quell even the sallies of frenzy,--with the smile which his sister could send direct to the heart. At Charlotte's next visit I obliged her to describe her brother, and I had guessed so well that she only improved my picture by adding some minuter strokes to the likeness.
At the same time she removed all my scruples in regard to appropriating the sum which he had obtained for me, by assuring me, that he had undertaken the recovery of the debt only upon this express condition, that half the amount should belong to me; and that to this condition the creditors had readily consented.
The possession of this little fortune soon became a real blessing; for Juliet's increasing helplessness loaded my time with a burden which almost precluded other labour. She was emaciated to a degree which made stillness and motion alike painful to her; a restless desire of change seemed the only human feeling which the hand of death had not already palsied; and a childish sense of her dependence upon me was the sole wreck of human affection which her decay had spared. Even the fear of death subsided into the listless acquiescence of necessity. Yet no nobler solicitudes seemed to replace the waning interests of this life. Feeble as it was, her mind yet retained the inexplicable power to exclude thoughts of overwhelming force.
I had seen the inanity of her life; I had, alas! shared in her mad neglect of all the serious duties, of all the best hopes of man; and I did not dare to see her die in this portentous lethargy of soul. At every short revival of her strength, or transient clearness of her intellect, I spoke to her of all which I most desired to impress upon her mind. At first she answered me by tears and complainings, then by a listless silence; nor did better success attend the efforts of persons more skilled in rousing the sleeping conscience. The eloquence of friend and pastor was alike unavailing to extort one tear of genuine penitence; for the energy was wanting, without which a prophet might have smitten the rock in vain.
I must have been more or less than human, could my spirits have resisted the influence of a scene so dreary as a death-chamber without hope; yet when I saw my companion sinking to an untimely grave, closing a life without honour in a death without consolation; when I remembered that we had begun our career of folly together,--that, from equal wanderings, I had alone been restored,--from equal shipwrecks, I had alone escaped,--I felt that I had reason to mingle strong gratitude for what I was, with deep humiliation for what I might have been!
It was now that I became sensible of the treasure which I had found in Charlotte Graham. Taught by experience, I had at first yielded with caution to the attraction of her manners; and often (though in her absence only I must own) remembered with a sigh how many other qualities must conspire to fit the companion for the friend. But now, when she daily forsook admiration, and gaiety, and elegance, to share with me the cares of a sick-chamber, I daily felt the benefits of her piety, discretion, and sweetness of temper; and a friendship began, which, I trust, will outlast our lives.
Although she had too much of the politeness of good feeling to hint an expectation that I should forsake my unhappy charge, she constantly spoke of my visiting Castle Eredine, as of a pleasure which she could not bear to leave in uncertainty; and she detailed plans for our employments, for our studies, for our excursions among her native hills, with a minuteness which showed how much the subject occupied her mind. All her plans bore a constant reference to Glen Eredine. They were incapable of completion elsewhere. My lessons on the harp were to be given under the rock of echoes, in a certain cave she was to teach me the songs of Selma,--we were to climb Benarde together,--from Dorch'thalla we were to sketch the lake beyond, with all its mountain shadows on its breast; while the rocks which a nameless torrent had severed from the cliff, and the roots which, with emblematic constancy, had still clung to them in their fall, were to furnish fore-grounds unequalled in the tameness of Lowland scenery.
To all the objects round her native vale, Charlotte's imagination seemed to lend a kind of vitality. She loved them as I should have loved an animated being; and the more characteristic, or, as I should then have expressed it, the more savage they were, the stronger seemed their hold on her affection. I like a little innocent prejudice, so long as it does not thwart my own. I verily believe, that Charlotte would have thought Glen Eredine insulted by a comparison to the vale of Tempe. She often spoke with enthusiastic respect of her father, whom she had left at Castle Eredine; and with so much solicitude of the blank which her absence would occasion to him, that I could not help wondering why she delayed her return. She never mentioned any business that might detain her; and amusement could not be her bribe, for her time was chiefly spent in my melancholy dwelling.
Our cheerless task, however, at length was closed. By a change scarcely perceptible to us, Juliet passed from the lethargy of exhausted life to deeper and more solemn repose. I felt the intermitting pulse,--I watched the failing breath; yet so gradually and so complete was her decay, that I knew not the moment of her departure. All suffering she was spared; for suffering would to human apprehension, have been useless to her. I did not commit her remains to the cares of a stranger. The hand of a friend composed her for her last repose; the tears of a friend dropped upon her clay; but they were not the tears of sorrow. Poor Juliet! Less ingenuity than that which led thee through a degraded life to an unlamented grave would have procured for thee the best which this world has to give, an unmolested passage to a better.
