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one on each side of the entrance gateway, over which was inscribed, in the old black-letter character,
The Uliidows' Almshouse. Just as we reached this gateway, the bell ceased to toll, and from each of the cottages came forth an elderly lady, dressed in a dark-gray silk gown, and wearing a black veil. She passed along the centre path towards the chapel. As I stood gazing on them and wondering what the vision meant, my friend laid his hand upon my arm, and drew me from the gate.
“We must not intrude upon them now," said he, “ for they are going to asternoon prayers. The chaplain is already waiting for them as the bell ceases to toll when he enters his desk.”
“But what building is it?" I inquired; "and who are those very respectable-looking old ladies who inhabit it?"
“The building is, as you saw, the Widows' Almshouse, and the ladies are the widows; but you must be contented with this information for the present; repress your curiosity for a while. After dinner we shall be alone, and you shall hear all the particulars you are evidently anxious to learn. To-morrow you shall see the interior of the building, and be introduced to the widows. I must now go and look after my fruit-gatherers, and ride round the farm. You can accompany me or not as you please."
Of course I did accompany him, as I like farming, and wished to while away the time until the dinner-hour arrived, when my curiosity was to be gratified.
“My father, old Admiral Sternpost, as he was always called even when a young man," commenced my friend, after his lady had retired, and a cool bottle of Lafitte had been placed on the table," was so constantly at sea, that he thought my mother required a companion besides my little self, her only child. He accordingly looked about the world for some one who would drive away the melancholy, which he fondly thought she must feel during his absences afloat, by conversational powers, eheerful and pleasing manners, and what he valued very highly, musical abilities.
An advertisement in a London paper produced a host of applicants of all ages, sizes, and colours—for not one of the candidates forgot to describe the colour of her complexion, eyes, and hair ; though upon the subject of their ages they left, as he said, a wide berth for conjecture. Amongst them was one from a lady, who described herself as the widow of an officer of rank, who had died young in the service of his country, and left her to the tender mercies of the world without a shilling to purchase one of them.
There was a something in the plain, straightforward wording of this letter which pleased my father. He threw all the rest into the fire, got into his carriage with my mother, and was driven to the addressa village about four miles on the other side of Bristol. Ten minutes
talk ensued, and Mrs. Wrightly-such was the lady's name—was seated in the carriage, and on her road to Mount Whistling. Her luggage, though not very bulky, was left to be forwarded by the first waggon.
I was a mere boy at the time. I was, in fact, only eight years of age ; yet I can recollect very well when my parents returned from a journey from which I thought I was very improperly excluded, bringing with them a tall, pale lady, dressed in mourning. I remember my father's putting my little red fist into her slender hand, and telling me that if I did not love her and behave well to her while he was away, I should have a taste of the cat as soon as he came ashore.
I looked hard at her as he introduced me in this odd fashion, and saw from the kindly glance she threw upon me, from the sweet smile which beamed from her sorrowful-looking blue eyes, and felt from the slight pressure of her taper fingers, that I should love her and escape the cat.
I was not deceived in my anticipations, young as I was. She was a most amiable person, and next to my dear mother, I loved her better than any one in the world. Yet she did not spoil me: on the contrary, she saved me from being spoiled by furnishing me with occupation for every hour in the day, which after all is the real way of keeping children out of mischief, and making them happy. She would write with me, draw with me, play to me and with me. She could make old toys seem new ones, and after our lessons were over, shared in a game of romps, as though she loved romping as much as I did.
My mother, too, who had been always nervous, low-spirited, and irritable while my father was away, and was constantly talking of battles in which her husband was to be killed or horribly mutilated, became an altered person, under the kindly influence of her friend, as she truly called Mrs. Wrightly.
On my father's return from sea, both my mother and myself gave so glowing a description of the merits and excellencies of the widow, that in the fulness of heart he seized her round the waist, and inprinted a loud smack on her pale lips, and made her feel rather uncomfortable, and my mother the least in the world jealous. He blushed, however, and apologized, and to hide his blushes tossed me about in his arms, until I had wellnigh been capsized, as he said, and laid on my beam-ends. Then-I never saw him look so foolish in my lifehe talked as rapidly as he could, while he drew out his pocket-book, and crumpling up a bank-note for one hundred pounds, placed it in the widow's hands, and begged her to lay it out in any way she thought best. It was hardly possible to make out what he meant to say, but I am sure I heard him suggest clean canvass and new rigging,
Mrs. Wrightly, however, positively declined accepting the note. She was, she said, amply remunerated for all her services by the comforts of a home, and the attentions of so kind a friend as my mother, and by my endearments. She was, moreover, amply provided with funds for all her wants by the pension which my father, through his interest with the powers that were then, had procured for her.
