She weeps not, yet often and deeply she sighs-
She never complains, but her silence implies
The composure of settled distress.
Those who confine their reading exclusively to works
of fiction, and form their estimate of mankind from the information they
thence derive, will, on bringing matters to the test, infallibly find
themselves deceived; and those who go forth into the great world to make
love, or war, or anything else, after the fashion of these works, may
lay their account with disappointment. But neither of these evils can
accrue from a narrative like the following, in which it has been the
Writer's intention only to lay before the reader a few simple facts,
with the recital of which he was himself deeply affected.
Margaret Clinton was born—the exact when and
where, the narrator of her story was never told, and he never had
the curiosity to inquire. Her mother died when she was very young, and
the care of rearing and educating her devolved upon a married aunt, who,
in conjunction with her grandmother, kindly undertook to provide for
their infant relative. In about three years after the death of his wife,
Margaret's father again thought proper to enter into the married state;
and from that period little intercourse subsisted between him and the
maternal relations of his infant daughter. But though this was the case,
she could scarcely be said to feel the want of a paternal home; for her
grandfather and grandmother looked upon her as all they had left of a
beloved daughter who had gone before them to a better world ; while her
aunt, who had never enjoyed robust health since her marriage, and in
whom a sort of melancholy tenderness had been fostered by the death of
two children, regarded her with an affection which could not have been
surpassed had she been her own.
With these relations she passed the helpless years of
infancy without suffering much from the deprivation of a mother's care.
As she grew in strength and in beauty, age, with its concomitants, began
to steal upon the venerable pair, so that her society and little
services became to them indispensable. From the quiet and orderly
seclusion in which she thus lived, a natural bashfulness of disposition,
and a tinge of melancholy, which she partly inherited from her mother,
had been nursed into a painfully acute sensibility. An inquisitive look
would embarrass her; she could scarcely speak in the presence of
strangers, and she always seemed to prefer being alone to any society
save that of her dearest friends.
When she was about seventeen, her grandfather died.
This was nothing extraordinary: fathers and grandfathers must die, and
there are many who can forget them fast enough. But to Margaret Clinton,
"in life's morning march," when the feelings are most intense, and with
a temperament which gave a melancholy permanency to every emotion, the
death of this aged individual, who had been to her all she could ever
know of a father, was the source of deep and lasting sorrow. Still,
however, her home was the same. By the last will of the old man, his
youngest son, who was unmarried, was to succeed to his little farm and
other effects, with the proviso that his mother should remain in the
house as its mistress for the remainder of her life. He took possession
accordingly. In a little while, matters went quietly on in their usual
way, and the venerable patriarch, who slept with his fathers, seemed to
be forgotten by all save his aged partner and Margaret, who might still
be seen, on a Sabbath day, shedding a tear over his grave.
The lease of their little farm, which consisted of
only a few acres, expired in less than two years after the old man's
death; and as the laird did not choose to renew it, those who remained
were forced to remove from a spot in which they and their fathers had
been rooted for more than a century. This, too, was nothing
extraordinary: people must often remove at the end of every year, and
those who have hearts which "recognise no being and no spot" are
certainly the happiest in such circumstances. But to Margaret Clinton,
who had never before known what it was to Jlit, and whose
affections—balked of their natural range by her timidity—had twined
themselves around every feature and every object connected with the
place, it was distressing to leave it. Her spirits drooped as the time
drew near; during the preparations for removing, her colour often
changed from the flush of feeling to the "paleness of fear," as the
recollection of her former haunts, or the certainty that they were to be
hers no longer, passed over her mind; and when she did leave this home
of her happiest days, her tears flowed plentifully.
She was not, however, allowed- to sit down in idle
sorrow. The fatigue of travelling, added to the infirmities of age,
proved too much for her grandmother, who, after arriving at this new
dwelling, was for a long period confined to bed, so that the task of
nursing her, and attending to the concerns of the house, devolved wholly
upon Margaret; and the constant claims on her attention thence arising,
tended materially to relieve her mind from those morbid impressions
which it was but too ready to receive, and permanently retain.
