The First and Second Marriage

by John Mackay Wilson

“I beg your pardon, sir,” said a venerable-looking, white-headed man, accosting me one day, about six weeks ago, as I was walking alone near the banks of the Whitadder; “ye are one of the authors of the ‘Border Tales’, sir—are ye not?”

Not being aware of anything in the “Tales of the Borders” of which I need to be ashamed, and moreover being accustomed to meet with such salutations, after glancing at the stranger, with the intention, I believe, of taking the measure of his mind, or scrutinizing his motive in asking the question, I answered—“I am, sir.”

“Then, sir,” said he, “I can tell ye a true story, and one that happened upon the Borders here within my recollection, and which was also within my own knowledge, which I think would make a capital tale.”

Now, I always rejoice in hearing any tale or legend from the lips of a grey-haired chronicler. I do not recollect the period when I did not take an interest in such things; and a tradition of the olden time, or a tale that pictured human nature as it is, ever made the unceasing birr, birring of the spinning-wheel—which the foot, belike, of an aged widow kept in perpetual motion—as agreeable to me as the choicest music. For, what is tradition, but the fragments which History left or lost in its progress to eternity; and which Poetry, following in its wake, gathered up as treasures too precious to be overwhelmed by the approaching waves of oblivion, and, breathing upon them the influence of its own immortal spirit, embalmed them in the hearts and in the memories of men unto all generations? Though, therefore, it was no ancient legend which the stranger had to relate, yet, knowing that it might not on that account be the less interesting, I thanked him, “and with greedy ears devoured up his discourse.”

The story which he then related to me, I shall, therefore, after him, communicate to my readers.

You will excuse me in not mentioning the name of the town in which the chief incidents mentioned in our story occurred. There may be some yet living to whom some of them might not be agreeable. I shall, therefore, speak of it as the town of H——, and other circumstances referred to may lead you to form an idea of “its whereabouts.”

Many years have passed—at least forty—since the period at which our story commences; and there then dwelt in the town of H—— one Walter Kerr. (So you will allow me to call him.) His parents were what are generally called respectable sort of people; for the house in which they dwelt was their own, and there were also three or four others, all very good and respectable-looking houses (as we say again), the rents of which they received from their tenants. But there is no word in our language to which less respect is shewn than the word respectability. It is prostituted every day. Is is no matter whether a man be the proprietor of one house, one acre, one pound, or a hundred houses, a thousand acres, and ten thousand pounds; neither houses, acres, nor money can make him truly respectable. As the sun, moon, and stars shed light upon the earth, so do honesty, virtue, and strict integrity confer respectability on the head of their possessor. I care not what a man’s situation in life may be, nor whether he be a hewer of wood or a drawer of water, the lord of a forest, or one who hath a fleet upon the seas; shew me a good, a virtuous, and an upright man—and there is a respectable man, be his rank or situation in life what it may. The parents of Walter Kerr, however, were respectable in a better and a truer sense of the term than that of being merely persons of a certain property; they were Christians not only in their profession but in their practice. Walter was by far the cleverest of the family; and from his boyhood his parents designed him for the pulpit, and gave him an education accordingly. Like many parents, they thought that his cleverness was a sufficient reason why they should bring him up to the sacred profession, without once considering how far the seriousness of his thoughts and habits fitted him for preparing for the office. It must be acknowledged, however, that in this they were not singular. We find hundreds who, without perceiving either cleverness or piety in their favourite son, resolve to make him a minister. Yea, frequently, from his very cradle his calling is determined. I remember having heard a good woman say—“If I live to have another son, and he be spared to me, I shall bring him up for the kirk!”

But the parents of Walter Kerr were possessed of more discretion; and when they found that he was averse to their proposal of his becoming a preacher, they abandoned the idea, though not without reluctance, and some tears on the part of his mother. Now, Walter was a youth of a gentle temper and an affectionate heart; but, at the same time, he seemed formed for being what you would term a man of business. He was shrewd, active, speculative, and calculating, with quite a sufficient degree of caution, as ballast, to regulate his more ardent propensities. At his own request, he was bound apprentice to a general merchant in his native town; and before he was twenty-one years of age, he commenced business for himself. He began with but a small stock in trade; for his parents could not afford a great deal to set him up. Yet he was attentive to business; he pushed it, and his trade increased, and his stock became more various. He had scarcely, however, been two years in business, when he took unto himself a portionless wife. His parents were displeased—they looked upon him as lost. Every one said that he had done a foolish thing, and agreed that it was madness in him to marry, at least so hastily, and before he could say that even the goods in his shop were his own. But people are very apt to talk a great deal of nonsense upon this subject. The important question is not when a man marries, but who he marries. They talk of a wife tying up his hands, and placing a barrier before his prospects; in short, as bringing a blight over his worldly expectations, like an untimely frost nipping and withering an opening bud. Now all this is mere twaddle—a shewing off of self-wisdom, to make known how much more wisely we have or would have acted than the person referred to. It is one of the thousand popular fallacies which ever float on the surface of the chit-chat of society. A married man, young or old, is always a more sponsible sort of character than a bachelor. If a man take unto himself an amiable and a prudent wife, even though she bring him not a shilling as a dowry, and although he may be young in years and a beginner in business, he doeth well. Had he doubled his stock, his credit and his custom, he would not have done better; for he has a double motive to do so. He has found one to beguile his dulness, to soothe care, to cheer him forward, and to stimulate him to exertion; and that, too, tenderly as the breath of May fanneth and kisseth the young leaves and flowers into life and beauty. But all this dependeth, as hath been said, upon her amiableness and prudence; for, if the wife whom a man taketh for “better for worse,” possess not these indispensable requisites, he weddeth a living sorrow, he nurseth an adder in his bosom, he giveth his right hand to ruin.

Now, the wife of Walter Kerr possessed those qualities which rendereth a virtuous woman as a crown of glory to her husband. She was the daughter of a decayed farmer, and her name was Hannah Jerdan. To her the misfortunes of her parents were not such; for, while they had made her a stranger to luxury, they had introduced her to the acquaintanceship of frugality and industry. At the time she gave her hand to Walter Kerr, she was scarce twenty; and to have looked on her, you would have thought of some fair and lovely flower which sought the sequestered dale or the shaded glen, where its beauties might blush unseen—young, modest, meek, affectionate, and beautiful, man never led a lovelier bride to the altar. Her husband soon found that whatever the world might think or say of the step he had taken, he had done well and wisely. She not only became his assistant in his business, and one who took much care and anxiety from his mind, but her affection fell upon his bosom like the shadow of an angel’s wing, that was spread over him to guard him from evil; and he found her, too, as a monitor whispering truth in the accents of love. If he acquired money in trade, she taught him how to keep it and profit by it—and that is a “secret worth knowing.” Let it not be supposed that she was one of those miserly beings who scrape farthings together for the sake of hoarding them. In her spirit, meanness had no place; but there were two proverbs which she never suffered herself to forget, or those around her to neglect, and those were, that “a penny saved is a penny gained,” and “wilful waste makes woful want.” Nor do I wonder that the latter saying took deep root in her heart; for, as having experienced privation in the days of her father’s distress, there is nothing can be more painful to those who have known and felt what want is, than to see food, for want of which they were once ready to perish, wasted, and that, too, perchance, while a hunger-stricken beggar has been turned rudely from the door while he prayed for a morsel to eat. She would not see the crumbs which fell from the table wasted. In this her husband readily perceived the propriety of her conduct, and he esteemed her the more as he witnessed it; but the force of her first adage, that “a penny saved is a penny gained,” he was slow to appreciate in its true light. Yet for this, perhaps, there was a reason. Previous to his marriage, he had been in the habit of spending the evening after business hours, with a club of young tradesmen and other acquaintances. Now, habit is the pettiest and the most imperious of all tyrants. Even with a pinch of snuff it can make you its slave. It renders you miserable, until you once more bend the knee before it. But, as I have said, habit, though an imperious, is a petty tyrant; and three weeks’ resolution, though you will have struggles to encounter, will enable you to snap asunder the strongest chain that ever habit forged. I do not mean the habits, the seeds of which we acquire in infancy, and which grow with our growth and strengthen with our strength, and which, in fact, perform a part of our education (though we do not admit it), until they are set down as things belonging to or ingrafted in our natures; but I mean the habits which we acquire in after-life. And, as has been stated, Walter Kerr had acquired a habit of attending an evening club, of which he had been a member during the last year of his apprenticeship; and, from the period that he commenced business up to his marriage, and a few days after he had brought home his wife, he attended the club as usual. He was happy in the society of his young and fair wife; but still (as we say in the north), there was a “craiking” within him for something to make him perfectly happy, and that “craiking” was to attend the club as usual. Now, it was not a club in which they either drank deep or sat late—for it was a regulation amongst them that no man should sit in the club-room after ten o’clock, or drink more than three glasses; but, although they had this wholesome regulation, they had no by-law against what many of them called “adjournments,” or “sederunts,” and at which, though out of the club-room, the three glasses frequently became six.

With regard to the “sederunts,” however, Hannah had no cause to complain of her husband; for he never had been one of those who formed them. Neither did she murmur, or consider herself neglected, on account of his attending the club; for she reasoned with herself, that, after the cares, toils, and business of the day, he required some relaxation; and although her company might be more agreeable to him than any other, yet she knew that the beauty and the fragrance of a flower does not increase by for ever looking upon it, and on it only, but that our admiration of the flower increases, as we pass over the weeds which we behold around us. Yet, she thought that every night was too much—more than relaxation required; and she thought, also, that a shilling a-night was six shillings in the week (for let it not be thought that a club, of which Walter Kerr was a member, met on the Sabbath), and that six shillings a-week was nearly sixteen pounds in the year—a sum that might frequently be of use when accounts became due, and money was difficult to get in. She therefore delicately and tenderly endeavoured to break her husband from the habit he had acquired; but she attempted it in vain. He believed himself to be one of the most frugal and industrious tradesmen in the town; and nothing but bringing the fact plainly and broadly before him, seemed sufficient to convince him that there was aught of expensiveness in his habits. But his wife, more delicately and efficiently, did so convince him. They were talking together of many things, and their conversation lent wings to the short hours, when, an opportunity offering, she related to him an anecdote, which brought home to himself his nightly attendance at the club; and, as I know the story to be no allegory, nor child of the brain, but a fact, I shall relate it to you.

“In a town,” said she, “not many miles south of the Border, there dwelt a man who was by trade a mechanic, and who was the father of seven children. For sixteen years he had never wanted employment (when he chose to work), and his earnings averaged from five-and-thirty shillings to two pounds a-week. But, with a number of associates, he was in the habit of attending, daily and nightly, what they termed their house of call. In the morning, as he went to his labour, he could not pass it without having what he called his ‘nipper,’ or what some of the good people in Scotland call their ‘morning,’ which, being interpreted, meaneth a glass of gin, rum, or whisky.” (For gentle as Hannah was, there was a sprinkling of the wag in her character.) “At mid-day,” she added, “he had to give it another call; and to pass it on returning from his work at night was out of the question. Sometimes, and not unfrequently, when he called in for his ‘nipper’ in the morning, he sat down—in a room which had two windows, looking east and west—and forgot to rise until, after he had seen from the one window the sun rising, he beheld it set from the other. But it was the force of habit—it had grown in upon him, as he said; and what could the poor man do? He beheld his wife broken-hearted, going almost in rags, and their affection had changed into bickerings and reproaches. His children, too, were half-starved, ill-clad, and unschooled; and for what education they got, he thought not of paying the schoolmaster—he felt nothing in hand for his money, and therefore could not see the force of the debt. But the poor man could not help it. It was true he earned about two pounds a-week, but which way the money went he could not tell. He did not, as he thought, deserve the reproaches of his wife. His ‘morning’ was only fourpence, his call at mid-day the same, and his evening pipe and glass a shilling or eighteenpence—that, he thought, was nothing, for a man working so hard as he did; and when he did take a day now and then, he said that was not worth reckoning, for his clay could not keep together without moisture; and as for the glass or two which he took on a Sunday, why, they were not worth mentioning. Thus he could see no cause for the unhappiness of his wife, the poverty of his house, and the half-nakedness of his family. He had to ‘do as other people did, or he might leave their society;’ and he attributed all to bad management somewhere, but not on his part. But one Sunday morning he had lingered in their house of call longer than his companions, and he was sitting there when the churchwardens and parish-officers went their rounds, and came to the house. To conceal him from them there, and avoid the penalty—

“‘Tom,’ said the landlady, ‘here the wardens a-comin’. If they find thee here, lad, or meet thee goin’ out, thou wilt be fined, and me too; and it may give my hoose a bad name. Coom up stairs, and I will shew thee through the hoose, while they examine the tap and the parlour.’

