|Vol. IV, No. 10
Tebeth 5607, January 1847
The Two Pictures, A Sketch of Domestic Life
Sarah Herbert’s Narrative
“After I had despatched the letter to you, my dear mother,” began Sarah’s manuscript, “I waited at Miss Winter’s, with my husband, for an answer; but it came not, and I passed an anxious and miserable day; for heartless as my conduct must appear, I really loved you, and but that Miss Winter, whose influence over me at that time was unbounded, persuaded me that you would easily be brought to forgive me, I should never have ventured on the step I had taken. Time passed, however; night came, and I began to feel a fearful misgiving that I had miscalculated my influence, in imagining that pardon would easily follow such an offence as I had been guilty of. At ten o’clock at night, just ns I had given up all hope of receiving any tidings from home, my old nurse entered. How my heart bounded with joy at the sight of her! But that joy was soon changed into bitter sorrow; for she was the bearer of a letter from Maria, containing a few hurried lines, blotted with tears. In this she informed me of my father’s return, and the heavy sorrow my conduct has caused him; that he had forced them all to keep shiva for me, reckoning me as already dead. She concluded with a fervent prayer for my happiness, in the path I had chosen, grieving only that it had placed an impassable barrier between her and a sister whom she should always fondly love. On the other side of the paper were a few lines from my aunt; those words are indelibly fixed on my memory.
“‘My dear niece,’ they began, ‘I could not suffer Maria to despatch her letter without addressing you on a subject the most important of all others, the welfare of your soul. You have thrown aside lightly, as a thing of nought, the faith in which you were born, the religion of your ancestors, and, by wedding a Christian, you have virtually become of his belief. But ere you allow the last seal to be put to the abandonment of your parents’ creed, ere you submit to baptism, examine, judge well, as far as human judgment will permit, the difference between the Jew and the Christian. Take not upon yourself without time for serious thought and mature deliberation vows which may hereafter weigh like iron on your soul. If, blinded by human love and worldly distinction, you suffer yourself to be made externally a Christian, then you are indeed an apostate; but beware! oh, beware! man you may deceive, but not God; and heavy are the judgments denounced against those who suffer themselves to be led aside knowingly from the right path. Therefore be warned, and act not hastily in a matter which involves not of time only, but eternity.’
“I wept bitterly,” continued Sarah, “on the perusal of these letters; and more so, when my old nurse told me, that my father, with his own hands, had covered my picture with crape, and turned the face to the wall, while the mention of my name in the household was utterly forbidden. Miss Winter and Herbert attempted to console me, by affecting to believe that my father's anger would soon be softened; but I knew too well his resolute nature even to indulge such a hope. I did not show to them the letter of my aunt; but I at least determined to take her advice, and not decide hastily on submitting to baptism. A few days after I received my sister’s letter, Herbert removed to a splendid house he had taken in one of the fashionable squares, and then we entered on a course of dissipation, which speedily banished every religious impression from my mind. Herbert’s marriage with a person of inferior birth, and without fortune, had so much angered his wealthy relations, that they refused to hold any correspondence with him. However, this did not make any change in his affection for me, and for a time I was happy; for I was courted, flattered, and admired as much as my vanity could desire.
