Page images

degree of intenseness. And yet, strange as it may appear, inconceivable as this narration may be, I solemnly and sincerely declare, that were I to have died upon the spot-that if death were to have visited my offence, I could not, by any means, have resisted the earnest desire I felt to return: like Orpheus departing out of hell, I felt myself violently impelled to look back, whatever might be the consequences. I retraced the steps 1 had taken, my heart was throbbing with excitement : my hand was again upon the door-shame crimsons my cheek as I enter into these fulsome details-my meanness was almost incredible: I bowed my head down, and condescended to listen ere I entered. I heard a noise, half sobbing, half sighing, like that which a strong man sends forth, under the pressure of a crushing weight of agony, when struggling in vain to compose himself. I was not contented with listening: my curiosity had arrived at a height, which, to satisfy, I hesitated at nothing; I was capable of any degree of meanness-nothing too contemptible for me; every barrier of honour was broken down, my mind grovelled in the dust of extreme moral degradation. Suddenly was it prostrated at one blow into the slough of most debasing turpitude. I bent my body downward, and looked through a crevice in the door, to ascertain the

behaviour of Mr. Delaval. I saw that he was sitting on a chair, his elbows resting on the table; his face buried in his hands; his breast tumultuously heaving. Presently he rose up; there was an unnatural wildness in his eyes: -they appeared almost bursting from their sockets. He thrust his right hand into his bosom, apparently searching for something, and presently he drew forth from his vest a small goldenbacked miniature; I was unable to perceive the painting: then he re-seated himself, holding out the picture, and gazing most intently upon it, he muttered something, with lips scarcely opened. I hardly know what he said; a few words only were audible-" Leicester-Father-Son-atonement"-but little else. I had made up my mind to enter; I turned the handle of the door; it was locked from the inside.

I heard Delaval striding forward, and, as a natural consequence of my meanness, I became alarmed, and my limbs trembled. It struck me on a sudden that I had framed no excuse for my intrusion. Would to heaven, I thought, that the earth would open and receive me! I was entirely destitute of resources in this critical emergency. I had been so little accustomed to simulation, that, now there was occasion for a lie, I was altogether incapable of inventing one. I would have

willingly made my escape, but I knew that I must be detected in doing so, and my alarms rooted me to the ground. Presently the door opened; Delaval stood before me. My tongue was without power, unable to perform its functions. I stood silent and trembling.

"Jerningham! what do you here? Do you want any thing? Come here!" and he literally dragged me into the room, for the faculty of voluntary exertion was entirely suspended within me. I heard the lock of the door grating; Delaval had turned the key.

"Now, boy! tell me what you want. Speak, sir!- by God, you are tampering with me!" The manner of the usher was wild and fearful. He appeared bursting with choler.

On a sudden I recovered my self-possession, and spoke. I had already grievously committed myself. It was all over; the spot of dishonour was on my brow; the brand of infamy had marked me; I was tainted with a moral leprosy, which nothing could eradicate from my soul. I was a being lost in the ocean of self-contempt,-a mark for the finger of scorn, a spy, detected in his meanness. The action which had done all this was committed, and I could not undo it. It was irretrievable, chronicled in the pages of the past; and contemplating this, I felt relief. I did not


seek to exculpate myself- I abandoned my soul to a sense of desolation; and I was quite tranquil and composed.

"Mr. Delaval, I am in your power. I have nothing whatever to say. I am unaccustomed to tell falsehoods. You must despise me beyond measure; I despise myself; but I would not add to the load of self-contempt which oppresses me by telling a deliberate lie. Deal with me as you will: I expect, I deserve, no mercy. I have intruded myself upon you in a manner most unwarrantable; I have been mean enough to pry into your actions. My conduct has been in the highest degree contemptible. I have given way to the most miserable curiosity. I am altogether unworthy of clemency. Mr. Delaval, deal with me as you please."

"Jerningham! sit down. You are young, and have committed an error. Nay, do not interrupt me. I forgive you, cordially and entirely. Your own feelings, I am sure, will be sufficient atonement for your fault. Let this be a warning to you, my boy, never to pry into the affairs, and above all the misery, of others. Never attempt to raise the veil which sorrow has thrown over its face, to conceal it from the eye of the vulgar. Look upon affliction always, my boy, as a sacred thing. Where you cannot alleviate misfortune, do not

When you

have the impertinence to interfere.
hear the voice of lamentation and feel yourself
unable to console it, pass by the house from which
it issues, and intrude not your irrelevant curiosity.
Stripling as you are, you are capable of inflicting
pain; sorrow revolts at vigilance; sorrow is too
holy to be trifled with, to be vexed with imper-
tinent intrusions. Remember this lesson, my boy;
I have suffered much, as you perceive; but you
are too young to be my confidant. I forgive
you for what you have done; but beware of rous-
ing me a second time. Jerningham, I am not to
be tampered with."

I was astonished at the temperance of this address. But a moment before, Delaval had been all energy and wrath; frantic, violent, and impatient; now he was calm, dignified, and gentle; nothing could be kinder than his manner. So rapid was the change from the tumultuous to the serene, that had I not witnessed it myself, I should scarcely have regarded it as credible. I anticipated, if not some violence of action, certainly a violent reprimand. I never was more mistaken in my life. There was an unwonted degree of kindness in his tones, an unwonted aspect of calmness in his face. I retired from the presence of Delaval with increased respect, and at the same time with increased curiosity. I resolved, however, to set a

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »