« ForrigeFortsæt »
Both served for many years in India: the first in the Company's army, the other upon the staff of the king's forces in that country. Each, about the same time, made a visit to England, and each of them, I believe, with the same principal purpose of providing for the education of his daughter; for each happened to have one sole child, which child, in each case, was a girl of singular beauty; and both of these little ladies were entitled to very large fortunes. The colonel and the general, being on brotherly terms of intimacy, resolved to combine their plans for the welfare of their daughters. What they wanted was, not a lady that could teach them any special arts or accomplishments-all these could be purchased; but the two qualifications indispensable for the difficult situation of lady-superintendent over two children so singularly separated from all relatives whatever, were, in the first place, knowledge of the world, and integrity for keeping at a distance all showy adventurers that might else offer themselves, with unusual advantages, as suitors for the favor of two great heiresses; and, secondly, manners exquisitely polished. Looking to that last requisition, it seems romantic to mention, that the lady selected for the post, with the fullest approbation of both officers, was one who began life as the daughter of a little Lincolnshire farmer. What her maiden name had been, I do not at this moment remember; but this name was of very little importance, being soon merged in that of Harvey, bestowed on her at the altar by a country gentleman. The squire-not very rich, I believe, but rich enough to rank as a matrimonial prize in the lottery of a country girl, whom
one single step of descent in life might have brought within sight of menial service - had been captivated by the young woman's beauty; and this, at that period, when accompanied by the advantages of youth, must have been resplendent. I, who had known her all my life, down to my sixteenth year (during which year she died), and who naturally, therefore, referred her origin back to some remote ancestral generation, nevertheless, in her sole case, was made to feel that there might be some justification for the Church of England discountenancing in her Liturgy, "marriage with your great-grandmother; neither shalt thou marry thy great-grandfather's widow." She, poor thing! at that time was thinking little of marriage; for even then, though known only to herself and her femme de chambre, that dreadful organic malady (cancer) was raising its adder's crest, under which finally she died. But, in spite of languor interchanging continually with disfiguring anguish, she still impressed one as a regal beauty. Her person, indeed, and figure, would have tended towards such a standard; but all was counteracted, and thrown back into the mould of sweet natural womanhood, by the cherubic beauty of her features. These it was these features, so purely childlike — that reconciled me in a moment of time to greatgrandmotherhood. The stories about Ninon de l'Enclos are French fables - speaking plainly, are falsehoods; and sorry I am that a nation so amiable as the French should habitually disregard truth, when coming into collision with their love for the extravagant. But, if anything could reconcile me to these monstrous old fibs about Ninon at ninety, it would be
the remembrance of this English enchantress on the high-road to seventy. Guess, reader, what she must have been at twenty-eight to thirty-two, when she became the widow of the Gerenian horseman, Harvey. How bewitching she must have looked in her widow's caps! So had once thought Colonel Watson, who happened to be in England at that period; and to the charming widow this man of war propounded his hand in marriage. This hand, this martial hand, for reason inexplicable to me, Mrs. Harvey declined; and the colonel bounced off in a rage to Bengal. There were others who saw young Mrs. Harvey, as well as Colonel Watson. And amongst them was an ancient German gentleman, to what century belonging I do not know, who had every possible bad quality known to European experience, and a solitary good one, namely, eight hundred thousand pounds sterling. The man's name was Schreiber. Schreiber was an aggregate resulting from the conflux of all conceivable bad qualities. That was the elementary base of Schreiber; and the superstructure, or Corinthian decoration of his frontispiece, was, that Schreiber cultivated one sole science, namely, the science of taking snuff. Here were two separate objects for contemplation: one, bright as Aurora that radiant Koh-i-noor, or mountain of light — the eight hundred thousand pounds; the other, sad, fuscous, begrimed with the snuff of ages, namely, the most ancient Schreiber. Ah! if they could have been divided - these twin yoke-fellows - and that ladies might have the privilege of choosing between them! For the moment there was no prudent course open to Mrs. Harvey, but that of marrying Schreiber
(which she did, and survived); and, subsequently, when the state of the market became favorable to such "conversions" of stock, then the new Mrs. Schreiber parted from Schreiber, and disposed of her interest in Schreiber at a settled rate in three per cent. consols and terminable annuities; for every coupon of Schreiber receiving a bonus of so many thousand pounds, paid down according to the rate agreed on by the lawyers of the two parties; or, strictly speaking, quarrelled on between the adverse factions; for agreement it was hard to effect upon any point. The deadly fear which had been breathed into him by Mrs. Schreiber's scale of expenditure in a Park Lane house proved her most salutary ally. Coërced by this horrid vision, Schreiber consented (which else he never would have done) to grant her an allowance, for life, of about two thousand per annum. Could that be reckoned an anodyne for the torment connected with a course of Schreiber? I pretend to no opinion.
Such were the facts: and exactly at this point in her career had Mrs. Schreiber arrived, when, once more, Colonel Watson and General Smith were visiting England, and for the last time, on the errand of settling permanently some suitable establishment for their two infant daughters. The superintendence of this they desired to devolve upon some lady, qualified by her manners and her connections for introducing the young ladies, when old enough, into general society. Mrs. Schreiber was the very person required. Intellectually she had no great pretensions; but these she did not need: her character was irreproachable, her manners were polished, and
her own income placed her far above all mercenary temptations. She had not thought fit to accept the station of Colonel Watson's wife, but some unavowed feeling prompted her to undertake, with enthusiasm, the duties of a mother to the colonel's daughter. Chiefly on Miss Watson's account it was at first that she extended her maternal cares to General Smith's daughter; but very soon so sweet and winning was the disposition of Miss Smith that Mrs. Schreiber apparently loved her the best.
Both, however, appeared under a combination of circumstances too singularly romantic to fail of creating an interest that was universal. Both were solitary children, unchallenged by any relatives. Neither had ever known what it was to taste of love, paternal or maternal. Their mothers had been long dead- not consciously seen by either; and their fathers, not surviving their last departure from home long enough to see them again, died before returning from India. What a world of desolation seemed to exist for them! How silent was every hall into which, by natural right, they should have had entrance! Several people, kind, cordial people, men and women, were scattered over England, that, during their days of infancy, would have delighted to receive them; but, by some fatality, when they reached their fifteenth year, and might have been deemed old enough to undertake visits, all of these paternal friends, except two, had died; nor had they, by that time, any relatives at all that remained alive, or were eligible as associates. Strange, indeed, was the contrast between the silent past of their lives and that populous future to which their large fortunes