“A year passed in this manner; the constant excitement in which I lived left me no time for thought. At the end of that time I became a mother; and then, as I pressed my little one to my bosom, I thought on the words of Levi, and mourned at the remembrance that my child could never receive a blessing or caress from the parents of her mother. I wished to nurse the child myself; but Herbert strenuously objected to this, and I was obliged reluctantly to resign the care of her to a stranger. I commenced anew my course of dissipation. But this was soon to end; at a ball, where I was the admired of all beholders, I caught a severe cold, which produced a dangerous illness, and for many weeks I was confined to a sick bed; and the shock my constitution then received, brought on the disease of which I am now dying. Herbert, whose affection for me was founded solely upon that perishable beauty which disease had begun to destroy, seldom visited my sick room; and Miss Winter, who had formed a brilliant alliance, was abroad with her husband, spending the first months of her marriage; so that I was alone, utterly alone. Left to the care of menials—for I had no friends—listening in vain for the voice of affection to cheer my couch of pain, my punishment had begun. One day—oh, how well I remember it! I had left my sick bed for the first time, and was sitting on the sofa, waiting for the entrance of Herbert, whom I expected to visit me before he left home on a pleasure excursion he had engaged to join; when a note was put into my hand, informing me that business had forced him to quit home a few hours earlier than he had intended, consequently he had not thought it advisable to disturb me, adding that perhaps he might not return for some days, and he trusted that by that time I should have quite recovered from my indisposition. The cold and indifferent tone of this letter struck me to the heart; and :
‘This, then,’ I said, bursting into bitter tears, ‘this is the love for which I forsook every tie, every duty. Oh ! Levi, how much happier I might have been as your wife!’
Deeply as I felt Herbert’s unkindness, its sting was rendered more bitter by thoughts like these; and in some measure to dispel them, I determined on writing to Miss Winter, now Lady Franklin. As I opened my writing-desk for this purpose, my eye fell on a letter; it was the one I had received from my aunt and sister on the day after my hasty and guilty marriage. A feeling of bitter remorse touched my soul as I took it up and reperused it.
“To religion, during the time I had been married, until then, I had never once given a thought. Miss Winter, although she had once or twice urged upon me the necessity of baptism, had been too much engaged in the pursuit of pleasure to pay any great attention to the subject; and Herbert was much too light and worldly to think on such serious matters at all; so that, except as regarded outward observances, I was not changed; for a Jewess in the true sense of the word I had never been. I was in a frame of mind, when aunt’s letter was thus providentially thrown in my way, to profit by it, and for the first time in my life I felt a wish to pray. I began to feel my own weakness and sinfulness, and want of aid from above; and yet I felt it a presumption in one like me, who had wantonly broken through every religious obligation, to address the God whom I had offended. I tried to excuse my crime to myself, but I could not. It is true I had not received a religious education, I had not been rightly instructed in the tenets of my faith; but then God had gifted me with talents and beauty, and I had taken these as merits of my own; and as I grew into womanhood I had never attempted to do other than improve these gifts in a worldly point of view. I had spent hours in devising means to shine in the eyes of the world, but never one moment to the study of the love of God; I neither felt, nor had shown, a wish to be instructed in His wondrous ways; the world alone had been my idol. I remembered, too, with a shudder, how lightly, and without examination, I renounced a faith of which I had known so little, to appear outwardly as a Christian, and afford to others an example of apostacy, when in reality I was of no religion at all. I could hear at thoughts no longer. ‘I will read the Bible,’ I said, ‘I will search for myself; and, oh! may God enlighten my mind and open my eyes to the truth.’
“From that day I commenced reading the Scriptures diligently. Herbert’s continued absence pleased me; for I had entered with my whole heart and soul on my new task, and I wished not to turn aside from it. Nor did I confine my reading to the Bible only; with all the energy of a newly-awakened care for my soul, I read the New Testament also; I compared it with the old, and found, too late, that the doctrines it taught could never be mine. Oh! the agony of that hour when I indeed discovered that I had forsaken the religion of truth. All the fearful denunciations against idol worshippers I applied to myself; for had not the world been my idol?
“‘Why, why,’ I exclaimed, in the bitterness of my heart, ‘why do not our parents and religious teachers impress these things on the ductile minds of youth? Why, why are the duties of our clergy confined to the reading of prayer alone? It is for them to point out to us our duties and show us the right path; not thus did the ancient teachers of Israel leave their flocks in darkness.’
