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Wilson's Border Tales
The Sacrifice


Many are the sacrifices that are daily made in the world, by the opposite sex, in the important affair of marriage— sacrifices involving considerations of the most interesting kind, as regards the peculiar position of womankind. It is impossible to allude to these without a feeling of regret that circumstances should occur in the history of many families to render such sacrifices almost inevitable; for their results are generally untoward.

There are certain considerations by which the various classes of society are affected, in the raising up of families which, when they come in collision with affections pre-engaged or misplaced, cannot fail to operate painfully on individuals. Rank and fortune have their victims as well as poverty and dependence. Much of the romance of life is to be found in the stern world of reality.

In the present paper we will endeavour to record the history, so far, of two human beings, in which a sacrifice of the most generous character appears, with its results—a sacrifice which is not uncommon; but which, we trust, is seldom called for to the extent which it assumes in the case before us.

Mr Wilson was, at one time, a thriving merchant in an extensive manufacturing town in England. He was a man of middle age, of a cheerful disposition; and he was the pride of a little circle of friends, of cultivated tastes and liberal acquirements. Among the pleasures which he enjoyed, and had a passion in the pursuit of, was the truly innocent and fascinating one of a love for the fine arts. He drew beautifully, and painted well; and his patronage of those who followed painting as a profession, was liberal as it was well-judged. Of many who felt the effects of his generosity, was a poor, widowed lady, who taught drawing in his neighbourhood. This lady had one child—a little girl of about twelve years of age, whose father had died while she was but an infant. Accustomed to mingle in scenes of fashionable life, the mother, on a reverse of fortune, which overtook her at the death of her husband, retired, with her child, to the busy town of which Mr Wilson was a denizen, and there devoted her talents as a teacher of drawing—in which art she was no mean proficient—to the honourable purpose of supporting herself and little girl. Mr Wilson, to whom she had been introduced, was of much service to this amiable woman, in recommending pupils to her care, and in furnishing her with many comforts and conveniences at her outset in her new line of life. He also became a father to her child; and, in her twelfth year, he resolved to educate and adopt her as his heir. Jane Fitzwilliam—for that was the favoured girl’s name— was a most affectionate creature, and dearly did she repay the kindness, in her latter years, which was lavished on her youth. Since ever she could distinguish betwixt one individual and another, she had been accustomed to recognise Mr Wilson as her father; and when she lost the society of her mother, who was carried away from her by death, about two years after the period of her adoption, she was received into his family, and placed at the head of his establishment.

Jane had a lover, unknown to her protector, in a young man, an assistant in one of the schools where she had received part of her education. He was poor, and she was the presumed heir to considerable wealth; but this did not hinder her from giving up her affections into the scholar’s keeping. The two, it might be said, were formed for each other. He was of a bold, resolute character, and a person of considerable natural ability. Not decidedly handsome, he could, when he chose to exert himself, be perfectly fascinating in the presence of the fair sex—a power which is often bestowed on those who have been denied mere beauty of face or form, as if in indemnity for nature’s niggardliness otherwise. Jane, on the other hand, was a retiring little creature, simple, modest unpretending, and secretly proud of the talents of her lover. Hers was not a mind of that strong and decided cast out of which one could make a heroine for a novel. She was rather being formed for dependence on one her superior in bodily and mental capacity. From this it is not meant to be inferred that she was incapable of entertaining a sincere and lasting affection; on the contrary, such a character is in general the opposite, when put to the test.

Things ran on in an even current of happiness and prosperity with Mr Wilson and his adopted daughter. She was now a woman of nineteen, and had received several offers of marriage, which she invariably refused; affirming that she would never leave the house of her benefactor until he was tired of her company—a thing not very likely ever to take place. He set down her refusals to enter the married state, to a very different reason from the right one; which was her love for the poor tutor, who was still unable to support a wife, but who ardently looked forward to the time when fortune would prove more propitious, and enable him to open an academy on his own account. Mr Wilson, knowing nothing of this, began to suspect that his ward’s affections were fixed upon himself; and, although the disparity in their ages might have opened his eyes to a different conviction, still, as nothing transpired to whisper to him the true state of the matter, he indulged in the delightful dream, until it became to him an all-engrossing attachment.

There is nothing so fluctuating as prospects of human happiness. A single day will often bring about the most distressing results to families, in the commercial world. So did it with the amiable gentleman whom we have introduced under the name of Mr Wilson. One day made him a poor man—poorer even than when he first began business as a merchant. How this came about, is of little consequence to the facts of the story. Losses at sea, and failures at home—unsuccessful speculation—a turn of the card; these have ruined hundreds before, and, some of them combined, did so in his case. With that spirit of honesty, which had hitherto been his pride, he disposed of his handsome house furniture, pictures, everything that could remind him of his former position in society, and prepared to travel to Scotland, where he intended following some calling, in an humble way, among strangers who could not know his past history. It was now that he was tempted to offer marriage to Jane Fitzwilliam; for he now felt, and said so, that her cherishing care and kindness were necessary to his existence. What an unenviable position for a young woman so circumstanced as she was! Had he asked her hand during his prosperity, she might, perhaps, at once have decided on a refusal; but now. when he was bowed down by sorrow—deserted by the world—almost helpless but for her—how could she act? She had never told him of her young love—and could she tell him now? Could she otherwise than show him in this that he had been nursing a viper in his bosom, only to sting him incurably at the last? But who can tell her thoughts, her feelings, or paint the agony of her mind! She was bound to her benefactor for a thousand kindnesses, which all claimed her gratitude. Yet, again, her poor scholar—had he no right to be consulted? She scarcely dared to think of him—gratitude triumphed over love—she did not dare to see him! Perhaps the fact that she was about to leave the scenes of her youth, and could be no more haunted by the upbraiding presence of her lover—that she had now, at least, an opportunity of returning a portion of that almost paternal love which had been lavished on her since infancy, as the wife of his bosom—might have swayed her in the reply she made to the wishes of Mr Wilson. They were married, and reached Scotland together.

