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It was noontide. The sun was very hot. An old gentlewoman sat spinning in a little arbour at the door of her cottage. She was blind ; and her grand-daughter was reading the Bible to her. The old lady had just left her work, to attend to the story of Ruth.
"Orpah kissed her mother-in-law; but Ruth clave unto her." It was a passage she could not let pass without a comment. The moral she drew from it was not very new, to be sure. The girl had heard it a hundred times before—and a hundred times more she could have heard it, without suspecting it to be tedious. Rosamund loved her grandmother.
The old lady loved Rosamund too; and she had reason for so doing. Eosamund was to her at once a child and a servant. She had only her left in the world. They two lived together.
They had once known better days. The story of Rosamund's parents, their failure, their folly, and distresses, may be told another time. Our tale hath grief enough in it.
It was now about a year and a half since old Margaret Gray had sold off all her effects, to pay the debts of Rosamund's father—just after the mother had died of a broken heart; for her husband had fled his country to hide his shame in a foreign land. At that period the old lady retired to a small cottage in the village of Widford in Hertfordshire.
Rosamund, in her thirteenth year, was left
destitute, without fortune or friends: she went with her grandmother. In all this time she had served her faithfully and lovingly.
Old Margaret Gray, when she first came into these parts, had eyes, and could see. The neighbours said, they had been dimmed by weeping: be that as it may, she was latterly grown quite blind. "God is very good to us, child ; I can fed you yet." This she would sometimes say; and we need not wonder to hear, that Rosamund clave unto her grandmother.
Margaret retained a spirit unbroken by calamity. There was a principle within, which it seemed as if no outward circumstances could reach. It was a religious principle, and she had taught it to Eosamund; for the girl had mostly resided with her grandmother from her earliest years. Indeed she had taught her all that she knew herself; and the old lady's knowledge did not extend a vast way.
Margaret had drawn her maxims from observation ; and a pretty long experience in life had contributed to make her, at times, a little positive : but Bosamund never argued with her grandmother.
Their library consisted chiefly in a large family Bible, with notes and expositions by various learned expositors, from Bishop Jewell downwards.
This might never be suffered to lie about like other books, but was kept constantly wrapt up in a handsome case of green velvet, with gold tassels—the only relic of departed grandeur they had brought with them to the cottage—everything else of value had been sold off for the purpose above mentioned.
This Bible Rosamund, when a child, had never dared to open without permission; and even yet, from habit, continued the custom. Margaret had parted with none of her authority; indeed it was never exerted with much harshness; and happy was Rosamund, though a girl grown, when she could obtain leave to read her Bible. It was a treasure too valuable for an indiscriminate use; and Margaret still pointed out to her grand-daughter where to read.
Besides this, they had the "Complete Angler, or Contemplative Man's Recreation," with cuts—"Pilgrim's Progress," the first part—a Cookery Book, with a few dry sprigs of rosemary and lavender stuck here and there between the leaves, (I suppose to point to some of the old lady's most favourite receipts,) and there was "Wither's Emblems," an old book, and quaint. The old-fashioned pictures in this last book were among the first exciters of the infant Rosamund's curiosity. Her contemplation had fed upon them in rather older years.
Rosamund had not read many books besides these; or if any, they had been only occasional companions: these were to Rosamund as old friends, that she had long known. I know not whether the peculiar cast of her mind might not be traced, in part, to a tincture she had received, early in life, from Walton and Wither, from John Bunyan and her Bible.
Rosamund's mind was pensive and reflective, rather than what passes usually for clever or acute. From a child she was remarkably shy and thoughtful—this was taken for stupidity and want of feeling ; and the child has been sometimes whipt for being a stubborn thing, when her little heart was almost bursting with affection.
Even now her grandmother would often reprove her, when she found her too grave or melancholy; give her sprightly lectures about good-humour and rational mirth; and not unfrequently fall a-crying herself, to the great discredit of her lecture. Those tears endeared her the more to Rosamund.
