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No unhallowed passion ever broke out in the breast of either of the lowly group, to destroy their individual or collective felicity. Every member of the little family seemed to feel and to act as if the happiness of the whole was entirely dependent on his conduct. Neither of them knew what it was to harbour in his bosom a selfish consideration, even for a moment. They seemed, as if by an unerring spirit of foresight, to anticipate each other's wants and wishes ; and to administer to those wants, and to gratify those wishes, appeared to them a luxury of the highest order. They were not more exempt from the tongue or the finger of calumny themselves, than they were careful that a single expression derogatory in the slightest degree to the character, or painful to the feelings of others should never escape their lips. Their lowly cottage, in fine, presented a daily scene of virtue and happiness on which the eye of a human being can but comparatively seldom gaze in this world—a scene, in fact, on which, we are disposed to think, angelic intelligences would have looked down from their high and happy spheres with emotions of complacency and delight.
It is not, however, in the nature of human affairs always to remain without vicissitude. The inroads of death on the happiness of a family may be long procrastinated, but they must of necessity be ultimately made. The first visitation of an afflictive nature which this lowly family were appointed to experience, was in the rather sudden indisposition of the peasant's wife. As from the first indications of her malady the symptoms assumed an alarming aspect, the good old man and his children were absorbed in sorrow, and all vied with each other in their anxious solicitude to administer to her comfort as far as was in their power.
Death, however, is an unfeeling monster-he is incapable of sympathizing with the distresses of human nature. Whenever he has selected from the mass of human beings an individual as his victim, he resolutely carries his stern purposes into execution, even though he should thereby involve a family, a nation—ay, or the world itself, in the deepest affliction. The progress of the indisposition of the cottager's wife admonished her friends of the folly of cherishing sanguine hopes of her recovery,
Nor was she herself insensible of her imminent danger: she felt a strong presentiment that there was literally but a step between her and death. The grim messenger, however, was armed with no terrors to her. She beheld his rapid advances with the utmost equanimity, with the most perfect resignation of mind. The only consideration which could have induced her to wish for a prolongation of life, was the irreparable loss she knew her family would sustain on her departure to another scene of existence.
An apprehension of the probable difficulties with which her only daughter—Mary was her name—would have to contend in the world, in the event of her demise, pressed with peculiar force on her mind. The daughter was the youngest of the family, and at this time had just entered her fifteenth year. The two sons were in a condition to make their own way in the world—the eldest having reached the age of twenty-two and the other that of twenty; and the mother knew,
that if they were successful in life, her husband should never want either its necessaries or common conveniencies.
"Is your father or any other person in the house at present ?” said the affectionate mother to her daughter, as she was performing some kindly office to her, a few minutes prior to her dissolution.
No, mother; there is none within but myself,” answered Mary, in her accustomed mild and affectionate manner.
"Well, sit down for a few moments in that chair, Mary ; I have something to say to you,” added the dying woman, pointing at the same time to a chair which lay close by her bed-side.
Mary sat down.
"My time," resumed the dying parent, taking her daughter affectionately by the hand, “my time in this world is now very short-I sensibly feel the approaches of death---and, in all human probability, can only survive a few days at most."
This affecting language from the lips of her mother, and delivered in a peculiarly solemn and affectionate manner, quite overpowered the tender and susceptible mind of Mary: she burst into tears, and in the overflowings of her grief was unable to utter so much as the expression of a hope for a prolongation of her life.
"Do not, my child, trouble yourself so much on my account,” said the dying mother to her daughter, in a mild and resigned tone. “Death," she continued, “is an event common to us all, and is one, therefore, to which we ought willingly to submit. If there be one circumstance which more than another could make me feel a reluctance at leaving the world, it is the concern, Mary, I feel for you.
You are yet but young and inexperienced; and if you are destined to live long on the earth, you must meet with trials, you must be subjected to disappointments."
Mary's mother, on pronouncing these words, made a temporary pause, as if she could find no utterance to the overflowings of her heart. In faltering accents she resumed
“But let your confidence, amid all the circumstances in which you are placed, repose in a superior Power ; let all your actions be performed from a virtuous principle; and let
She would evidently have proceeded, but exhausted nature was unable to sustain the effort; and even if it had, she would only have been exerting her strength in vain, for Mary was by this time so utterly overpowered with grief, as to be unable to attend to what her mother addressed to her; and, consequently, she could have derived no benefit from her dying admonitions.