“Every thing relating to the history of my people, of which until then I had been profoundly ignorant, I now began to study with avidity; and the more deeply I read, the more eager I became to return back to the faith of the chosen people of God; but my marriage, my hasty and imprudent marriage, formed an impassable barrier to this wish. Do not imagine, from what I have just written, that I had outlived my love for Herbert; far from this, my affection for him was still warm; our infant formed a bond of union between us which cemented yet closer my love for him. Meanwhile I still continued to receive letters from my husband, containing pleas of business as excuses for his remaining in the country, and I had no suspicion of any other cause. At length, however, he returned, but so changed both in mind and appearance that I could scarcely recognise him: he looked at least ten years older than when we parted. His manner was harsh and cold; and when I brought to him our child, hoping that her innocent caresses might please him, he said angrily, ‘Take the child away; she wearies me.’
“Tears came into my eves, as I resigned the child to her nurse, and returned to my seat on the sofa beside him. ‘What ails you, Herbert?’ I said at last, laying my hand gently on his, ‘what has occasioned this change in you, which alarms me so much? Nay, Nay, turn not from me,’ I continued, with tears in my eyes; ‘am I not your wife? and as such have I not a right to ask the cause of a gloom which is utterly new to you?’
“‘Nay, do not urge me,’ he answered impatiently; ‘you will know it soon enough; be satisfied. Your pretty face has cost me dear; for my brother, on account of my accursed folly in marrying so much beneath me, has left every shilling of his property to strangers. My cursed ill luck at play has nearly cost me my whole fortune; so that we are little better than beggars. You asked for the truth,’ he continued passionately, seeing that I was almost stunned at this announcement, ‘and now you have it all.’ And with these words he snatched up his hat and rushed out of the house.
“‘It is a part of my just punishment, and I must bear it,’ was my first bitter thought. ‘But oh, not from him, not from him, should I have suffered this unkindness—he for whom I would willingly have died.’ Long and fervently I prayed, after the departure of Herbert, for strength to do my duty in the path I had chosen. I then rung the bell for my child, and in her sweet caresses forgot in some degree her father’s unkindness. Some hours passed in this manner, and I began to feel most anxious for Herbert’s return, when Lady Franklin was suddenly announced. Hastily drying my tears, and attempting to hide their traces, I turned towards her, and expressed my congratulations on her marriage. She thanked me, with a smile, and added, “‘But you look pale and ill. My dear Sarah, what is the matter with you?’
“‘I have not been well,’ I replied, evasively; and, murmuring her regrets, Lady Franklin took my child in her arms, and began to caress it.
“‘She grows a lovely girl, my dear Sarah,’ she exclaimed. By the bye, when do you intend to have her christened? You know that ceremony ought to have been performed long ago, but for your illness; and remember Herbert promised that I should be godmother to your first child. I have brought a cap and mantle from Paris for that purpose.’
“For a second or two I stood still, irresolute how to answer. Evade the subject, I could not; and yet I knew a truthful answer would lose me the only friend that yet remained to me; and, fatal as her friendship had proved, I yet believed that Lady Franklin loved me sincerely, and to be without the affection of the only being who yet clung to me in kindness, seemed indeed terrible. Blame me not, then, if I hesitated; yet the struggle was brief.
“‘I thank you, Lady Franklin—dear Lady Franklin,’ I said; ‘but I cannot accept your offered kindness; for, with my consent, my child must never become a member of the Christian faith.’
“‘How mean you, Sarah? Surely, I do not comprehend your words rightly,’ said Lady Franklin; ‘I understood the christening was to take place as soon as your health was re-established. What has occasioned this change of intention?’
“‘I will not deceive you, my dear friend,’ I said, with a faltering voice; ‘since I saw you last a great change has taken place in my opinions; I am no longer a Christian.’
“‘What madness is this, Sarah?’ and her face expressed all the wonder she felt at a declaration so unexpected.
“‘It is no madness,’ I replied, earnestly, ‘but the result of a solemn conviction of the truth of the religion I forsook so thoughtlessly. Henceforth, as far as the duty I owe my husband will permit, I intend to follow all its dictates strictly; nor will I bring up my child in a belief that I utterly disavow. And,’ I continued, seeing that amazement kept her silent, ‘do not imagine this resolution to be the whim of a moment. Since I saw you last I have known much sickness and sorrow. Deserted by my worldly friends, in the anguish of my heart I had recourse to that consolation that never faileth—the word of God. Therein I sought truth, and found it.’