Margaret would say, " Child, I love you to cry, when I think you are only remembering your poor dear father and mother ;—I would
have you think about them sometimes—it would be strange if you did not; but I fear, Rosamund—I fear, girl, yon sometimes think too deeply about your own situation and poor prospects in life. When you do so, you do wrong—remember the naughty rich man in the parable. He never had any good thoughts about God, and his religion: and that might have been your case."
Rosamund, at these times, could not reply to her ; she was not in the habit of arguing with her grandmother; so she was quite silent on these occasions—or else the girl knew well enough herself, that she had only been sad to think of the desolate condition of her best friend, to see her, in her old age, so infirm and blind. But she had never been used to make excuses, when the old lady said she was doing wrong.
The neighbours were all very kind to them. The veriest rustics never passed them without a bow, or a pulling off of the hat — some show of courtesy, awkward indeed, but affectionate—with a "Goodmorrow, madam," or "young madam," as it might happen.
Rude and savage natures, who seem born with a propensity to express contempt for anything that looks like prosperity, yet felt respect for its declining lustre.
The farmers, and better sort of people, (as they are called,) all promised to provide for Rosamund when her grandmother should die. Margaret trusted in God and believed them.
She used to say, "I have lived many years in the world, and have never known people, good people, to be left without some friend; a relation, a benefactor, a something. God knows our wants—that it is not good for man or woman to be alone; and he always sends us a helpmate, a leaning place, a somewhat." Upon this sure ground of experience, did Margaret build her trust in Providence.
Bosamund had just made an end of her story, (as I was about to relate,) and was listening to the application of the moral, (which said application she was old enough
to have made herself, but her grandmother still continued to treat her, in many respects, as a child, and Rosamund was in no haste to lay claim to the title of womanhood,) when a young gentleman made his appearance and interrupted them.
It was young Allan Clare, who had brought a present of peaches, and some roses, for Rosamund.
He laid his little basket down on a seat of the arbour; and in a respectful tone of voice, as though he were addressing a parent, inquired of Margaret " how she did."
The old lady seemed pleased with his attentions—answered his inquiries by saying, that " her cough was less troublesome a-nights, but she had not yet got rid of it, and probably she never might; but she did not like to tease young people with an account of her infirmities."
A few kind words passed on either side, when young Clare, glancing a tender look at the girl, who had all this time been silent, took leave of them with saying, "I shall bring Elinor to see you in the evening."
When he was gone, the old lady began to prattle.
"That is a sweet-dispositioned youth, and I do love him dearly, I must say it—there is such a modesty in all he says or does—he should not come here so often, to be sure, but I don't know how to help it; there is so much goodness in him, I can't find it in my heart to forbid him. But, Rosamund, girl, I must tell you beforehand; when you grow older, Mr. Clare must be no companion for you: while you were both so young it was all very well—but the time is coming, when folks will think harm of it, if a rich young gentleman, like Mr. Clare, comes so often to our poor cottage.—Dost hear, girl? Why don't you answer? Come, I did not mean to say anything to hurt you—speak to me, Rosamund—nay, I must not have you be sullen—I don't love people that are sullen."
And in this manner was this poor soul running on, unheard and unheeded, when it occurred to her, that possibly the girl might not be within hearing.
And true it was, that Rosamund had slunk away at the first mention of Mr. Clare's good qualities: and when she returned, which was not till a few minutes after Margaret had made an end of her fine
harangue, it is certain her cheeks did look very rosy. That might have been from the heat of the day or from exercise, for she had been walking in the garden.
Margaret, we know, was blind; and, in this case, it was lucky for Rosamund that she was so, or she might have made some not unlikely surmises.
I must not have my reader infer from this, that I at all think it likely, a young maid of fourteen would fall in love without asking her grandmother's leave—the thing itself is not to be conceived.