“So saying, Tom the mechanic followed the hostess from room to room, wondering at what he saw; for the furniture, as he said to himself, was like a nobleman’s, and he marvelled how such things could be; and while he did so, he contrasted the splendour he beheld around him with the poverty and wretchedness of his own garret. And, after shewing him through several rooms, she at last, with a look of importance, ushered him into what she called the drawing-room—but, now-a-days, drawing-rooms have become as common as gooseberries, and every house with three rooms and a kitchen has one. Poor Tom the mechanic was amazed as he beheld the richly-coloured and fancy-figured carpet; he was afraid to tread on it—and, indeed, he was told to clean his feet well before he did so. But he was more astonished when he beheld a splendid mirror, with a brightly gilded and carved frame, which reached almost from the ceiling to the floor, and in which he beheld his person, covered with his worn-out and un-holiday-like habiliments, from top to toe, though they were his only suit. Yet more was he amazed, when the ostentatious mistress of the house, opening what appeared to him a door in the wall, displayed to him rows of shining silver plate. Ha raised his eyes, he lifted up his hands—‘Lack! Ma’am!’ says he, ‘how d’ye get all these mighty fine things?’

“And the landlady, laughing at his simplicity, said—‘Why, lad, by fools’ pennies to be sure.’

“But the words ‘fools’ pennies’ touched his heart as if a sharp instrument had pierced it; and he thought unto himself, ‘I am one of those fools;’ and he turned away and left the house with the words written upon his conscience; and, as he went, he made a vow unto himself that, until that day twelve months, he would neither enter the house he had left, nor any other house of a similar description—but that on that day twelve months he would visit it again. When he went home, his wife was surprised at his homecoming; for it was seldom he returned during the day. He had two shillings left; and taking them from his pocket, he gave them to one of his daughters, desiring her to go out and purchase a quartern loaf and a quantity of tea, sugar, and butter. His wife was silent from wonder. He took her hand and said—‘Why, thou seemest to wonder at me, old lass; but I tell thee what—I have had a lesson this mornin’ that I shan’t forget; and when thou findest me throwing away even a penny again, I will give thee liberty to call me by any name thou likes.’

“His wife was astonished, and his family were astonished; and in the afternoon he took down the neglected and dust-covered Bible, and read a chapter aloud—though certainly not from any correct religious feeling. But he had made the resolution to reform, and he had learned enough to know that reading his Bible was a necessary and excellent helper towards the accomplishment of his purpose. It was the happiest Sabbath his family had ever spent; and his wife said that, even on her wedding Sunday, she was not half so happy.

“But, the day twelve months from that on which he had seen the splendid furniture, the rich, carpet, the gorgeous mirror, and the costly plate, arrived. It was a summer morning, and he requested his wife and children to dress before seven o’clock. During the last twelve months, his wife and his children had found it a pleasure to obey him, and they did so readily. He took the arm of his wife in his, and each of them led a younger child by the hand, while the elder walked hand in hand before them; and they went on until they came unto his former house of call; and standing opposite it, he said unto his wife—

“‘Now, old woman, thou and the little ones will go in here with me for five minutes, and thou shalt see something that will please thee.’

“So they went into the house together, and Tom the mechanic found his old associates seated around the room as he was wont to see them twelve months before, just as though they had been fixtures belonging to the establishment: and as he, with his wife and children, entered, his former companions rose, and exclaimed in wonder—‘Ha! Thomas! what wind has blown thee here?’ For, though they called him merely Tom before, he had Thomas from them now. And, as the landlady entered and saw a well-dressed man and woman, with seven clean and well-dressed children around them, in her tap-room, she wondered exceedingly; for their appearance contrasted strangely with that of her other customers amongst whom they were seated.

“‘Why, don’t you know me, Ma’am?’ inquired Thomas, observing her look of curiosity and wonderment.

“‘Why, I can hardly say as how I do, sir,’ she replied; ‘and yet I am sure I have seen you somewhere.’

“‘That you have, Ma’am,’ answered he; ‘I am your old customer, Tom Such-an-one.’

“‘Lack me! is it possible!—and so you are! Why, what a change there is upon thee! thou art quite a gentleman turned. And is this lady thy wife, and these thy children? Well, now! how smart you have them all! How in the world do you manage it?’

“‘O Ma’am,’ said Tom the mechanic, ‘nothing in the world is more easy—the fools’ pennies which I before gave to buy your fine carpets, your mirror, and your silver plate, I now keep in my own pocket.’ So saying, he bowed to her, and wishing her good morning, with his wife’s arm in his, they and their children left the house and returned home. Such,” added Hannah, “is the true story of Tom the mechanic.”

The anecdote told upon her husband; and when she had concluded, he arose and took her hand, and said—

“You were right, love. I see it now—the story of Tom the mechanic has convinced me that a penny saved is a penny gained: and I shall remember it.”

Walter Kerr did remember it; and from that day he ceased his nightly visits to the club. The world prospered with him; and in a short time there was not a more thriving or a more respected merchant in the town of H—— than Walter Kerr. Every one began to say that he was greatly indebted for his good fortune to the excellent management of his wife. Even his parents at length admitted that his marrying Hannah Jerdan was the most fortunate thing that ever their son Walter did; and he himself said that she had been worth to him her weight in gold.

