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THE HAPPIEST HOUR OF MY LIFE!
BY MRS. ABDY.
From the Metropolitan.
in wishing to separate a young couple, it is astonishing how very roughly they contrive to make the course of true love' run. At length we met, 'twas in a crowd,' in a "WHERE is happiness?' asks one learn- fashionable squeeze of two hundred people. ed Pundit, and Echo answers Where?' I contrived to get seated with Octavia in a What is happiness?' demands another, recess; an open window was behind us, the and a matter-of-fact hearer forthwith takes air blew coldly and sharply, I shut it down, down the first volume of Johnson's Dic- and in a moment a panting fat chaperon in tionary, looks out the word, and announces a crimson turban, resolutely advanced and that 'Happiness is a state in which all the opened it, professing herself thoroughly desires are satisfied,' a decision which, in- discontented with the modicum of air atasmuch as nobody was ever yet satisfied tainable through the agency of her ivory in all their requisitions, leaves the difficulty fan, and eulogizing the advantages of fresh precisely where it stood before. There is breezes, on the authority of some fashionno rule, however, without an exception. able medical writer of the day. There sat Happiness may be caught, although it may Octavia, the delicate interesting Octavia, exnot be caged: I am qualified to dogmatize posed to the imminent risk of colds, coughs, on the subject from personal experience. and toothaches, and vainly endeavoring Happiness is a bird of paradise, and I once to make an ethereal gauze scarf do the duty threw salt upon its tail, and detained it with of a warm ample shawl. I thought of Kirke me for the space of an entire hour,-I en- White's description of the advances of conjoyed just sixty minutes of perfect felicity!" sumption"Did you, indeed, sir? I conclude that was during the hour when you made your proposals, and were accepted."
"Not at all, my dear madam, that hour was any thing but satisfactory; it was thirty years ago, and yet I remember it as if it were yesterday. I had very imprudently fallen in love with my dear Octavia, who, as her name denotes, was the eighth child of her honored parents. I was balancing myself on the lowest step of the ladder of the law, and she was the independent possessor of one thousand pounds in the stock then bearing the name of the Navy Five Per Cents; alas! five per cent. for one's capital is now the light of other days.' Our prospects were dreary enough, however, notwithstanding the light of Octavia's fifty pounds a year; her father, mother, two brothers, and five sisters, frowned annihilation on me whenever I approached her; and my own mother, my only surviving parent, indulged herself in daily sarcasms on my total want not only of prudence but of good taste in my selection of partner for life. My mother was unluckily acquainted with three sisters, each of whom was the fortunate possessor of twenty thousand pounds; they were plain and ill-tempered, and the youngest was ten years my senior; but she was unremittingly anxious to obtain one of them for a daughter-in-law; -they were Graces in her estimation, and she thought it very hard that they should be chronicled as Furies in mine! It was with much difficulty that I ever contrived to exchange a few words with Octavia; when the relatives on both sides are agreed
In the chilling night air drest,
I will creep into her breast;' but I also thought of the old proverb, that opportunity once lost is never to be regained; I offered, and was accepted, the wind blowing every moment more and more keenly, and the dancers sweeping close to us in. their evolutions. Octavia's elder sister, on the opposite side of the room, sat looking at her much as the elder sister of Cinderella might have beheld her envied junior in the act of fitting on the glass slipper; and about twenty yards from us, the most disagreeable and most determined of the coheiresses to whom I have already alluded, scrutinized us through her eye-glass, evidently taking note of our glances, attitudes, and whispers, for the particular edification and enlightenment of my mother on the following morning. Add to this, that I had no prospect of marrying with prudence for at least ten years, and judge if the hour in which the chosen of my heart 'blushed a sweet consent,' was one of unmingled happiness."
"Certainly not; and did you really wait ten years?"
