The Poor Rich Man, and the Rich Poor Man/Chapter XIX
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Chapter XIX. A Death-Bed
|Chapter XX. The Conclusion→|
A profitable lesson in the economy of human life might have been learned in the dying Paulina's apartment. Her last excess, her last draught of gin, taken in an excited and feverish state, had accelerated her disease. She had a raging fever, and her cough was attended by spasms that, at each recurrence, threatened her with instant death. Charlotte, after in vain searching for some comfortable garments among the relics of Paulina's evil days—after turning over stained silk dresses, tattered gauzes, yellow blonde laces, and tangled artificial flowers, had furnished from her own stores clean apparel suitable for a sick woman.
"Oh, Lottie, please," said Paulina, pointing to the various articles of old finery that hung about the room, or over the sides of her broken bandboxes, "please put them all out of my sight—theyseem like so many witnesses against me—they taunt me for my sin and folly. How good this clean snug cap feels—how kind it is of you to lend me these things!"
"I have plenty, Paulina; we always calculate to have a good store of necessaries. Susan and I think, if we don't want them, they will come in play for somebody—and, with a little industry and forecast, they are easily got. You can buy a dozen such caps as that of mine for the half of what one of yours cost, Paulina."
"I can't help that now," retorted Paulina, pettishly; "I did not mean to speak so," she added, after a moment's pause—"but oh, Lottie, every thing stings me."
"And I am sure," said the gentle Charlotte, "I did not mean to hurt your feelings; but I did not know but you might think it strange such a poor person as I should boast of abundance."
"You poor, Lottie!—you poor!—oh, I can tell you what it is to be poor. To be without any worldly possessions is not to be poor, for you have a treasure laid up in heaven. To be what the world calls friendless is not to be poor, for you have God and conscience for friends. But to be as I am, memory tormenting!—without hope—to have no inward peace—no store of pleasant thoughts of good done! Oh, this is poverty. Poverty is nothing outside Lottie."
For a moment, Paulina's mind would seem to have more even than its natural strength and clearness: but such bright intervals were short, and succeeded by hours when she seemed to be heavily sleeping away her existence; and Charlotte would long to see her awaken to a consciousness of her ebbing life, and employing the little time that remained in preparation for her departure. But, alas for those who leave their preparation for the death-bed! who defer to a few suffering hours the work for which life is given!
"Who would have thought, Lottie," said Susan, as the sisters sat together, watching Paulina's troubled sleep, "that you would have lived to nurse her on her death-bed! It is teaching to look at you and then at her."
And, as Susan said, it was "teaching." It taught that, if the laws of nature, which are the laws of God, are obeyed, the frailest, most delicate constitution may be preserved; and that the most vigorous health must be destroyed by a violation of those laws. Charlotte, by strict temperance, by regular exercise, by prudence and thoughtfulness, had preserved the little remnant of health left by the cruel accident she had endured in her childhood. But, what was far better, by the religious performance of her duties—by contentment, both with the gifts and the denials of Providence—by forgetting herself, and remembering everybody else—by loving, and (a most sure consequence) being loved in turn—she had preserved that sweet serenity of spirit that shone through her pale face, and all those faculties in active operation, that, slender and fragile as she was, made her the comfort of her family; the dear Aunt Lottie of the home she blessed.
Fifteen years before Paulina was the picture of health, and in possession of the virtues (or rather accidents) which are usually found with a sound and vigorous constitution. She was good-humoured, bright, courageous, and kind-hearted. But, alas! she was brought up by an ignorant mother, in ignorance and me excessive love of pleasure." She was pretty, and she was flattered at home and abroad. That love of dress which pervades all classes of women, which grows with their growth and strengthens with their strength, which is cherished by the conversation of their own sex and the flattery of the other, which degrades the rich and ruins so many poor girls, was one of the most efficient causes of Paulina's destruction."Do you remember," continued Susan, "how clear and full her eye was? and now how sunken, and those yellow, dropsical-looking bags about it; and her cheeks, I remember father used to say they looked like rare-ripes; dear me! how the bones stick out now where the fair round flesh was; and how like old tripe it looks where she has had the paint on; and her lips, what a bright cherry-red pair they were: dear! dear! how blue they are; and see her neck and arms, Lottie, that were so plump and white, now how shrivelled and skinny they look. Dear Lottie," she added, "I can't help saying it, as I turn my eye from Paulina to you; you seem like a temple in which the spirit of God dwelleth. Oh! what a comfort it is to have cherished, and not abused. God's good gifts!"