After the lapse of a few moments, during which time nothing further transpired between the dying cottager and her daughter, Mary's father entered the apartment in which the sharer of his joys and sorrows lay indisposed. As she appeared insensible of his approach, the husband imagined that she was asleep. He was about to make some observation to his sorrowing daughter expressive of this opinion, when he was painfully convinced that her insensibility to external objects was produced by the influence which death exerted on its immediate approach, by the circumstance of her heaving a deep groan.
It was the groan of expiration.
It were unnecessary to attempt a description of the shock which this event gave to the affectionate and susceptible minds of the surviving members of the family. As it would have been before difficult to ascertain in whose affections she who was now no more had occupied the largest share, it would have been equally difficult to decide which of them at this time experienced the most poignant sorrow at the painful circumstance of her separation from them. This, however, can be said with perfect truth, that never did the departure of a human being occasion to surviving relatives a greater measure of genuine grief, than did the demise of this truly excellent woman.
It has frequently been observed, and with a great deal of truth, that one painful event is often followed by another no less agonizing to the mind. Scarcely had this virtuous family recovered in some degree from the violent shock their feelings had experienced by the event referred to, than they were plunged anew into the deepest distress. The peasant's eldest son had left his father's house in the morning on a temporary visit to the house of a friend. It was in the season of summer, and the day being extremely fine, he and another young companion resolved to bathe together. They entered the water ; but the cottager's son inadvertently went beyond his depth, and being unacquainted with the art of swimming, he was drowned in the presence of his juvenile friend, who was unable to render him any assistance.
This mournful occurrence, coming so soon after the death of his wife, so powerfully affected the good old peasant and his surviving son and daughter, that it was generally believed all the three would ultimately sink under their heavy bereavements. Human nature, however, is wisely constituted; it is an admirable characteristic of our wonderful economy, that violent emotions, whether of joy or sorrow, cannot be lasting ; and in the course of time the powerful impressions which the event in question made on the cottagers' minds was partially deadened, and they appeared as cheerful as, under all the circumstances of the case, could have been expected.
About twelve months subsequent to the time at which the painful occurrence took place to which we have just alluded, the peasant's now only son went out, agreeably to a previous engagement, to India, in the capacity of clerk to a gentleman who was a native of the parish to which the lowly family belonged. This was another circumstance calculated to harrow up the feelings of the peasant and his daughter ; the only consideration which tended to modify their sorrow on the occasion, was the circumstance of his going out under the special superintendence of an individual of the highest respectability, and eminently distinguished for his kindness and liberality to such of those in his employ as proved themselves deserving of his favour.
The peasant and his daughter were now left to spend their months and their years by themselves. The good man had, some time previously, entered the decline of life ; and his circumstances, conjoined with his recent family afflictions, rendered him peculiarly deserving of all the kind offices which it was in Mary's power to render him.
It has been already more than hinted, that Mary was distinguished for her filial affection. It was now greatly augmented ; she devoted all the energies of her mind to the exigencies of her beloved father.
The little labour that he was able to perform would have producer but a very scanty pittance; and the maintenance as well as the management of the house consequently devolved on her. A few months previous to the death of her mother, Mary had fortunately had an opportunity of acquainting herself with the art of sewing, and possessing naturally a great aptitude for the acquisition of any art to which she bent her attention, she had made, in the present case, more than ordinary proficiency. By unremitting attention to her needle-work, and an economical management of her earnings, she was enabled to furnish her parent with all the necessaries, and with many of the comforts of life.
In this manner the peasant and his daughter spent several years their lives, individually enjoying as great a share of this world's felicity as ordinarily falls to the lot of humanity.
The amiable disposition, and virtuous and dutiful conduct of Mary, united to personal attractions of no common order, secured for her the warm esteem of all acquainted with her, and in the bosoms of more than one individual of the other sex, those qualities of mind and figure engendered the tender passion. One young man in the neighbourhood, Alexander Watson, had in particular placed his warmest affections on Mary.
