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- Tales - 20/52 -


With a plain face, strong sense, and temper mild, Who keenly felt the Mother's angry taunt, "Thou art the image of thy pious Aunt:" Long time had Lucy wept her slighted face, And then began to smile at her disgrace. Her father's sister, who the world had seen Near sixty years when Lucy saw sixteen, Begg'd the plain girl: the gracious Mother smiled, And freely gave her grieved but passive child; And with her elder-born, the beauty bless'd, This parent rested, if such minds can rest: No miss her waxen babe could so admire, Nurse with such care, or with such pride attire; They were companions meet, with equal mind, Bless'd with one love, and to one point inclined; Beauty to keep, adorn, increase, and guard, Was their sole care, and had its full reward: In rising splendour with the one it reign'd, And in the other was by care sustain'd, The daughter's charms increased, the parent's yet remain'd. Leave we these ladies to their daily care, To see how meekness and discretion fare: - A village maid, unvex'd by want or love, Could not with more delight than Lucy move; The village lark, high mounted in the spring, Could not with purer joy than Lucy sing; Her cares all light, her pleasures all sincere, Her duty joy, and her companion dear; In tender friendship and in true respect Lived Aunt and Niece, no flattery, no neglect - They read, walk'd, visited--together pray'd, Together slept the matron and the maid: There was such goodness, such pure nature seen In Lucy's looks, a manner so serene; Such harmony in motion, speech, and air, That without fairness she was more than fair, Had more than beauty in each speaking grace, That lent their cloudless glory to the face; Where mild good sense in placid looks were shown, And felt in every bosom but her own; The one presiding feature in her mind Was the pure meekness of a will resign'd; A tender spirit, freed from all pretence Of wit, and pleased in mild benevolence; Bless'd in protecting fondness she reposed With every wish indulged though undisclosed; But love, like zephyr on the limpid lake, Was now the bosom of the maid to shake, And in that gentle mind a gentle strife to make. Among their chosen friends, a favoured few The aunt and niece a youthful Rector knew; Who, though a younger brother, might address A younger sister, fearless of success; His friends, a lofty race, their native pride At first display'd, and their assent denied: But, pleased such virtues and such love to trace, They own'd she would adorn the loftiest race. The Aunt, a mother's caution to supply, Had watch'd the youthful priest with jealous eye; And, anxious for her charge, had view'd unseen The cautious life that keeps the conscience clean: In all she found him all she wish'd to find, With slight exception of a lofty mind: A certain manner that express'd desire To be received as brother to the 'Squire. Lucy's meek eye had beam'd with many a tear, Lucy's soft heart had beat with many a fear, Before he told (although his looks, she thought, Had oft confess'd) that he her favour sought; But when he kneel'd, (she wish'd him not to kneel,) And spoke the fears and hopes that lovers feel; When too the prudent aunt herself confess'd Her wishes on the gentle youth would rest; The maiden's eye with tender passion beam'd, She dwelt with fondness on the life she schemed; The household cares, the soft and lasting ties Of love, with all his binding charities; Their village taught, consoled, assisted, fed, Till the young zealot tears of pleasure shed. But would her Mother? Ah! she fear'd it wrong To have indulged these forward hopes so long, Her mother loved, but was not used to grant Favours so freely as her gentle aunt. - Her gentle aunt, with smiles that angels wear, Dispell'd her Lucy's apprehensive tear: Her prudent foresight the request had made To one whom none could govern, few persuade; She doubted much if one in earnest woo'd A girl with not a single charm endued; The Sister's nobler views she then declared, And what small sum for Lucy could be spared; "If more than this the foolish priest requires, Tell him," she wrote," to check his vain desires." At length, with many a cold expression mix'd, With many a sneer on girls so fondly fix'd, There came a promise--should they not repent, But take with grateful minds the portion meant, And wait the Sister's day--the Mother might consent. And here, might pitying hope o'er truth prevail, Or love