About this time, the uncle, who had succeeded to his
grandfather's effects, formed a sort of secret attachment to a young
woman in the neighbourhood of their former residence. He proposed, was
accepted, and now began to make preparations for his marriage. To this,
his aged parent, as she was in no state to offer objections, gave her
consent, with the understanding that she was still to remain in the
house, and that it was also to afford an asylum to her otherwise
The marriage was accordingly consummated; and this,
too, was only a thing in the common course of events. Nevertheless there
are some with hearts so sensitive that common occurrences, and matters
which to others would be unimportant, are to them subjects of deep and
distressing thought; and of these Margaret Clinton was one. To see
another take her place by the fire, and to be spoken to as a lodger and
a stranger in the house where she had once been as mistress, was not to
be borne without some feeling of pain. The solitude in which she had
been reared, and which hitherto had guarded her from the effects of the
passion of love, only served to deepen every impression after it was
made; and her affections were now destined to be poured forth in a
stream, the stronger and the purer, perhaps, for their having been so
long locked up in her own bosom.
A young man of the neighbourhood happened to see her
one day as she was returning home with her weekly store of articles tor
household use. "Where combustibles are lodged a single spark will often
suffice to set the whole on flame. The sight was enough : and he tried
in future to throw himself in her way as often as possible, never
failing to behave toward her with the most marked attention. At first
she seemed inclined to shun his company, and appeared rather annoyed by
his advances; but the heart of woman is not constituted to resist
continued kindness. In due time he found an opportunity to confess his
passion, and offer her his hand. Though timid and bashful, all the
gratitude and tenderness which characterise the best of her sex were in
her nature; the discomfort of her present home added another powerful
argument in his favour, and her consent was won. They plighted their
faith; and in the prospect of being united as soon as was consistent
with the circumstances of both, they were supremely happy—but it was
"happiness too exquisite to last."
Shortly after this era in her life her aunt, whose
health had long been delicate, became so ill as to be wholly confined to
bed; and Margaret was once more called on to come and live with her,
less as a protege than a sick-nurse. She went, and the enchanted dream
in which she had been living was for the time dissolved by seeing one of
her nearest and dearest friends withering away in the merciless gripe of
consumption, and to all appearance near her journey's end.
She had scarcely been a fortnight with her aunt when
her lover was taken ill with small-pox. The disease at first, though
virulent, was not deemed dangerous; and no one thought of sending word
to her. But in a short time alarming symptoms began to appear; and while
people were consulting about the propriety of giving her notice, the
rumour of his illness was handed from mouth to mouth till it at last
reached her. With a heart weighed down by apprehensions for the fate of
her aunt, and a frame worn out with watching night and day by her
bedside, she set out on the following morning to see the object of her
first and deepest affection.
After a hurried and fatiguing journey, in a hot day
in June, she arrived in the vicinity of the sick man's dwelling. But as
the mother of her intended bridegroom had always been inimical to the
proposed connection, and as it was her house in which he lay, she did
not go directly there, but bent her steps first to the habitation of a
female acquaintance, who had been intrusted with the secret of the
approaching marriage. This individual knew the sight which awaited her,
but she wanted courage to prepare her for it; and instead of attempting
to do so, she offered to accompany her to the scene of suffering. Her
offer was accepted, and they went together. On entering the house, his
mother quitted the apartment without bidding them welcome, and left them
to introduce themselves.
