Page images
PDF
EPUB

ELLEN.-A TALE OF OTHER DAYS.

Delightedly did Ellen Rayner quit the quiet village in which she had spent her early years for visit to Bath, at that time-fifty years ago-a place of great fashion and importance. Ellen had been left to the care of an aunt, an almost unportioned orphan. Education was not so elaborate or so expensive a process in those days as at the present era of fashionable acquirements, but that of Ellen had not been neglected; she sang her wood-notes wild to the accompaniment of an old harpsichord, the spinnett being already out of date; she read Telemachus in the original, and was an adept in the most esteemed modes of stitchery. The library at Ashleigh was not very extensive, but it contained a sufficient number of volumes filled with stirring portraitures of the great world to render Ellen anxious to mingle in some of the busy scenes of life. Her aunt, Mrs. Henley, bad, in the earlier part of her existence, mixed a good deal in society, and her reminiscences still further excited the ardent mind of a young girl, who, not unambitious, fancied that she had only to see and to be seen, to be placed in the path of fortune, the road which leads to distinction. The rural seat beneath the alders, the sylvan view, the strip of common dotted with sheep, and watered by a shallow brook, with the green sloping hill in the background, seemed tame, dull, and unprofitable to one who desired to gaze upon the majestic architecture of cities, or the lavish magnificence of nature in lands more blessed than her own. Ellen, though of a .cheerful disposition, often felt inclined to quarrel with the destiny which chained her down to an obscure nook, wholly devoid of interest, and which caused her to waste her bloom and beauty amid a circle composed of unrefined persons, totally incapable of entering into her feelings or of sympathizing in any of her pleasures. There seemed to be little chance of the arrival of visitors in so secluded a spot, and she became almost impatient under the idea of being condemned, during her whole life, to associations with no better companions than the fox-hunting squire and the gouty parson.

Mrs. Henley saw her niece vegetate in obscurity with truly maternal regret ; she felt no small degree of anxiety concerning her establishment in life, and had long indulged a wish to send her to try her fortune in the grand mart of female beauty, that delightful resort of the rich and the gay, whence so many undowered spinsters had emerged wealthy brides, and where the pump-rooms and the public walks each day witnessed the triumphs of radiant eyes. Ellen's speculations were not so wholly matrimonial; at least it never occurred to her that, in wishing to see the world, and in dreaming of conquests, she was virtually desirous to seek for a husband; she would have shrunk from that idea as indelicate, and satisfied herself that she thought of nothing but an amusing variation of the monotonous course of her life.

At length, an opportunity offered itself for a visit to Bath; preparations were soon made for her departure; she flew to the seat under the alders, to the hazel copse, the church-yard, and the vicar's garden, haunts of her childhood, to take one look, which she internally hoped might be the last; her aunt, she trusted, would rejoin her in some more congenial sphere; and thus, enchanted with the prospect before her, and loathing all that she left behind, she departed from her native village.

Bath did not disappoint the young debutante's expectations; it seemed, and indeed it was, at that time, a most delightful abode. Society was placed upon the easiest footing imaginable; the great threw aside their stateliness, and

[ocr errors]

mingled freely with persons who were far beneath them in rank and fortune; the public amusements were within the reach of all the visitors, and perhaps the only drawback was the facility offered to adventurers to intrude themselves upon the undesigning. Ellen Rayner did not appear to be a mark for any one of those chevaliers d'industrie who, at all times, have found in Bath so ample a field for their exploits; her fortune did not exceed a few hundred pounds, and her friends made no secret of the narrow state of her finances. She, thereforė, entertained no fears, upon making her first appearance at the rooms, of being sought by a partner from interested motives, and gave herself up to the pleasures of the hour, without the slightest apprehension of future evils. Her partner was a stranger ; all the beau monde was strange to her; she was struck with his military appearance, and thought her own consequence increased in conversing with an officer lately arrived from India. Captain Shaw was high in the favour of a native prince, and had come over to England to negociate with the Court of Directors on a matter of great importance. He wore a pink diamond upon his finger, of inestimable value; the lid of, his snuff box was formed of emeralds, and his person glittered with gold chains and jewels. No wonder that Ellen was dazzled, especially as he talked of the pomps and splen. dours of the East, and the queenlike grandeur which surrounded those ladies who made it their temporary home. "Captain Shaw was handsome in his person, and extremely plausible in his manners; his inexperienced companion could have listened to him for ever, and those who had seen more of the world were satisfied to allow him to engross their young charge.