To obviate all suspicions, I am disposed to communicate a little anecdote of Rosamund
A month or two back her grandmother had been giving her the strictest prohibitions, in her walks, not to go near a certain spot, which was dangerous from the circumstance of a huge overgrown oak-tree spreading its prodigious arms across a deep chalk-pit, which they partly concealed.
To this fatal place Rosamund came one day — female curiosity, we know, is older than the flood—let us not think hardly of the girl, if she partook of the sexual failing.
Rosamund ventured further and further— climbed along one of the branches — approached the forbidden chasm — her foot slipped—she was not killed—but it was by a mercy she escaped—other branches intercepted her fall—and with a palpitating heart she made her way back to the cottage.
It happened that evening, that her grandmother was in one of her best humours, caressed Rosamund, talked of old times, and what a blessing it was they two found a shelter in their little cottage, and in conclusion told Rosamund, "she was a good girl, and God would one day reward her for her kindness to her old blind grandmother."
This was more than Rosamund could bear. Her morning's disobedience came fresh into her mind; she felt she did not deserve all this from Margaret, and at last burst into a fit of crying, and made confession of her fault. The old gentlewoman kissed and forgave her.
Eosamund never went near that naughty chasm again.
Margaret would never have heard of this, if Rosamund had not told of it herself. But this young maid had a delicate moral sense, which would not suifer her to take advantage of her grandmother, to deceive her, or conceal anything from her, though Margaret was old, and blind, and easy to be imposed upon.
Another virtuous trait I recollect of Rosamund, and now I am in the vein will tell it.
Some, I know, will think these things trifles — and they are so — but if these minutice make my reader better acquainted with Rosamund, I am content to abide the imputation.
These promises of character, hints, and early indications of a sweet nature, are to me more dear, and choice in the selection, than any of those pretty wild flowers, which this young maid, this virtuous Rosamund, has ever gathered in a fine May morning, to make a posy to place in the bosom of her old blind friend.
Rosamund had a very just notion of drawing, and would often employ her talent in making sketches of the surrounding scenery.
On a landscape, a larger piece than she hat! ever yet attempted, she had now been working for three or four months. She had taken great pains with it, given much time to it, and it was nearly finished. For whose particular inspection it was designed, I will not venture to conjecture. We know it could not have been for her grandmother's.
One day she went out on a short errand, and left her landscape on the table. When she returned, she found it gone.
Rosamund from the first suspected some mischief, but held her tongue. At length she made the fatal discovery. Margaret, in her absence, had laid violent hands on it; not knowing what it was, but taking it for some waste-paper, had torn it in half, and with one half of this elaborate composition had twisted herself up—a thread-paper!
Rosamund spread out her hands at sight of the disaster, gave her grandmother a roguish smile, but said not a word. She knew the poor soul would only fret, if she told her of it,—and when once Margaret was set a fretting for other people's misfortunes, the fit held her pretty long.
So Rosamund that very afternoon began another piece of the same size and subject; and Margaret, to her dying day, never dreamed of the mischief she had unconsciously done.
Rosamund Gray was the most beautihil young creature that eyes ever beheld. Her face had the sweetest expression in it—a gentleness—a modesty—a timidity—a certain charm—a grace without a name.
There was a sort of melancholy mingled in her smile. It was not the thoughtless levity of a girl—it was not the restrained simper of premature womanhood—it was something which the poet Young might have remembered, when he composed that perfect line,
"Soft, modest, melancholy, female, fair."
She was a mild-eyed maid, and everybody loved her. Young Allan Clare, when but a boy, sighed for her.
Her yellow hair fell in bright and curling clusters, like
"Those hanging locks Of young Apollo."
Her voice was trembling and musical. A graceful diffidence pleaded for her whenever she spake—and, if she said but little, that little found its way to the heart.
Young, and artless, and innocent, meaning no harm, and thinking none ; affectionate as a smiling infant—playful, yet inobtrusive, as a weaned lamb — everybody loved her. Young Allan Clare, when but a boy, sighed for her.
