n an apartment of small dimensions, plainly but neatly furnished, a lady of dignified appearance sat busily occupied with her needle. She might be perhaps forty years of age, and though still handsome, she had a care-worn look, which told a tale of sorrow. Three sweet little girls were preparing their lessons at a table covered with books and slates, while at the window a beautiful girl of nineteen whiled away the time in gazing listlessly into the street. After seeking in vain for some object of interest, she turned round with a yawn, saying, "Mamma, I really think that this town is the dullest in the universe! Nothing ever happens to interest one in any way."
"Why, Rosaline," replied her mother. "I can't think how you manage to spend your days in idleness! You do nothing but read occasionally in those tale-books, which do you no good, I fear. Now, I fancy that if you would do some needle-work, practise your music, or study something, the time would pass away quickly enough."
The young lady sighed audibly, but made no reply.
Mrs Ellerton was the widow of a talented physician, who for many years had had a lucrative practice in the town of C--. However, as most professional gentlemen think that they must keep up an appearance, he had lived in style, and had even exceeded his income. A sudden and severe illness hurried him in the prime of life to the tomb, leaving his widow and four daughters but very slenderly provided for, a life interest in some property left Mrs Ellerton, amounting to £150 per annum, constituting the entire fortune of a family reared in elegance and luxury. After the sale of their effects - which belonged, with the exception of £300, to their creditors - the widow removed with her three young children (the eldest being at school) to a small house in the neighbourhood, and there she contrived by care and economy to live in moderate comfort.
Mrs Ellerton possessed a remarkable amount of energy of character. During her husband's life she had reasoned ceaselessly though ineffectually on the folly of "living beyond their means," but she could not bring the too liberal physician to her views, so her next efforts were employed in seeing that her eldest daughter had the best education that money could procure.
Rosaline Ellerton was indeed a most beautiful girl. Tall, and graceful in figure, she possessed one of those exquisitely lovely faces, which when once seen dwell for ever on the memory. Her features were perfect in their contour, and her complexion was delicately fair. Her hair, luxuriant in the extreme, was a rich brown shade, while her large hazel eyes, fringed with heavy, sweeping lashes, had a dreamy but most bewitching expression. At an early age she was sent to a fashionable seminary in the south, the principal being a lady of well-known intellectual ability. Here she remained until a year after her father's death, being then nineteen years of age. She had only returned home a few weeks at the time at which our history commences; but during that short period her kind parent had been not a little distressed to find that the fault which from childhood had given her pain, still marred the beauty of her daughter's character. Constitutionally indolent, she had passed with but little improvement through a course of instruction well calculated to have made her intelligent and accomplished.
Madame Létour (her governess) had a very extensive library, to which her pupils had free access. Unfortunately, however, for the lazy portion of the community, she did not scrutinise the manner in which they spent their leisure hours so closely as she might have done. Of a kind and gentle disposition she erred on the side of leniency, and she treated her young ladies more as her own children than as those of strangers. One department of this library being filled with novels, Rosaline spent all her hours when free from scholastic duties in devouring these with as much earnestness as her indolent nature permitted. Hundreds of these volumes passed through her hands during her school life, so that when she returned home "a finished young lady" her head was completely filled with love romances and vagaries. The ordinary duties of life were regarded as troublesome tasks, and I believe that if at this time she had been asked what she considered "the ultimatum" of human bliss, she would have replied, "Why, lying in bed until noon every day, reading a new novel."
Our handsome heroine had not made any very considerable attainments while at school. She possessed good natural abilities, but belonged nevertheless to the numerous class of young ladies who excel not in any one thing. She played the piano incorrectly, sang but indifferently, and as to her drawings (the master having been an honest fellow, who did not finish off his pupils' performances in the usual style), you would have been amused to see the churches, trees, and houses, slanting in various directions. With regard to the languages, feeling that they required close application, Rosaline knew as little about them as it was possible to do after four years spending hours daily in their study.
Mrs Ellerton, well educated herself, quickly perceived her daughter's deficiencies, and this knowledge necessarily produced much pain. After some time spent in arranging her possessions, she gave Rosaline a gentle hint to the effect that if she would undertake the education of her young sisters it would be a source of much improvement to her mind, and also diminish the family expenses.
"Oh! mamma," she exclaimed, after a long conversation on this subject, "surely you could not wish me to spend my days in teaching such dolts as Louisa and Sarah! Ada is not quite so bad, but the thought of such toil makes me perfectly wretched."
It occurred at times to Mrs Ellerton that it would perhaps be a wise plan to commence a school, so that in the event of her death, Rosaline might support herself and sisters. But the very next look at that beautiful face and elegant form would drive such thoughts far away. At all events she would wait a while. Perhaps she might be spared many years to her children, and Rosaline would probably marry, although her chances in C-- of forming a good matrimonial alliance were not very encouraging.
