« НазадПродовжити »
AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL SKETCHES CONNECTED WITH
BY MRS. CRAWFORD.
The country, remote from London, is the only place for rightly enjoying Christmas; and, in Wiltshire, they keep up the sacred season in due form, omitting none of the olden usages observed by our merry ancestors. The dressing up of the hall with its branches of rosemary, holly, and bay; the mystic misletoe, so dear to lovers; the visit of the wassailers, (or as they are vulgarly and somewhat ludicrously termed, the way-sailors,) who come with their large bowl, dressed up with ribbons, to be filled with spiced ale, and to claim their annual tribute; the village ringers, with miniature bells, making their merry peal resound through the house; and the Christmas brand, (or “ yule log," as the Scotch call it,) were all things of interest in those happy days, ere death had broken in upon the home circle, and darkened the Christmas hearth with the shadows of old remembrances.
It was in the dreary month of December, a short time before I quitted Wiltshire, that Colonel Lindsay, (brother of Lord Balcarras,) and Sir Clement Briggs, accompanied my brother, to spend the approaching Christmas with us. In winter, and especially at that festive season, a pleasant guest makes a most desirable addition to a fire-side party in the country: and, in a large family mansion like ours, situated a mile from any other habitation, and completely shut in by woods and water, the sound of the carriage-wheels, giving tidings of the approach of an expected visitor, was then hailed with as much pleasure as the first notes of the nightingale.
There could not be two more opposite characters than those of the colonel and the baronet; and yet both were highly agreeable men. The colonel was the brave, hardy soldier, moulded on the perfect gentleman; plain and unpretending in manners as in speech, with a little touch of quiet drollery showing itself occasionally. He had been in various parts of the world, and abounded in anecdote; but his anecdotes were introduced happily, and naturally, and without any of the trickery of your regular story-teller, who seems to lie always on the watch for an opportunity of showing offSir Clement had more of the courtier than the soldier in his manners. He had all the little courtesies and attentions to women, whether old or young, that belonged to the olden times; yet withal so spontaneous and unaffected, without either the conceit of the modern, or the stiff formality of the ancient, beau, that it was evident nature had more to do with the fashioning of his manners than art. He too had been a great traveller, and had served in the army. He had a little spice of the sentimental in his character; and, though a brave soldier, no inconsi
Continued from vol. xv p. 28. July 1836.-VOL. XVI.-NO. LXIII.
derable share of superstition ; both partly, no doubt, the result of a life marked by strange and romantic vicissitudes.
Sir Clement was a widower, but the colonel's lady was living. He married the daughter of Lord North, the very Lady Charlotte Lindsey who was the friend and attendant of the late unfortunate Queen Caroline. Colonel Lindsey had a tall, muscular figure, and looked a true descendant of the bold, hardy veteran, who, in the days of Scotland's troubles, struck terror to the hearts of her enemies; and (though with less of gallantry) blanched the roses on the cheeks of the lovely but misguided Mary Stuart, when, in the heat of his zeal, he left the print of his gauntletted fingers upon her delicate arm. Sir Clement was a little man, of a strongly moulded frame, and with a countenance, which, though bland and smiling, was not unlike (at least in point of expression) to that of our great tragedian, Kean, in some of his more energetic characters.
In the mornings the gentlemen frequently engaged in the amusement of shooting, and with their dogs and guns rambled through the fields and woods, a bright winter sun occasionally lighting up the leafless trees to a summer glow, and tinging with its golden light the snow that had spread its winding-sheet over the still bosom of reposing nature. « Snow," as the poet sings, “is beautiful in its season;" and I never remember to have seen it to more advantage, than when covering the landscape of my early home. The ground at the back of the house slopes down, with a gentle declivity, for a considerable way, and then lies level with the Avon, that winds along its margin. Embosomed in the majestic woods that covered the banks of that beautiful and classic stream to the water's edge, stood, what the poet calls “ a little, lowly hermitage,” covered with the most luxuriant ivy. It had been constructed out of one of the native oaks; and its interior appropriately conveyed the idea of a spot, in which one might suppose some holy saint or simple beadsman to have domiciled. A rude bench of oak; a table of the same lasting material, which bore the records of past generations, who had carved their names upon it; a shelf (and such a one as might justify the belief that the hermit had himself constructed it) placed beside the little gothic window, with some maple cups and platters; a broken hour-glass, and a skull, formed the sole furniture and adornment of the place.