"No, we did not; engagements are never very pleasant things, and ours was rendered peculiarly uncomfortable to us by our respective relations. At length, finding all our endeavors vain to break down the barrier of poverty, we resolved on springing over it. I had a legacy of a few hundred pounds in the first year of our engagement from a distant relation; I now betook myself to the study of all the advertisements
of cheap furniture, in the newspapers; they were not, as now, professedly addressed, "To Persons about to Marry," but they were the same in substance. I engaged a small neat house, furnished it with econonomical prettiness, and married my dear Octavia in a twelvemonth after I had first proposed to her."
"Now I understand very well that the happiest hour of your life was that of your marriage ;-including, of course, the drive to the church and home again.'
cheap chairs and tables which I had bought of the advertising upholsterer, for I did not know how soon they might be seized for arrears of rent. Besides, my ideas of baby beauty were founded on my reminiscences of the pink and white cheeks and curling hair of a wax doll, and I was too much disappointed at the appearance of my son to be disposed to receive with becoming credulity the assurances of the nurse that he was the exact image of myself;'-no, that hour was certainly not a particularly feli citous one."
"I never give more than three guesses respecting a riddle or charade, therefore must beg that you will at once tell me the secret of your mysterious hour of happiness, did it leave no traces behind it?"
"Not one; it all vanished at the end of the hour."
"Ah! now I know what you mean; you were under the influence of opium."
"Far from it, my dear madam, it was a very tedious and uncomfortable hour: I went to church in a carriage with Octavia's mother and two of her sisters, all drowned in tears, sparing of speech, and redolent of eau de Cologne. I felt that I performed my part very awkwardly, my voice was scarcely audible in the responses, and I twice dropped the ring on the ground. I was deprived of the resource of twirling my hat, and I had a confused impression that the "No, indeed, the 'Confessions of an youngest of the bridesmaids was laughing English Opium Eater' were not then writat me. To render the matter more provok- ten, and there were no teetotallers at that ing, my bride was a model of self posses- time, so opium was not at all in general resion, elegance, and propriety; spoke in a quisition; I will, however, disclose the silvery full-toned voice, wore her orange mystery to you without further delay, that blossoms, blonde, and white satin, with in- is, when I have mentioned a few prelimiimitable grace, and went through the cere-nary circumstances of my situation. My mony with as much composure, as if, to use family increased; my third child was born an expression of Theodore Hook's, she in the fifth year of our marriage, my clients had been married every morning for the preceding six weeks!'. I returned in a chariot with my bride and her uncle, who was also her trustee, who gave me the best advice about the most expedient manner of managing a very small income,' and impressed upon me to lose no time in effecting an insurance on my life for the benefit of my probable family, devoting the interest of Octavia's money to the purpose."
"I will venture one more guess, the happiest hour of your life was that in which your first-born boy was presented to you." "Not at all; I had begun before his birth to find out some of the disadvantages of poverty; as a single man, I had been enabled to feel 'content with a little,' but I now said with Doctor Syntax,
This is the cause of all my trouble,
I could not flatter myself that my first-born
were few, my mother's income I knew barely met her expenses, and that of my father-in-law was quite insufficient for the multitudinous wants and wishes of himself, his lady, and their seven children. Octavia was all that I could wish her; amiable, patient, uncomplaining; I could almost have desired that she should sometimes have reproached me for the heart-wearing penury to which I had reduced her. I should not then have felt such bitter repining at the sight of one so lovely and accomplished, burying her charms and talents in obscurity, and bending the whole of her fine abilities to the practice of painful and minute economies ;-do you not feel for our situation?"
"Very much; I cannot conceive how you came by your hour of happiness!"
"Seven years after our marriage, my Octavia fell into a delicate state of health; sea-air was prescribed for her, freedom from care, cheerful society, and airings in an open carriage; how easily do medical men run off these phrases, never seeming to consider that there can be any difficulty On the contrary, he was born with an un-in fulfilling their requisitions. I had long mistakeable wooden ladle in his mouth; I ago sent in an account to a tardy client; could not even consider him heir to the I wrote to him again, candidly telling
'Come into the world as a gentleman comes To a lodging ready furnished!'
tively gave way to me; it was indeed so; the figures were written in a gigantic hand, and displayed in the window; the ink was not yet dry; I was the enviable possessor of thirty thousand pounds!"
