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THE PRIDE OF THE VILLAGE.
In the course of an excursion through one of the remote counties of England, I had struck into one of those cross roads that lead through the more secluded parts of the country, and stopped one afternoon at a village, the situation of which was beautifully rural and retired. There was an air of primitive simplicity about its inhabitants, not to be found in the villages which lie on the great coach roads. I determined to pass the night there, and having taken an early dinner, strolled out to enjoy the neighbouring scenery,
My ramble, as is usually the case with travellers, soon led me to the church, which stood at a little distance from the village. Indeed, it was an object of some curi. osity, its old tower being completely overrun with ivy, so that only here and there a jutting buttress, an angle of gray wall
, or a fantastically carved ornament, peered through the verdant covering. It was a lovely evening. The early part of the day had been dark and showery, but in the afternoon it had cleared up; and though sul len clouds still hung over head, yet there was a broad tract of golden sky in the west, from which the setting sun gleamed through the dripping leaves, and lit up all nature into a melancholy smile. It seemed like the parting hour of a good Christian, smiling on the sins and sorrows of the world, and giving, in the serenity of his decline, an assurance that he will rise again in glory.
I had seated myself on a half sunken tombstone, and was musing, as one is apt to do at this sober-thoughted hour, on past scenes and early friends—on those who were distant and those who were dead—and indulging in that kind of melancholy fancying, which has in it something sweeter even than pleasure. Every now and then, the stroke of a bell from the neighbouring tower fell on my ear; its tones were in unison with the scene, and, instead of jarring, chimed in with my feelings; and it was some time before I recollected, that it must be toll ing the knell of some new tenant of the tomb.
Presently I saw a funeral train moving across the village green; it wound slowly along a lane; was lost, and re-appeared through the breaks of the hedges, until it passed the place where I was sitting, "The pall was, supported by young girls, dressed in white; and another, about the age of seventeen, walked before, bearing a chaplet of white flowers; a token that the deceased was a young and unmarried female. The corpse was followed by the parents. They were a venerable couple of the better order of peasantry. The father seemed to repress his feelings; but his fixed eye, contracted brow, and deeply-furrowed face, showed the struggle that was passing within. His wife hung on his arm, and wept aloud with the convulsive bursts of a mother's sorrow.
I followed the funeral into the church. The bier was placed in the centre aisle, and the chaplet of white flowers, with a pair of white gloves, were hung over the seat which the deceased had occupied.
Every one knows the soul-subduing pathos of funeral service; for who is so fortunate as never to have followed some one he has loved to the tomb ? but when performed over the remains of innocence and beauty, thus laid low in the bloom of existence—what can be more affecting ? At that simple, but most solemn consignment of the body to the grave—“Earth to earth—ashes to ashes-dust to dust!”--the tears of the youthful companions of the deceased flowed unrestrained. The father still seemed to struggle with his feelings, and to comfort himself with the assurance, that the dead are blessed which die in the Lord; but the mother only thought of her child as a Power of the field cut down and withered in the midst of its sweetness: she was like Rachel, "mourning over her children, and would not be comforted.”
On returning to the inn I learnt the whole story of the deceased. It was a simple one, and such as has often been told. She had been the beauty and pride of the village. Her father had once been as opulent farmer, but was reduced in circumstances. This was an only child, and brought up entirely at home, in the simplicity of rural life. She had been the pupil of the village pastor, the favourite of his little flock. The good man watched over her education with paternal care ; it was limited, and suitable to the sphere in which she was to move; for he only sought to make her an ornament to her station in life, not to raise her above it. The tenderness and indulgence of her parents, and the exemption from all ordinary occupations, had fostered a natural grace and delicacy of character, that accorded with the fragile loveliness of her form. She appeared like some tender plant
of the garden, blooming accidentally amid the hardier natives of the fields.