As far as this hermitage my brother's wife and I sometimes accompanied the sportsmen, and rested while they extended their researches in quest of game. Poor Margaret ! there I can still picture her in my mind's eye, as she sate in those early days, now long gone by. She was then very young, and extremely beautiful : so beautiful, that I never heard a single dissenting voice, unless perhaps amongst a very few of the FEMALE part of our acquaintance; and female judgment, in such cases, is not altogether free from suspicion, and, therefore, not of much value. Her complexion was exquisitely fine, the rich rose of a cheek, which glowed with youth and health, being admirably relieved by the surrounding fairness. All her features were beautiful; and the innocent yet arch expression of her face, with a profusion of black glossy ringlets clustering round it, made altogether a picture, which might well have formed a study for a
perfect Hebe. Alas! and where is she now ? Faded and changed, as all beauty must fade and change. She has past away to the grave; past, before a tress of her rich hair, or the tint of her bright cheek, had given place to the inroads of time and decay. While yet her children (of whom she looked to be but the elder sister) were gazing on her cheek of bloom, she suddenly withered, like a flower struck by lightning, and died, before affection had so much as dreamed of death. I have been involuntarily led thus to pay a passing tribute to the memory of that companion of my early days; but I must cease. I will, therefore, content myself with adding, in the simple language of simple, and therefore better times ;—~ Earth never held the ashes of a more chaste matron, or more loyal wife,” than those of Margaret Montagu.
Those were pleasant evenings, when, after a morning's ramble through the snow, my brother and his friends sate round the hearth with us, and the merry laugh and the light song drowned the sounds of the winter winds. Sir Clement Briggs had many strange legends, and ghost stories, pertaining to his own romantic Wales, that not a little charmed my young fancy, then rapt in delightful wonder, and ready to believe the wildest fiction. But no tale of romance could perhaps exceed the real history of Sir Clement's own life, of which I may some day give a few of the leading particulars, in a separate form. Colonel Lindsay, too, had passed through a variety of strange adventures, and had many 6 hair-breadth 'scapes." He was one of the few who survived their imprisonment in the black-hole of Calcutta; and his description of it (for he was master of a good style, and happy in laying events, as in a map, before his auditors) was, beyond measure, affecting and horrible. Thrown wounded amongst a promiscuous multitude-some dead, some dying, and others, with the desperation of still unsubdued energy, battling with suffocation, and fighting their way over the dead bodies of their companions, to reach that narrow grating, to which hope clung as the only means of lifethe scene before the colonel's eyes was indeed so terrible, that (as he said) death wore there a more ghastly form than on the field of battle. Nothing could be stronger than the manner in which he portrayed his own feelings of disappointment, nay, almost of despair, when, after crawling from the extreme verge of this earthly infernæ, he gained the narrow aperture, and inhaled only the stilling air of the sultry East. How different from the invigorating breezes of his native Scotland !
There was nothing in the slightest degree egotistical, or like vain boasting, in the colonel, though few military men had seen so much of real service, or bore so many honourable proofs that he had not disgraced his proud name. He had been severely wounded in different engagements, of which he retained upon his person the lasting memorials. He had a large scar on his breast, the relic of a deep sabre wound, which had barely avoided the lungs; he had another on his brow, and a severe one across the hand. I remember he told us an anecdote, that showed his presence of mind, which was a remarkable feature in his character. Putting on his boot one day, when in India, he found a snake had coiled itself up at the
bottom. To withdraw his foot would have been to challenge an attack from the deadly reptile. He therefore forced it down, and stamping with great violence, succeeded in crushing the creature to death.
It was to an ancestor of Colonel Lindsay that the spirit of the gallant Viscount Dundee is said to have appeared ; and however the belief in such appearances is daily losing ground, it may, at least, be said, that there are some striking circumstances connected with this story which give it the stamp of truth. The matter has been differently narrated, though the following is, I believe, the most correct account.