When Margaret entered the apartment, her lover was
lying quiet, but his terribly altered appearance might have served to
appal a stouter heart than hers. Her limbs could scarcely carry her to
his bedside, and when she did reach it, she stood over him, silent and
motionless, while her soft hazel eyes, instead of melting, seemed to
burn. For a while her very breathing seemed to have forsaken her; every
sense appeared suspended, and she stood rigid, pale, and statue-like, in
the astonishment of grief. At last she raised her hand to her forehead,
as if to shade her burning eye-balls, and something between a shriek and
a stifled groan escaped her as her consciousness returned. The sound
attracted the notice of her lover: he knew her voice; and, with a
desperate effort, wrenching open his eyes, turned them on her for a
moment with a look of surprise and kindness. As soon as he had satisfied
himself of her presence, he closed them again, and held out his hand.
She took it; and heedless alike of the contagion which it might
communicate, and the notice of those who were observing her, she pressed
it to her lips, "and pressed and pressed again," as if her life lay
there. This mark of tenderness, so unlike everything he had been
accustomed to receive from her, appeared powerfully to affect the
individual on whom it was bestowed. The rising blood once more reddened
over his disfigured face, and he made several ineffectual attempts to
speak: at last he was able to say in a low voice, "Peggy, I am dying!
and I could wish you to think of me sometimes when I am gone.
Yet'------He muttered something more, but the words were inarticulate.
The strong emotion had increased his fever; his throat seemed to close,
and he sunk reluctantly back upon the bed.
Little as he had said,
his words were too many for her to whom they were addressed. As he
concluded, her powerless hand dropped his. The faint red faded on her
cheek and lip; she staggered backward, and would have fallen had not her
friend supported her from the house.
After this short and
painful interview, her shaken nerves were in no state to support her
back to the dwelling of her dying aunt; and by the advice of her female
friend, who again accompanied her part of the road, she went to her
grandmother's, where she passed a sleepless night; and early on the
morrow she returned to the house of her friend.
Whatever the state of her
mind may have been, she was now doomed to experience one of those
treacherous gleams of hope, which occasionally brighten a dark prospect,
as a ray of sunshine may sometimes be seen shedding its lustre over the
evening of a dark and stormy day, ere the world is wrapped up in a
darker and more stormy night. Her stricken lover had passed the hours of
darkness better than had been expected ; he had, moreover, been able to
swallow a few teaspoonfuls of wine in the morning, and some faint hopes
were entertained that the disease might have reached its crisis. This
her humble friend made the most of. She had seen her agitation during
their previous short interview; and she was afraid that her reason might
be touched, or that she might sink altogether under the pressure of her
own feelings, were she to see him again in his sunken state. She,
therefore, endeavoured to cheer her with hopes of his recovery; and
after representing in strong terms the evil which might accrue from
those emotions which her presence would produce, she succeeded in
persuading her to return to her aunt, without attempting to see him
Though her journey, with
all its consequent delay's, had detained her only a night, and part of
two days, the malady of her aunt had, in this short period, made fatal
strides toward its termination. She just arrived in time to be
recognised by the expiring woman, who took her hand, pressed it with a
feeble grasp, raised her dim eyes once more to look her in the face, and
Real sorrow is seldom capable of playing extravagant
tricks, or acting fashionable vagaries—though there is a fashion in
sorrow as well as in everything else. A carelessness of praise or blame
from the world, and tears shed in solitude, are its legitimate
expression. Such was the grief of Margaret.
She might have now been free to go whither her heart
directed; hut the confusion consequent on death, and the many ceremonies
to be performed—ceremonies which custom has made it sacrilege to
neglect, preparatory to depositing the dust in its last dwelling—these,
together with the urgent request of the widower, "not to leave him,"
detained her till the funeral was over: so that it was the morning of
the third day before she could set out on her return to him, on whose
life her own for the time seemed to depend.
As she pursued her journey with an emaciated frame
and weary feet, there was in her heart a sad contention between hopes
and fears—hopes which with ignis fatuus gleam flitted quickly
past; and fears which, like the cloud of night, hung heavily and dark,
and weighed her spirits down with damp and gloomy foreboding. She was
within a mile of the habitation which contained him; no tidings had
reached her since her visit, and though she might have obtained
information of him at several houses which she had passed, her lips ever
refused to frame the question; and with a strange fatuity she shrank
from knowing the truth, and clung with a desperate hold to the small
remains of hope that existed.
