"It's an excellent offer—so plain and handsome!"
The above contradictory description was applied by Mrs. Gibbs to the
contents of a letter which a few hours previously, had been received
by her husband, Mr. John Gibbs, of Adelaide Crescent, Camberwell.
Mr. and Mrs. Gibbs were rather elderly: a stranger would have
taken them to be brother and sister; for, having lived together during
the greater part of a long life, not only had their habits and modes
of thought become congenial, but even the expression of their respective
features had assumed a strong resemblance.
On the evening in which it is our purpose to introduce the reader
to their acquaintance, Mr. and Mrs. Gibbs occupied the precise position
which they had at the same hour occupied evening after evening
for the preceding forty years; that is, Mrs. Gibbs was by the
side of the table with her "work," and Mr. Gibbs sate with his feet
upon the fender, an open book by his side, on which his spectacles
were deposited, while his body was assuming a backward inclination,
which was occasionally checked by a sudden bobbing forward of the
head, accompanied by a pulmonary effort of a most profound description.
"A little more, and I should have been asleep," said Mr. Gibbs;
and, as the remark had escaped from the lips of that gentleman once
every evening during nearly half a century, it did not seem to Mrs.
Gibbs to call for any particular reply.
"I was speaking, my dear," said she, "of Mr. Paine's offer."
"And I," responded Mr. Gibbs, "was thinking upon the very same
subject at the moment when you spoke; I was thinking that we must
keep our eyes open to the advantages which are now presented."
Mr. Gibbs took a glass of wine, resumed his horizontal position, and
seemed disposed to nod.
"Well, my dear,—now do rouse up,—if we are to accept Mr. Paine
as a son-in-law, what will young Langton say to us?"
"I hope," said Mr. Gibbs, rubbing his eyes and yawning most uncomfortably,—"I
hope Mr. Langton doesn't dream——"
"Why, my dear," interrupted the lady, "you must allow, we have
given him a little encouragement."
"Not at all—not at all," was the reply; "nothing could be further
from my intention: if indeed he had such an idea as you seem to
intimate, I'm sure it has never been encouraged by me; he may
have fancied otherwise, but anything of the sort on my part was mere
manner, I assure you."
Mrs. Gibbs seemed satisfied, and the conversation on Mr. Paine's
offer was resumed.
"He is so very respectable," said Mr. Gibbs, "and at a very suitable
age for Caroline; two giddy people together would never do
any good: I don't think much good ever comes of early marriages."
"We were neither of us of age when we married," interposed
Mrs. Gibbs: "I hope you consider that case to have been an exception."
Mr. Gibbs was still dozy, and he nodded his head just at the right
moment. The lady continued.
"If I were asked to choose a husband for my daughter, I shouldn't
hesitate to give her Paine."
"Nor I either," replied Gibbs, who misunderstood his wife; "it
would be entirely for her own good."
"He is a very pleasant man," ruminated Mrs. Gibbs.
"He has a thorough knowledge of the world, a great deal of philosophy,
"A nice house in the Regent's Park."
We need not further pursue the interesting dialogue; suffice it to
say that it terminated in a decision favourable to Mr. Paine, and a
comfortable belief that if Mr. Charles Langton should go out of his
mind, it would be entirely his own fault, as any encouragement which
he might fancy to have been given, was only to be attributed to Mr.
Mr. and Mrs. Gibbs were "early people;" the clock struck ten,
the housemaid and cook were heard ascending to their places of repose.
Mrs. Gibbs followed, while her husband commenced, according
to nightly custom, a perambulation in the dark, in order to see that
everything was right; and having descended into the kitchen, and
peeped into the cellar, and put his foot into a dish of water and red
wafers set as a black-beetle trap, and knocked his forehead against a
half-open door, he felt, as he said, satisfied in his mind, and could go
to sleep in the most comfortable manner.
"What a beautiful night!" said the gentleman as he placed the
extinguisher on his candle and the bright light of the moon entered
his dressing-room. He manifested, however, no romantic desire to
sit and watch her silent progress, so in a short time her beams were
falling on the unconscious features of Mr. and Mrs. Gibbs.
The night was beautiful indeed,—so beautiful that we can only
hope to bring it to the mind's eye of our matter-of-fact friends by
stating that it was one of those evenings when the moon attains a
brilliancy so extraordinary, that "you may see to pick up a pin;"
having arrived at which point, we have been accustomed to believe
lunar brightness can no further go.