“ At the time Viscount Dundee fell, in the battle of Killicranky, his friend, the Lord Balcarras, was a prisoner in the castle of Edinburgh, upon a strong suspicion of attachment to the unfortunate house of Stuart. The captive earl was in bed when a hand drew aside the curtain, and the figure of his friend was revealed to him armed as for battle. The spectre gazed long and mournfully on Lord Balcarras, then passing to the other end of the chamber, leaned for some time on the mantel-piece, and then slowly trod its way out at the door. The earl, never for a moment supposing that he was looking at an apparition, called out to Dundee,“ Stop;" but the figure heeded himn not. Immediately afterwards the news was conveyed to his lordship of the battle, and that the gallant Dundee was slain; or, as the song says, that
Low lay the bonnet of bonny Dundee.'" This relation calls to my mind another story, as fully authenticated and of more recent occurrence. Lord Chedworth (I mean the father of the late lord) had living with him the orphan daughter of a sister of his, a Miss Wright, one of my mother's most intimate friends, and whom I have often heard relate the circumstance, Lord Chedworth was a good man, and anxious to do his duty as a Christian; but, unfortunately, he had some doubts as to the existence of the soul in another world. He had a great friendship for a gentleman, one whom he had known from his boyhood, and who was, like himself, one of those unbelieving mortals that must have ocular demonstration for everything. They often met, and often too renewed the subject so interesting to both; but neither could help the other to that happy conviction honestly (I believe) wished by each. One morning Miss Wright observed, on her uncle's joining her at the breakfast table, a considerable degree of thought and trouble displayed on his countenance. He ate little, and was unusually silent. At last he said, “ Molly," (for thus he familiarly called her,) I had a strange visitor last night. My old friend, B- ” (I forget the name) “ came to
“ How !” said Miss Wright, “ did he come after I went to bed ?" “ His spirit did,” said Lord Chedworth, solemnly,
“ Oh, my dear uncle ! how could the spirit of a living man appear?" said she, smiling.
“ He is dead, beyond doubt,” replied his lordship : “ listen, and then laugh as much as you please. I had not entered my bed-room
many minutes, when he stood before me. Like you, I could not believe but that I was looking on the living man, and so accosted him; but he answered, • Chedworth, I died this night at eight o'clock. I come to tell you, there is another world beyond the grave; there is a righteous God that judgeth all.'”
“Depend upon it, uncle, it was only a dream :" but while Miss Wright was yet speaking, a groom on horseback rode up the avenue, and immediately afterwards delivered a letter to Lord Chedworth, announcing the sudden death of his friend. Whatever construction the reader may be disposed to put upon this narrative, it is not unimportant to add, that the effect upon the mind of Lord Chedworth was as happy as it was permanent. All his doubts were at once removed, and for ever.
In the summer of 1811, I was residing with my family at a sweet, secluded spot on the borders of Gloucestershire. One of those domestic bereavements which, in breaking a golden link in the chain of our existence, narrows the circle of home, and throws a dark shadow over the hearth and the board, had led my mother to seek solace for a season in this peaceful retirement. Here I occasionally sought to dissipate my own melancholy reflections in rambling amongst the wild scenery that formed the immediate neighbourhood of our temporary abode. At the bottom of the little lawn that fronted our dwelling was a gate that led into a pleasant embowered lane, through which, after passing some corn-fields, you entered upon a tract of country of a wild and picturesque character. Climbing the Trewberry range of hills, the pure breeze came wafted over a wide extent of open and uncultivated country. Nothing could be more solitary; nothing more completely shut out from the haunts of the gay and the busy. Nature seemed struggling with desolation; and the fertile valley and silver waters of the Severn that lay at the base of these lonely hills, were the only bright features in the surrounding landscape. Under the brow of the declivity the ruins of an old iron foundry had covered the ground, while here and there the pale green herbage shot up its long weak stalks from amongst the red cinders, that looked like the accumulation of some volcanic eruption. Seldom did the voice of a human being break upon the ear, or the figure of one divert the wandering eye, except at intervals the rude whistle of the plough-boy, or the still more rude aspect of those black and brawny sons of toil, the colliers, as they went or returned to and from their hard and hazardous vocation. The summer was now drawing rapidly to a close; and an unusually fine summer we had had. Time, and seclusion amid the scenes of nature, had jointly exerted their healing influence, and blunted in some measure the sharp edge of our grief. One beautiful evening, in the month of August, my mother accompanied me in a ramble in the direction I have been describing. The fields were waving with their golden honours, and some were already falling under the joyful hands of the reapers. The green hedges were blithe with the songs of the later birds, and there was a freshness in the breeze that revived the heart as it drew in, through the eyes, that wide expanse of landscape, and with it the boundless feeling of unrestrained liberty. After descending the hills by a winding and somewhat rugged path,