"Hush! Susan, she is waking!" and poor Paulina awoke from a troubled dream, coughing and gasping. "Oh!" said she, as soon as she could speak, "I thought I was dead and in misery, but I am still living; and, Lottie, does not the Bible say—I have almost forgotten all I knew about the Bible—but does it not say there is hope for the living?"
"Yes, Paulina; if they repent of their evil deeds, and turn to the Lord, there is with him plenteous redemption."
"Does it say so?"—a suffocating fit of coughing interrupted her. "My mind," she continued, when she could get her breath, "My mind is so confused, I have so given up my thoughts to folly and sin, that I can't even think good thoughts; how can I repent?—I am so sleepy—" and, as she yet spoke, the words died away on her lips, and a heavy sleep came over her, from which she started as from a nightmare.
"I have done one good thing," she said: "I was good to Juliet!"
"That should comfort you!" said Susan, seizing, as eagerly as a drowning man catches at a straw, at Paulina's single consoling recollection.
"But, Susan, I was not kind as you would have been—such as I can't be so. I did keep my evil life out of her sight; I have always paid something extra, that she might have a little room to herself."
"That was considerate, Paulina."
"Do you think so, Lottie? Dear me! if I had only realized how soon it would come to this, I should have lived so differently! My God! but the other day we were playing together in Essex, and now! Do you think me very, very near death?" she added, rightly interpreting the expression of her friends' faces.
"You cannot have long to live," replied Charlotte, in a voice of the tenderest pity.
"Then why don't you send for a minister?"
"We will, if you wish it, Paulina."
"I do, I do—pray be quick!" Susan went to the door and despatched a messenger, while Paulina looked eagerly after her; but, when Susan returned to the bed, the poor creature shook her head and said, with the awful solemnity of deep conviction—"What good can he do me?—It lieth between me and my Maker!" Her lips then murmured a low, broken prayer;—suddenly stopping, she implored Lottie to pray for her. "I cannot pray," she said; "don't let me go to sleep, Susan." Susan chafed her temples and hands, while Charlotte knelt and besought pardon for the dying woman, as a confiding child asks favours from a parent she supremely loves. Her prayer expressed her faith in the compassions of God, as revealed by his son; her face shone with love and mercy, from her soul, his faint image. But poor Paulina was past all comfort. When Charlotte finished, she said, faintly—"Say it again, Lottie, I could not hear you. Come nearer, I don't see you—Give me air!—did mother speak!—no, I mean the minister!—has he come?—tell Juliet—no, not that—thank you, Susan—my God!—it's so sudden!—help me, Lottie!" And thus, uttering at intervals broken sentences, more and more incoherent, she continued almost unconscious of the ministrations of her friends, till she sunk into a lethargy which ended, in death.
The sisters wept over her such tears as angels might shed. "I remember," said Susan, "almost crying my eyes out when mother died; I have often cried, Lottie, to see you patiently bearing' cruel pain, and I cried till my tears seemed all spent when my angel baby died—but I never shed such bitter tears as these; there is no sight in this world so sad as the death-bed of the sinner! But, Lottie, don't you think we were some comfort to her?"
Two days after, as Aikin and his family, according to the village custom of his native place, were following the remains of Paulina to their last abode, they were intercepted by a long train of funeral carriages. In the first, in deep weeds, was Morris Finley, following the body of his only son William Arthur. The boy had died suddenly, and, according to the common saying, of a "most mysterious disease." Such mysteries are easily solved if we would honestly look at the truth. The boy's stomach had been vitiated from infancy by all sorts of delicacies and luxuries, permitted by his foolish mother. The instrument, strained to its utmost—and a slight accident—a trifling excess, destroyed him.
We need not conjecture the reflections of Morris Finley on this occasion, when, for a little while at least, he must have felt his wealth mocking him with its emptiness.
- A gentleman, whose uncommon sagacity and rare benevolence have had an ample field of observation and employment in the office which he for a long while held, of superintendent of the House of Refuge in this city, has said that he believed the love of dress was a most efficient cause of the degradation and misery of the young females of the city. If this is so, should not the reformation begin among the educated and reflecting? Among those who can afford indulgence? How can a lady, whose presses are teeming with French millinery and embroidery, enjoin simplicity and economy on her domestics? But this is a subject that demands a volume; or, rather, that demands examples instead of precepts.