“‘Is your husband aware of this wonderful change in your religious opinions?’ asked Lady Franklin, with a sneer; ‘does he know that he is wedded to one doubly an apostate?’
“Her words recalled to my memory the thought of Herbert’s late unkindness, and tears filled my eyes. Lady Franklin took advantage of this sign of weakness to urge upon me what she termed the absolute folly of my conduct, which she attributed to the sickly fancies engendered by a sick-room, and strove to laugh me out of what she called my sickly enthusiasm; but finding her reasonings vain, she grew harsh and unkind. She parted from me in anger, and we never met again.
"Long and anxiously that night I waited for Herbert’s return; but hour after hour passed, and he came not. More than once I stole to the bedside of my sleeping child; but even her sweet face only brought painful thoughts of the parents I had forsaken. Three—four—five o’clock struck, still no sign of Herbert; it was broad day, and the labourers were going to their work. An undefined fear of evil made my heart ache, and wearied as I was, I never once thought of going to bed. The servants were astir in the house, and the daily avocations already commenced, when a loud knocking at the hall door announced my husband’s return. I was about to run down stairs, when, recollecting Herbert’s hatred of a scene, I checked myself, and sunk back on the sofa, from which I had partly risen. A slight bustle in the hall had followed Herbert’s entrance, and then all was silent. For some minutes I listened intensely, and distinguished footsteps ascending the stairs; but they were not Herbert’s. The door opened, and my own maid entered; she was deadly pale, and so agitated that she could scarcely speak.
“‘What has happened?’ I exclaimed, in a voice hoarse with dread; ‘is my husband dead?’
“‘Not dead,’ she replied; ‘but my master has had a violent quarrel with a gentleman, and in the violence of his rage has broken a blood-vessel.’
“‘Where is he? let me go to him,’ I shrieked wildly.
“‘No, no; be calm!’ answered the poor girl; ‘the doctor says his life depends upon his being kept quiet.’
“‘I will be calm and quiet; only let me see him directly. See! I am firm and collected; my hand does not tremble, my voice does not falter—my place is beside my husband.’ Seeing that I had indeed become firm and calm, the girl led me into the room into which they had taken Herbert. He was utterly insensible, and the medical man who attended him urged me to quit the room; but I was determined on remaining. I shall pass over the first few weeks of Herbert’s illness, during which his life was in imminent danger; but at the end of that time the doctor pronounced him better, yet gave no hopes of his ultimate recovery.
“‘He may live weeks—months—perhaps years,’ he said, in answer to my agonized inquiries; but his constitution will never recover the dreadful shock it has received; and, remember, any sudden violent excitement is almost certain to prove fatal to him.’
“When the doctor quitted the room, after this terrible announcement, Herbert called me to his side. He said, in a voice so low and feeble that I could scarcely distinguish his words, ‘Sarah, listen to me! We are beggared—utterly beggared! The night on which the fatal accident happened, I lost every penny I possessed at the gaming-table: the very furniture of this house is not ours, for it is not paid for; besides which, I owe many heavy debts. Doubtless, when they hear of my losses, my creditors will come upon me; and what is to become of us hereafter I know not.’
“You, my mother, who know how I had been pampered from childhood in luxury, and how little I had ever cast a thought even upon money, may imagine the fearful effect of my husband’s words on my mind. Alone, with a sick husband and a helpless child, was indeed a fearful thing to contemplate; but the idea of debt was to me more overwhelming still. I strove, however, to hide my feelings from Herbert, and was thankful when the entrance of the nurse put a stop to our conversation, and gave me an opportunity of quitting the room. But my trials for that day were not yet ended. In the drawing-room, which I had entered to give relief to my feelings, I saw two or three strange men, busily engaged in making a list of the furniture and ornaments, and my servants looking on in dismay.
