« ÎnapoiContinuă »
Tales for Boys :-The Jewish Brothers
Talks about many Towns and many Sights; or, Rosa's Sum-
PART LXI. VOL. XI.]
THE PRISONERS OF HOPE.
AN autumn night-a cloudless autumn night-such as that which came stealing over the earth on the evening of which we are about to speak, may be, according to the circumstances under which we view it, at once the most beautiful, or the most mournful thing in all this fair creation. Beautiful it is, beyond all words, if we are permitted to look upon it in the open country, among the woods and fields, the deep green valleys, or on the mountain side,-in those bright scenes of nature, on which each hour as it passes, with its varying light and shade, serves but to cast some new reflection from that Eternal Beauty that abideth in the Divine creative Mind; but mournful it is, as only the sickening heart can feel, and not the lips express, if viewed in one of those huge manufacturing cities, that rise like dark blots on the face of our country, in palpable embodiment of the words so bitterly truthful, "that the earth is full of darkness and cruel habitations."
In the waving forests the mild breeze goes up like the dying breath of the departing day, laden with perfumes offered by the flowers and fragrant shrubs, as their silent share in nature's universal adoration of her GOD,-and we remember, as we feel the passing sweetness ascending from us, how this is indeed the type of that more grateful incense, which is even then arising to the Glory Throne, in the vesper prayers of CHRIST's own saints; but from the crowded streets that same wind riseth, thick with the breath of sickness and intemperance, loud with the voice of blasphemy and suffering, heavy with those sighs which turn to retributive curses on the earth, as they approach the Mercy-seat, -the sighs of the oppressed and desolate, the forsaken of human love and charity, the lost, the helpless, the very babes, whose infancy is crushed with the care and toil, it were hard
to bear in their maturest years! And the soft darkness, that in the dewy meadows seems let down out of heaven like a veil to wrap them in a sweet repose, how does it in the peopled city lend itself as a garment unto vice, and as a shroud to the defiled spirits, in whose foul recesses faith and innocence lie dead!-how does it make itself as a covering to that deadly work, at which men labour day and night,-the murder of living souls! first killing that which is most surely in their grasp,their own, then dealing destruction on those of their fellow creatures, heedless of the awful truth that, for every deathless spirit, with whose life in GOD they have dared to tamper, the Avenger of Blood is behind them, and at hand!
But we may not pursue the contrast further. Volumes might be written on such a theme; only, as we pass from it to enter on the immediate subject of our tale, we may take with us this one thought of comfort, that on the night of which we speak, alike over the sweet woodland scene, and the dark sorrowhaunted city, the same lucid sky extended its clear expanse, encircling all with its boundless purity and brightness, and recalling to our thoughts the glorious and sinless Presence which is for ever above and around this world, inaccessible, like that far-off firmament, to taint of mortal ill, but known and seen by every upward-looking soul. The same bright, watchful stars looked down upon the lonely wood, and on the noisome streets; and the same holy, compassionate Eyes, of which they are the types, discerned each blade of grass in the country solitude, and every thought of every heart in the swarming city. So that, while not one breath of fragrance from the frailest flower, or drop of dew upon the tiniest leaf, was unnoticed by their piercing gaze, in like manner, not one faintest aspiration after penitence, or one secret tear of misery, was unnoticed or ever to be forgotten, by Him Who shall be the Righteous Judge of all.
We had need of some such consolation when we turn our gaze on the great manufacturing town of on which the autumn night was now closing in. One of the most densely populated parishes in that place, is composed of a great variety of streets, inhabited by nearly all the different ranks of life; for whilst the larger portion of it is filled with wretched houses, forming courts and alleys, of that squalid and miserable description which are always to be found, in the vicinity of manufactories, a few yards will bring you from the centre of them, into large airy streets, adorned with magnificent shops and handsome dwelling-houses, inhabited chiefly by the wealthier tradesmen and their families. Most of our great cities present these startling contrasts of opulence and poverty side by side; but in this instance it was occasioned by the vicinity of an immense cotton
mill, round which were congregated the homes of the vast numbers employed in it, forming the mass of wretched hovels we have described; whilst the stir of business and active life which it engendered in that quarter of the town, rendered it a favourable locality for the purposes of trade. Thus the most fashionable establishments, for the supply of the luxuries as well as the necessaries of life, were to be found in the long, wide street which led to the manufactory.