The number of moonlight nights which shed their influence upon
us during a passing year is of very small amount; and yet, when we
suffer memory to look through "the waves of time," how much of
moonlight is brought upon the mind. Day after day passes away,
and although they give birth to new events and unlooked-for changes,
yet they leave no more impression behind than we should experience
after a survey of the fragmental patterns of a kaleidoscope,—each
movement produces a variation, but there is nevertheless a general
sameness of character which is altogether destructive of a permanent
effect;—but in the lives of all men there have been moonlight "passages"
which stand alone in their recollection, and which come upon
them in after years, remembered as the periods when the heart, escaping
from the stifling struggles of daily life, assumed a freer action,—moments
in which they made resolutions which perhaps were broken,
but which nevertheless it is some credit to them only to have made.
By daylight we are apt to consider mankind in the mass; by moonlight
we invariably individualize,—we feel more deeply how mysteriously
we stand, lonely in the midst of countless multitudes, and we
draw more closely to our hearts those who have sought to lighten
"The heavy and the weary weight
Of all this unintelligible world."
Reader, when you take a retrospect of life, we will answer for
it that your fancy turns to some moonlight game with happy
schoolfellows beneath a row of ancient elms, which threw their long
cold shadows upon the greensward by the side of a village church.
Let your fancy wander on, there is moonlight still: you roam, perchance,
near the same church, and a gentle maiden is by your side;
but you do not choose the elm-walk now, because the "school-boys"
divert themselves thereon, and you prefer a semi-solitary stroll. Onward
still: you are mixing in the bustle and heat of life; and there
are moonlight hours when the thought of your vain career comes
upon your mind, and you form in your heart new resolves, and pant
with higher aspirations. Onward once more: and the scene is drawing
to a close, the mist is on your sight, and memory wanders o'er a
field of graves; and now how often do you lift your aching eyes to
the silent and trembling stars, and suffer fancies to dwell upon your
mind, that perchance from those orbs the spirits of the dead may be
permitted to look down!
We only intended to venture a few words upon this subject, but we
are afraid that we have written a "discourse."
There is a range of hill running from Westerham to Sevenoaks, the
neighbourhood of which abounds with quiet scenery of surpassing
beauty; and during the period in which Mr. and Mrs. Gibbs's dialogue
took place, the young lady to whom it referred was indulging
in a pleasant stroll in the garden of a cottage which stood in one of
the little valleys at the foot of this range, and in which dwelt the
parents of the young gentleman who was the companion of her walk,
and who was the identical person whom Mr. Gibbs so strenuously
stated to have received no "encouragement" whatever.
They wandered round a lawn encircled by a shrubbery path, which
was glittering in the silver light: they were very silent, but they felt
all that youth can feel, although an occasional exclamation of "How
beautiful this is!" was all that mutually escaped their lips. A midsummer
night and a garden-path are capable of imparting much power
to the most delicate young ladies; and instances are by no means
rare of some who would have shrunk from the prospect of an excursion
extending to a mile from home, who will nevertheless stroll unrepiningly
in company with a cousin or a friend two or three hundred
times round a gravel-walk!
There was a happy family within doors,—brothers and sisters,—the
light from the cottage-windows shining on the shrubs in front,
and the merry laugh sounding from within: occasionally they were
interrupted in their stroll, and messages were sent to know "whether
they were coming in,—and that the grass was wet, and the night-air
dangerous, and Miss Gibbs very delicate," &c. &c. &c.; to which messages
replies were given that "they were not walking on the grass,
and that the air was exceedingly mild, and that Miss Gibbs had a
headache, and found herself better out of doors;" and then they were
told that it was past ten o'clock,—and they promised to come in
directly; and Mr. Langton only asked Caroline to take one turn more,
and during that time he took Miss Gibbs's arm; and then he must
walk once more round, and "this should positively be the last;" and
so they took another turn, and this time his arm gently encircled her
waist; and as they came in, there was a little hesitation while they
were scraping their feet, and Caroline upon entering looked a little
confused, and Mr. Langton seemed remarkably buoyant, and he rattled
on for an hour or two, till his mother declared that there was
"no getting him to bed;" and after Caroline and his mother and sisters
had retired, he entered into an elaborate speech to his father
concerning his prospects in life, which was only discontinued upon
the discovery that his respectable parent had been asleep for upwards
of an hour.
The reader who compares the stern reality of our opening scene
with the poetic character of that by which it was succeeded, will
have little difficulty in anticipating the result: the first disclosed the
decision upon a plan which it had long been the chief object of a
worldly man to effect; the latter was the idle dream of a boy and
girl who knew nothing of the world, and still less of themselves.