o'er fortune, we would end our tale; For who more bless'd than youthful pair removed From fear of want--by mutual friends approved - Short time to wait, and in that time to live With all the pleasures hope and fancy give; Their equal passion raised on just esteem, When reason sanctions all that love can dream? Yes! reason sanctions what stern fate denies: The early prospect in the glory dies, As the soft smiles on dying infants play In their mild features, and then pass away. The Beauty died ere she could yield her hand In the high marriage by the Mother plann'd; Who grieved indeed, but found a vast relief In a cold heart, that ever warr'd with grief. Lucy was present when her sister died, Heiress to duties that she ill supplied: There were no mutual feelings, sister arts, No kindred taste, nor intercourse of hearts: When in the mirror play'd the matron's smile, The maiden's thoughts were traveling all the while; And when desired to speak, she sigh'd to find Her pause offended; "Envy made her blind: Tasteless she was, nor had a claim in life Above the station of a rector's wife; Yet as an heiress, she must shun disgrace, Although no heiress to her mother's face: It is your duty," said th' imperious dame, "(Advanced your fortune,) to advance your name, And with superior rank, superior offers claim: Your sister's lover, when his sorrows die, May look upon you, and for favour sigh; Nor can you offer a reluctant hand; His birth is noble, and his seat is grand." Alarm'd was Lucy, was in tears--"A fool! Was she a child in love?--a miss at school? Doubts any mortal, if a change of state Dissolves all claims and ties of earlier date?" The Rector doubted, for he came to mourn A sister dead, and with a wife return: Lucy with heart unchanged received the youth, True in herself, confiding in his truth; But own'd her mother's change; the haughty dame Pour'd strong contempt upon the youthful flame; She firmly vow'd her purpose to pursue, Judged her own cause, and bade the youth adieu! The lover begg'd, insisted, urged his pain, His brother wrote to threaten and complain; Her sister reasoning proved the promise made, Lucy appealing to a parent pray'd; But all opposed the event that she design'd, And all in vain--she never changed her mind; But coldly answer'd in her wonted way, That she "would rule, and Lucy must obey." With peevish fear, she saw her health decline, And cried, "Oh! monstrous, for a man to pine! But if your foolish heart must yield to love, Let him possess it whom I now approve; This is my pleasure."--Still the Rector came With larger offers and with bolder claim; But the stern lady would attend no more - She frown'd, and rudely pointed to the door; Whate'er he wrote, he saw unread return'd, And he, indignant, the dishonour spurn'd: Nay, fix'd suspicion where he might confide, And sacrificed his passion to his pride. Lucy, meantime, though threaten'd and distress'd, Against her marriage made a strong protest: All was domestic war; the Aunt rebell'd Against the sovereign will, and was expell'd; And every power was tried, and every art, To bend to falsehood one determined heart; Assail'd, in patience it received the shock, Soft as the wave, unshaken as the rock: But while th' unconquer'd soul endures the storm Of angry fate, it preys upon the form; With conscious virtue she resisted still, And conscious love gave vigour to her will; But Lucy's trial was at hand; with joy The Mother cried--"Behold your constant boy - Thursday--was married: --take the paper, sweet, And read the conduct of your reverend cheat; See with what pomp of coaches, in what crowd The creature married--of his falsehood proud! False, did I say?--at least no whining fool; And thus will hopeless passions ever cool: But shall his bride your single state reproach? No! give him crowd for crowd, and coach for coach. Oh! you retire; reflect then, gentle miss, And gain some spirit in a cause like this." Some spirit Lucy gain'd; a steady soul, Defying all persuasion, all control: In vain reproach, derision, threats were tried; The constant mind all outward force defied, By vengeance vainly urged, in vain assail'd by pride; Fix'd in her purpose, perfect in her part, She felt the courage of a wounded heart; The world receded from her rising view, When heaven approach'd as earthly things withdrew; Not strange before, for in the days of love, Joy, hope, and pleasure, she had thoughts above,


Tales - 20/52

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