“‘What is the meaning of this?’ I exclaimed, in alarm; ‘what right have these men here?’ “‘Mr. Pratt, the upholsterer, has put an execution in the house for debt,’ replied one of the footmen; ‘and, ma’am, as our wages have been a long time due, and affairs seem a little queer, my fellow-servants and I would be glad if you would pay us our due and permit us to leave the house.’
“‘Speak for yourself, John,’ said my own maid, assisting me to a seat, for she saw me ready to faint; ‘I for one will never desert a mistress who has been kind to me in the time of trouble. Go—go—all of you,’ she continued; ‘my mistress is ill—she would be alone.’ “Sullenly they all obeyed; and when only the faithful girl remained, I leaned my head upon her shoulder, and wept long and bitterly. Mary mingled her tears with mine. When I had wept freely, my heart felt somewhat relieved; and, followed by Mary, I hastened to my own room, where I kept my purse. Fortunately I was in possession of about a hundred guineas, a present from Herbert, for a trinket I had intended to purchase before my illness. With this I discharged my debt to the servants, who all left immediately, with the exception of Mary, who resolutely refused to leave me, burdened with a sick, husband and a helpless infant. After these debts were paid, I had a single guinea left in my purse; and, utterly unused to the management of money matters, I felt as helpless as a child. With Herbert I dared not advise; Mary, therefore, was the only one of whom I could ask counsel. Fortunately she possessed strong good sense. She had concealed, on the first entrance of the men, some of the most valuable of my jewels; these I desired she should retain for me, as from their sale alone could I rely for existence upon this emergency. My next care was how I should break to Herbert the intelligence of our present situation, and prepare him for the necessity of our instant removal; for to remain where we were, after what had happened, I felt was impossible. At length, after much deliberation, I determined to wait the return of the doctor, and to acquaint him with the truth, and beg of him to order change of air for my husband, as the only means by which I could remove him without his suspecting the cause. I then returned to the sick-room, veiling under a calm brow the deep anguish of my heart. When Dr. Austin came, painful as the task was, I at once acquainted him with the unfortunate state of our affairs, and asked if Herbert might be removed with safety. The doctor appeared much surprised at my statement; but he shook his head when I spoke of removing Herbert.
“‘It is impossible,’ he said, ‘the mere act of removing him would cause a renewal of the bleeding and occasion almost instant death.’ I wrung my hands in an agony of grief. My grief touched the physician. ‘Do not distress yourself unnecessarily,’ he said; ‘I will see Mr. Pratt, and perchance you will be able to make some arrangement with him. Mr. Herbert has wealthy friends, who will doubtless assist him. Rely upon the goodness of God, my dear lady; He never forsakes those who trust in Him.’
“His words were like a dagger in my heart; for, alas! I had deserted both my earthly parents and my heavenly Father. What right had I to expect help from above?
“Dr. Austin called upon Mr. Pratt that very evening, and the latter consented to delay the sale for a week or two. He also allowed me to take my own property from the rest, as otherwise I should have been utterly destitute. I will pass over the next three weeks of frightful suffering. Through the agency of Dr. Austin I disposed of many jewels, and with their produce I discharged all the household debts we owed; and this done, we had one hundred guineas to begin the world anew. Herbert daily grew worse; and at the end of the time I have mentioned, Dr. Austin informed me that he could live but a few days longer. I neither shrieked nor fainted at this awful announcement; but my weary heart seemed crushed within me. I would have given worlds to weep, yet I could not shed a single tear; I could only clasp my hands and murmur, ‘Father, teach me to bear thy will, for I have deserved my punishment.’ I cannot dwell on what followed: Herbert died, and but for my child I should have been indeed desolate. Oh! never, never can I forget the day of his burial. How lonely—how utterly lonely I felt! Fain would I have mourned for my lost one after the fashion of my people; but, alas, alas! I could not. It was Friday evening; the last hired mourner had departed, and I sat down by a lonely hearth to weep over the consequences of my sin: and then I thought of home—the home I had heartlessly forsaken; and I thought how on the Sabbath eves, when my father was at home, how we had gathered, while yet little ones, around his knee, to receive his blessing; and now I had his curse instead, and heavily did it weigh upon me. Then came a yearning to go back to my own people once more. ‘Yes,’ I exclaimed aloud, ‘in wealth, or in poverty, in joy, or in sorrow, I will never again desert my faith; as one of the chosen people I will live and die.’