Whatever may be said of the step taken by this young woman—whether it may be said that she acted unjustly towards her lover, or disingenuously towards both lover and husband—there is this much certain, that she looked herself; on her conduct, in the light of a merited and meritorious sacrifice; and she was now to show that she felt it to be no such thing. This was, perhaps, the most trying difficulty of all; yet most nobly did she fulfil all the duties of a kind and affectionate wife. In consequence of a farewell letter which she received from the poor tutor, after reaching Scotland, her husband, to whom she showed it, was made aware, for the first time, of all that she had done, and must have suffered for his sake, and the knowledge, although painful, was not without a favourable effect. It made him renew every effort to gain the station in society which misfortune had deprived him of, and do everything in his power to make life pleasant to his wife.

Some years ago, I had the good fortune to become acquainted with this amiable family. Mr Wilson was then not an old man; but, placed beside his wife, he looked like one who might be her father rather than her husband. He was at that time in easy, if not comfortable circumstances, and his wife had made him the happy father of three fine children. Wilson was an agreeable conversationist, had seen much and read a good deal, and his society was always inviting. Many a pleasant chat we have had together in his little parlour, which was tastefully ornamented with many of his own productions with the pencil. It was quite a treat to spend an evening in his house. His wife, if not buoyant in spirits, looked always pleased and happy; and so fond of her old man, as she playfully called him, that one who did not know the early history of the pair, could not but say, judging from every appearance, that theirs had been quite a love match. What I liked best about her, was her unaffected sincerity of welcome to all her husband’s friends. Nor did this extend to mere words of course, and the ordinary hospitalities of friendly intercourse; she was constantly devising some simple enjoyment with which to take her husband and his friends by surprise. Thus, on a Christmas eve, has she led a little party, headed by the "old man," who had been perhaps engaged in business all day and knew nothing of her arrangements, into her parlour, which was pleasantly surrounded with evergreens, the tables well filled with dishes of her own preparing—pure English dishes! How she did enjoy the look and the smile of her husband on such occasions!—and how her heart beat in unison with his, as he would exclaim—"Ay, this does bring me in mind of England!"—And then he would kiss his youngest boy, and tell him to kiss mamma, for being so very kind! I have just now a card of invitation to one of these happy parties lying before me—the turning up of which the other day, among some old letters, set me to write thus far. On reperusing it, I am reminded of the joyous night I spent with Wilson and his friends on the occasion. There was music, and dancing, and conversatioo, and fruits, and flowers, and faces beaming with happiness. Four years have not elapsed since then. That night seems but a dream; and these faces are all gone, or scattered over the world—some of them in distant lands.

Poor Wilson was seized with a lingering illness, which confined him to bed. The devotedness and attention to his every wish and want, which his kind wife then displayed, were beyond anything that could be fabled. In that last, painful hour of his pilgrimage on earth, it was permitted him to receive a full reward for all his kindness to the widow and the orphan.

Why do I dwell on this part of the history of my friend! I laid his head in the grave, and then returned, with a sad heart indeed, to the house of mourning, and lamentation, and woe—to the mother and her destitute children. Among those who attended the funeral, was a near relation of the deceased—a cold, heartless wretch, who left the procession ere it had reached twenty yards from the house. He had learned enough, while in the house, waiting till the corpse should be lifted, to convince him that his relative had died in straitened circumstances—and it could not well be otherwise, considering that Wilson could not for a twelve-month before attend to business. This man, this relative, this summer fly, whom I had seen partake, again and again, of the kindness and hospitality of the deceased and his wife, was the first to turn his back upon the bereaved family. It was little, indeed, that would have been asked, or that could have been expected at his hands, but advice and consolation; for, as it was, one or two acquaintances stepped forward, and relieved the family of their pecuniary troubles.

Here, now, was she who was once the lovely young Jane Fitzwilliam, alone in the world, surrounded by strangers, who knew nothing, or cared little about her. Here was she, with three children to provide for—and she was for the first time in her life called to exert herself for her own and their support. Such situations are, alas! too common—so much so, that they make but a sorry figure in a tale, and even in real life seldom arrest the attention of mankind. Did a thought of her first lover now intrude upon her mind? In all that interval, since the farewell letter, she had never heard of him; and I am not sure but she entertained for him a yearning and lingering affection.

The poor scholar had made his sacrifices too. On the occasion of his severe disappointment, he had departed from his native town, and, under feelings of excitation, he entered the service of the army. There was nothing congenial to his tastes in this situation. He deserted, and wandered about the country, a beggar, reckless and desperate. On one occasion he had the good fortune to introduce himself favourably to a gentleman who had made some improvements in a machine connected in some way with reed-splitting. Our student had a taste for mechanics, and, from being employed first as a common labourer, he raised himself to the rank of engineer and overseer in the extensive establishment carried on by the gentleman alluded to. Such was his situation at the period of Wilson’s death. That event came to his ears, and he, with a generosity worthy of a noble nature, wrote a letter to the widow, in which he offered to protect and support herself and children. I know not how she felt on the receipt of this letter; but this I know—and it is one of the few romances of real life that have come under my observation—that she is now the wife of her first lover. Such is a brief history of a sacrifice, which produced much misery to more than one party; and in which we have seen that same misery amply compensated for, by a sort of retributive mercy, and by the bringings about of a kind Providence.


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