On the morning subsequent to his moonlight walk, cool reflection
had operated on the mind of Mr. Langton so far as to reduce the
ardour with which he desired to communicate to his father his design
of immediately entering into some active pursuit, with the view of
sharing with an amiable partner an income which he was quite sure he
could not fail to realize, but which as yet existed only in his own
imagination. Nevertheless, although the daylight had thus produced
its usual effect, and had given a matter-of-fact turn to his thoughts, he
felt that he really did love Caroline, although it might be prudent to
wait some few years before he made a formal declaration to that effect.
Like most other young persons, he imagined that it was the
easiest thing in the world to live on with unshaken affection, however
distant might be the realization of his hopes: he was little aware of
the numberless and apparently trivial influences which, during a period
of prolonged separation or suspense, tend effectually to give a new
colour to the views of those who have thus drawn upon futurity.
As he seated himself at the breakfast-table, he received from Caroline,
in return for one of those
"Looks and signs
We see and feel, but none defines,"
a very kind glance, which assured him that he was the object of kind
thoughts: he fancied that Fate had already twined the wreath that
was to bring their happy fortune within one bright round,—that their
love would be sanctified by the very difficulties with which he might
have to contend before he could make her his wife,—that, with her
as the reward of his exertions, he could not fail to succeed, and that
to her influence alone he should proudly attribute whatever honours
he might ultimately gain:—that look across the breakfast-table, unobserved
by others, was the source from whence his imagination
found no difficulty in tracing the Nile-like current of his future
We want to compress into one paper, events which were brought
about by the course of several years; we must therefore hurry the
reader over a few facts which perhaps he will have anticipated already.
Shortly after the consultation between Mr. and Mrs. Gibbs, Caroline
received a letter from them, written in a tone of more than ordinary
affection, interweaved with some little sermon-like passages
touching the implicit obedience which children should at all times
bestow upon their parents, and enforcing the same by the observation
that those who had lived in the world nearly sixty years must of
course in that time have acquired a nice sensibility of the manner in
which to deal with the affections of the young. It concluded by requiring
her immediate return to town; it gave their best love to Mr.
and Mrs. Langton, and their compliments to Mr. Charles.
On Caroline's return the arrangements respecting Mr. Paine were
fully detailed. Caroline cried, and Mrs. Gibbs said it was very natural
she should dislike to leave her mother,—that she would consult
her wishes in every way,—that she lived only in the happiness of her
child, but that she must insist upon her acceptance of Mr. Paine:
and then Caroline's friends were entreated to come and see her as
often as possible, and they were particularly requested by Mrs. Gibbs
not to put any idle fancies into her head which might prejudice her
against the match; and one young lady of four-and-thirty, who had
once possessed some charms, and who had flirted away all her
chances, was desired to come and "cheer her up" whenever she could
find time: the said young lady having for the last five years been in
the habit of expressing a contempt for very young men, and an extreme
desire to become the wife of some "nice old gentleman who
kept his carriage."
After the detail of these circumstances, it will not be thought surprising
that at a period of seven years from the opening of our story
Caroline had long been the wife of Mr. Paine; and, having become the
mother of three children, had made every effort, although perhaps
she had not succeeded, to forget the moonlight walk in which she
had been "so happy" with Charles Langton.
Mr. Paine was a merchant. His father, who had been a warehouseman
in Friday-street, had, as is the custom of warehousemen,
amassed a considerable fortune; and, although he had not been known
to think very highly of himself while he was in indifferent circumstances,
his own estimate of his value as a man, gradually grew with
the strength of his pocket. His friends considered this a very proper
view, and towards the end of his life he became much respected.
Some time before his death he had purchased for his son a partnership
in a house of "high standing," in which that gentleman had
gradually risen from junior partner until he became the head of the
firm. He inherited along with his father's wealth a great similarity
of disposition; and his ideas of the importance of the "house," and
consequently of his own importance as the head of the firm, had become
the all-absorbing feature of his mind. Now this, although it
told with admirable effect in Broad-street, was scarcely calculated to
astonish his West-end connexions, nor was it likely to give that freedom
of manner which forms the peculiar charm of domestic life.
Mr. Paine, on account of his mercantile standing, had been elected
to a directorship of a prosperous insurance company; and as he was
accustomed to look in daily at the office of the establishment, where
he found himself surrounded by bowing clerks, and porters in bright
waistcoats, who never heard a whisper from his voice without raising
their hands to their hats, he became very deeply impressed with the
idea that he really was an extraordinary person. No doubt he was
so; but it was the misfortune of Mr. Paine that he never contemplated
that "unbending of the bow" which is rather necessary to
make home happy, and consequently when he returned from town he
was cold and formal, in order to produce an impression on his servants,
similar to that which gratified him in the City; and when he
took his seat at the dinner-table there was hardly any variation from
the manner which characterised him as chairman at the weekly
meetings of the company, each remark being delivered in a style
which sounded very much like a Resolution of "the Board."