“‘Nay, my dear Mrs. Herbert, make no rash resolutions,’ said Dr. Austin, who had entered unperceived, ‘for I am the bearer of happy tidings. Poor Herbert’s uncle, touched with the unhappy fate of his nephew, offers, through me, as he is childless, to take your little girl and bring her up as his own, and allow you also an ample maintenance, provided only you consent for both to embrace the Christian faith; otherwise he will have nothing to do with either of you. Nay,’ he continued, seeing I was about to speak, ‘I will not take your answer to-night; only remember your own and your child’s destitution, and how totally unfitted you are to encounter the rough treatment the world usually gives to the unfortunate, and, for your child’s sake, be wise.’
“So saying he left me. I pressed my widowed couch that night with a heavy heart; for, although I never once wavered in my resolution, I felt that the future indeed looked dark for my little girl; yet I said, ‘He who looked down with pity on Hagar in the wilderness will not forsake a repentant mother toiling for her child.’ When Dr. Austin called on the morrow, I fold him mildly, yet firmly, my resolution, and my reason for it.
“‘I cannot but admire your firmness,’ he said, with a sigh; ‘yet I must regret that principle compels you to decline the proffered overture of Mr. Herbert. However, on Monday I will see what is to be done for you.’
But Monday I had fixed on my plan. As the Passover was approaching, I determined to board and lodge in one of the poor Jewish families for a short period, in the neighbourhood of the city, and then strive to support myself and child by opening a school, and working at the needle. This plan I put put execution immediately; and Dr. Austin bade me, if I wanted any assistance, to apply to him. This, however, I have never done. I discharged my faithful Mary, and then carried my plan into effect. The family in which I took lodgings were cleanly and respectable. With their assistance, I established a school and gained work; but, unhappily, distress of mind and constant toil occasioned me a heavy illness, which exhausted my funds, and compelled me to give up school. For a time I was obliged to look out for humbler lodgings. Chance, or rather Providence conducted me to Betsey Abraham’s, your former cook. She know me, in spite of the ravages care had made in my appearance; but she gave me a solemn promise not to betray my history; and she kept her word. From her I heard of the marriage of my sister with my rejected lover, and the change that had taken place in my dear mother’s mode of life ; and, oh! how many bitter tears I shed in solitude at the remembrance that it was from strangers alone that I could hear of those so dear to me. Often, oh! how, often, when I heard my mother’s voice in the room beneath, and saw the caresses she bestowed on Betsey’s children, did I feel half inclined to throw mvsclf at her feet, and claim forgiveness for her erring child.
“Beneath the roof of Betsey I was enabled to practise and to teach to my infant child the rites of our religion. But the destroyer had already claimed his prey; I was no longer able to work for our bread; the time was come when my yearning to see my mother was to be gratified. The rest you know. And now, my dear mother, that my last hour is approaching, I have one last favour to ask, ere I close my eyes in death. You have already promised to protect my child; supply to her the place of a mother, educate her in our faith, not only as regards form and ceremony, but teach her, in the words of the Scripture, ‘to love the Lord her God with all her heart, with all her soul, and with all her might.’ When she has attained the age of womanhood, and her judgment can be trusted, let her know her mother’s history; and if, after that, she choose her father’s creed, place no hindrance in her path; for belief cannot be forced. Yet, let not my child judge hastily, but take warning by her mother's fate.”
When, with many tears, she had concluded this sad narrative, Mrs. Emanuel retired to her own chamber, leaving Hannah to meditate on what she had heard: but need the reader be told that Hannah Herbert adhered strictly to the faith of her mother!