"And did your hour of happiness then begin?"
him of my poverty, and the illness of Oc-| wife informed me, with evident sorrow, tavia; he was not devoid of feeling; he in- that the price of bread had again risen. stantly replied to my letter. He had just, Alas! alas! that a creature, formed to dazhe said, been foolish enough to exhaust his zle all eyes and win all hearts, sing scienpurse in the purchase of a lottery-ticket; tific canzonets, and discuss poetry and phihe inclosed me the ticket, which I might losophy, should be reduced to the doleful nedispose of for a sum equal to about half cessity of knowing or caring that the quar. the amount owing to me, and the remain- tern loaf costs a halfpenny more one week der he promised speedily to remit to me. than another! After our sorry repast, I preThe moment I became the possessor of pared to take a walk. I had just got ready this lottery-ticket, the thought struck me the draft of a will for a client who resided in that perhaps a rich mine of gold lay within Spring Gardens, and I was to attend, by apit. I could not persuade myself to dispose pointment, to submit it to his inspection. of it, nor did I mention its existence to Oc- In my way I passed down Cornhill; a crowd tavia: I was fearful that her cool and was collected at Bish's door. News has steady judgment would disapprove of my just come from Guildhall,' exclaimed one conduct in relinquishing my bird in the of them to a friend who had not been able hand' for the two who were not even in to get near the window, 'that the thirty the bush,' but only fluttering in the regions thousand has been drawn-the number is of imagination: the lottery was to begin twelve hundred!' I pressed forward with drawing in a week; my suspense could so much energy, that every one instincnot endure long. I locked the ticket safely in my secretaire, and the number was securely impressed upon my memory: we had no scientific Polish Majors at that time, to give us an artificial memory for getting up puzzling combinations of figures; but the combination in question was not at all puzzling, the number was twelve hundred: "Not immediately; eminent dramatists and I repeated it over and over to myself, have declared, that when the theatre rang as if it were some cabalistic incantation with plaudits at their genius, their sensawhich was to conduct me to ease and af- tions were those rather of nerveousness fluence. A week passed; it was the first and faintness than of triumph and exday of the lottery-drawing, and it was a ultation; and one of them defined his feelparticularly untoward day at home, 'every ing as that of 'coming near enough to thing went wrong.' I dare say all family Fame to clutch it!' Now I suddenly men will enter into the meaning of that came near enough to Fortune to clutch phrase! My poor Octavia was more than her, and at first I seemed to droop and usually feeble, languid, and hectic; and tremble at the close approximation. I immediately after breakfast our maid of all- did not, as you may suppose it likely I work, (for in those days we did not employ should do, call a coach, drive home, and the refined term of 'general servant,') gave communicate my success to my wife and warning, allured by the better wages and family; I felt dizzy with excess of joy. I more abundantly supplied table proffered could not for the world have shared it at to her by a thriving tradesman's wife in the that moment with any one; I knew that neighborhood. Now, Dorothy was not the ticket was in perfect safety, and I rewithout faults, but we had reason to think solved to delay my return till my spirits that those faults were fewer than generally were calmed down to a tolerable degree of fall to the share of over-tasked under-paid sobriety. I disengaged myself from the maids of all-work; besides, she had lived crowd, made no sign' to indicate that I with us five years; we knew her faults and was the happy owner of the paraded thirty recommendations, and lacked courage to thousand, and I bent my steps to my oriinvestigate those of a stranger. The two ginal destination, Spring Gardens, walking elder children were also in a singularly ir-lightly and gaily through places which everyritable state of temper on that unfortunate day people would call Cheapside, St. Paul's morning, and the baby, who usually slept Church-yard, and Ludgate Hill, but which all day, and cried all night, seemed resolved to depart from its usual routine, and to cry through all the twenty-four hours. The refractory maid of all-work sent us up a peculiarly ill-cooked dinner; and my poor
to me appeared to be select portions of the most delightful districts of fairy-land. How can I describe to you the ecstatic thoughts in which I revelled, the dazzling visions I conjured up, the phantoms of future bliss
