Decorum, indeed, was not outraged, and all limits were not overstepped at once. Dubious advances were employed; but, when found unavailing, were displaced by more shameless and direct proceedings. She was too little versed in human nature to see that her last expedient was always worse than the preceding; and that, in proportion as she lost sight of decency, she multiplied the obstacles to her success.
Betty had many enticements in person and air. She was ruddy, smooth, and plump. To these she added—I must not say what, for it is strange to what lengths a woman destitute of modesty will sometimes go. But, all her artifices availing her not at all in the contest with my insensibilities, she resorted to extremes which it would serve no good purpose to describe in this audience. They produced not the consequences she wished, but they produced another which was by no means displeasing to her. An incident one night occurred, from which a sagacious observer deduced the existence of an intrigue. It was useless to attempt to rectify his mistake by explaining appearances in a manner consistent with my innocence. This mode of explication implied a continence in me which he denied to be possible. The standard of possibilities, especially in vice and virtue, is fashioned by most men after their own character. A temptation which this judge of human nature knew that he was unable to resist, he sagely concluded to be irresistible by any other man, and quickly established the belief among my neighbours, that the woman who married the father had been prostituted to the son. Though I never admitted the truth of this aspersion, I believed it useless to deny, because no one would credit my denial, and because I had no power to disprove it.
What other inquiries were to be resolved by our young friend, we were now, at this late hour, obliged to postpone till the morrow. I shall pass over the reflections which a story like this would naturally suggest, and hasten to our next interview.
After breakfast next morning, the subject of last night's conversation was renewed. I told him that something had occurred in his absence, in relation to Mrs. Wentworth and her nephew, that had perplexed us not a little. "My information is obtained," continued I, "from Wortley; and it is nothing less than that young Clavering, Mrs. Wentworth's nephew, is, at this time, actually alive."
Surprise, but none of the embarrassment of guilt, appeared in his countenance at these tidings. He looked at me as if desirous that I should proceed.
"It seems," added I, "that a letter was lately received by this lady from the father of Clavering, who is now in Europe. This letter reports that this son was lately met with in Charleston, and relates the means which old Mr. Clavering had used to prevail upon his son to return home; means, of the success of which he entertained well-grounded hopes. What think you?"
"I can only reject it," said he, after some pause, "as untrue. The father's correspondent may have been deceived. The father may have been deceived, or the father may conceive it necessary to deceive the aunt, or some other supposition as to the source of the error may be true; but an error it surely is. Clavering is not alive. I know the chamber where he died, and the withered pine under which he lies buried."
"If she be deceived," said I, "it will be impossible to rectify her error."
"I hope not. An honest front and a straight story will be sufficient."
"How do you mean to act?"
"Visit her, without doubt, and tell her the truth. My tale will be too circumstantial and consistent to permit her to disbelieve."
"She will not hearken to you. She is too strongly prepossessed against you to admit you even to a hearing."
"She cannot help it. Unless she lock her door against me, or stuff her ears with wool, she must hear me. Her prepossessions are reasonable, but are easily removed by telling the truth. Why does she suspect me of artifice? Because I seemed to be allied to Welbeck, and because I disguised the truth. That she thinks ill of me is not her fault, but my misfortune; and, happily for me, a misfortune easily removed."
"Then you will try to see her?"
"I will see her, and the sooner the better. I will see her to-day; this morning; as soon as I have seen Welbeck, whom I shall immediately visit in his prison."
"There are other embarrassments and dangers of which you are not aware. Welbeck is pursued by many persons whom he has defrauded of large sums. By these persons you are deemed an accomplice in his guilt, and a warrant is already in the hands of officers for arresting you wherever you are found."
"In what way," said Mervyn, sedately, "do they imagine me a partaker of his crime?"
"I know not. You lived with him. You fled with him. You aided and connived at his escape."
"Are these crimes?"
"I believe not, but they subject you to suspicion."
"To arrest and to punishment?"
"To detention for a while, perhaps. But these alone cannot expose you to punishment."
"I thought so. Then I have nothing to fear."
"You have imprisonment and obloquy, at least, to dread."
"True; but they cannot be avoided but by my exile and skulking out of sight,—evils infinitely more formidable. I shall, therefore, not avoid them. The sooner my conduct is subjected to scrutiny, the better. Will you go with me to Welbeck?"