There were a great many families of respectability in the town and neighbourhood of C--. However (as it occasionally happens), while the single ladies might be numbered almost by scores, the single gentlemen were but few. For instance, at the Hobsons, a wealthy cotton-spinner's, no less than five grown-up daughters flourished; and at the Wentworths, a merchant's, there were four ladies of decidedly marriageable years. Lawyer Staley had three daughters, and a son, but he was so extremely delicate as to be considered a nonentity. Then came the Smithsons, with their seven young ladies, the father working hard at his calico-printing in the hope of rendering all these independent of a state which it was doubtful they would ever attain. Divers old maids were scattered up and down, with their neatly kept houses, but in some cases sour tempers; in fact, it would have been a real charity to this town if a fine cargo of bachelors had been forwarded from some place where they were not required! Certainly, three or four gentlemen were in tolerable circumstances, and might be considered "eligibles," but what were they among so many spinsters! One young surgeon in C--was as handsome a fellow as you would wish to see, but not being as yet fairly established he remained single, and a pretty sister attended to his comforts.
In a splendid mansion, about three miles out of the town, the De Traffords resided. The family consisted of the widow of a wealthy barrister, three daughters and a son. Mrs de Trafford was a haughty dame, if truth must be told, of decidedly humble origin, but her handsome appearance had won for her the love of Egerton de Trafford, a gentleman of family, and aristocratic descent. She had loved her husband passionately, and with the wonderful tact which some women possess, she quickly acquired the art of conducting herself in every way as a perfect lady. At her husband's death, her daughters were just out of their teens. The two elder, Mary and Louisa, were, strange to say, plain looking; but Annette, the youngest, was a superb creature. Ernest, the only son and the eldest in the family, followed his father's profession. He inherited his noble and elegant appearance, with the raven locks and piercing dark eyes of the humble country girl. Nearly six feet high, and an exquisitely formed figure, his countenance, strictly handsome, indicated a high degree of mental ability. Still we must confess that his general demeanour was too haughty and reserved, and that he was spoilt by an extreme fastidiousness. The slightest disorder annoyed him, and being punctiliously neat in his own habits, he made no allowance for the defects of those around him.
During the last four years Ernest de Trafford had been travelling on the Continent, and on his return to C-- (a few months prior to the commencement of our history), it is almost needless to remark that he was the object of considerable and almost overwhelming interest to the fair sex. The mammas gave expensive parties, the daughters dressed and ogled, and all with the intention of captivating the fascinating Ernest de Trafford!
Dr Ellerton and his father being old friends, Ernest had frequently visited at his house. Although twenty-five when Rosaline was only fifteen, he had been much struck with her, and had prophesied that she would make a most beautiful woman. He admired her quiet manners and gentle ways; in fact he was conscious, that child as she was, she had stolen his heart; for after all his wanderings, his thoughts now returned in full force to his friend of former years.
On calling at the Ellertons, Ernest felt much hurt at the great change in their circumstances. He was soon informed of Rosaline's expected return from school, and the thought at once occurred to him, that if she proved worthy of him he would raise her speedily to his own position, and thus put an end to the struggles of a family whom he so justly respected for the father's sake.
One morning, between the hours of twelve and one, a splendid carriage and pair drew up at the Ellertons' door. A dashing footman rung the bell, and three ladies, elegantly attired, were ushered into the morning room by the tidy little servant. Mrs Ellerton was an early riser, and although engaged in superintending the preparations for dinner, she dressed habitually with care and taste, so that she went in at once to receive her visitors, who were no less personages than Mrs de Trafford and her two elder daughters. They had at last yielded to Ernest's urgent request that they would call on the Ellertons, and invite them to a dinner party for the ensuing week.
Now, Rosaline was in bed, for she frequently indulged in her favourite habit of remaining in that delicious place until late in the day. She heard the rumbling of the carriage wheels, and actually exerted herself so far as to get up, and peep behind the curtains!
"Oh! dear me!" she exclaimed, "how unfortunate! here are the De Traffords!"
Rosaline had not seen them since her return, and Ernest having been in London, she had anticipated with much pleasure the renewal of their well remembered intercourse.
"Surely," she thought, "mamma will not tell them I am in bed, especially if she says at the same time (as she is almost certain to do) that I am very well."
With a blush of shame she covered her face, and the next moment the servant entered the room, saying, "Your mamma thought you might perhaps be up, miss, and the ladies want so much to see you."
Rosaline detained the girl, and commenced a hasty toilet. Alas! her clean stockings were all in the basket in the parlour in an unmended condition, for she always deferred the repairing of such things until she could not possibly do without them. They would lie about for days together, and many a time her mother had at last to attend to them to avoid seeing them in every direction. She therefore put on her soiled hose, and after a slight wash, commenced dressing her hair. That being naturally very beautiful was speedily arranged in glossy bands, but she turned her drawers nearly topsy-turvy to find a collar for her morning dress.
"Dear me!" she exclaimed, "that is provoking! I was reading yesterday morning when the starching was going on, so my things were missed. After all I cannot go down stairs fit to be seen by them!"
It may seem strange that so handsome a girl should have been negligent in the matter of dress. There were times, however, when you might have called, and thought her the perfection of neatness; but it would be when she was going out, or some visitor was expected! She did not dress neatly for the sake of neatness, but to look well when any one saw her.
It is ridiculous to expect indolent young ladies to be otherwise than careless in such matters. When they lie in bed so late they cannot be orderly in their habits; and unless they have faithful servants the consequences are ruinous. But to return to our heroine.
The De Trafford carriage rolled away, leaving Rosaline not a little disappointed and chagrined. She had a vivid recollection of Ernest's particular ways, and as she had a great wish for his continued good opinion, she naturally feared she should lose ground in his estimation if he were informed of her lazy habits.