How beautiful was the night on which Ellen first imbibed the honied draught of adulation! Few, if any, now living can remember the lower rooms at Bath as they existed fifty years ago. At that time, the South Parade, of which they occupied an opposite corner, was a noble pile of building, justly esteemed for its architectural magnificence, though now presenting a melan. choly picture of desolation and decay. The windows of the ball-room overlooked a cheerful tract of country, fields and gardens bounded by the shining Avon and backed by the rising grounds of Claverton and Whitcombe. The moon fell brightly on the scene, frosting with silver all the fruit-tree tops, and exhibiting in all their grandeur the richly-decorated fronts of the adjacent buildings. Ellen's eyes drank in delighted a prospect so congenial to her previously formed ideas of the beauty and splendour of the world beyond her native village; her ears were not less fascinated as she listened to the tale of other scenes still more gloriously splendid, and the awakened hope that she might, at no distant period, visit these enchanting regions, filled her heart with joy.

Captain Shaw's attentions lasted longer than the evening of the ball; in the promenade, at the breakfast, at Spring Gardens, the library, and the toy-shop, he was Miss Rayner's constant attendant, and she was never weary of hearing the details of his adventures in foreign lands, and of those chivalric actions, which led to his advancement at the court of his patron. Nor was Ellen' the only person who thought highly of the Indian officer ; the gay butterflies of the place looked with great respect upon a man who had seen service in Eastern climes, and an old veteran, who had retired from the toils of office, found him so conversant with places and persons longing to a part of the world then very little known, that he pronounced him to be fully entitled to the confidence of the community. Ellen's letters to Ashleigh overflowed with descriptions of the wealth and grandeur of the East, as she had heard them detailed by her lover, for such he had now declared himself to be. A dozen yards of silver muslin were despatched as a present to the recluse, who, though she could have no opportunity of wearing such a piece of preposterous finery, might cherish it as a sample of the splendour which awaited her happy niece. Mrs. Henley, dazzled and delighted, gave a joyful consent to the marriage. Ellen's little fortune was withdrawn from its securities, and after a month of felicity, in which the good aunt joined the circle at Bath, the new-married couple repaired to London, whence they were to embark for Calcutta.

Ellen had gained her wish; the world, which she had so ardently panted to enter, lay open before her; she was about to visit new scenes, to be introduced to new circles, to be actively engaged in the busy drama of life, and to enact a part which she flattered herself would lead to honour and distinction. Full of youthfuł confidence, and warmly attached to her husband, no misgiving arose in her mind, no dread of entrusting herself to the care and guidance of a person whom she had known for so short a period; his roving disposition had rather an advantage, since it secured for her the foreign travel which, in the enthusiasm of her spirit, she was willing to undertake.

The 'voyage, though tedious, was not attended by danger, but it served to shew poor

Ellen that she had trusted too implicitly to professions. Captain Shaw's time and attentions were engrossed by two ladies, the wife and sister of a civilian of rank proceeding to join their relative in Calcutta. Mrs. and Miss Woodward were gay imperious women, accustomed to the devotion of their male acquaintance, and very ready to exact the homage of those who appeared to be of sufficient consequence to do them credit. Captain Shaw was the only passenger on board whom they deemed worthy of their notice, and his vanity was not proof against the flattery conveyed by this preference.