They had two children. Their first-born was a boy, and his name was Francis; and their daughter they had called Jacobini, after an only brother of Hannah’s and of whom nothing had been heard for many years. No poet in his waking dreams of domestic bliss hath pictured a happier pair than were Walter Kerr and his gentle Hannah. She was unto him as a guardian spirit, an affectionate counsellor, and a friend that sticketh closer than a brother. And as their children grew up in beauty before them, like fair flowers in spring, stealing day by day into loveliness, so grew their joy.

But, within eight years after his marriage, an unbidden guest—who entereth alike the palace and the cottage, whose eye pierceth through the deepest gloom of the dungeon, as he smiteth the prisoner and saith, “There is no darkness like unto my darkness”—placed his noiseless foot upon the threshold of the prosperous merchant, and with his cold and poisoned finger touched the bosom of the wife and mother.

Walter Kerr beheld his young, his beautiful, and excellent wife laid upon her dying bed, with the last breath of life quivering on her lips. His agony was the wildness, the bitterness of despair. He hung over her, he wrung his hands, he smote them on his bosom, he wept. He was as one who hath no hope, and on whom misery—deep, desolating, everlasting misery—had fallen. He would not, he could not be comforted.

“My own!—my own!” he exclaimed; “I cannot, cannot part with her!”

His was the extremeness of grief. An hour had arrived of the approach of which he had never thought, or if he had ever imagined that it would come, he had thought of it as belonging to a day that was far, far distant, and which might come when age would lead them together gently to the grave.

The young, the dying wife, stretched forth her trembling and feeble hand; and as he raised it to his fevered lips—

“Weep not, dear Walter,” she said falteringly; “but, oh! when I am gone, be kind to my dear children. And should you—” she added, but her voice failed, and tears mingled with the cold dews of death upon her cheeks. But in a few moments she again added—“Walter, should you marry another, for my sake see that she be as a mother to our children.”

“O Hannah!” he sobbed. Her words entered his agonized bosom like a barbed instrument, adding sorrow to sorrow, and pain to pain. He thought of her and of her only, and from the idea of another his soul revolted.

She called her children to her bedside, and she endeavoured to raise herself upon her elbow. She kissed them—she called them by their names—her last tears fell upon their cheeks and blended with theirs, and she bestowed upon them a dying mother’s blessing. She took their little hands, and placing them in her husband’s, gazed tenderly and imploringly on his face, and sinking back upon her pillow, with a deep sigh, her gentle spirit sought the world which is beyond death.

It was a melancholy sight to behold Walter Kerr with his young son and almost infant daughter in his hands, standing weeping over their mother’s grave, while the awful, the mortal words, “ashes to ashes, dust to dust,” were pronounced, and the sound of the cold red earth falling on the coffin rang rudely on his ears.

For many months there walked not on the earth a more sorrowful widower. His heart, his hopes, his joys, seemed buried in the grave of her who had been his wife. His sole consolation was in his children, and he doted over them with more than a father’s fondness. But he was still a young man, he was yet a prosperous one, and he had obtained the reputation of being wealthy.

His wife had been dead somewhat more than four years, when there came to reside in H—— a fair and fashionable maiden, whose name was Harriet Scott. She soon obtained the reputation of being the greatest beauty in the town, and was the favourite toast of every bachelor; amongst whom, if she did not conquer many hearts, she conquered many eyes; and if she had not lovers, she had manifold admirers. She was the daughter of an old military man, a major, belonging to some royal veteran battalion. Beautiful she certainly was; but she was vain as beautiful; and her father’s pay was all that stood between her and poverty.

There are but few men, and especially mercantile men, who are used to calculate and consider consequences, that are found guilty of the folly of offering their hand to a poor and fashionable woman. What fascination the gay and beautiful Miss Scott threw over our young and rich widower—

“What dreams, what charms,
What conjurations, or what mighty magic”—

I cannot tell. The gossips of H——, at their tea parties, said she had “set her cap” at him. But I am not much acquainted with the witchcraft of “setting a cap,” or how much the term implies. This I know, that when Walter Kerr first saw Miss Harriet Scott, he thought, what every person said, “that she was very beautiful,” though he also thought that she was a vain girl, conscious of her own attractions, and much too fond of dress and display. But, after he had seen her frequently, and she spoke with him familiarly, and that, too, in a voice which was almost as sweet as her face was beautiful—and when he saw, or thought he saw, that she smiled on him more frequently and more sweetly than on any one else—he began to think that she was an interesting girl, and by no means the vain creature he had at first imagined her to be. It is dangerous when a man begins to think a woman interesting. As their acquaintance grew, he discovered that she had no vanity whatever.

“She is,” thought he unto himself, “the fairest and gentlest being I have met with since—I laid my Hannah in the dust,” he would have continued; but, as the thought arose in his bosom, a tear gathered in his eyes, a low sigh escaped from him, and a glow overspread his face.

Every day, however, the beautiful Miss Scott became more interesting in the eyes of the thriving merchant, and his wealth more and more attractive to her; till in an evil hour he offered her his hand, and with a sweet blush, like the shadow of a rose leaf on a lily, the proposal was accepted.

His neighbours said, that, if his first wife had enabled him to make a fortune, he had got one who would spend it now. And they had not been husband and wife many months, until events began to shew that there was some truth in what their neighbours said. The dress of Mrs Kerr was gayer and far more costly than it had ever been as Miss Scott; though it was, from its extravagance, a subject of conversation, or what was called “a town’s talk,” then; and even Walter could not avoid contrasting, in his own mind, the showy and expensive attire of his living spouse with the plain and modest neatness of her who was not. She was kind enough to the children for a time; and she called them “the little creatures,” and “Kerr’s children.” But she saw them seldom. “Not,” she said, “that she disliked them, but that she could not be troubled with children being much about her.”

She was not long, however, in beginning to hint that it was rather derogatory in a Major’s daughter to have become the wife of a provincial shopkeeper. The smell of the goods, too, shocked her nerves, and injured her health.

“The smell from the shop hurt your nerves, dear!” said her husband—and the apartments they inhabited were immediately over the shop and warehouse—“the smell from the shop hurt you!”—continued he—“that is very strange! My poor Hannah never complained of such a thing, and I’m sure many a hundred times has she stood in it from morning to night.”