The admiral smoothed the note on his palm, made one more effort to induce her to accept it in dumb show; and when he saw that the effect was useless, thrust it into his pocket, rubbed his eyes with the point of his little-finger, and left the room whistling some sea-going ballad very much out of tune. My in other was fidgeting about, and using her pocket-handkerchief. I thought she was crying. I am sure Mrs. Wrightly was—so I had nothing to do but to cry too—and a very happy cry we had, and when it was over we laughed and shook hands, and cried again--yet we were very happy.
Well, my father's duty called him away again. He left us hale and hearty. How did he return? A poor, sickly invalid, deprived of his right-arm, and severely wounded in the right side. A splinter had struck him in the heat of an action. He refused to go below until the battle was over, although his arm hung useless at his side, and his side was sending forth streams of blood, which lay in pools on the deck where he stood. Amputation was resorted to immediately, and his life was saved—but the shock to the system was so great, that the surgeon told his sorrowing crew that he would never be fit to lead them into battle again.
For eighteen long tedious months did he lie on the couch of sickness ere his hardy frame and iron constitution yielded to the attacks of death. During all those months, and long after my mother's strength failed her, the widow tended him with a sister's care. She supplied to me a mother's place when my mother's grief and ill-health forbade her exerting herself. On her was left the weighty cares of the household, and she bore the weight nobly, discharged the duties well. Every body loved her, and she deserved their love.
You remember seeing her here shortly after my coming to college, and not many months after my father's death. You must remember her, for hers was a face not easily forgotten,”
I recollected her well, and told my friend so. He seemed pleased at the fact of my remembering his second mother, and went on thus:
“I recollect, the night of my father's death as well as if it occurred but yesterday I was at home for the holidays ; indeed, you may recollect that I was absent from school nearly a whole quarter. I had retired to lie down for a few hours, for I had been sitting up to relieve the widow and the hired nurse who were wearied out by want of sleep. I had scarcely laid myself down and fallen into a feverish doze, when I was summoned to the sick room. A sudden change had come over the invalid. He had discharged much blood from the lungs, and was greatly exhausted. As soon
As soon as I reached his bedside he made signs to me, for he could not speak, and the blood was still oozing from his lips, to open a drawer of the table which stood in the middle of the, room.
I did so, and found at the top of a mass of papers one folded up as a letter, and directed to Mrs. Wrightly. I took it to my father. He smiled to see that I had interpreted his meaning, and beckoning to the widow placed the paper in her hand. He then joined her hand to my mother's, kissed them both, and giving me a slight pressure of the hand which was disengaged, expired with a gentle sigh.
I lost a kind father, and the country a faithful and a zealous servant.
After his remains had been consigned to the vault where his ancestors for many generations had been placed before him, I felt no little curio
sity to learn the contents of the letter which had been given to Mrs. Wrightly, just before his falling asleep in death. I mentioned my wish to my mother, but she was too much grieved to sympathize with me on any such subject. I had made up my mind to request the widow to show me the letter, when she anticipated me by placing it in my hands. I knew that my father was wealthy, for all these estates were valuable and unencumbered, but I was not aware that he was so rich as he was. He had served early and constantly, and had shared many valuable prizes. His habits, though free and generous in the extreme, were not extravagant, consequently the money placed out to interest by his agents had accumulated greatly. I was not surprised to find, when I ascertained these facts from the solicitor who had been sent for a few days before his death, that he had in the letter which I had delivered to him from the table-drawer, assigned over to his kind nurse the sum of 20,0001. in the four per cents.
I congratulated her very sincerely on being placed, by her own deserts, in independent circumstances. I shall not readily forget her answer. The tears streamed from her eyes as she sobbed out,
“ I accept my kind benefactor's gift, but not from mercenary motives, as you will one day know. I have suffered in my poverty and widowhood more than you can imagine. I shall employ these means which your father's bounty has bestowed upon me in alleviating, as far as they will go towards it, the griefs of others who may be situated as I was once. I have one favour to ask of you, my friend and pupil.”
“ It is granted," I replied.
“ It is that you will give me an acre or two of land on the common above the breech grove. I wish to build an asylum there for poor widows."
“ I did as she wished. The almshouse is built, as you saw this morning, and six hearts are made happy and joyful through the bounty of a sister sufferer.”
“ It is very odd,” said I, "that in all your letters you never mentioned the name of Mrs. Wrightly when you wrote to me, or talked of her while you were with me."
“ You have surely heard me speak loudly in the praise of a Mrs. Lauderley ?—she was Mrs. Wrightly. She is now the wife of the chaplain of the almshouse. To-morrow you shall visit them. I should have invited them here to-day, but I wished to make you acquainted with their histories before I introduced you to them. We must now find our way to the drawing-room, and to-morrow morning you shall, if you are not tired of the subject, know more of my friends ere you visit them and their little society, which I assure you is any thing but a gloomy one."
I could only say that I should be most happy to listen to his promised histories.
A FAREWELL TO DECEMBER.
Art thou gone ?-- then fare thee well!
Of thee, that I fain would tell,
Let the trim teetotaller talk
the heart's red sluices,
And laugheth as the glass runs round.