After paying several visits, the De Traffords returned to the Hall, and there, during dinner, they conversed pretty freely about the several families which they had visited that morning. Of course the Ellertons came in for their share in the conversation.
"What a nice woman Mrs Ellerton is!" said Mary.
"Yes," replied Louisa; "I like her very well; but do you know I think they seem miserably reduced!"
"Well I thought the house looked very neat indeed," said Mrs de Trafford; "but of course it is small, and not expensively furnished."
"How I longed to see this extraordinary beauty," said Mary, "about whom all the folks are raving! For my part I never used to think her anything particular."
"Oh! Mary," said Annette, "have you forgotten how lovely she looked when she came here four years since with the doctor! And, you know, we have only seen her once since then, for she spent her two last vacations in the North. Did you invite them for next Tuesday? And do you think they will come?"
A scornful expression passed over the countenances of the elder young ladies, and they both answered, "Well, Annette! what strange ideas you must have to suppose for a moment that people in their circumstances would refuse to come here! Sometimes we really think it wrong to invite them now they are so poorly off!"
Ernest's dark eye flashed at these remarks, and his brow looked stern; but he knew his elder sisters' snappish tongue too well, and therefore took no notice of their scandal about his "little pet," as he used playfully to call Rosaline.
At length Mary, who seemed determined to vent her spleen, said, "Ernest, what do you think of a girl's habits who lies in bed, although in perfect health, until one o'clock in the day?"
Here they all laughed, and Ernest gravely inquired, "How do you know, Mary, that Rosaline was not out?"
"Why, you see," she replied, "Mrs Ellerton is a remarkably straightforward woman; she seems to think she must tell one everything forsooth! I inquired after her daughter, and she said, 'I think she is up, and will send for her.' Unfortunately we overheard the servant saying in the hall, 'Oh! ma'am, I'm quite certain Miss Rosa's in bed!' Mrs Ellerton soon returned, and excused her daughter, saying she would be down presently. Alas! we waited and waited, but not one peep could we get at 'the sleeping beauty.'"
After Ernest had retired to his library Mary and Louisa amused themselves by picturing what a life of discomfort he would lead if he had a wife who continually lay in bed and was as idle as the gossips proclaimed Rosaline Ellerton to be. They were perfectly aware of his great partiality for her, and had made up their minds to oppose his views with all their might. It did not suit their convenience at all that he should marry and have a separate establishment. Single gentlemen could not then visit them much, and it was high time they got settled!
The following Tuesday at length arrived, and all the preparations were completed for the dinner-party, to be succeeded by a ball in the evening. Mrs Ellerton had purchased a delicate pink barège dress for Rosaline on this occasion. She had spent many hours in making it up as tastefully and fashionably as possible; for, always expert with her needle, she had easily acquired the art of dress-making since her circumstances had necessitated so much economy. Rosaline seemed ashamed that she could not assist her mother in any way, but she had never liked needlework, and all that she tried to do had to be undone. She looked exquisitely lovely when dressed. Her hair hung in long, rich curls around her snowy shoulders; her dress was trimmed with a deep fringe of pale blue, while a bright sash of the same hue adorned her slender waist. She wore a delicate pink wreath round her classically-shaped head; and on her lovely neck and arms a handsome gold chain and bracelets - her father's gift.
Mrs Ellerton, in her neat blue satin, and tasteful cap with blond lace and pink ribbons, appeared as ladylike and good-looking a matron as you could wish to see.
Ernest had thoughtfully provided a coach, which conveyed them to the Hall. On being ushered into the drawing-room, where the guests to the number of thirty were assembled, the ladies of the family advanced with much empressement of manner to receive them. Rosaline was soon seated comfortably by Annette on a pleasant couch, by a window opening out upon the lawn. They chatted at once as familiarly as if they had been most intimate friends; but Rosaline's colour deepened on finding herself the object of general admiration and attention. Two gentlemen a little distance from them seemed transfixed at this new importation.
"By Jove!" exclaimed Sir Charles Archer to his friend, young Harry Leicester, "who on earth is that exquisite creature, with that mass of brown curls, sitting by Annette? What a beauty! Why her hair is like a judge's wig!"
"Oh!" said Harry, who prided himself on being an exquisite, "don't you know her, Charley? That is the Ellerton girl, about whom they are just now making so much fuss."
"I did not see her come in," said the baronet. "Is she alone?"
"Oh, no - that lady in blue satin is her chaperone."
"Who are they do you say?"
"Why, the wife and daughter of that unfortunate doctor who failed here a year ago, and then departed to 'the better land.'"
Sir Charles Archer was distantly related to the family at the Hall, and had been spending a few days with them. Accustomed to the first London society, he was much amused at some of the good folks in C-, who prided themselves on their fashionable manners. The beauties of that place amused him intensely, and it was a favourite joke of his that such a young lady was almost as handsome as any beauty in C--.
Now, Mary de Trafford had quite set her mind on making a conquest of Sir Charles, but so far her efforts had been entirely useless. Very wealthy, but gay, he would never have thought for an instant of making so plain and heavy looking a girl his wife! Her temper of late had not improved by her poor success in her favourite project. As yet, although close upon thirty, she had only received one offer, and that was from a widower with four children, who had attained the mature age of fifty-six!
Ernest entered the drawing-room shortly after the conversation above alluded to, having been detained by unexpected business. The young ladies of the party were of course in raptures. Shaking hands cordially with his visitors in the lower part of the room (whom he knew well), he advanced to the couch where Rosaline sat.