Men choose their acquaintances as they choose their wives, and
are very apt to select those whose qualities differ most widely from
their own. Acting upon this principle, Mr. Paine had become intimate
with a person to whom he condescended in a more than ordinary
This person was Mr. Hartley Fraser, an unmarried man, at about
the middle, or, as it is very pleasantly termed, the prime of life. He
was of good family and small income; which latter circumstance he
always assigned as the cause of his determination to live single, although
it was attributed by some to a habit of ease and self-indulgence
which he was now not disposed to correct. He knew and liked
everybody in the world; and his philanthropy was not thrown away,
for he was universally sought after, and in the making up of parties
was always spoken of as a very desirable man. He humoured the
foibles and flattered the caprices of his friends; the ladies liked him
because he was "so useful," and the men spoke well of him because
he never became a rival. He had always avowed his intention of remaining
unwived, since, to use his own words, he found that he could
drag on quietly enough with six or seven hundred a year as a bachelor,
and he felt no inclination to go back in the world by becoming the
proprietor of an expensive wife and a needy "establishment."
His manner, which, as we have already stated, was quite antithetical
to Mr. Paine's, was as easy and kind as possible; and his stiff
friend was never able to unravel the means by which, in the absence
of a cast-iron stateliness, he invariably seemed to produce a feeling of
deference in the minds of those with whom he came in contact.
Though professing poverty, he never borrowed. His appearance was
extremely good; while in conversation he rarely spoke of himself,
and, if ever he did so, it was with an air of so little reserve, that his
hearer could not help entertaining an idea that he was the most candid
person in the world.
Mr. Paine felt quite proud of his popular acquaintance; and, as
pride was the only attribute through which it was possible to gratify
or wound that gentleman's feelings, of course he entertained as much
regard for him as he could under any circumstances feel for any one.
Fraser was therefore a frequent visitor at his house, which, despite of
the governor's formality, was pleasant enough, for Caroline was always
kind and cheerful, and "the children" were never visible.
Mr. Fraser soon became aware that his visits were rendered more
frequent by the attraction of Caroline's society, while she could not
sometimes help acknowledging to herself that her husband's selfish
coldness was not placed in the most favourable light by a contrast
with his agreeable friend. This was a dangerous discovery; but just
at the period when it might have led to serious inroads on her happiness,
an accident occurred which gave a new turn to her thoughts,
and which tended to a catastrophe as unforeseen as it was fatal.
At an early hour in the afternoon a servant who had charge of the
children would frequently request permission to take the eldest, a fine
boy six years of age, for a short walk. Her consideration for the
health and mental improvement of her young charge invariably induced
her to wend her way to Oxford-street, where, by a strange
coincidence, she invariably met a young gentleman in a flour-sprinkled
jacket who emerged from a neighbouring baker's, and with whom,
though they only met on these occasions, it afterwards appeared she
was "keeping company." During the period of their conversation
the child was told to "play about;" and, with that inherent love of
liberty which dwells in the human mind, the boy made a point of
availing himself of this permission by forthwith getting into all those
spots which at other times he had been taught to shun. Occasionally
a foot would become fixed between the iron gratings of an area in
such a manner that he was unable to extract it; and then he would
immediately roar as though he had been placed there by some tyrannical
nursery-maid, and a crowd would collect to sympathise with his
pangs, and at length to witness his extrication. At other times the
gutter would seem to offer irresistible attraction; and in all cases the
attentive guardian to whom he was entrusted consented not to tell her
"missus" of his delinquencies if he would promise not to say a word
about the young man from the baker's. This system was carried on
till it had nearly terminated in a serious event. The child, having on
one occasion stepped off the footway, was thrown down in attempting
to escape from a carriage that was furiously approaching: in
another instant the horses would have trampled upon him, had not a
young man who observed his frightful situation rushed, heedless of
danger, to the horses' heads, and, with the aid of the coachman, arrested
their progress. The stranger learned from the boy his name
and residence, conveyed him home, and, after giving an account of
the accident, left a card with the footman to whom he delivered the
child. About an hour afterwards the guardian angel returned in
great alarm, when she was immediately favoured with unlimited leave
of absence, and thereby enabled, literally as well as metaphorically,
to "keep company" with her interesting friend.
On the following morning, a paragraph, which ran as follows, decorated
the columns of the Morning Post.