The mile was diminished to less than half that
distance, when she saw a young woman who belonged to the place coming
directly to meet her. The truth, whatever it might be, was now about to
be forced upon her, and her heart palpitated with terror lest it should
be as she feared, yet wished not to believe. They met and stopped, as if
by tacit consent. The unhappy girl had made an attempt to compose her
looks, and collect her bewildered thoughts; and she took her part of a
trifling conversation, which lasted two or three minutes, in a calm tone
of voice. Still no question could she ask regarding the cause of aer
journey, till the other said, in an abrupt and half-careless manner, "Ye'll
hae heard o' George's death, nae doubt? an' ye'll be come to see the
corpse afore the buryin'" On hearing these wortts, an ashy
paleness overspread her countenance, yet, strange as it may seem, she
neither trembled nor wept, nor manifested any other sign of sorrow; but
after standing for a minute's space, as if she had been stunned by a
violent blow, she resumed her journey without answering the young
woman's interrogatory, or seeming to remember that an answer was
The sun gained the meridian, and was calmly sinking
in the bosom of evening, ere she arrived at the house of the female
friend, who accompanied her on her first visit to the deceased. Here she
spoke with apparent composure of his death-; and after listening to a
detailed account of his last moments, expressed a wish to see his
remains before they were consigned to mother earth. Her wish was readily
complied with. The lid of the coffin was lifted up, and her friend, at
her request, removed the cloth which covered the face of the deceased.
When this was done, she stepped round to the head of the coffin, and for
some minutes leaned over it with fixed eyes. Her countenance, which was
pale before, exhibited little change, and, save a momentary shudder, she
showed no other sign of emotion. She then stood erect and said, in a
calm tone of voice, "Ay, it's a' ower noo!" The words were uttered
without being addressed to any one; and, without offering to condole
with friends, or waiting for their condolence, she left the house with
as much apparent composure as she had entered it.
At her grandmother's, whither she instantly returned,
she appeared equally composed. This aged relative was glad to see her so
little cast down, as she thought, under a trial which she had feared
might prove too much for her fortitude; and thinking it might be of use
still further to divert her mind, she set her to perform some little
services about the house. To these services she manifested the utmost
readiness; and as her uncle and his wife were absent, she went on with
them for a time, as she had been wont to do when she had the sole
management there. But she had already taxed her powers of concealment to
the utmost; and that fortitude which hitherto had resisted the pressing
claims of so many creditors, at last became bankrupt. She threw down the
things which were in her hand, turned her face to the wall, and after
standing thus for a few seconds, walked hurriedly to the door. The aged
dame felt some misgivings as to her peace of mind, and followed her out
as fast as her feeble limbs could carry her, but Margaret was nowhere to
be seen. The neighbours were made acquainted with the circumstance, and
a young woman, who had formerly been in her confidence, was sent out to
seek her. There is a plantation immediately adjoining the site of the
houses here alluded to, and to it had she fled, like a wounded fawn, to
conceal her anguish from the eye of day. Here, after a short search, she
was accordingly found, seated on the earth, her form more than half
hidden by the depending branches of a tree, and her face buried in her
hands, while tears flowed fast from under them.
It was long before she seemed to recognise the
presence, or to hear the kind expostulations of her former friend. When
che violence of her emotion had somewhat subsided, she seemed to observe
that she was not alone, and, uncovering her face, she attempted to dry
her tearful eyes with her apron; but no sooner had she raised them to
meet those of her friend, than, as if recollecting the circumstances
under which that face and form had last met her eye, a convulsive
shudder shook every part of her frame—she bent her head suddenly down
between her knees, covered her face again with both her hands, and
yielded to an agony of grief. When this burst of feeling had again
exhausted itself, and after being earnestly urged to "come into the
house," she removed her hands slowly from her face; and while her head
drooped on one side, as if its weight were too much for her to support,
and the tears gushed fast from her eyes, she said, in a tone of
melancholy earnestness,— "Oh! I dinna care whar I gang now!"