"I will go with you."
Inquiring for Welbeck of the keeper of the prison, we were informed that he was in his own apartment, very sick. The physician attending the prison had been called, but the prisoner had preserved an obstinate and scornful silence; and had neither explained his condition, nor consented to accept any aid.
We now went alone into his apartment. His sensibility seemed fast ebbing, yet an emotion of joy was visible in his eyes at the appearance of Mervyn. He seemed likewise to recognise in me his late visitant, and made no objection to my entrance.
"How are you this morning?" said Arthur, seating himself on the bedside, and taking his hand. The sick man was scarcely able to articulate his reply:—"I shall soon be well. I have longed to see you. I want to leave with you a few words." He now cast his languid eyes on me. "You are his friend," he continued. "You know all. You may stay."
There now succeeded a long pause, during which he closed his eyes, and resigned himself as if to an oblivion of all thought. His pulse under my hand was scarcely perceptible. From this in some minutes he recovered, and, fixing his eyes on Mervyn, resumed, in a broken and feeble accent:—
"Clemenza! You have seen her. Weeks ago, I left her in an accursed house; yet she has not been mistreated. Neglected and abandoned indeed, but not mistreated. Save her, Mervyn. Comfort her. Awaken charity for her sake.
"I cannot tell you what has happened. The tale would be too long,—too mournful. Yet, in justice to the living, I must tell you something. My woes and my crimes will be buried with me. Some of them, but not all.
"Ere this, I should have been many leagues upon the ocean, had not a newspaper fallen into my hands while on the eve of embarkation. By that I learned that a treasure was buried with the remains of the ill-fated Watson. I was destitute. I was unjust enough to wish to make this treasure my own. Prone to think I was forgotten, or numbered with the victims of pestilence, I ventured to return under a careless disguise. I penetrated to the vaults of that deserted dwelling by night. I dug up the bones of my friend, and found the girdle and its valuable contents, according to the accurate description that I had read.
"I hastened back with my prize to Baltimore, but my evil destiny overtook me at last. I was recognised by emissaries of Jamieson, arrested and brought hither, and here shall I consummate my fate and defeat the rage of my creditors by death. But first——"
Here Welbeck stretched out his left hand to Mervyn, and, after some reluctance, showed a roll of lead.
"Receive this," said he. "In the use of it, be guided by your honesty and by the same advertisement that furnished me the clue by which to recover it. That being secured, the world and I will part forever. Withdraw, for your presence can help me nothing."
We were unwilling to comply with his injunction, and continued some longer time in his chamber; but our kind intent availed nothing. He quickly relapsed into insensibility, from which he recovered not again, but next day expired. Such, in the flower of his age, was the fate of Thomas Welbeck.
Whatever interest I might feel in accompanying the progress of my young friend, a sudden and unforeseen emergency compelled me again to leave the city. A kinsman, to whom I was bound by many obligations, was suffering a lingering disease, and, imagining, with some reason, his dissolution to be not far distant, he besought my company and my assistance, to soothe, at least, the agonies of his last hour. I was anxious to clear up the mysteries which Arthur's conduct had produced, and to shield him, if possible, from the evils which I feared awaited him. It was impossible, however, to decline the invitation of my kinsman, as his residence was not a day's journey from the city. I was obliged to content myself with occasional information, imparted by Mervyn's letters or those of my wife.
Meanwhile, on leaving the prison, I hasted to inform Mervyn of the true nature of the scene which had just passed. By this extraordinary occurrence, the property of the Maurices was now in honest hands. Welbeck, stimulated by selfish motives, had done that which any other person would have found encompassed with formidable dangers and difficulties. How this attempt was suggested or executed, he had not informed us, nor was it desirable to know. It was sufficient that the means of restoring their own to a destitute and meritorious family were now in our possession.
Having returned home, I unfolded to Mervyn all the particulars respecting Williams and the Maurices which I had lately learned from Wortley. He listened with deep attention, and, my story being finished, he said, "In this small compass, then, is the patrimony and subsistence of a numerous family. To restore it to them is the obvious proceeding—but how? Where do they abide?"
"Williams and Watson's wife live in Baltimore, and the Maurices live near that town. The advertisements alluded to by Wortley, and which are to be found in any newspaper, will inform us; but, first, are we sure that any or all of these bills are contained in this covering?"