"I trust you have not forgotten an old friend," he said in his deep tones.
She raised her beautiful eyes to his face, and replied, "Oh no! I do not easily forget my friends. I am very glad to meet you again."
"It is nearly five years since I have had the pleasure of seeing you," he said; "you were almost a child when we parted."
Her hazel eyes were bent on the ground, and a tear hung on the sweeping lashes as she thought of all that had happened during that time. Ernest gazed fondly and tenderly on the fair girl, but she did not look up, and seemed agitated. He crossed the room, and took a seat near her mother, for whom he always felt the greatest esteem.
Dinner being announced, the party went down to the dining-room. It was, as most dinners are, a somewhat stiff and formal affair, the young ladies in general belonging to an uninteresting class, and the gentlemen engaged in thinking about and discussing the coming election. After the tedious courses had been gone through, the ladies adjourned, and soon separated in the drawing-room into little sets. Some music-loving lady opened the piano, and the Misses Staley performed a "Trio." Several other ladies followed them, and the gentlemen attracted by the music speedily rejoined them. Sir Charles Archer soon distinguished our heroine by his attentions and admiration. He won her interest at once by inquiring "whether she had been in London?" and on her replying "that she had merely passed through on her way to school," he gave her a most lively and animated description of its many sources of interest. The amiable Mary, remarking his look of deep fascination, resolved to put an end to the conversation which was proceeding so earnestly between the couple.
"Oh!" said Mary, addressing Sir Charles, "you promised to give me your opinion about the arrangement of those lobelias, Sir Charles? Will you come now to the conservatory?"
Sir Charles gave a reluctant consent to her request, and she led him off in triumph. Ernest soon approached Rosaline, and proposed that they should view the gardens. The rest of the party followed, and all enjoyed a pleasant promenade through the tastefully arranged grounds.
Ernest expressed to his lovely partner the unfeigned pleasure her society afforded him, and he tried to get her to converse freely, but Rosaline's heart beat quickly whenever he fixed his expressive eyes on her face, and she felt too shy ever to meet his passionate gaze.
It was delightful afternoon, and all enjoyed their stroll amazingly. It had however to come quickly to an end in order that the party might prepare for the ball. Ernest requested Rosaline's hand for the first dance, and the happy girl, after giving her promise, tripped up stairs to the dressing-room. Here she found a number of the old young ladies, conversing confidentially on some subject of apparently great interest.
Just as Rosaline entered she overheard the remark, "Hush! here she comes!" She felt uncomfortable, but after a few minutes she walked up to the glass, and began to arrange her magnificent tresses which the wind had disordered.
Now this was no trifling piece of business, and the ladies soon gathered round her to watch the proceeding. Mary de Trafford remarked peevishly, "Pray when do you think of turning your hair up, Miss Ellerton? I wonder you can take the trouble of putting all that into papers! It would look more tidy if it were shorter and thinner, if you must wear it like a little girl's!"
Rosaline replied that she did not always curl it all round, but that her mother had wished her to do so to-day. The ladies exchanged meaning looks, and the fair girl's cheeks burned with so many unpleasant eyes fixed upon her; Annette soon came into the room, and the two beauties proceeded to the dancing saloon. It was brilliantly lighted, and ornamented with festoons of flowers. The band performed a favourite "Waltz," Ernest leading off with Rosaline as the stranger of the party, and Mary securing the baronet.
After several dances had been gone through Ernest led Rosaline into a small room adjoining the drawing-room, and they there enjoyed a delightful chat about old times. He watched her narrowly as the thought of all that his sisters had said recurred forcibly to his mind. Why they disliked any one so calm and quiet in demeanour he could not possibly imagine. Certainly she did not make any very wonderful remarks, but he thought she was diffident, and he felt rather pleased than otherwise at her modest manners. It is certain that she made a most favourable impression on her lover this evening, while she was no less pleased with him. Pity is undoubtedly "akin to love," and he felt truly sorry to see the family brought down to so humble a position. He longed to confess there and then how long he had loved her, but he wisely resolved to see a little more of her ere he ventured his happiness for life in her hands.
About two o'clock the party began to disperse, and Ernest handed Rosaline carefully shawled into the coach. He tenderly pressed her hand on taking leave, and thanked Mrs Ellerton in the warmest terms for the pleasure their society had afforded him.
During the ride home both mother and daughter expressed to each other their gratitude for the extreme attention with which Ernest had treated them, and the latter remarked that he had promised to call and see her soon after the close of the election.
The next fortnight passed wearily away to Rosaline, for nothing of consequence occurred to vary the sameness of her existence. As she did not take the slightest interest in domestic duties, she found it difficult to get through the day. She would come down stairs, loll on the couch with a book, and express her surprise at the spirited manner in which her mother performed her household occupations. However, at the end of that period a note arrived from Ernest, saying that if it were quite agreeable he should like to spend the evening at their house. Rosaline returned a graceful answer, expressing her pleasure at the prospect of this visit, and she then commenced the business of attiring herself with unusual care.
