Page:A New England Tale.djvu/18

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7
A NEW-ENGLAND TALE.

one speculation after another, and, failing in them all, his losses were more rapid than his acquisitions had been. Few persons have virtue enough to retrench their expenses, as their income diminishes; and no virtue, of difficult growth, could be expected from a character where no good seed had ever taken root.

The morale, like the physique, needs use and exercise to give it strength. Mrs. Elton's had never been thus invigorated. She could not oppose a strong current. She had not energy to avert an evil, though she would have borne any that could have been laid on her, patiently. She knew her husband's affairs were embarrassed; she saw him constantly incurring debts, which she knew they had no means of paying; she perceived he was gradually sinking into a vice, which, while it lulls the sense of misery, annihilates the capacity of escaping from it—and yet she silently, and without an effort, acquiesced in his faults. They lived on, as they had lived, keeping an expensive table, and three or four servants, and dressing as usual.

This conduct, in Mrs. Elton, was the result of habitual passiveness; in Mr. Elton, it was prompted by a vain hope of concealing from his neighbours a truth, that, in spite of his bustling, ostentatious ways, they had known for many months. This is a common delusion. We all know that, from the habits of our people in a country town, it is utterly impossible for the most watchful and skilful manœuvrer, to keep his pecuniary affairs