“Don’t talk to me, sir, of your Hannah, if you please,” added she; “if I threw myself away upon you, I was not to be insulted with odious comparisons about your Hannah.”

“Odious, indeed!” thought Walter, with a sigh; but he durst not express what he thought; for before this he had begun to discover the inflammable materials which his wife’s temper was made of.

“I tell you, Kerr,” added she, “the effluvia from your shop is insupportable. It shocks my nerves continually—it is killing me altogether.”

“Truly, my dear,” rejoined he, “I am at a loss to understand ye. Really every other person you meet talks about their nerves, and being nervous, now-a-days. But since I can remember, there were no such words in use—that is, as they are now applied. For, when we spoke of anything being nervous, we meant something that was strong and powerful, such as a nervous sermon, or a nervous speech in the House of Commons; and if we spoke of a man of nerve, it was a strong-bodied or a strong-minded man that we meant. But now-a-days the meaning is quite reversed; and when a person is spoken of as being nervous, or very nervous, it is always in reference to some silly shaking body, that has no nerve at all. And it is my candid opinion, dear, that nobody in this country ever complained of being troubled with the nerves until spirit-drinking and hot tea-drinking came so much in vogue!”

“O you savage!—you barbarian!” screamed Mrs Kerr, who seemed to have been struggling with a hysteric which now came upon her. We have seen people who have a convenient habit of assuming this pride-produced malady, and Mrs Kerr was now trying the effect of the experiment upon her husband; and the violence of the pretended paroxysm increased as he manifested the more and more tenderness and anxiety to soothe her; and when she had caused him to believe that he had succeeded in restoring her to consciousness—“Kerr,” said she, “we must, if you do not intend to kill me, leave this horrid house.”

“Leave the house, dear!” said he in surprise—“where could we go?”

“Go!” she replied—“Why don’t you take or build a respectable house out of the town, where a person could receive their friends. You cannot expect any genteel person to call upon us here, to be suffocated with the fumes of your nasty shop and warehouse.”

Walter was once more tempted to speak of his poor Hannah, and was about to say, that the most genteel people in the town and neighbourhood had visited her, without once hinting that there was anything disagreeable to them arising from the proximity of the shop and warehouse, or from the mixed goods which they contained. But it is a common saying, and a good one, that “second thoughts are best;” and Walter Kerr thought twice, and when he did so, he perceived that to speak of his dear and buried Hannah again, to her who now was to him as she was, would only be throwing oil upon a flame. He forebore and was silent.

I think—and so perhaps many of my readers will think—that, though a shrewd man, he was of too complying a temper. He was ready to sacrifice too much for what is called ease and peace. But in so doing, he was only like many others, whom you will find ready to say—“Oh, we are willing to do anything for the sake of peace.” And no doubt this is a very good spirit; but it may be carried too far. It is quite as possible for a man to be in error by enduring too much as by allowing too little. There is a middle path in everything; and it is always the safest, and generally the best. Extremes are always bad—so bad, indeed, that they are like two wild bulls running to encounter each other, and meeting on a common path, they thrust their horns into the foreheads of each other, and thus forcibly and painfully become as one body, to the obstruction of the thoroughfare. But, that Walter Kerr was too fond of yielding, will be proved from the circumstances of his having purchased a few acres of ground, and commenced the building of a country-house, about three miles out of H——, within three months after the conversation which I have related between him and Mrs Kerr took place.

Well, the house was finished, and a very neat, and I may say elegant-looking house it was. They had a garden behind it. Immediately in front was a parterre, tastefully laid out in plots; and between the parterre and the highway was a shrubbery, which, from the number of poplar and other rapid-growing trees in it, was no doubt intended, in a few years, to have the designation of “a plantation” or “a wood.” But, after the villa was built, Mrs Kerr discovered that new furniture was necessary for their new house.

“In truth, Harriet, my dear,” said Mr Kerr, “I can in no way see that new furniture is necessary. Ye will consider it would be extremely expensive. All that we have is strong and durable; I can see no fault with it.”

He would have added, “It was all of my Hannah’s choosing;” but every day the power of Harriet, her fashionable successor, had increased; and, although Walter knew not whence that power came, he was but too conscious of its existence; and he spoke not what he wished to have said.

To his last remarks she replied—“O Kerr! Kerr! when shall I get you to forget your low-life shop and counter? Why did I marry a man that has no ideas beyond saying ‘Thank you—I am much obliged to you,’ to every petty penny customer! And a man of your fortune, too!—Oh, meanness!—Kerr, I am ashamed of you.”

He stood out for a considerable time; but, for “the sake of peace,” he had already yielded to building the villa; and what was once done, was more easily done again—therefore he agreed to fit it up with new furniture. The building and the furnishing of the house cost Mr Kerr no small sum; and his name did not stand at the bank as worthy of credit to the amount that it once did. In his moments of solitude he thought of these things, and sighed.

Yet this was not all: when they had taken possession of the house, and Mrs Kerr had it, and the new and splendid furniture, with the garden, the parterre, and the shrubbery, there was something still wanting—and that was, a genteel approach to the house. Its present entrance was, as Mrs Kerr said, “no better than a gate to a cow park—as vulgar as the abominable shop and warehouse; and enough to prevent any genteel person from coming near them.” Indeed, she could not ask them while they had such an approach.

Yield once to a woman’s caprice, and you may yield always. Two instances in which he yielded have been mentioned, and he yielded a third time.

“Now,” thought he, “Harriet will surely be satisfied. I have built her a fine house, and fitted it up with fine furniture, and I have made her an avenue to it that a nobleman might enter. Oh, if my dear departed Hannah could look up, and see the folly into which I have been drawn, she would shake her head, and say—‘Walter, Walter!’—And well she might.”

And as Walter Kerr thought thus, he burst into tears.

But his wife was not content. The house, the garden, the shrubbery, the parterre, and the approach were not enough. She wanted her genteel friends about her, now that she was in a situation to receive them; and she brought them about her. She treated them, she feasted them. They were there not only one day in the week, but every day, by dozens and by scores. Our unfortunate merchant became a cipher in his own house and at his own table. He had formerly considered what are called genteel people as a rare sort of individuals, to be met with occasionally; but he now found them plentiful as gooseberries in August. They surrounded him like locusts. They were

“Thick as autumnal leaves in Vallombrosa.”