Ellen felt the neglect, to which she was speedily consigned, very keenly, Alas! this was not the picture which her fancy had so vividly painted in her solitary wanderings under the alders of Ashleigh; these were not the expectations raised by the tender attentions lavished upon her at Bath. The mildest complaint produced a stern rebuke ; afraid of offending, and striving to persuade herself that she was unreasonable in wishing to be the exclusive object of her husband's care, the unhappy wife spent her time in contrasting hopes with realities, and in sighing over the illusions which she had so long and so fondly cherished. A cipher in the midst of a gay circle, she was overlooked and disregarded by her present associates ; her beauty rendered her an object of dislike to her female companions, who, though fine women, were destitutë of her pretensions to softness and grace, and though there were men on board who would willingly have consoled her for the neglect of her husband, they were soon repulsed by her dignified rejection of their gallantries.

Long before the voyage was at an end, Ellen' arrived at the painful conclusion that her hand had been sought merely for the indulgence of a transient fancy, that she had given her whole soul to a heartless being, incapable of feeling or of understanding true affection, and that she had quitted her home to follow the fortunes of a man who, now that he had gratified a passing impulse, regarded her as an incumbrance. The disposition and manners of Miss Woodward were evidently more to his taste; he was continually making disparaging comparisons, and the half-in-jest and half-in-earnest declaration, that marriages contracted in England were not considered binding on the Indian side of the Cape, coupled with the extraordinary encouragement given to his attentions, filled Ellen's heart with alarm. Every day, the unblushing acknowledgment of some profligate sentiment gave her a painful insight into the depravity of the world; she became a prey to distracting fears and vain lamentations after that tranquil abode which she had so easily abandoned. : Upon her arrival in Calcutta, her situation was not at all mended. , The party proceeded to the house of Mr. Woodward, who received them with the warmest hospitality, but who, engrossed by the duties of his office, left the domestic arrangements entirely to his wife. The ladies, paramount in their own abode, found no difficulty in excluding poor Ellen from their parties ; upon some pretence or other, she was always kept in the background; she had no opportunity of making a friend, or even an acquaintance; and if such had been allowed, so long as her husband sanctioned the conduct of her enter's tainers, how could she complain? She was unwilling to sow family dissen. sion, by unburthening her mind to Mr. Woodward, and as yet she had not obtained sufficient enlightenment upon the villainy of mankind, and the characters of her associates, to suspect the whole truth. There were occasional returns of tenderness on the part of Captain Shaw, which revived her fondest hopes, and she was too inexperienced to be wholly overcome by the manifestations of a desire to be rid of an inconvenient engagement, which might have operated as a warning to a less trusting heart. She heard with much joy of preparations for a journey into the interior, whither the now dreaded Miss Woodward would not accompany them. She was not daunted by the idea of hardship, nor did her disappointment of the pleasures promised in Calcutta prevent her from cherishing vivid expectations of the amusement and gratification to be derived from the splendours and novelties of a native court. She was going to enter those spirit-stirring scenes, whose descriptions had so inflamed her imagination in the ball-room at Bath, and she flattered herself that her husband, once removed from the fascinating influence of his new friend's society, would be again all that he had been during the fleeting period of her happiness.