It could serve but little purpose to dwell on this
scene of sorrow. That which gave life its charm, and, like the summer
sun, made all things bright around her—that was gone for ever. Her hopes
of happiness were fled—her heart was desolate.
Excessive grief, like everything else which is
excessive, must soon come to an end, by either destroying itself, or all
that is destructible of those on whom it preys. But it may be, and
sometimes is, followed by a sedate and settled melancholy, which, though
little noticed by careless eyes, may last for years, or for life. Soon
after these events her tears ceased to flow in the presence of others;
she made no further allusion to the subject, and in a short time her
countenance had assumed a part of its wonted composure.
On the ensuing Sabbath, when her uncle, with his wife
and the other friends of Margaret's deceased aunt, went to church,
dressed in the garb of woe, but with only a common share of sorrow in
their countenances, she walked a space behind, clad in deeper mourning
than any of them, with eyes which were never raised from the earth, and
a look in which her feelings were more forcibly portrayed than in the
sables which she wore.
It has been said by one, whose gloomy observations on
the lot of man often approximate too nearly to truth, that "misfortunes
love a train," and "tread each other's heel." The quiver of Fate was not
yet exhausted. Margaret Clinton was requested by her friends to sort the
habiliments which had belonged to her deceased aunt; and, weak as she
was from the violent shock which her nerves had sustained, she complied.
But scarcely had she commenced her task, when she was overtaken with
pains in the head, weariness, and loss of strength. This forced her to
abandon the idea of proceeding; and " What was she to do now 1"
was a question which for a time she could not answer. Here she had no
one to attend to her, or even to give her a draught of cold water should
she be seized with severe or protracted distress, which she foreboded
was awaiting her. She had but one alternative: once more her weary limbs
dragged her fainting form back to the residence of her grandmother; and
there, after being confined to bed for two days by severe headache and
sickness, she caught the infection of that fatal disease which had cut
off her lover, and her life was considered in danger. Death was spoken
of in her presence, and she spoke again of the King of Terrors without
shrinking. She could even introduce the subject herself with calmness,
and without manifesting any of that reluctance to die which is often
observable in the young, and in those who are snatched away ere they
have experienced those disappointments with which maturer years are
familiar, or had an opportunity of trying those pleasures which
imagination holds up so temptingly to view, and proving that they are
not what they seem. Throughout she endured patiently, and was seldom
heard to complain. Did she die 1 No: death comes oftener in
imagination to the assistance of the playwright and the writer of tragic
fiction, than in reality to those who have little or nothing left for
which they would wish to live. After the disease had spent its force in
the usual way, she began to recover.
The writer of these pages had an opportunity of
seeing her shortly after she got better. The church where he attends
sermon is situated at a short distance from the parish burying-place.
Thither he occasionally went, to muse away the interval of public
worship among the mansions of the dead. On the day alluded to, he
wandered in that direction, as was his wont; and on entering at the
gate, which stood open, he was surprised to find that a female figure
had taken possession of the solitary spot before him. It was Margaret
Clinton, sitting by the grave—of whom, the reader need not be told. He
would have spoken, and tried to condole with her on the severe shock she
had sustained; but there is something so sacred in the solitude of deep
sorrow, that he felt it might be intrusive in him to "intermeddle
therewith," and, stealing silently and hurriedly away, he left her—the
only living thing in this " city of the dead."
Two years have now elapsed since her bereavement, and
some may suppose it forgotten. Yet decide not on her memory till you
have made a simple trial. Are you an old acquaintance?—speak to her and
she will answer you with a smile. But mark that smile!—it grows slowly,
like an exotic plant in an uncongenial clime: its decay is like its
growth, gradual and slow, as if the effort which called it forth were
required to keep it alive throughout; and when it has faded from a face
which it had scarcely brightened, her features relax into an expression
of deeper melancholy than they had previously worn; and it is only by
speaking to her again that she is brought to recollect your presence.