And what surprised him most was, that first one and then another said to him, during dinner (in accordance with the absurd practice which still prevails)—“Mr Kerr, I shall be happy to drink a glass of wine with you;” and scarce had he swallowed one glass (for he always took off his heeltaps), until another said the same thing, and another and another, as though they had entered into concert to fire a regular feu-de-joie at his head; and he thought it a very hard thing that he could not take a glass of wine in his own house, without caring, or being told whether those who ate and drank at his expense, were happy at his drinking or not. Moreover, they acted as though they considered him honoured by their eating and drinking; and he saw their respect lavished on his genteel better half, while he was passed over as a sort of nobody. These were almost every-day doings, and he began to find that they were making fearful inroads on his cash account; in short, he discovered that if he had acquired a fortune rapidly during the life of his first wife, he was spending it as rapidly now.

One day, after a close examination into his books (and it was a very beautiful day, but there had been wet weather for some time before, and the roads were bad and disagreeable to walk upon), he returned home with the determination of saying unto his wife—“Harriet, it is impossible for me to stand the course of extravagance we are now pursuing. I shall be very happy to entertain your friends occasionally; but really this treating of them every week, I might almost say every day, is too much for any man in business to stand. Look at my profits and expenditure during the last three years.” And he had a statement drawn out.

But, as I have said, this was only a speech which he intended to deliver in the presence of his wife. Scarce had he sat down in the parlour where she was, until he perceived, from her looks and manner, that there was a coming storm; and he knew that the address which he had prepared would be ill-timed. He therefore sat in silence; but she did not long follow his example.

“Kerr,” said she, “I don’t know whether you mean to kill me, or what you mean to do; but I am kept here, mewed up like a prisoner.”

“Me keep you mewed up, dear!” said he; “ye certainly know that ye have full scope and liberty to do as ye please—ye are mistress of your own actions.”

“Me mistress of my own actions!” exclaimed she; “me go where I please!—what do ye mean? How can I go any where? Would you have me to go wading through the mire to visit any respectable person?”

“Certainly not, my dear!” said he; “but ye can take a fine day for your visits, when it is dry under foot.”

“O you brute!” exclaimed the delicate Mrs Kerr, “when shall I teach you to know anything? When shall I get your ideas carried beyond your counter? Is it not disgraceful to see you trudge, trudging into the town every day, like some poor beggar that had to work for his bread?”

“Beggars dinna work, hinny,” said he—“but do not be in a passion.”

“Passion!” cried she; “I tell you what, Kerr—if you continue to disgrace me as you have done, I shall never set my foot upon the outside of your threshold again. Why don’t you get a carriage?”

“A carriage!” he exclaimed, as though a thunderbolt had startled him in its flight.

“Yes! a carriage,” she resumed—“I ask you, why don’t you get one? Don’t tell me you can’t afford it. I know better.”

“I cannot tell what ye know, love,” said Mr Kerr; “but a carriage is out of the question.”

“It is not out of the question,” she resumed; “and question or no question, you must have one. Do you suppose I am to be kept here like a nun all my life?”

More conversation of a similar character passed between them; but it ended in this, that within two months Walter Kerr had a coachman, a carriage, and a pair of horses.

But in noticing the doings of the second Mrs Kerr, I have overlooked the situation of the children of poor Hannah. I have seen stepmothers who have been as kind to the children entrusted to their care—I have thought even more so—than if they had been their own. But such, the reader will already have imagined, was not the treatment of the children of Hannah Jerdan. Within twelve months from their father’s marriage, they became subjected to daily, almost hourly scenes of cruel, petty, and capricious persecution.

But they endured their hard treatment and murmured not. In the society of each other they were happy—they spoke of their mother and wept. To Jacobini she was as a dream-mother—like the “dream-children” of poor matchless Elia.

But Francis remembered his mother; and by that name he could never be brought to call her who had now taken her place. Mrs Kerr, indeed, though she had no children of her own, was wont to say—

“Don’t let the creatures call me mother.”

Time had passed on until Francis was a boy, or, perhaps, I should say a youth, of nearly fourteen, and Jacobini was approaching twelve. Now, it occurred, that, at the time I refer to, she had offended her stepmother, in what way I know not; but, according to the statement of the latter, it was an every-day offence—although Jacobini was a gentle child, docile as her mother was. But Mrs Kerr was in an evil humour, and, after having caused her favourite serving-maid to beat the child in her presence, not satisfied with the punishment she had received, she began to chastise her herself.

The cries of little Jacobini reached the ears of her brother, who was amusing himself in the garden. Although generally a quiet, he was a bold and passionate boy. He rushed towards the house—he burst into the room where his stepmother was gratifying her cruelty and hatred on his helpless sister—he rushed forward.

“Woman!” he cried, in the manner of one whose reason has left him, “if you strike my sister, I will strike you!”

“Boy!” she exclaimed, in a frenzy; and struck not only his sister again, but him too, and applied epithets to both, which, for the sake of human nature, it is as well not to repeat.

I have said that he was bold and passionate—he was also a tall and strong boy for his years. He grasped her more fiercely, and as she continued to vent her rage on both, and to strike at both, he dashed her to the floor, and exclaimed again—

“Woman! if you strike my sister, I will strike you!”

At that moment his father entered the house. Hysterics again came to plead the cause of Mrs Kerr. Walter had seen enough. He seized hold upon his son. He chastised him—unmercifully he did so; for he also, on occasions, was a man of violent passions; but, as with augmented rage he struck his son, the boy, while he submitted patiently to his chastisement, gazed in his face with a tearless and stern eye, and when he had exhausted his rage and strength, the boy turned on him and said—“Are you done, sir? I shall tell my mother this!—MY mother!”

When Walter Kerr heard the words—“I shall tell my mother,” and especially the words—“MY mother”—pronounced by his son, and the emphatic manner in which they were pronounced, he trembled—his heart filled—he burst into tears, and, stretching out his hand, he said—“Francis!”

But the boy exclaimed—“No!” refused the offered hand, and rushed out of the room.