The superiority of her charms was felt and acknowledged by her companions, but without envy; for it was surpassed by the unassuming gentleness and winning kindness of her manners. It might be truly said of her: " This is the prettiest low-born lass, that ever
Ran on the green-sward: nothing she does or seems,
Too noble for this place.” The village was one of those sequestered spots, which still retain some vestiges of old English customs. It had its rural festivals and holyday pastimes, and still kept up some faint observance of the once popular rites of May. These, indeed, had been promoted by its present pastor; who was a lover of old customs, and one of those simple Christians that think their inission fulfilled by promoting joy on earth and good-will among mankind. Under his auspices the may-pole stood from year, to year in the centre of the village green: on May-day it was decorated with garlands and streamers; and a queen or lady of the May was appointed, as in former times, to preside at the sports, and distribute the prizes and rewards. The picturesque situation of the village, and the fancifulness of its rustic fetes, would often attract the notice of casual visiters. Among these, on one May-day was a young officer, whose regiment had been recently quartered in the neighbourhood. He was charmed with the native taste that pervaded this village pageant; but, above all
, with the dawning loveliness of the queen of May. It was the village favourite, who was crowned with flowers, and blushing and smiling in all the beautiful confusion of girlish diffidence and delight. The artlessness of rural habits enabled him readily to make her acquaintance; he gradually won his way into her intimacy; and paid his court to her in that unthinking way in which young officers are too apt to trifle with rustic simplicity
There was nothing in his advances to startle or alarm. He never even talked of love: but there are modes of making it more eloquent than language, and which convey it subtilely and irresistibly into the heart. The beam of the eye, the tone of the voice, the thousand tendernesses which emanate from every word, and look, and action--these form the true eloquence of love, and cari almost be felt and understood, but never described. Can we wonder that they should readily win a heart young, guileless, and susceptible? As to her, she loved almost unconsciously; she scarcely inquired what was the growing passion that was absorbing every thought and feeling or what were to be its consequences. She, indeed, looked not to the future. When present, his looks and words occupied her whole attention; when absent, she thought, but of what had passed at their recent interview. She would wander with him through the green lanes and rural scenes of the vicinity. He taught her to see new beauties in nature; he talked in the language of polite and cultivated life, and breathed into her ear the witcheries of romance and poetry.
Perhaps there could not have been a passion, between the sexes, more pure than this innocent girl's. The gallant figure of her youthful admirer, and the splendour of his military attire, might at first have charmed her eye; but it was not these that had captivated her heart. Her attachment had something in it of idolatry. She looked up to him as to a being of a superior order. She felt in his society the enthusiasm of a mind naturally delicate and poetical, and now first awakened to a keen perception of the beautiful and grand. Of the sordid distinctions of rank and fortune she thought nothing; it was the difference of intellect, of demeanour, of manners, from those of the rustic society to which she had been accustomed, that elevated him in her opinion. She would listen to him with charmed ear and downcast look of mute delight, and her cheek would mantle with enthusiasm: or if ever she ventured a shy glance of timid admiration, it was as quickly withdrawn, and she would sigh and blush at the idea of her comparative unworthiness.
Her lover was equally impassioned; but his passion was mingled with feelings of a coarser nature. He had begun the connexion in levity; for he had often heard his brother officers boast of their village conquests, and thought some triumph of the kind necessary to his reputation as a man of spirit. But he was too full of youthful fervour. His heart had not yet been rendered sufficiently cold and selfish by a wandering and a dissipated life: it caught fire from the very flame it sought to kindle; and before he was aware of the nature of his situation, he became really in love.
What was he to do? There were the old obstacles which so incessantly occur in these heedless attachments. His rank in life—the prejudices of titled connexionshis dependence upon a proud and unyielding father-all forbade him to think of matrimony :—but when he looked down upon this innocent being, so tender and confiding, there was a purity in her manners, a blamelessness in her life, and a beseeching modesty in her looks that awed down every licentious feeling. In vain did he try to fortify himself by a thousand heartless examples of men of fashion; and to chill the glow of generous sentiment, with that cold derisive levity with which he had heard them talk of female virtue; whenever he came into her
presence, she was still surrounded by that mysterious, but impressive charm of virgin purity, in whose hallowed sphere no guilty thought can live.
The sudden arrival of orders for the regiment to repair to the continent completed the confusion of his mind. He remained for a short time in a state of the most painful irresolution; he hesitated to communicate the tidings, until the day of marching was at hand; when he gave her the intelligence in the course of an evening ramble.
The idea of parting had never before occurred to her. It broke at once upon her dream of felicity ; she looked upon it as a sudden and insurmountable evil, and wept with the guileless simplicity of a child. He drew her to his bosom, and kissed the tears from her soft cheek; nor 'did he meet with a repulse; for there are moments of mingled sorrow and tenderness, which hallow the caresses of affection. He was naturally impetuous; and the sight of beauty, apparently yielding in his arms; the confidence of his power over her; and the dread of losing her for ever; all conspired to overwhelm his better feelings-he ventured to propose that she should leave her home, and be the companion of his fortunes.
He was quite a novice in seduction, and blushed and faltered at his own baseness ; but so innocent of mind was his intended victim, that she was at first at a loss to comprehend his meaning; and why she should leave her native village and the humble roof of her parents? When at last the nature of his proposal flashed upon her pure mind, the effect was withering. She did not weep, she did not break forth into reproach—she said not a word --but she shrunk back aghast as from a viper ; gave him a look of anguish that pierced to his very soul; and clasp.