Such was Margaret Clinton when the writer of these
pages saw her last. Her affecting, but ill-narrated story, may be
concluded by the following verses, which were composed, shortly after
her lover's death, by one "alike to fortune and to fame unknown."
The Unmarried Widow.
O Grave! what woe is wrought by thes!
What clouded years of misery!
What loving hearts hast thou bereft!
What joyless, hopeless mourners left!
She was not by the bed of death
To see his manly strength decay;
Or mark the last convulsive breath,
That feebly heaved his suffering clay.
No ! hands less kind, and hearts less true,
Were gather'd round his dying bed,
To watch death's shadows, as they grew
Slowly o'er his devoted head!
Yet once I saw her, with those eyes,
As bending o'er his couch she stood,—
With hopes, that vainly strove to rise,
With fears that curdled cold her blood.
Of these I saw the shadows pass
Across her eye, along her brow,
Like things seen in a magic glass—
Alas ! methinks I see them now!
Yet once again I saw her near,
Ere the black coffin lid was closed;
Even then, her dark eye shed no tear
O'er his cold limhs in death composed.
And yet—oh ! what a spectre host
That sight must wake within her brain!
Of every parted look, the ghost!
Of every perish'd smile, the pain!
There, visions of that happy time
When hearts, whose faith had long been tried,
And made hut one responsive chime,
In wedlock's bands of love are tied;
There, the concentred wish of years—
The long, long cherish'd dream of love—
The source of countless hopes and fears,
Lay with the winding-sheet above!
The house—the home—the happy hearth—
A husband's smile, the children's glee—
Their harmless sport, and noisy mirth,
And the embrace, caressingly,
Of him she loved, when eventide,
Which homeward bring the laden bee,
Should bring that loved one to her side,
Her heart from every care to free.
His hand to press—his eye to meet—
His frugal meal to dress with care;
To hear him talk in accents sweet—
In all his joys and woes to share:
These were her fancy's golden mine—
These were her riches—these her store;
Her heart a consecrated shrine,
With all its treasures brimming o'er!
These to her soul's enchanted cell,
At morn, or noon, or evening time,
Had come—like spirits bright that dwell
In worlds beyond the reach of crime—
To steal her from herself away,
A new and happy world revealing
Where Love ruled every smiling day,
In the unhounded flow of feeling.
That light was quench'd, that music hush'd,
In silence and in hopeless gloom;
Her visions in that hour had rush'd
All downward to their silent tomb.
With his cold shrouded corse that lay,
From whom they came, on whom they turn'd-
All perish'd—cold and pass'd away,
Like duat which hath been long inurn'd.
But though her dark eye did not swerve,
As there she gazed upon the dead,
Yet, in the trembling \>f each nerve,
The anguish of her heart I read.
The shudder, that so quickly flies
Electric o'er each arm and limb,
Speaks a far deeper grief thau eyes
Which many tears have render'd dim.
With wayward footsteps, moving alow,
And eyes upon the cold earth fix'd,
As she from thenee essay'd to go,
All faint and pale, I saw her next:
Pale were her lips, so lately red;
Her cheek had sadly changed its hue,—
The sparkle from her eye had fled,
And on her brow deep shadows grew.
A love-lorn, hope-forsaken shade,
She glided through the twilight's gloom,
As if full fain she would have made
Her nearest resting-place the tomb,—
With him to moulder side by side
In the cold chambers of the dead,
Who sought in her a living bride,
|And share in death his bridal bed.
Ay, she hath loved, ill-fated maid,
As-she can never love again,
Though her last hour be long delay'd,
And from his prey Death long refrain:
Her heart hath pour'd forth all its ruth,
And pour'd it forth, alas, in vaiu!
The faith of age, the love of youth,
And ashes in their place remain.