Two days after her death, I received from her brother a promise of protection to the heir of Lord Glendower, and permission, in case of that event, to send the boy to his uncle, together with the pledges of legitimacy, which constituted his sole hold upon the justice or compassion of Mr. Arnold. Fortunately for the poor infant, the question upon which depended the tender cares of his uncle was decided in his favour. Juliet's marriage was sanctioned; and though her death left Lord Glendower at liberty to repair, in some sort, the injury which he had done to Lady Maria, the rights of his first-born son could not be transferred to the children of his more regular marriage.
When my cares were no longer necessary to my ill-fated companion, I yielded to the kind persuasions of Miss Graham; and suffered her to introduce me to whatever was most worthy of observation in a city which I had as yet so imperfectly seen. Our mornings were generally spent in examining the town or its environs; our evenings in a kind of society which I had till now known only in detached specimens; a society in which there was every thing to delight, though nothing to astonish,--much good manners, and therefore little singularity,--general information, and therefore little pedantry,--much good taste, and therefore little notoriety. I could no longer complain that the ladies were inaccessible. Introduced by Miss Graham, I was every where received with more than courtesy; and I, who a few weeks before could scarcely obtain permission to earn a humble subsistence, was now overwhelmed with a hospitality which scarcely left me the command of an hour.
And now I was again assailed by the temptation which had formerly triumphed unresisted. There is no place on earth where beauty is more surely made dangerous to its possessor; and Charlotte and I could scarcely have attracted more attention had we appeared mounted upon elephants. But I had lost my taste for admiration. I disliked the constant watchfulness which it imposed upon me; and its pleasures poorly compensated the pain of upbraiding myself the next moment with my folly in being so pleased. As to open compliment, it cost me an effort to answer it with good humour. "The man suspects that I am vain," thought I, as often as I was so addressed; and the suspicion was too near truth to be forgiven. The only real satisfaction which I derived from the preposterous homage paid to me, arose from the new light in which it displayed the generous nature of Charlotte Graham. Yes; trifles serve to display a great mind; and there was true generosity in the graceful willingness with which Charlotte, at a time of life when the precariousness of attentions begin to give them value, withdrew from competition with a rival inferior to her in every charm which is not affected by seven years difference of age.
Upon the whole, nothing could be more agreeably amusing than my residence in Edinburgh; and the contrast of my late confinement heightened pleasure to delight. From the time of Lady Glendower's death, it had been settled that I was to accompany Charlotte to Glen Eredine; but I must own that I felt no inclination to hasten our departure. Without once uttering a word, which could place the delay to my account, Miss Graham deferred our departure from day to day. Yet some involuntary look or expression constantly betrayed to me, that her heart was in Glen Eredine.
"Ah, that very sun is setting behind Benarde!" said she with a sigh, one evening when, from a promenade such as no other city can present, we were contemplating a gorgeous sunset.
"One would imagine by that sigh, Charlotte," said I, smiling, "that you and some dear friend not far from Bernarde had made an appointment to watch the setting sun together."
"There's a flight!" cried she, laughing. "Now am I sure that such a fancy would never have entered your mind, if you had not been in love. Come, look me in the face, and let me catechise you."
"Not guilty, upon my honour."
"Humph! This does look very like a face of innocence, I confess. But stay till you know Henry. Let me see how you will stand examination then."
"Just as I do now, I promise you. I ought to have been in love long ago, if the thing had been possible."
"Ought? Pray, what might impose the duty upon you?"
"The regard of one of the best and wisest of mankind, Charlotte. It was once my fate to draw the attention of your countryman, the generous, the eloquent Mr. Maitland."
I saw Miss Graham start, but she remained silent. "You must have heard of him?" continued I; but at that moment, casting my eyes upon Charlotte, I saw her blush painfully. "You know him, then?" said I.
"Yes I--I do," answered she, hesitatingly; and walked on in a profound reverie.
A long silence followed; for Charlotte's blushes and abstraction had told me a tale in which I could not be uninterested. I perceived that her acquaintance with Maitland, however slight, had been sufficient to fix her affections on a spirit so congenial to her own. "Well, well," thought I, "they will meet one day or other; and he will find out that she likes him, and the discovery will cost him trouble enough to make it worth something. She will devote herself willingly to love and solitude, which is just what he wishes, and I dare say they will be very happy. Men can be happy with any body. And yet Maitland hates beauties; and Miss Graham certainly is a beauty." However, when I threw a glance upon Charlotte, I thought I had never seen her look so little handsome; for it must be confessed that the lover must be more than indifferent whom his old mistress can willingly resign to a new one.
I soon, however, began to reproach myself with the uneasiness to which I was subjecting the generous friend to whom I owed such varied forms of kindness. But the difficulty was, how I should return to the subject which we had quitted; for, in spite of the frankness of Charlotte's manners, my freedom with her had limits which were impassable. When she had once indicated the point upon which she would not be touched, I dared not even to approach it. The silence, therefore, continued till she interrupted it by saying, "You are offended with me, Ellen, and you have reason to be so; for I put a question which no friend has a right to ask."