At seven the gentleman arrived. How quickly the time now passed! Rosaline was of course perfectly happy, and exerted herself considerably to be as agreeable as possible. she was naturally a very amiable girl, but this terrible laziness prevented her from taking a proper interest in what was going on around her, so that people thought her selfish, and wrapped up entirely in herself, when she was in reality apathetic. No one who had seen her this evening, with her bewitching manners, and sparkling, expressive eyes, would have known her for the young lady who had a few short hours ago bewailed and mourned her dull existence. She most assuredly riveted Ernest's chains faster than ever, and when he parted from her that night it was with the full determination to win her for his own.
We need not describe the several interviews of these lovers during the next month or five weeks. At every visit (of which Rosaline was invariably warned by a note) Ernest became more deeply enamoured, and had never, as yet, found anything in Rosaline to offend his fastidious tastes. But, for the present, the declaration of his love was withheld. He was now a thoughtful, cautious man of thirty, and although lovers may be blind during earlier years, they are usually very wide awake at that age; difficult to win, still more so to retain! Perhaps the continual sneers and inuendoes of his mother and elder sisters had something to do with his not quite making up his mind to propose; for they never returned from any of their visits without bringing home some fresh bit of town-scandal about "the beauty," as she was called.
Rosaline loved Ernest as much as any girl with her indolent nature could love, and felt certain of his preference and regard. It would indeed have been well if she had at once endeavoured to repair her faults, and render herself worthy of one so noble.
On two or three evenings Ernest, unfortunately, called unexpectedly at the Ellertons. On one occasion (Mrs Ellerton being out on a visit) Rosaline had taken advantage of being quite alone, as she fancied, to dispense with the trouble of an afternoon toilet. She half reclined near the window in a soiled morning gown, her rich hair hanging in untidy masses about her shoulders, and looking altogether a sorry picture of carelessness and disorder. Villette lay in her hands, and her surprise at this unexpected, and, shall we say, alarming visitor was so great, that the book fell on the floor. Ernest gazed curiously and sternly at the astonished young lady. She blushingly apologised for her morning costume, but he received her excuses with cold politeness. He knew quite well that there was no earthly reason for such a state of things, as she had acknowledged on several occasions that she did not take an active part in the household duties. They passed a short time together somewhat uncomfortably, and he then took his leave.
On two other occasions the same fault again occurred. Quite sure that no one would call that evening (especially as Ernest was out of town as she thought) she would do as she felt inclined. Unfortunately he popped in unannounced, and Rosaline was again discovered en déshabille.
On the latter of these evenings it suddenly occurred to Ernest that he would ask her for some music. He had never yet heard her play, for they had previously found so many things to talk about, that music was overlooked. He thought, "Now I will see whether this odious fault extends to her studies, as well as to these minor matters." She sat down to the piano, and commenced, "An Air with Variations," by Beethoven, and although by no means ignorant of music, she executed numerous passages in a careless manner, and without the requisite expression.
Ernest felt depressed at the discoveries he had made, and he feared but too truly that the reports circulated about the young lady's extreme indolence were not exaggerations. As to her musical performance, sheer laziness alone prevented her from becoming a very brilliant pianist. Need we say that he tried hard to make excuses for her, but in vain. He felt certain that she was as unsuitable as possible for any gentleman in his elevated position in society, and that to make her his wife would be as foolish a thing as he could possibly do. He tossed on his sleepless pillow two successive nights, wondering what to do. Sometimes he resolved to go to her, and confess how she had annoyed him - at others to see her no more until she had proved beyond a doubt that she had conquered her defects. His decisions for the present, either one way or another, were at last put an end to, for three mornings after his last visit to Rosaline, letters on professional business arrived from Paris, demanding his immediate presence in that city, and bidding fair to detain him there a considerable time.
Two days after Ernest's departure (he having called to bid a hasty farewell) Rosaline received a pressing invitation from the Staleys to spend a few days with them. She was of course much gratified at the prospect of a change, and accepted the invitation with much pleasure. Her mother, although harrassed with the fatigues of a large washing-day, sat up until past midnight after the arrival of the note, preparing Rosaline for this visit. She complained of a slight pain in her head, but did not allow it to prevent her exertions. At last the young lady's things were neatly arranged, and early the following morning the lawyer's phaeton arrived to convey her to their house. She was in high spirits, and kissed her mother very tenderly when leaving her, bidding her to be sure and rest after her departure.
After partaking that day of a slight dinner, Mrs Ellerton fell suddenly and heavily to the ground. The servant hearing the noise rushed upstairs. Seeing her mistress with her features drawn, and laughing hysterically, she lifted her up with much difficulty and laid her in bed. Ada, the youngest child, who was preparing for school, ran off to tell Mrs Morrison, a clergyman's widow, who resided a few doors off. This good lady quickly suspected something serious, and sent at once for Dr Clarkson, the medical attendant of the Ellertons. Fortunately, he was at home, and the two proceeded hastily to their house, and upstairs into the room where the sufferer lay. It was pronounced to be an epileptic fit of a very serious nature.
Mrs Ellerton was not quite insensible, and her friends shed tears on seeing her beautiful features distorted by so awful a complaint. They inquired for Rosaline, and being informed that she was from home, the doctor requested that she should not be sent for until the ensuing day, and that the children should remain at Mrs Morrison's. He thus secured perfect quiet, which he considered to be of the utmost importance. An excellent nurse was sent by a thoughtful friend, and the doctor departed after promising to give the case every attention in his power.