"Yesterday, as Lady Crushmore's carriage was going down Oxford-street,
it nearly passed over a child who had fallen before the horses:
the boy was, however, rescued by a person who happened to witness
his perilous situation. We merely notice the circumstance in order
that we may have the satisfaction of recording a noble instance of
humanity on the part of Lady Crushmore, who would not suffer the
coachman to drive on until he had inquired whether the child was
It would be impossible to describe Caroline's feelings when she
received the account of the accident: she took the card which had
been left by the stranger, but in the excitement of the moment she
did not heed the name, and, throwing it on one side, she pressed the
terrified boy to her breast with hysteric minglings of tears and laughter.
That afternoon Mr. Paine returned in company with Fraser;
and, as he entered, he received an account of what had happened.
He was by no means moved, but went into the matter, and asked
questions in a most cool and dignified manner.
"Really," he said, "I think this is a case we ought not to look
over; and therefore I must move, that is, I would suggest, that the
boy should receive a very severe whipping."
The motion, not being seconded, fell to the ground, and Mr. Paine
"Have you learned the name of the person by whom he was accompanied
Caroline recollected the card, and, without looking at it, handed it
to her husband.
"Langton—Charles Langton, Raymond Buildings," ruminated Mr.
Paine; "I don't know the name."
"Good heavens!" exclaimed Caroline; "Charles Langton?"
"Yes, my dear; is there anything so extraordinary in the name—is
he any connexion of your family?"
"Yes—no—that is, my father had a very old friend of the name
of Langton, who lived near Sevenoaks."
"Ah," said the amiable Paine, who prided himself on the sarcastic,
"Raymond Buildings are within a stone's throw of Sevenoaks."
Mr. Paine had not observed any great peculiarity in Caroline's
manner; but he was excessively fond of giving utterance to an occasional
sneer, which was the highest effort of his conversational power.
But with Fraser, who had been a silent spectator of the scene, the
emotion which Caroline betrayed when the card was read did not
pass unnoticed or unremembered.
Mr. Paine having on the subsequent day made strict inquiries as
to the respectability of the man who had saved his child, condescended
to forward a note of thanks and an invitation to dine. This
was immediately accepted, for Langton was not ignorant that the
mother of the boy was his early friend; and, although circumstances
were so sadly altered, he could not resist an opportunity of renewing
The dinner to which he thus had the honour of being invited, went
off rather flatly. There was a large party, principally composed of
that class of persons who get their heads muddled in wool and tallow
speculations during the day, and who attempt to become particularly
brilliant and exclusive in the evening, when unfortunately it generally
happens that, despite their best exertions,
"Let them dress, let them talk, let them act as they will,
The scent of the city will hang round them still."
Fraser, to whom Mr. Paine always looked as the enlivener of his
otherwise cold dinners, was on this occasion unusually quiet, Langton
and Caroline were mutually embarrassed, and Mr. Paine's platitudes
grew more and more tiresome, till at length, when the dessert made
its appearance, he took an opportunity of effecting an elaborate
speech, the object of which was to impress upon his friends the sensation
which would have been created if the eldest child and only
son of Mr. Paine, of the firm of Paine, Grubb, and Jones, had been
the victim of any serious accident, and the gratitude which in consequence
they ought to entertain to the person by whom such an
event had been arrested.
"A shock so calamitous," he said, "has been averted by the intrepid
conduct of Mr. Langton; and I must therefore beg that he
will accept the cordial thanks of this meeting,—that is, of myself and
friends,—for the courage and presence of mind which he so seasonably
This speech exhibited such a style of pompous foolery, that during
its delivery Fraser was tempted to glance at Caroline with peculiar
significance, which seemed to intimate a considerable degree of contempt
for her husband, and an idea that a similar feeling could not
be altogether a stranger to her bosom.
Langton observed all this; and although it was with little surprise,
for he knew that love is more easily alienated by pride than any other
sentiment, yet he could not help feeling the most sincere regret that
Caroline had entered upon that dangerous path, the first step of
which is the condescending to show to any man a feeling of this
"I have not learned to love her less," he said, when afterwards
meditating on this circumstance, "and I love her too well to see her
comfort or fame lightly lost while it may be in my power to save her.
It was always her nature to be easily led by the influence of others;
and although her pliant disposition may have linked her destiny with
one whom it is evident she can never love, yet she may still be saved
from a more fearful sacrifice. I will see her, and in the recollection of
our early friendship, as well as in the recent claim which I have acquired
upon her feelings, I will venture to speak boldly and sincerely.