which hovered round me? My beloved charity. This is well,' I thought; it is Octavia was to enjoy an exquisite marine fit that when I receive such unexpected villa at Hastings till her health was restor- bounties myself, I should think of the need ed, and afterwards a tasteful boudoir, a new of others: I will become a life-subscriber, grand pianoforte, a set of pearls from Ham- not only to this charity, but to many let's, (then the fashionable jeweller,) and others; nor will I permit public liberality a beautiful little phaeton, drawn by two to supersede private benevolence; my ear cream-colored ponies. I was immediately shall be open to the complaints of honest to procure au efficient nursery-staff, and poverty, and my hand ready to relieve eventually, my daughters were to be edu- them. My client was too much occupied cated by an all-accomplished governess, with the study of his will to perceive any and my son to be sent for tuition to a clerical thing unusual in my manner; he returned friend, who took a limited number of pupils the draft to me, begged that it might be on terms of unlimited expense: my dinners formally executed, and I took my departwere to make Dr. Kitchener jealous; my ure. My thoughts in returning were just library was to be filled by the best authors, the same as they had been in going, and and my cellars stocked with the best literally dwelt upon wines; my house was to be at the west end of the town, and I was to have a sweet little cottage at Richmond."
"And did you think you could do all that with thirty thousand pounds, sir?"
Gold, gold, nothing but gold.'
These golden reveries, however, were not so low and sordid in my case as in that of many persons, because I may safely say that I valued the goods of wealth for others more than for myself, and my satisfaction developed itself in feelings of unutterable kindliness and complacency towards the whole of the human race.
"Yes, indeed I did, my dear madam, and much more also. I had never had any but a very small income to manage, and having discovered that even that poor pittance could procure for myself and family the 'meat, clothes, and fire,' which Pope declares to be all that riches can give to us, "A brother lawyer passed me in his neat I naturally enough fell into the error of chariot-I no longer looked on him with concluding that incalculable and intermin- envy. Poor fellow!' I thought, he is able enjoyments and luxuries were to be obliged to work hard for his comforts; I procured by a handsome fortune. I reach- shall immediately relinquish my profession, ed Spring Gardens in this delightful state I will recommend him to two or three of of mind and spirits, feeling that my happi- my best clients.' I greeted several comness was glowing in my cheeks, and laugh- mon acquaintances with the most earnest ing out at my eyes; and the very footman warmth, inquiring after the health of their who opened my client's door looked at me wives and children as if my existence dewith astonishment, as if he had seen some pended upon a favorable reply. I could strange transformation in me. And had I not have been more universally cordial had not undergone a transformation? I was no I intended standing for the county! A longer the spirit-broken, pressed down, stripling met me whom I had deservedly poor man; the wand of Harlequin, that sent to Coventry for his extreme imperticonverts a hut into a palace, had never nence to me; he seemed undecided whether wrought a more wonderful metamorphosis to bow or not; I settled his scruples by a than had taken place in my situation; past friendly recognition, and a warm shake of drudgery, future misgivings, were no longer the hand; he seemed gratified, and no in existence; a brilliant perspective of hap- doubt eulogized my forgiving temperpiness for me and mine stretched itself be- alas! if my ticket had not been drawn a fore me in clear and shining radiance. My prize, I should have encountered him with client entered, and looked over the draft a bent brow, and a scornful curve of the of the will; he suggested a few alterations; lip! All whom I had previously disliked he had seven thousand pounds to leave and disapproved had a share in my kindly to his wife and family. I inwardly pitied him for having so small a sum for their provision; how short a time ago should I have thought it a large one! A book, having the appearance of a pamphlet, lay on the table before me; I mechanically opened it, and found that it contained the list of subscribers to a celebrated public VOL. III. No. IV. 36
feelings. My wife's sisters had repeatedly wounded and displeased me, but I now resolved to give them turquoise necklaces, and invite them to carpet-dances; even Dorothy became an innoxious maid of allwork to me-she had been quite right in wishing to remove herself-she would not have been a fitting member of our new es
tablishment. I next met an old gentleman, a distant relation.