The next day at noon Rosaline received a note stating that her mother had been taken ill, and that she had better return home as soon as possible. The kind family with whom she was staying ordered their conveyance immediately, and a two miles' ride brought her to her own door. She was not alarmed about her mother, fancying that it was merely a very bad headache, and that she would soon be better. Occasionally a sharp pang shot through her heart as she recollected her mother's pale face when saying "good-bye" at the door the other morning. She trembled slightly as she knocked. The servant met her in tears, and could not answer any inquiries, so Rosaline hurried up the stairs, and there, in a darkened room, with her features drawn and disfigured, lay her dear mother. At the bedside sat Mrs Morrison, and the poor girl's eyes filled with tears, as the good lady tenderly kissed her cheek.
"Do you know me, dear mamma?" inquired Rosaline, softly approaching her; "it is your own Rosaline."
For a moment consciousness returned and the sufferer's lips moved, but ineffectually; she gazed tenderly on her child, but could not utter her name.
A fire had been lighted in the sick room, and poor Rosaline sat down by it, and sobbed bitterly. It was a dreary, miserable day, and the rain poured down in torrents. Every moment increased the poor girl's anguish of mind, and the deep breathing of her sick parent filled her with alarm. How shall we describe her feelings at this moment! She remembered how her mother had been toiling of late. Every duty in the house had been performed by her, - the cooking, marketing, ironing, etc, - everything, in short, with the exception of the mere drudgery, of which the young servant relieved her. Alas! poor Rosaline! the long list of her mother's occupations rose up before her, and she in perfect health leading an idle, aimless life!
To save herself from these bitter feelings of remorse, Rosaline went downstairs to see how things were going on. She felt herself perfectly useless, and now that the care of the household devolved entirely upon her, she scarcely knew what to do next. Her kind neighbour assisted her very materially in this time of trouble, and that day passed over better than she had dared to hope.
The next day the doctor ordered leeches to be applied to Mrs Ellerton's temples. Rosaline could not bear to see her mother suffer, and towards dusk she retired to her own room. Two other physicians soon arrived with Dr Clarkson, and the three consulted long and anxiously about the case. After the departure of the former, the latter announced his intention of remaining all night with his patient. He recommended Rosaline to try and compose herself to rest, while Mrs Morrison and himself kept watch by the bedside.
Rosaline threw herself on her bed, and there from nine o'clock until midnight she prayed long and earnestly that it might please God to spare her dear mother. She then got up, and went into the sick room. Just as she approached her mother, she saw the death-sweat gathering on her brow, and after a very faint gasp all was over!
Rosaline had never before witnessed death, and the effect on her mind was fearful to behold. She moaned piteously, "Gone! gone! Not one word for her poor child! Not a word to say she forgave all my thoughtlessness and neglect!" She longed at this moment to die. Yes, anything before living to endure through coming years such terrible remorse. At last she was conveyed from the room in an unconscious state, to awake only too soon to a full sense of her loneliness and bereavement.
We cannot dwell on this painful scene. Who can paint the morrow at this abode of sorrow! - the astonishment of the children on being informed of their mother's sudden death, and the grief of her numerous friends! Nor would we picture the mournful day when the remains of that sainted mother were conveyed to their long home, for -
We know it is vain, when friends depart,
To breathe kind words to a broken heart;
We know that the joy of life seems marr'd
When we follow them home to "the old kirk-yard."
On the following Sabbath the four orphans appeared at church, clad in the habiliments of woe. Many an eye was dimmed with tears as they walked up the aisle, and not a few resolved to befriend these lonely ones by every means in their power.
In a large saloon in one of the Parisian hotels two gentlemen were conversing together over their dessert. Apparently the topic on the "tapis" was one of great interest, for though it was a cold day, the fire had been allowed almost to expire for want of fresh fuel. One of these gentlemen we recognise as our friend Ernest de Trafford; and the other is undoubtedly Sir Charles Archer. After Ernest had transacted his important business he wrote to the baronet to join him in Paris, and at this time they had spent several weeks together in a tolerably agreeable manner, although the wet weather had compelled them to stay in more than they wished to do.
Ernest (if we must confess the truth) was in a most disagreeable state of mind. Go where he would, a certain pair of hazel eyes seemed to haunt him, and a gentle voice murmured in his ear, "Can you quite forget your Rosaline?" On this occasion he and Sir Charles had been having a long and animated discussion on the subject ever present in his thoughts. He had confessed how deeply he loved that fair girl, and had also confided to his friend his opinion of the serious defects in her habits. After the worthy baronet had listened to his account of his finding her in so negligent a state on several successive occasions, he burst out into one of his hearty laughs.
"By Jove, Ernest," said he, "what on earth could you do with a wife of that kind! Just fancy a girl always about you who could not dress herself fit to be seen! I'll lay a wager that she'd great holes in her stockings every time you saw her, and most likely slip-shod slippers, only you forgot to look at those articles. Besides, what could you do with your tribe of servants if they had a mistress who was almost always in bed? She'd come down some morning in her nightcap and curl papers, I do believe, and perhaps keep those things in use all the day if she wanted to read. Capital, Ernest, wouldn't it be?" Poor Ernest could not help a crochety laugh at his friend's nonsense, although his heart was very heavy.