In warning her of the precipice on which she stands, she must not,
however, be violently aroused to a sense of danger which perhaps she
has not yet acknowledged to herself. I must first gently win her back
to that spirit of confidence which we formerly knew, and, if I succeed
in my ultimate aim, how slight in comparison will seem the peril from
which I have saved the child, to that from which I shall have rescued
Alas! that the morality of the young, which is so strong in thought,
should be so weak in practice as it ever is. Here was another stone
added to that pavement which is said to be composed of good intentions.
From this time he became a frequent visitor in the Regent's Park,
and the result of this course will be best given in the description of
an interview between himself and Caroline which took place about
three months afterwards.
"Caroline," said he, as during a morning call, which had been
prolonged to a most unfashionable extent, he sate alone by her side,
"I find you the same kind being that you always were; it is from
that tenderness of feeling, which under happier circumstances would
have given additional value to your character, that I now dread an
inroad on your peace. You confess that you are wearied with the
cold and monotonous routine of your daily life, and that it is your
fate to be linked with one who is incapable of understanding or returning
any deep emotion of the heart; can you then wonder that I
should tremble for your peace, when I see you flattered by the attentions
of a man from whom I am afraid you have not been sufficiently
discreet to conceal the disquiet which you suffer?"
"Indeed, indeed you have mistaken me," exclaimed Caroline. "I
have neither been flattered by his attention, nor have I in any way
confided in him: to you only have I spoken thus. I was wrong, very
wrong, in doing so; but you entreated me to speak without reserve,
and it is hardly kind of you now to tax me with the fault." As she
said this, the tears started to her eyes, and as Langton gazed upon
her he knew that the very confidence which had appeared so dangerous
when he imagined it to be given to another, was now unreservedly
bestowed upon himself: did he remember his indignant anticipations
of broken happiness and degraded character on the part
of Caroline, or did he apply to himself those rules which he had
deemed so necessary to be considered by another? Alas! no. He
took her hand, and said in a voice which faltered with emotion,
"Caroline, dear Caroline, I cannot bear to see you give way thus.
Come, come, we must not have any tears: you may be very happy
"No," she said, making a vain attempt to repress her sobs, "I do
not hope to be happy,—I have not deserved to be so; for I knew,
when they wished me joy on my wedding-day, that my happiness
was gone for ever. But I must not talk thus to you, Charles; I
have no right to trouble you with sorrows of my own seeking. Besides,"
she continued, smiling bitterly through her tears, "you are
about to be married to one who cannot fail to love you, and I must
claim no share in your thoughts. Believe me, I will conquer every
emotion that you desire to be repressed. I will endeavour to be all
that you would wish to see me,—indeed I will: only tell me that
you are not offended,—that you do not think less kindly of me than
you have always done,—and that you will sometimes think of her
who, while she lives, can never cease to think and pray for you."
She buried her face in her hands and wept bitterly. "Don't, don't
speak to me now," she said, as her tears flowed more quickly; and
Langton, taking her hand, felt them falling on his own. At that moment
he considered himself pre-eminently wretched; he pressed her
head upon his shoulder, bidding her be more calm, and, as he imprinted
one kiss upon her forehead,—a servant entered the room.
"Did you ring, sir?"
"No!" said Langton furiously, and the intruder disappeared. Servants
always think you ring at the very moment when you wish you
were in a wilderness!
The party who received Mr. Langton's impetuous negative was a
fat housemaid of extreme sensibility; and as the sensibility of housemaids
is usually concentrated upon themselves, of course, in the description
of the indignity she had received, any very delicate consideration
for the character of her mistress could not be expected to
find a place. A committee was immediately formed in the pantry,
where she related the "undelicate" conduct of that lady to her sympathising
colleagues, and several strong resolutions were immediately
carried expressive of their unqualified admiration of virtue in general,
and their particular disapprobation of the deviation from its
strict rules which had just been detailed; but as the said committee
could not perceive any particular benefit to themselves that was
likely to result from a disclosure to Mr. Paine, they determined to
let the matter drop, and merely to suffer it to exist as an occasional
topic to give intensity to those sublime denunciations of the wickedness
of their betters in which they were accustomed to indulge round
the kitchen fire, when their thoughts were glowing beneath the stimulus
of an occasional bottle of wine which had been abstracted from
the cellars of their "injured master."
Of course, however, it was not to be expected that the knowledge
of the circumstance should be concealed from their immediate circle
of acquaintance; and as the green-grocer wished he might drop if he
ever breathed a syllable about it, and the milkwoman thanked Heaven
that she never was a mischief-maker, of course the insulted housemaid
"didn't mind telling them," upon their promise of profound secrecy;
which was especially necessary, as, with the exception of the
servants on each side of Mr. Paine's, and the nurserymaid opposite,
not a soul knew a word about the matter.