"How happy you seem,' he said. "How happy I am,' I replied. 'I may say with Hamlet, Seem! I know not seems!''
"Well, this is as it should be,' replied the old gentleman, gazing on me with admiration. Your spirits are not hurt by a slender income, nay, I dare say you are far happier than if you had a large one-riches, as the poet says, are-'
"But I was in no mood to listen to what any poet said in depreciation of riches, and, pleading haste, I passed rapidly on, enjoying the thick-coming tide of pleasant fancies, which as yet I felt disinclined to share with mortal being. Again I reached Cornhill. I looked at my watch; exactly an hour had elapsed since I was last there; a crowd was still around the windows of Bish, and again I pressed through it, wishing to feast my eyes a second time on the announcement of my triumph, just as the miser gazes, again and again, on the bank note with whose value he is already thoroughly acquainted. Amazement! horror! Was I under the influence of witchcraft now, or had I been the sport of its spell an hour ago? The number of the fortunate ticket was clearly 1210! I rushed into the shop, and in hoarse tremulous accents inquired into the meaning of the change.
"And then you disclosed all that had passed to your wife, I suppose?"
"By no means; I resolved not to disclose it to a creature. Octavia, I felt, would sympathize with me too much, and the rest of the world too little. I could not brook the idea that my fleeting dream of happiness should be related by some officious quizzer to a laughing circle, prefaced with the observation, Have you heard of the terrible blunder our poor friend fell into the other day?' I entered the house calm and dejected, and found all its inhabitants much as I had left them, except that Dorothy's brow was a shade more sulky, the voices of the children were pitched in a somewhat higher key, and poor Octavia was mending for me an already thrice-mended pair of gloves. O! how like Abou Hassan I felt, when he awakened in his own home after his short experience of the grandeur and magnificence of regal power!"
"How sad! how mortifying! How very much I pity you!"
"Do not waste your pity upon me, fair lady; I believe you would have had much more reason to pity me, had I really become the possessor of these thirty thousand pounds. In my hour of happiness, I only thought of the enjoyments of riches; I should soon have been made to fee lits troubles, anxieties and responsibilities. I then knew nothing of the management of money;
"It was quite a mistake, sir,' replied the man behind the counter, in provoking-I should have attempted to make my thirty ly cool and courteous accents; it was sent off to us from Guildhall in a great hurry, and the person who wrote it down made it 1200, instead of 1210; but we rectified the mistake the moment we received the proper information.'
"Is number 1200 drawn?' I gaspingly ejaculated.
"Yes, sir, and it is a blank.' "And so ness!"
ended my hour of happi
"And what did you do?-drop down in a swoon?"
"No; I certainly dropped down from the regions of imagination on the rough shingles of reality, and might have said with Apollo in Kane O'Hara's Midas, 'A pretty dacent tumble!' but I considered that we cannot be said to lose what we have never had, and, above all, that no invectives or repinings could restore to me the beautiful phantasmagoria which had vanished from my mind's eye.' I walked home, my glances bestowed on the ground, and my sweet fancies' replaced by bitter
thousand pounds do the work of a sum of four times its magnitude, and should probably, in a small way, have run the career of Mr. Burton Danvers, the hero of your favorite story in Sayings and Doings.' return, however, to my narrative-My evening at home was not so melancholy as you may surmise: about ten o'clock, a sharp ring was heard at the door; for a moment I was wild enough to imagine that my number, after all, had proved to be the right one, and that the lottery office had sent a special messenger to inform me of it. But I quickly reflected that they could have no clew to my name and residence, as the ticket had been purchased by another person. The messenger, however, was a welcome one. The young man who had sent me the lottery ticket in part of his account, was not yet so hardened in the ways of the world as to feel quite easy in squandering in revelry and luxury the money which was really and painfully wanted by those to whom he lawfully owed it. He had been touched by my representation of my wife's illness, had raised the