"Dear Charlotte," returned I, "surely you have a right to expect from me any confidence that you will accept; and I shall most readily--"
"No," interrupted Miss Graham, "such questions as mine ought neither to be asked nor answered. If an attachment is fortunate, it is to be supposed that the event will soon publish it; if not, the confession is a degradation to which no human being has a right to subject another."
"Well," thought I, "this is very intelligible, and I shall take care not to trespass. But I will not keep thy generous heart in pain. Cost what it will, thou shalt know that thou hast nothing to fear from me." It was more easy to resolve than to execute; and I felt my cheek glow with blushes, more, I fear, of pride than modesty, while I struggled to relieve the anxiety of my friend. "Nay, Charlotte," said I, "you must listen to a confession which is humbling enough, though not exactly of the kind you allude to. I must do Mr. Maitland the justice to say, that he never put it in my power to reject him. He saw that I was no fit wife for him; and, at the very moment of confessing his weakness, he renounced it for ever. Do not look incredulous. It is not a pretty face, nor even the noble fortune I then expected, that could bribe Maitland to marry a heartless, unprincipled--. Thanks be to Heaven that I am changed--greatly changed. But I assure you, Charlotte, I have not now the slightest reason to believe myself any bar to your--to Mr. Maitland's happiness with some--some--somebody who has not my unlucky incapacity for being in love."
To this confession, Miss Graham answered only by affectionately pressing my hand; and then escaped from the subject, by turning from me to speak to a passing acquaintance. From that time, Charlotte, though in other points perfectly confiding, spoke no more of Maitland; and I must own, that my respect for her was increased by her reserve upon a topic prohibited alike by delicacy and discretion. We had, indeed, no need of boarding-school confidences to enliven our intercourse. Each eager for improvement and for information, we had been so differently educated, that each had much to communicate and to learn. Our views of common subjects were different enough to keep conversation from stagnating; while our accordance upon more important points formed a lasting bond of union. Whoever understands the delights of a kitten and a cork, may imagine that I was at times no bad companion, and Charlotte was peculiarly fitted for a friend; for she had sound principles, unconquerable sweetness of temper, sleepless discretion, and a politeness which followed her into the homeliest scenes of domestic privacy.
How often, as her character unfolded itself, did I wonder what strange fatality had forbidden Maitland to return the affection of a woman so formed to satisfy his fastidious judgment. But I was forced to wonder in silence. Charlotte, open as day on every other theme, was here as impenetrable, as unapproachable, as virgin dignity could make her. Notwithstanding the recency of our friendship, it was already strong enough to render every other interest mutual; and Charlotte easily drew from me the little story of my life and sentiments, while I listened with insatiable curiosity to the accounts she gave me of her home, of her family, and, above all, of her brother Henry.
This was a theme in which she seemed very willing to indulge me. She spoke of him frequently; and the passages which she read to me from his letters often made me remember with a sigh that I had no brother. He seemed to address her as a friend, as an equal; and yet with the tenderness which difference of sex imposes upon a man of right feeling. She was his almoner. Through her he transmitted many a humble comfort to his native valley; and though he had been so many years an alien, he was astonishingly minute and skilful in the direction of his benevolence. He appeared to be acquainted with the character and situation of an incredible number of his clansmen; and the interest and authority with which he wrote of them seemed little less than patriarchal. Though I must own that his commands were not always consonant to English ideas of liberty, they seemed uniformly dictated by the spirit of disinterested justice and humanity; and Graham, in exercising almost the control of an absolute prince, was guided by the feelings of a father.
Though Glen Eredine seemed the passion of his soul--though every letter was full of the concerns of his clansmen--there was nothing theatrical in his plans for their interest or improvement. They were minute and practicable, rather than magnificent. No whole communities were to be hurried into civilization, nor districts depopulated by way of improvement; but some encouragement was to be given to the schoolmaster; Bibles were to be distributed to his best scholars; or Henry would account to his father for the rent of a tenant, who, with his own hands, had reclaimed a field from rock and broom; or, at his expense, the new cottages were to be plastered, and furnished with doors and sashed windows. The execution of these humble plans was, for the present, committed to Charlotte; and the details which she gave me concerning them described a mode of life so oddly compounded of refinement and simplicity, that curiosity somewhat balanced my regret in leaving Edinburgh.
On a fine morning in September we began our journey; and though I was accompanied by all on earth I had to love, and though I was leaving what had been to me the scene of severe suffering, I could not help looking back with watery eyes upon a place which, perhaps, no traveller, uncertain of return, ever quitted without a sigh.
This presentation of Discipline: A Novel, by Mary Brunton is Copyright 2003 by P.J. LaBrocca. It may not be copied, duplicated, stored or transmitted in any form without written permission. The text is in the public domain.