Now it so happened that the watchful being who had been discharged
on account of the affair in Oxford-street, was one of those
amiable characters by whom forgiveness of injuries is accounted a
duty. She had carried out this principle so far, that, although she
had been desired never to enter the house again, she would occasionally
call after dark to see her old fellow-servants, with whom she
would sometimes take a glass of ale, in order to show how completely
she had subdued those feelings of animosity which she might be expected
to entertain towards the person at whose cost it was provided.
She always seemed to take the same interest in the family
as she had formerly done, and, with a spirit of Christian charity
which did honour to her nature, she would sometimes declare "that
although they had injured her, yet she hoped it would never come
home to them."
Any concealment from a person of this disposition was of course
unnecessary; and, when she was made acquainted with the circumstance,
her horror was unlimited. "Poor Mr. Paine, who was so
much of a gentleman!—and Mrs. Paine, too, who always seemed to
love the dear children so!—who would take care of them now?—and
then that Mr. Langton, she always said from the first she never liked
him! But no," she continued, her goodness of disposition again overmastering
every other feeling, "I won't believe it,—I can't do so;
though I know, Mary, that you wouldn't tell a falsehood for the
world, and, if you couldn't speak well of anybody, would rather say
nothin' at all."
The reader will be surprised to learn that, although Mr. Paine's
servants had acted with such praiseworthy reserve, a letter was received
by that gentleman at the insurance office of which he was
chairman, (the seal bearing the royal arms, which had been produced
by the application of a sixpence; and the post-mark giving indications
of the existence of a place called "Goswell-street Road,") the purport
of which was as follows:
"Sir,—Nothin but my ankziety for your peas of mind could indews
me to writ this letter, which i am afeard will set your fealings
in a flame, & cause you grate distres. i am sorry to say your confidens
is abused, and that you have little idere of the fallshood which
will be found in what i am goin to relate.
"Your wife is untrew—the young man who pickt up Master Eddard
when he would run into the rode, is one of her old bows. You may
depend upon my assurance, for altho' there is an animus signatur at
the bottem of this, the writer is a steddy young woman and knows
what wickedness is.
"If you don't take warnin by what I have writ you will peraps be
unhappy all the rest of your days, and so I hope you will.
"From your sincere well-wisher,
It is said that, for the deprivation of one sense, compensation is not
unfrequently given by an increased action which is acquired to the
remainder; and those who have seen men cut off from the enjoyment
of some long-cherished feeling at the moment when its gratification
seemed most essential to their happiness, must have admired the benevolence
with which Providence has thus bestowed upon the mind
a capability, when it is deprived of one pursuit, of falling back with
redoubled ardour upon another. But Mr. Paine was an exception to
this rule; he was rather the incarnation of a single feeling than a
sharer in the complicated emotions of mankind. Pride was the only
thing that he was conscious of,—the one point from which all his
ideas radiated; and, when this was destroyed, his existence might
virtually be considered at an end.
From the moment that he had received the wretched scrawl, the
alteration which took place in this unhappy man was of the most extraordinary
kind. He had never been suspicious, for, loveless though
he was, the possibility that his wife could sink to frailty had never
entered into his mind; but, when the idea was once aroused, he
seemed without hesitation to receive it as a truth; and that that
truth should be forced upon him by the agency of a person who was
evidently of the lowest class was an aggravation of the keenest kind.
His spirit was from that day broken. Homage seemed a mockery,
for he felt that the most despised among those who showed him reverence
possessed a more enviable lot than it could ever be his fate
to know again.
For a few days the secret remained fixed in his own heart,—that
heart which had sought to citadel itself in its indomitable pride, and
which was now crushed and powerless. At length to Fraser, by
whom his altered manner had been remarked, he ventured to ask,
with an air of forced coldness, "Whether it had ever occurred to
him that Mr. Langton had been in the habit of paying more than
proper attentions to the mother of the boy whom he had rescued?—he
did not mean to hint that those attentions had been encouraged
or received—that of course was out of the question; but still——"
He hesitated; and Fraser, deceived by the quietude of his manner,
thought it a very good opportunity to say a few words upon a subject
that had given him some little annoyance. He readily avowed
"that he entertained no very high opinion of the gentleman in question,
but" (of course) "his opinion of Mrs. Paine's correct feeling
was so strong that he thought the matter need cause very little discomfort.
Nevertheless, he imagined it would be as well to intimate
to Mr. Langton that his constant attendance in the Regent's Park
was no longer expected or desired."