Under this impression, she embarked on board a handsomely fitted up boat, and.commenced her voyage full of the exhilarating confidence of a youthful heart. The splendid landscapes, which opened themselves before her as she ascended the Ganges, absorbed her whole attention; the novelty of the scenes, presented on every side, filled her mind with delight. Shaiv, though: deeply engaged amidst books and papers, was not unkind. or inattentive, and her only regret was caused by the exchange of the servants, who had embarked with them from Calcutta, for new ones. The loss of the ayah, who spoke English very tolerably, and seemed exceedingly attached to her, she felt severely; she was disappointed in the estimate she had formed of her character, for she was told that the woman had run away from an unwillingness to fulfil an engagement which took her farther from her own home than she liked to go. Shaw very much discouraged his wife's attempts at learning the lån. guage of the country, and poor Ellen was thus rendered entirely dependent upon him, and unable to communicate with the natives, excepting through his interpretership. But, notwithstanding these drawbacks, the voyage was as full of wonders and fascination as a fairy tale. The strange birds, the lustrous flowers, the stately elephant fanning off the flies with a newly gathered branch; as he stood under the canopy of some patriarchal tree ; the camel, waiting by the side of a well; the picturesque beauty of a pagoda, sequestered amid groves; the florid grandeur of a native city, and the gay groupes of the ghauts, quite as vivid but infinitely more graceful than any thing she had seen painted upon foreiga china, afforded her almost rapturous sensations of pleasure. She kept a diary to send to England, and anticipated the delightful gratification, at some future period, she scarcely cared how distant, of relating to a wondering circle the astonishing sights she had seen. Though she knew that her husband had visited this bright and beautiful land before, she could not help being amazed to find it so familiar to him, and her respect for his talents increased almost to veneration as she noted the ease and facility with which he conducted her through the strange and complicated scene. There was too much to excite and interest her mind for her to feel any desire to enlarge the domestic circle; her husband listened and replied to her remarks; he seemed gratified by the intense delight which she expressed, and his manner became every day more kind and cordial, more like what it had been in the period of courtship, and during the first weeks of marriage. All the apprehensions she had entertained, her fears' that his affections had been alienated by the superior. attractions of Miss Woodward, were hushed, and she gave herself up to the blissful sensations of the hour, the exquisite pleasure which is bestowed by foreign travel in the companionship of those we love.

The voyage was prosperous, and not too tedious to destroy the charm of novelty. Ellen, notwithstanding the experience it gave, was scarcely prepared for the splendour which greeted her upon her arrival at the court of the nuwab vizier, at Lucknow. She was conveyed in a superb palanquin to a residence, which reminded her of the palaces in the Arabian Nights. A suite of several apartments was appropriated to her use, and she thought she never should be tired of admiring her new abode, or of the luxurious mode of life which it promised. It looked into a spacious garden, somewhat formal it is true, but gleaming with gem-like birds and flowers ;: a fountain played in the centre of the parterre opposite to her windows; one or two graceful cypresses grew beside it, and beyond, amidst a flush of bloom, appeared the 'rich' fretted tracery of a cloistered colonnade, surmounted by 'a 'cupola'd building of great beauty, whose pinnacles and minars shot far above the foliage of the tallest trees. The other two sides of the quadrangle' were not less splendidly adorned, and the picturesque effect of the whole left nothing to be wished.

Several days were delightfully occupied in making arrangements suited to. European taste and accommodation. Ellen was not, however, anxious to surround herself entirely with accustomed things, she entered readily into. such native habits as were not entirely opposed to her own; did not insist upon a superabundance of chairs and tables; and, in short, conformed so.cheer. fully to the ways of the place, that Shaw. laughingly told her she was half an Asiatic, and quite qualified to enact the part of an Indian princess. There was something in the tone of this remark which wakened a painful feeling in Ellen's mind. Though dazzled and delighted with all she had seen, she had not forgotten her own home; the expectation of returning to it had constituted half the charm of her late adventures, and, while fearful of appearing ungracious by rejecting the implied compliment, she was unwilling that Shạw should infer that she was content with the prospect of spending her whole life in India. After this, she observed that, whenever she spoke with reference to the manner in which they should live upon their return to England, her husband listened to her, but replied not. This silence appeared somewhat ominous, and the satisfaction he always expressed, when she adopted any of the customs of the country, gave her an instinctive dread. While earnestly striving to 'please him, she anxiously desired that he should not misunderstand her motives, and felt hurt, and even alarmed, by the vexation, not unmixed with anger, which.'he expressed, when she told him that a sojourn of a few years would satisfy her curiosity, and that England would always retain the first place in her

« PreviousContinue »