Page images
PDF
EPUB

evening, and from thence had passed on to Portsmouth; intending, as he stated, to return home from that place on Tuesday morning. Thither the grieving father traced him, but all further knowledge of him was cut off.

“Emma heard the tale as though she heard it not. A lethargick stupefaction seemed to have taken irremediable possession of her ;-all our attempts were unavailing to cheer or rouse her ; the very core of her existence had become affected. Her only amusement, now, consisted in rambling across the fields to Mr. Harlow's,-or strolling round our extensive garden, and visiting the arbour, where Alfred used for hours to sit, during the summer's evenings, and read by her side, while she engaged herself in some piece of fancy-work.

“Thus months passed away, when one morning the servant entered our breakfast-parlour, with a letter. It was directed to Emma. Scarcely had her tear-dimmed eye fallen on the well-known characters of the address, than, with an ecstasy almost overpowering, she pressed it to her lips, and then tore it open, as she exclaimed-My Alfred still lives.' Hastily she ran over part of its contents, but had not proceeded far before it fell from her nerveless hands, and in a fainting stupor, which looked like death's forerunner, she was borne to her bed.

“I immediately dispatched a messenger for Mr. and Mrs. Harlow, who attended instantly to the summons; when I laid before them the letter

of war.

from Alfred. It was dated from Gibraltar, and was written amid the bustle and noisy preparations

He informed his beloved Emma, that he had reached Portsmouth late on Monday night, anxious to leave on the following morning for home. He had scarcely left the coach, before he was surrounded by a party of men, desperate alike in looks and action. He soon learned they were a gang of men employed to impress both seamen and landsmen for the naval service. Without allowing him time to write, they hurried him on board a vessel ready to receive the unfortunate individuals who were thus inhumanly trepanned. From thence he was, with several others, drafted on board a ship of war, which weighed anchor the following day, and sailed to join the fleet under the command of Lord Exmouth, who was about to attack the city of Algiers. The troops, he informed us, were entering the ship while he wrote; and in a few hours from the date of the letter, he expected he should be called to witness scenes, at the bare idea of which his heart revolted. A noble spirit breathed throughout the whole; while the grief of the man was absorbed in the resignation of the Christian.”

Mr. Wilkinson paused a moment: the scenes of by-gone years stood out before him. His frame shook from the intensity of his feelings, and he attempted in vain to suppress the violence of his grief. Nature triumphed over the man, and a torrent of scalding tears gushed from his aged eyes,

[ocr errors]

and laved his furrowed cheeks. The relief was instantaneous and salutary, but it was infectious. Before I was aware of it, I had mingled my tears with the good old man's, and felt as though I realized, by actual vision, all the scenes he had so pathetically, and with all the irresistible power of unadorned simplicity, narrated. The luxury of unbroken silence, save only as a half-suppressed sigh struggled out, tranquillized us both. You will excuse the feelings of a parent and a friend,' said the venerable mourner, as he wiped away the tears, and dried the dampness from his face. I loved Alfred as though he had been my own son: but the sequel of my tale will be brief, and will be the best apology for my conduct; you will therefore, sir, allow me to proceed, I hope.' I bowed assent, for I could do no more, and he went on.

“ Five weeks of dreadful anxiety passed away after we received Alfred's letter; during which period a strong and alarming evidence was given, that the shock which his mother had received, who was naturally of a tender constitution, was likely to prove fatal. Poor Emma, too, had never since been seen to smile. Her native vivacity had entirely deserted her. The buoyancy of her spirits had been succeeded by a pensive melancholy, which no effort could remove. The weekly journals were now read with lively, yet painful interest. The success of the British arms, in reducing to subjection the haughty and cruel dey, was announced : a general list was furnished of the killed and wounded, but nothing particular could as yet be obtained. At length the fatal tidings came. Oh! I see the rolling madness now, that then fired the eye of my beloved Emma, but which wild brightness soon declined to dulness, to shine in its wonted lusture no more for ever in this world. The fatal tidings came, which told us that our Alfred was among the slain.

"To describe the scene which immediately followed the information, would be as impossible as to gather up the tears which then were shed. To attempt it is not necessary,it was overwhelming. The father and mother, like two majestic oaks smitten by the same blast of lightning, droopedand died. That grave, sir, before three weeks had passed, received them both. Emma and myself followed them to their resting-place; we watered the earth of those we so much loved, and returned, but not in comfort, to our home. Ah, no; my child survived, indeed, the blow ;-but how? Her body lived,-but the ethereal spark, which lighted up her once lovely form, went out, or burned with a fitful glimmer. Reason was dethroned ; and she, who once was the pride of the village, now wanders a harmless, joyless, mourning maniac. If she is now capable of receiving pleasure, it is derived from her lonely visits to the tomb of Alfred's parents, on which she scatters flowers; over which she chants a melancholy air, and then returns to muse, in almost unbroken silence, in her own chamber."

The good old man paused, and placed his hand on his forehead for a moment, as if lost in deep abstraction. The tears again started from his eyes, as he elevated them in meek submission, and exclaimed, clasping his wrinkled hands together, “Thy will be done. I dare not, sir, rebel,” he said, “ although I cannot but grieve; mercy has been mingled with all my afflictions; as has been my day, so has been my strength also. The painful scene will soon close, and I shall then know fully, and approve entirely, what now I cannot comprehend.” I was unable to reply. I felt unutterable things. I seemed surrounded by another atmosphere than that in which I had before lived. So different was the experience of the venerable being by my side, from the frigid caloulations of mere orthodox theorists: I half regretted that I should be compelled to leave him. I, however, prevailed upon him to accompany me to my inn, where we dined together; after which, we took an affectionate leave of each other, and I journeyed towards my residence in town.

Weeks passed on, and still my mind instinctively reverted to the pathetic statements and pious resignation of Mr. Wilkinson. An effect was produced, of which I could not divest myself; my spirits appeared tinged with a species of melancholy, derived, as it would appear, by sympathy, which being directly opposite to my natural habits, became the more observable. I was one day, at a distance of about five or six weeks after

my

return

« PreviousContinue »