The moon is shining in so brightly at my window, where I write, that I feel it a crime not to suspend my employment awhile to gaze at her.
See how she glideth, in maiden honour, through the clouds, who divide on either side to do her homage.
Beautiful vision !—as I contemplate thee, an internal harmony is communicated to my mind, a moral brightness, a tacit analogy of mental purity ; a culm like that we ascribe in fancy to the favoured inhabitants of thy fairy regions," argent fields."
I marvel not, O moon, that heathen people, in the " olden times," did worship thy deity —Cynthia, Diana, Hecate. Christian Europe invokes thee not by these names now—her idolatry is of a blacker stain: Belial is her God—she worships Mammon.
False things are told concerning thee, fair planet—for I will ne'er believe that thou canst take a perverse pleasure in distorting the brains of us, poor mortals. Lunatics! moonstruck! Calumny invented, and folly took up, these names. I would hope better things from thy mild aspect and benign influences.
Lady of Heaven, thou lendest thy pure lamp to light the way to the virgin mourner, when she goes to seek the tomb where her warrior lover lies.
Friend of the distressed, thou speakest only peace to the lonely sufferer, who walks forth in the placid evening, beneath thy gentle light, to chide at fortune, or to complain of changed friends, or unhappy loves.
Do I dream, or doth not even now a heavenly calm descend from thee into my bosom, as I meditate on the chaste loves of Rosamund and her Clare!
Allan Clare was just two years older than Rosamund. He was a boy of fourteen, when he first became acquainted with her— it was soon after she had come to reside with her grandmother at Widford.
He met her by chance one day, carrying a pitcher in her hand, which she had been filling from a neighbouring well—the pitcher was heavy, and she seemed to be bending with its weight.
Allan insisted on carrying it for her—for he thought it a sin that a delicate young maid, like her, should be so employed, and he stand idle by.
Allan had a propensity to do little kind offices for everybody—but at the sight of Rosamund Gray, his first fire was kindled— his young mind seemed to have found an object, and his enthusiasm was from that time forth awakened. His visits, from that day, were pretty frequent at the cottage.
He was never happier than when he could get Rosamund to walk out with* him. He would make her admire the scenes he admired—fancy the wild flowers he fancied— watch the clouds he was watching—and not unfrequently repeat to her poetry which he loved, and make her love it.
On their return, the old lady, who considered them yet as but children, would bid Rosamund fetch Mr. Clare a glass of her currant-wine, a bowl of new milk, or some cheap dainty which was more welcome to Allan than the costliest delicacies of a prince's court.
The boy and girl, for they were no more at that age, grew fond of each other—more fond than either of them suspected.
"They would sit, and sigh,
*' In this first garden of their simplenesa
A circumstance had lately happened, which in some sort altered the nature of their attachment.
Rosamund was one day reading the tale of "Julia de Roubign6 "—a book which young Clare had lent her.
Allan was standing by, looking over her, with one hand thrown round her neck, and a finger of the other pointing to a passage in Julia's third letter.
"Maria! in my hours of visionary indulgence, I have sometimes painted to myself a husband—no matter whom—comforting me amidst the distresses which fortune had laid upon us. I have smiled upon him through my tears; tears, not of anguish, but of tenderness !—our children were playing around us, unconscious of misfortune; we had taught them to be humble, and to be happy; our little shed was reserved to us, and their smiles to cheer it.— I have imagined tho luxury of such a scene, and affliction became a part of my dream of happiness."
The girl blushed as she read, and trembled —she had a sort of confused sensation, that Allan was noticing her—yet she durst not lift her eyes from the book, but continued reading, scarce knowing what she read.
Allan guessed the cause of her confusion, Allan trembled too—his colour came and went—his feelings became impetuous—and flinging both arms round her neck, he kissed his young favourite.
Rosamund was vexed and pleased, soothed and frightened, all in a moment—a fit of tears came to her relief.