Of these, the largest and handsomest was the glittering shop of a haberdasher, dedicated almost exclusively to the million inventions which the ingenuity of man has devised, for the better adornment of that mortal body whom the kindred dust is awaiting even now. Silks and ribbons of the most delicate texture were displayed in the windows: half a dozen young men, whose vocation was the displaying and arranging of the same, stood behind the counters; and in a long room which terminated the suite, there was a large assortment of cloaks and bonnets hung, at a considerable distance from the ground, on all sorts of erections; so that, in the dim twilight, it looked exactly as if there had been a barbarous execution of a number of welldressed ladies, whose bodies were still suspended.
In this apartment two pretty girls, with no small pretensions to elegance, were generally to be seen officiating; but the room was now deserted, as the labours of the day were finally over, and nothing was to be seen but two sleepy shop-boys, extracting the shutters from some subterraneous cavity, and intent on grazing each other's feet, with the greatest nicety as they drew them out. There was light and movement, however, in the handsome rooms over the shop, inhabited by the shopkeeper and his family; and the glare of the street-lamps, that had just been lit, shone full on the name of John Elliston, which was emblazoned in huge gold letters over the door.
This said John Elliston was a respectable elderly tradesman, who had for many years carried on a successful business. He had recently taken his eldest son into partnership with him, and his youngest was employed in the cotton mill of which we have spoken. Three daughters and a wife completed his family, and these last were all more or less engaged in the millinery department. They inhabited the rooms over the shop, and it is here that we must proceed to make acquaintance with them.
They were nearly all assembled now in their ordinary sittingroom, and were just preparing to sit down to supper. We must confess it is rather an unpoetical moment in which to present them to our readers; but we had no choice, if we wished to introduce the whole family at once to their notice, as they were never all together except at meal-times, and even now the father had
not yet appeared. His quick, heavy step was on the stairs, however, and we shall only have time to glance at the rest of the party before he opens the door. Mrs. Elliston, a large, portly looking woman, the very personification of comfort and ease, was leaning back in her arm-chair, descanting, in rather a loud tone, on the enormities of a servant-girl who had just left the room, and who might fairly be supposed to be in direct collusion with that long ghost-like train of her predecessors, who had conspired, from the first day of Mrs. Elliston's "keeping house" to the present, for the purpose of ruffling the good lady's temper, and absorbing her thoughts, to the exclusion of all weightier
She was addressing her remarks to her eldest daughter Charlotte, an exceedingly handsome, but rather supercilious looking person, verging towards thirty, who did not seem greatly interested in her mother's conversation, as she stood before a mirror, and twisted the ringlets of her fine black hair round her fingers; nor was she apparently more disposed to attend to her youngest sister Fanny, who was flitting with a light step from one to the other, trying to induce her brothers and sisters to join in some scheme of pleasure she was proposing for the morrow, which it seemed was to be her birthday.
Turning his back to the supper-table sat John Elliston, the eldest son, in the immediate vicinity of a large piece of roast beef, to which his own person bore a striking analogy. He held a newspaper in his hand, and was very laudably intent on the same, for "The Times" constituted his sole literature; with one elbow he had shoved away the plates and glasses, to procure himself a resting-place, and with the other he eloquently admonished Fanny that he did not choose to be disturbed, whenever she came too near him. John Elliston was just one of those burly, sensible-looking men, very honest and very surly, whom one is sure to encounter at every turn in England, being a species exclusively belonging to this country. His entire appearance denoted-what was in truth the fact that "his whole soul was in his business;" a very convenient phrase for expressing the actual condition of his immortal part, but inducing at the same time certain uncomfortable anticipations, as to the utter bewilderment, into which this same undying spirit must inevitably be plunged, when torn away from this world, and cast out into a sphere where the business he had made his very life, could be no element.
His younger brother Henry was a complete contrast to him ; very tall, of a light and active frame, and with a remarkably fine countenance. The features were not good, but it was full of the beauty of intellect; and there was an indication of mental power and great resolution in every line of it. Yet it was not a face