Ernest had received several letters from home during his absence. All the wonderful news from C-- was crowded into the epistles of his mother and sisters, and he was requested in return to describe fully the amusements of the French capital. Now, although those august personages were perfectly aware of the state of Ernest's heart, yet not one line arrived about the Ellertons. Sweet Annette longed to tell her brother, whom she fondly loved, all the particulars about them, especially of the awful calamity which had so recently befallen them. Mrs de Trafford had, however, angrily prohibited even the most distant allusion to the family, and the amiable girl's nature was above any concealments in direct opposition to her mother's wishes.
In the meantime poor Rosaline felt deeply her awkward situation. Her mother's relatives speedily wrote to her, claiming the annuity which was clearly theirs by law, so that when the funeral expenses and the heavy bills for mourning had been paid, about £100 was all that remained to the four orphans. Friends advised Rosaline to commence a school at once, taking her three sisters as pupils among the rest. They promised to exert themselves in every possible direction to secure pupils for her, but the poor girl's heart recoiled from the idea of remaining in a place where every association was mournful in the extreme. Besides, she had a considerable amount of pride in her nature, and she felt that she could exert herself better where she was not known. In vain her good friends, the Staleys and widow Morrison, pleaded for her to remain amongst them. She pined for change of scene, and this she resolved to have, even if it were procured at the expense of much future discomfort.
About forty miles from C-- lay the pretty sea-port of W--. Here a niece of Mrs Morrison's kept a nice day-school. This young lady was now on the eve of marriage with a young minister, consequently looking out for a successor in the scholastic department. Several letters passed between her and Rosaline, and the one being as anxious to leave as the other was to enter upon her duties, all was speedily arranged.
Among those who came to say farewell to poor Rosaline were the De Traffords. Mrs de Trafford, although of a very cold nature, really managed to give her young friend a large amount of good advice, and many wishes for her welfare. She actually kissed her cheek on parting, and requested that she would write to let them know how she was going on. The Misses de Trafford parted from her with many expressions of affection, although the two elder were no sooner seated in the carriage than they exclaimed, "What a good thing it is that that splendid creature is really leaving C--. Heigho! for poor Ernest!"
In a very short time, with her friend's assistance, Rosaline completed her preparations for their removal. They took their furniture with them, so that they were spared the trying scene of an auction, which so often harrows the feelings of the recently bereaved.
It was a chilly afternoon in April when our travellers arrived at their destination. Miss Slater (Mrs Morrison's niece) met them at the railway station with a fly, and gave them a hearty welcome to their new home. They had a delightful ride of a mile and a half to their residence, commanding all the way a fine sea view. On arriving there a cosy fire in the parlour cheered them not a little, while the tea-service, neatly arranged by Miss Slater, promised a refreshing meal. After partaking of various delicacies, thoughtfully provided by the kind-hearted girl, they walked out into the pretty garden at the front of the house. Here the murmuring of the waves could be distinctly heard, while every breeze wafted the smell of the briny ocean. Rosaline watched the sun setting magnificently over the sea, and wrapped in her furs, she walked up and down in a calm and peaceful frame of mind. A feeling of deep gratitude for her many mercies stole over her.
"Ah!" she thought, "what a different life I will lead here from the trifling, lazy one at C--! nothing on earth should ever tempt me to dream away existence as I then did."
Rosaline kept her word, for she sought for strength and help from a higher source to assist her in conquering her inactive tendencies. It was her greatest trouble to rise in good time, for she had so long indulged her easy habits that it was difficult to master them. However "where there's a will there's a way," and our heroine jumped heroically out of bed at half-past six in the morning, notwithstanding the urgent appeals for more sleep which her system at first gave her. She engaged an active woman as a servant, and by working hard, the pretty house was soon arranged in a neat and tasteful manner.
Miss Slater had given her pupils (amounting to thirty) a fortnight's holiday, so that her successor might have time to settle comfortably.
The exertions now devolving upon Rosaline proved most beneficial in restoring her to a calm state of mind. Her grief for her mother's death had terribly oppressed her, and it was indeed a merciful dispensation of Providence when her numerous and active duties turned her thoughts away from so painful a subject. Her young sisters were in raptures with the novelty of their situation. Children's griefs never last long, and their delight at the sea-beach and the pretty ships bid fair to outweigh all their previous sorrows.
At the close of the fortnight Rosaline commenced her school. All her pupils were young, the eldest being only fourteen years of age, but they had been well taught, and proved to be very orderly and well-behaved children. Unfortunately Rosaline soon felt her own deficiencies in many branches of study. For many weeks she had to work very hard indeed, to make up for the wasted opportunities of former days. But a cheerful, hopeful spirit supported her, although her numerous duties were almost too much for her health.
Who would have known our heroine at this time? What a wonderful change had come over her! All her untidy habits had been gradually overcome, and she now applied energetically and vigorously to everything she had in hand. Instead of the slattern of olden times, she now became scrupulously neat, and her appearance was elegant.
One lovely evening in July Rosaline sat alone in the parlour. She had already enjoyed almost a month of the summer holidays, and as she thought of the coming half year of arduous toil, a heavy sigh heaved her bosom. She found it required careful management to support her family on the proceeds of the day school, as the pupils paid but a small sum for their education. She had accordingly made arrangements for taking a number of young ladies to instruct in music and French, and she was just considering how to arrange her time, so as to fulfil so many duties.
