« PreviousContinue »
the air of extreme desolation and poverty, thus defacing the beautiful scenery around.
After some delay, the door was slowly and cautiously opened, and a young man, pale, and ragged in his attire, stood before them. The little girl uttered some sounds, unintelligible to the party outside, accompanied by numerous signs and gesticulations, upon which the young man invited them round to a back door, and led them into a small kitchen, with a miserable bed in one corner. The little girl then kindled a fire on the hearth, and warmth was quickly imparted to Teresa's infant, which, after some time, fell into a refreshing sleep in its nurse's arms.
Sedley then took leave of Teresa, not venturing to breathe a hint of the dreadful scene he had so lately witnessed, and Teresa asked the little girl, who had resumed . her sobbing, though less audibly, the cause of her affliction. The child did not answer her, but, taking her by the hand, she led her gently into an adjoining room, which offered a spectacle of more wretchedness, if possible, than the exterior of the cottage.
The earthen floor was uneven, and covered with rubbish and fragments of decaying vegeta ables; the large, cheerless hearth was empty, and the walls broken, and stained by the rain, which came in at the roof in plentiful streams during wet weather.
The furniture of the apartment consisted of two broken chairs and a table, and against the window stood a bed, covered with old and filthy rags.
On that bed lay a poor woman, apparently in the agonies of death ; but the anguish expressed in her upturned eyes spoke of more than mere bodily suffering. A fierce, red spot burned on each shrunken cheek, and her sallow, wasted arms rested on the heads of two kneeling figures, who wept on each side of the bed. One of these mourners was the young man who had admitted the strangers into the cottage, and though clothed in tatters, and wasted with sorrow, there was something peculiarly interesting and beyond the common herd in his appearance. His hair was long and dark, and fell in tangled masses on each
side of his face; his eyes were light gray, and a fixed despair reigned in them. His features were handsome, though pale and attenuated, and his age seemed about twenty-six years.
His thin fingers clasped the hand which hung over his neck, and ever and anon pressed it convulsively, whilst his lips moved in prayer.
The other figure was that of a young woman, & fragile, delicate creature, scarcely seventeen, who looked as though an unkind look or harsh tone would have power to kill her. Her soft blue eyes were fixed, in mournful earnestness, on the face of the youth opposite to her, and her whole soul was in their gaze. There was more than sorrow in their expression ;-anxiety, fear, and deep tenderness were mingled in their scrutiny.
Teresa was deeply affected by this scene, and would have retired, but the little girl pulled her into the room, and then, motioning for her to kneel also, she joined the melancholy group at the bedside, Teresa, unobserved by the mourners or the dying woman, knelt at the farther end of the apartment, and prayed earnestly that, be their sorrow what it might, God would graciously be pleased to mitigate it.
Suddenly a great and ominous change came over the sick woman's countenance, and her son, for such was the young man's relation to her, sprang from his knees and hung over her convulsed countenance with agonized solicitude. Her lips essayed in vain to give utterance to the blessing she longed to call down on that loved head, and her dying, eager gaze rested longingly on his pale features, with an anguish greater than the fear of death.
With effort, she placed her skinny hand on his head, and fondly stroked the cheek which had leaned lovingly against her own in infancy, when ber bloom had not faded, and her boy had not dreamed of sorrow or sin.
The mother's failing sight still sought her son's face, but soon even that cherished image faded from before her, and death stealing away her faculties, quelled for ever the fond hopes, the fearful anxieties, the throbbing, yearning tenderness, and the gushing love of the parent. The thin hand fell down heavily on the ragged covering of the bed, and she lay still and lifeless before them.
With a wild cry the son flung himself on the pallet, and twining his arms round the neck of his dead mother, and glueing his fevered lips to the cold mouth, he strove to recal the vanished life; and then, raising his head, and gazing on the senseless face, he called her, in frantic tones, to bless him and forgive him, accusing himself as her destroyer.
The young girl, meanwhile, had arisen, too, and stood beside the bereaved son, weeping bitterly. Teresa observed that the poor creature was evidently near her confinement, and under such circumstances her grief was peculiarly affecting to witness.
At length, with gentle tenderness, she strove to stem the tide of her husband's grief- for she was his wife—and, by soft words and soothing caresses, she succeeded in calming the first transports of his despair; and, turning towards