Throughout the day he was not again seen; and after many days of diligent search after him had been made, it was ascertained that he had entered on board of a foreign trading vessel from Newcastle. Twelve months passed, and the vessel again arrived in Newcastle; but the captain stated that the astonishing boy (as he termed Francis) had left him, he knew not for why, nor for where, while they were upon the coast of Africa, where many vessels were.

The tidings fell sadly on the heart of Walter Kerr; but he had other evils to contend with. He had lost his son; and with his villa, his grounds, his carriage, and his visiters, he had lost the half of his fortune. But the ambition of Mrs Kerr was not yet satisfied. Her husband did not possess landed property sufficient to think of being a Justice of the Peace for the county; yet she thought it would give her additional importance were he chief magistrate in the town of H——. I will not say that Mr Kerr had not a sprinkling of ambition in his composition himself, and he more readily agreed that he should aspire to the honour of being elevated to the bench, than to any other whim that she had proposed to him. Therefore, after bestowing the necessary and customary (though illegal) fees on the corporators, which made another fearful inroad on his monied property, Mr Kerr had the honour and gratification of being elected chief magistrate of the town of H——.

“Now,” thought he, “Harriet will surely have reached the height of her ambition; she will be content now.”

But he was mistaken. She not only discovered that the idea of a magistrate standing behind a counter, and working amongst bales of goods, or casks of sundry liquors, was intolerable, but she declared that the effluvia which he brought with him from his warehouse on his hands and garments, was quite as obnoxious as though she still lived over it. And further, she added, that you might as well attempt to wash the Ethiopian white as wash it away. It rendered her incapable of taking her dinner every day.

Once again, Walter Kerr gave way, “for the sake of peace.” He gave a share in his business to a shopman who had been with him for many years, and became a sleeping partner himself. Jacobini was now a lovely girl of seventeen; but her persecution had increased with her years, until it became insupportable. She was treated not only as a servant but as a slave. Her father beheld what she endured, and he thought of the dying injunction of his Hannah, and sighed; but his interposition tended only to increase the sufferings which his daughter endured.

Jacobini possessed all the meekness and patience which had characterised her mother; but she was persecuted beyond their endurance. She tied up a few of her clothes, the plainest that she had, and with the little money which she had been enabled to gather together, she left her father’s house at the dead of night, and, wandering towards the next town, took her journey to London, where, through the instrumentality of a friend of her mother’s, she was in a few days hired as child’s-maid to a merchant in the city.

Her gentle disposition and acquirements soon rendered her a favourite with the family; and when they ascertained her history, she became as one of them.

About this time there was a young man, one William Jerdan, came from India to be initiated in the mysteries of business by her master. It was soon evident that he was no uninterested beholder of the gentleness and beauty of Jacobini. There was, perhaps, something of the ardent temperament of the clime in which he was born in his composition; and he suddenly made a declaration of his affection with an enthusiasm which, while it perhaps pleased, at the same time intimidated the retiring and the timid Jacobini. She therefore listened not to his words, and sought to avoid him. But the more her reserve grew, and the more she endeavoured to shun his presence, the more earnest became his entreaties, and the more ardent his declarations of affection. Thus several months passed, and there was a whisper in her heart, that she could love him, that she did love him; but she endeavoured to conquer it. She had often corresponded with her brother, and given him an account of all that she had endured since the day of his departure. He was now commander of a large vessel trading between India and the States of America. She had written to him on the day after her arrival in London; and about eight months afterwards received from him the following letter. It was addressed to the care of the friend who had procured her the situation:

New York, August 15th, 18—.

My dear Sister,—I cannot describe to you what were my feelings on receiving your letter, which communicated to me the tidings that you also had been forced to flee from our father’s house. It is perhaps sinful in me to do so, but I cannot avoid hating the woman whom our father would have us to call mother; not on account of her conduct to me (though it was cruel enough), for I always despised her—but, O Jacobini! it was because she was so unlike our mother, whom I remember better than you can, and whom I suppose you will now resemble as she lives in my memory—for all who saw you said, you ‘were her picture;’ but it is because of her cruelty to you that I hate her. The thought that you have been compelled to fly more than three hundred miles from our father’s house, and that your only hope is becoming the servant of our equals! Sister, when I received your letter and read this, it cost me a sleepless night; I cried like a child—and sailors do not shed tears for trifles. Yea, though I am no Catholic, I prayed that our mother’s spirit might watch over you and protect you, my sister! But I cannot endure the thought of your being a menial in the house of any one. With this, therefore, you will receive a draft for £100 upon the agents of my owners, payable at sight. The moment that you get it cashed, leave service, or I shall be angry.

“But now, my own sister, I have something else to tell you of. You know that our dear mother had a brother called James, and after whom you were named. He went to sea when but a boy, and was not again heard of. It was rumoured, and believed, that he and his shipmates were taken by pirates, and that they became a part of them. The story was not true. Eighteen months ago, I was in Bengal, and had dealings with a merchant, who, hearing the Scottish or rather the Border accent on my tongue, asked me from whence I came. I informed him; and he then, with a degree of curiosity, inquired who was my father, who my mother. When I spoke of our father—‘I remember him well,’ he said; ‘Wat Kerr—why, he was my school and class-fellow!’ But when I told him of our mother, and who she was, there was a visible paleness on his sun-burnt face; sweat stood in drops upon his brow, he gasped in his eagerness to hear me, and exclaimed—‘Youth! youth! does your mother live?’ ‘Oh, no!’ I answered; and the tears gushed into my eyes, sister. ‘Come to me! come to me! my sister’s child!’ he cried, and he threw his arms around my neck. Jacobini, it was our uncle—our mother’s brother. And when I had told him all, and how and why I had left the house, and spoke of you, and of your being named after him—‘If I live,’ said he, ‘for two years more, I shall see my little niece, my namesake—she shall be my daughter.’ He had been many years a prisoner, and on obtaining his liberty became a sort of secretary to a nabob in India. He had written repeatedly to his parents; but he received no answer, for ere then they were dead; and his sister—our mother—he knew not whether she lived, where she was, or by what name she might be found. He is now a widower, and has an only son, nearly my age. Our cousin, Jacobini, is a noble, kind-hearted fellow. I should have loved him though he had been no relative of mine, from the moment I became acquainted with him. His name is William, and before this reaches you, he will be in London where you are; for, when I last left Bengal, he was preparing to go to London, to be thoroughly instructed in the rules of business. He was to be in the house of one Mr L——, in Throgmorton Street. By inquiring there, you will easily find him; and the moment you receive this, call upon him—he will rejoice in having found you—he will protect you until I see you, which will be in the course of next year; for, after again going to Bengal, I have a voyage to make to England; and our uncle has promised to accompany me. Therefore, within twelve months, we shall meet again. Remember me to my cousin when you find him, which you will easily do. You may shew him this letter; and when he has seen it, I am sure you will find in him a warm and a steadfast friend, and one who will not endure the degradation of your remaining an hour in a state of servitude.