Let us look at her for a moment, as she sits with her white hand pressed thoughtfully over her brow! Her face is thinner than it was three months ago, but delicately lovely, for an expression of sweet repose is on her beautiful countenance. Her hair clusters in well-arranged curls almost to her waist, while her sable garments set off to great advantage the snowy pureness of her skin. Her sleeves of crape only cover her shoulders, leaving her exquisite arms bare, with their ornaments of jet. Suddenly she looks down the garden walk, and there a well-remembered form is coming towards the door. The servant is out - the children are at a friend's - so there is no alternative but that Rosaline should conquer her agitation, and herself open the door. The next moment she is clasped in the arms and pressed to the noble breast of Ernest de Trafford!
Oh, there are joys on earth which no tongue can describe. After the first moments of happiness had transpired, Rosaline raised her bushing face, and inquired "if Ernest had forgiven her?" Then followed a long account of his troubles; how he had tried to forget her, and how it had been useless! And then the account of his meeting with his mother and sisters, and the displeasure he had expressed at their concealing all that had occurred.
It appeared that after a stormy interview at the Hall, in which Mrs de Trafford and the elder ladies had expressed in no measured terms their anger at his continued regard for Rosaline, Ernest had gone to see Mrs Morrison, wisely conjecturing that she could tell him many things which he longed to know. From this good lady he learnt all about Rosaline's improved habits, for her niece had settled in a pretty parsonage near, consequently she was on very intimate terms with the Ellertons.
No sooner had Ernest become quite satisfied as to the change in his heart's best beloved, than he proceeded directly to W--. He remained there a fortnight, and during that time pleaded his own cause so effectually and urgently, that Rosaline promised to become his wife very shortly. She thought they ought to wait until her year of mourning had expired, but Ernest's quick eye discerned that her health was becoming rather delicate from excessive toil, and he resolved speedily to take her to his own home.
At length Ernest was obliged to part from Rosaline for a short time, in order to see after the preparations for a separate establishment. He forbade her troubling herself in the slightest about her trousseau, promising that it should all be arranged for her by Annette, who was ordering her own at this very time.
Sir Charles Archer had succeeded in securing the affections of the lovely Annette, and as he had now become quite a thoughtful and old-fashioned man, the prospect of this union pleased Ernest very much. He told Rosaline that it was likely he should live at the Hall, as his mother and elder sisters expressed a desire to reside in London. He proposed that her sisters should be sent immediately to an excellent boarding school, and that she should at once advertise her own establishment. He parted from her with deep regret for even a short period, promising that as soon as his preparations were completed he would come for her, so that she and Annette might be married at the same time in the parish church at C--.
After his departure Rosaline made arrangements for the disposal of her school and furniture.
Three weeks elapsed, and then came a long letter from Annette, full of happiness and congratulations. She insisted that Rosaline should come at once to the Hall, "for her mamma and sisters had refused their august presence at their weddings, so the sooner these troublesome affairs came off the sooner they should be friends again, she supposed. In fact, it did not signify at all their being so vexed, for Sir Charles and Ernest intended to travel for a little time, so they would have time to recover their tempers in the interim."
We are ashamed to own that Mrs and the Misses de Trafford really allowed their annoyance at Ernest's projected marriage to get the better of their good breeding. They had taken a house in London near Hyde Park, and on the morning on which Annette wrote, they started for town, refusing to be present, even at her wedding! However, Mrs Sinclair (Sir Charles Archer's aunt, and a very amiable matron) had been sent for at once, and good-naturedly promised to superintend the important preparations for the two marriages. Ernest was not at all displeased at the latter arrangement, for he had of late become heartily weary of the peevishness of his three relatives.
In the course of a fortnight Rosaline conveyed her sisters to school. It cost her many a tear to part from them, but she felt assured that they would be well taken care of, and that in the end it would be a very great advantage to them to receive a first-rate education. She had received several love epistles from the Hall, and Annette corresponded pretty frequently about the important matter of the trousseau.
At last Ernest arrived to convey his lovely fiancée to the Hall. What a queer journey! Rosaline thought. Too happy to talk, she sat by her stately lover, her head as busy as possible with thoughts about the future. And when they reached the Hall, how funny it was to see Annette come running merrily down the lawn, followed by the honourable baronet, both in perfectly wild spirits!
Oh, what happy days followed! Of course the fineries of the two girls occupied nearly all the mornings, but the lovers kept coming in to Annette's boudoir to ask how they were progressing. Then arrived the eventful wedding day! How shall we describe the gaiety of the scene - the bride-maids in their splendid dresses, and the beautiful brides with their robes of white satin and lace, and orange blossoms round their snowy brows? They were married in very great style, and hundreds of people declared that two such weddings would never again happen in C--.
Shortly after the ceremony, Ernest and Rosaline started for Leamington, and the baronet and his bride for a splendid mansion in Devonshire, recently bequeathed to him by a rich godfather. And here they passed the honeymoon as happily as possible, having arranged to meet at the close of that period at the Hall to start at once for Paris.
This ends our tale, and we trust that our readers will be fully satisfied with so happy a termination to a somewhat melancholy commencement. For ourselves, we shall be much gratified if the perusal of this little narrative be the means of inducing any who are troubled with an indolent nature to conquer its tendencies - which, sooner or later, necessarily produce the most painful consequences.
NB The Family Herald was not an illustrated periodical so I have used illustrations from the Quiver, Vol IV, 1869.