This young man was universally loved and respected. Indeed, his mild and engaging manners, conjoined with the uniform moral propriety of his conduct, were irresistibly calculated to secure the esteem and to win the affectionate regards of all who were capable of appreciating real excellence. Being the only son of a neighbouring farmer, whose circumstances approached to what, in the country, is considered affluence, he had possessed the advantages of a rather liberal education; although, as is frequently the case in our northern latitudes among agricultural families, his habits were characterized by much simplicity # It has just been remarked that Mary had engaged the warmest affections of this amiable and intelligent young man. He frequently visited her in her father's humble habitation ; and every additional interview they had together, served only to increase the devotedness of his attachment. After repeated visits, he gradually apprised Mary of the place she occupied in his affections : but as he had not yet made any formal proposal of marriage, she, with her characteristic prudence, appeared as if unconscious of the sentiments he cherished towards her.
At length, however, Mary's lover assured her in the most explicit terms of the genuineness and warmth of the attachment with which she was regarded by him, and accompanied his protestations of love with a formal proposal of marriage. Mary, with that modesty peculiar to her sex, blushed deeply on hearing this unequivocal announcement of Alexander's intentions, and, with a manner bordering on embarrassment, mildly intimated to him that she was not at present in circumstances to warrant her entering into the married state.
“ The circumstances in which you are placed, Mary, shall prove no obstruction to the celebration of our nuptials,” said Alexander, with an air of peculiar kindness-supposing that Mary had alluded to the disparity that existed between their situations in society. "I shall not,” he continued, " in the event of our union, thereby incur the displeasure of our parents; they are already apprised of my intentions, and have signified their entire approbation of the choice I have made; and as I am the only individual who will receive, at my father's death, whatever of the good things of this life he will have to bequeath, we have every rational prospect, every human probability in our favour, that we shall through life enjoy a full competency of whatever is necessary for us. Let not, therefore, the consideration of any difference that may exist between us in reference to pecuniary matters, be regarded as an obstacle to the completion of my
intentions." “ But my father, my father!” exclaimed the virtuous Mary, in a tone which expressed the strength of her filial affection.
“And will your father,” said Alexander, evidently appearing somewhat surprised at the exclamation of Mary ; “and will your father be displeased at the circumstance of my proposing to become his son-inlaw?"
“Oh, no!” answered Mary, in a tone which plainly indicated the concern she felt in consequence of her lover misapprehending her meaning; “Oh, no! do not do him the injustice of imagining for a moment that he could have any objections to that. What I mean is simply this, that for some years past I have been the only solace and support of my aged parent; and were I to leave him in his present helpless condition, I fear it would only accelerate his progress to the grave--a place of which, according to the course of nature, he must at no distant period become an inhabitant."
These words, added to the peculiar impressiveness with which they were delivered, only contributed to augment, if possible, the affection with which Alexander regarded Mary.
“Do not,” he replied, “ have any fears respecting the welfare of your revered parent. The fidelity and assiduity with which you have invariably administered to his necessities, was one of the traits in your character which first attracted my regards. Your father, so long as we are blessed with the world, shall be provided for. If agreeable to himself, as I hope it will be, he shall be taken under our roof, where he shall not only possess the common comforts of life, but also have the happiness of his daughter's company, and receive at her hand those kind attentions she was wont to pay him.”
The feelings of gratitude and affection which this announcement of Alexander's intentions in reference to her father engendered in the breast of Mary, deprived her for a time of the power of utterance. It is unnecessary to add, that she offered no further objection to his proposal of marriage.
The requisite arrangements for their union were accordingly made with all convenient expedition ; and in three months from the date of the interview to which we have just referred, they both approached the Hymeneal altar, and were duly proclaimed married persons. The good old man, Mary's father, was taken into the house provided for the reception of the newly-married couple: and from the attentions which both paid to him, in conjunction with the mutual affection which subsisted between his daughter and his son-in-law, he derived a satisfaction and happiness of mind rarely possessed at his advanced stage of life.
For the lengthened period of twelve years, Mary's house presented