This was the confirmation that was sought—the vulgar letter was
accurate enough—all the world were pointing at him. Fraser had
noticed it, but in delicacy to his feelings, and in gallantry to his
wife, had forborne to speak more explicitly: he had no remedy;
wronged as he was, he had no remedy. He might go into a court
of justice, and there, in consideration of his shame being recorded
upon oath, he might receive a sum equal to about a tithe of his
yearly income. He might kill the man; and then also the world,
with whom suspicion only might exist at present, would be certified
of the fact. No; his course was run,—there was but one way left
for him to pursue.
It was dusk on a summer's evening, a few days after this, that
Caroline and Langton met for the last time.
"Charles," she said, "it is not a resolution lightly formed; it has
cost me a struggle which I knew I should experience, but which I
never expected to have conquered, you must not see me more!
Nay, do not utter one word of remonstrance; you may by so doing
make the separation more bitter, but you cannot shake my resolution.
I dare not trust myself to say all that now rushes to my mind; yet,
perhaps, parting as we do for ever, I may be forgiven for saying that
I always loved you: this I could not help; but, with such a feeling, I
ought to have shown more strength of mind than to have sacrificed
your happiness and my own even to a parent's wish. I failed to do
so, and it is right that the penalty should be borne. Farewell! You
can appreciate all that I now suffer, and you will tell me that you love
me better for the determination which I have made. Believe me, a
time will come when you will praise God that I had sufficient strength
to endure the agony of this trial. We have been very foolish,—we
ought never to have met; but thank Heaven that, having met, we have
escaped from guilt. There, now leave me—pray leave me, and——"
At this moment they were interrupted by a hasty knock at the
street-door; they stood still for a moment: it was Mr. Paine. He
seemed, upon entering, to make some inquiries of the servant: he
ascended the stairs, paused for an instant at the drawing-room door,
as if about to open it, and then with a hurried step ascended to his
dressing-room above. Caroline and Langton moved not; they seemed
to dread some coming event, and yet they had no definite ground
for fear. Several minutes elapsed: at length Langton smiled and
was about to speak, when they heard a heavy, lumbering fall upon
the floor above, followed by a long, low groan, the sound of which
was never afterwards forgotten.
We willingly draw a veil over the circumstances of this scene, and
have only now to detail the events to which it ultimately led.
The parting between Caroline and Langton on that dreadful night
was final: he made an attempt to see her once more during the period
of her suffering, but this she positively refused. The suicide of
her unhappy husband caused some little talk at the time; but as it
was proved, to the satisfaction of a coroner's jury, that his death took
place on a Wednesday, and that upon that day he had written a short
note which he had dated "Thursday," they without hesitation returned
a verdict of "Temporary Insanity," and the newspapers saw
no reason for departing from their usual plan, by attributing the rash
act to any other cause than the unsuccessful result of some speculations
on the Stock Exchange.
The world, (that is to say, those immediate connexions who became
acquainted with the circumstances of the case,) upon a retrospect of
the affair, condemned Mr. Paine for his pride, Mr. Fraser for his politeness,
and Caroline and Langton for their indiscretion;—the only
persons mentioned in our story with whom the said "world" found
no fault were—Mr. and Mrs. Gibbs!
Mr. Paine had made no alteration in his will, and a large portion
of his property was left to his widow during her life. Caroline passed
some years in deep seclusion, devoting herself to the education of her
children, and seeking consolation in the exercises of religion, wherein
alone she could hope that it might be found. She died at the commencement
of the present year; and an extract from a letter addressed
to Langton, which was discovered among her papers, may
serve to conclude her history, and to impart a moral which may not
be altogether vain.
"You will perhaps be surprised at this request," (she had entreated
that he would undertake the guardianship of her children,) "but,
after all that I have suffered, I could not feel one moment's peace if
I thought it possible that in the course of events a similar fate might
attend upon them. Edward will require little care,—to the girls
my anxiety is directed: the destiny of women is too often fixed when
they possess little power of judging wisely for themselves; and, even
if they should possess this power, strength of character is required
to enable them to resist all other influences, and to abide firmly by
the judgment they have formed. Remembering that my fate was
thus rendered unhappy, you will not hesitate to guard my children
against the misery I have endured. Watch over them, I entreat you;
and let that love which, when it was bestowed upon me, could lead
only to sorrow, descend upon them with the consciousness of purity.
I know that you will do this; I know, above all, that in affairs of the
heart you will consult their feelings of affection rather than their
dreams of pride; and while, on the one hand, you prohibit a union
that might degrade them, you will, on the other, be equally cautious
never to enforce the acceptance of 'an excellent offer.'"