“Farewell, dear and only sister, until we meet; and if you ever hear from our father, tell him that I yet live, that I think of him, and love him—but, O Jacobini! the woman that rules his house, renders it impossible that I can again enter it. Write to him that I shall meet him in London next year, but he must not bring her. Again, farewell, dear sister—wait upon our cousin with this letter; it will be an agreeable surprise—and I am, ever, your affectionate brother,

Francis Kerr.

Such was the letter which Jacobini received from her brother. But it would be a vain task to describe her feelings, on its perusal. From it she found that her lover and cousin—he whom she did love, though she shewed it not, and whom she sought to avoid—was one and the same person. She was commanded to shew the letter to him!

“To him!” said Jacobini; “I cannot.” And yet while she so said she wept with joy. She went not to him—nor needed she; for, as was his wont, within an hour he threw himself in her way—for he watched her every movement. She had never spoken to him unkindly (for it was not in her nature), but always coldly. She had the letter in her hand, and she was weeping over it when he saw her.

“Why does my Jacobini weep?” said he: “if aught distresses you, why refuse the friendship and the hand of one who is ready to bear your sorrows and protect you?”

“William,” she said, falteringly—and it was the first time she had called him by that name—“read, read this.” And she put the letter into his hands.

He took it—his eyes eagerly glanced over it; but before he had finished it, he flung his arms round her neck, and exclaimed—“My cousin!—my Jacobini!—mine!”

Her face fell upon his bosom, and she wept. Few words were spoken between them; but they understood each other. He took her hand in his, and still holding the letter, he led her to the room of her master and his mercantile instructor. They were both in tears as they approached him.

“Master William,” said the merchant, with a look of surprise, “what’s the meaning of this?”

William put the letter which his fair cousin had received into his hands. The merchant perused it.

“Miss Kerr,” said he, “I am sorry that I was not sooner acquainted with your history. If you will, you shall still remain in my house, as a friend, but not as a menial. My opinion of your cousin William, though I say it before him, agrees with your brother’s. Whatever his faults are, they belong to his head, not to his heart, and a little experience will correct them. I believe I have seen more between you, at least on his part, Jacobini, than your brother knows. But hitherto, while I discouraged, I was not displeased at the affection which I saw my young protegé manifested towards you. And when my friend, your uncle and his father,” (for he spoke to Jacobini), “arrives in England, I shall rejoice not only in being able to introduce to him his niece, but in recommending a daughter.”

As the merchant spoke, William and Jacobini hung their heads, and tears and blushes were on their cheeks together.

She remained in the house; and I need hardly say, that her cousin now looked upon her as his betrothed; and in the same manner did she regard him.

Before twelve months went round, her brother and her uncle arrived in London. It would be a vain task in me to picture their interview—to describe their joy—to pourtray their surprise. The reader will imagine it more vividly. Why should I tell how the brother wept upon the neck of his sister, and how her tears fell on his bosom; or how the merchant drew her uncle aside, and in a few words told him the affection that existed between his son and his niece, and of the worth of both. Nor need I tell how James Jerdan, after listening to the merchant, came forward with a full heart, and in one hand taking the hand of his niece, and in the other that of his son, joined them, saying—“Bless my children!”

Within a month, the indissoluble knot was tied between William and Jacobini, and they went down to Scotland to spend their honeymoon, her brother accompanying them; but her father-in-law refused to go with them, as he thought his presence might not be acceptable to her who was now the wife of his late sister’s husband.

Jacobini had never heard from her father, though she had often written to him, since she left his house. But from the day that she departed, ruin had followed fast upon him. When he left his business, because his wife was ashamed of it, business became ashamed of him. Her extravagance increased, and his property decreased. His villa, his carriage, his all that never should have belonged to him, became a jest among his neighbours. He was declared a bankrupt—he was cast into prison. The villa and the surrounding grounds were sold, the carriage was sold, and his wife went to reside with her father, who was then upon his death-bed.

When Jacobini, her husband, and her brother, arrived in H——, they found their father a captive in a prison-house. They entered the prison to see him; and when he beheld them, he knew only his daughter. But they all, they each embraced him; they called him “Father!” and the poor man wept, even as a child weeps. He spoke of their mother—he entreated their forgiveness; but his son and his daughter clung around his neck, and cried—“Say nothing, father!”

They sent for his solicitor. His son and his son-in-law paid his debts in the prison. They led him out in their arms. They sent for his wife, the gay Miss Scott, that was their cruel stepmother, her father had died about a week before, and she was left destitute, having ruined her husband.

“I will support my father,” said Francis; “but I will have nothing to do with maintaining that woman.”—for she had been sent for against his wish.

“Then I will support her,” said Jacobini—“William, will not you?” she added, addressing her husband. “Let bygones be bygones—she is my father’s wife—she must have cared for me before I could have cared for myself.”

“Yes, love, yes, we will support her,” said her husband.

They did as they had said. Walter Kerr lived in comfort on an annuity which his children allowed him; and his wife, while she partook of it, repented because of her extravagance, and because of her cruelty to those from whose bounty she was now fed. Jacobini went with her husband and her father-in-law to India, where in a few years a happy family gamboled around them, and Francis increased in wealth, but lived a bachelor, and left his property to his sister’s children.