The lead was now unrolled, and the bills which Williams had described were found enclosed. Nothing appeared to be deficient. Of this, however, we were scarcely qualified to judge. Those that were the property of Williams might not be entire, and what would be the consequence of presenting them to him, if any had been embezzled by Welbeck?
This difficulty was obviated by Mervyn, who observed that the advertisement describing these bills would afford us ample information on this head. "Having found out where the Maurices and Mrs. Watson live, nothing remains but to visit them, and put an end, as far as lies in my power, to their inquietudes."
"What! Would you go to Baltimore?"
"Certainly. Can any other expedient be proper? How shall I otherwise insure the safe conveyance of these papers?"
"You may send them by post."
"But why not go myself?"
"I can hardly tell, unless your appearance on such an errand may be suspected likely to involve you in embarrassments."
"What embarrassments? If they receive their own, ought they not to be satisfied?"
"The inquiry will naturally be made as to the manner of gaining possession of these papers. They were lately in the hands of Watson, but Watson has disappeared. Suspicions are awake respecting the cause of his disappearance. These suspicions are connected with Welbeck, and Welbeck's connection with you is not unknown."
"These are evils, but I see not how an ingenious and open conduct is adapted to increase these evils. If they come, I must endure them."
"I believe your decision is right. No one is so skilful an advocate in a cause, as he whose cause it is. I rely upon your skill and address, and shall leave you to pursue your own way. I must leave you for a time, but shall expect to be punctually informed of all that passes." With this agreement we parted, and I hastened to perform my intended journey.
I am glad, my friend, thy nimble pen has got so far upon its journey. What remains of my story may be despatched in a trice. I have just now some vacant hours, which might possibly be more usefully employed, but not in an easier manner or more pleasant. So, let me carry on thy thread.
First, let me mention the resolutions I had formed at the time I parted with my friend. I had several objects in view. One was a conference with Mrs. Wentworth; another was an interview with her whom I met with at Villars's. My heart melted when I thought upon the desolate condition of Clemenza, and determined me to direct my first efforts for her relief. For this end I was to visit the female who had given me a direction to her house. The name of this person is Achsa Fielding, and she lived, according to her own direction, at No. 40 Walnut Street.
I went thither without delay. She was not at home. Having gained information from the servant as to when she might be found, I proceeded to Mrs. Wentworth's. In going thither my mind was deeply occupied in meditation; and, with my usual carelessness of forms, I entered the house and made my way to the parlour, where an interview had formerly taken place between us.
Having arrived, I began, though somewhat unseasonably, to reflect upon the topics with which I should introduce my conversation, and particularly the manner in which I should introduce myself. I had opened doors without warning, and traversed passages without being noticed. This had arisen from my thoughtlessness. There was no one within hearing or sight. What was next to be done? Should I not return softly to the outer door, and summon the servant by knocking?
Preparing to do this, I heard a footstep in the entry which suspended my design. I stood in the middle of the floor, attentive to these movements, when presently the door opened, and there entered the apartment Mrs. Wentworth herself! She came, as it seemed, without expectation of finding any one there. When, therefore, the figure of a man caught her vagrant attention, she started and cast a hasty look towards me.
"Pray!" (in a peremptory tone,) "how came you here, sir? and what is your business?"
Neither arrogance, on the one hand, nor humility, upon the other, had any part in modelling my deportment. I came not to deprecate anger, or exult over distress. I answered, therefore, distinctly, firmly, and erectly,—
"I came to see you, madam, and converse with you; but, being busy with other thoughts, I forgot to knock at the door. No evil was intended by my negligence, though propriety has certainly not been observed. Will you pardon this intrusion, and condescend to grant me your attention?"
"To what? What have you to say to me? I know you only as the accomplice of a villain in an attempt to deceive me. There is nothing to justify your coming hither, and I desire you to leave the house with as little ceremony as you entered it."
My eyes were lowered at this rebuke, yet I did not obey the command. "Your treatment of me, madam, is such as I appear to you to deserve. Appearances are unfavourable to me, but those appearances are false. I have concurred in no plot against your reputation or your fortune. I have told you nothing but the truth. I came hither to promote no selfish or sinister purpose. I have no favour to entreat, and no petition to offer, but that you will suffer me to clear up those mistakes which you have harboured respecting me.
"I am poor. I am destitute of fame and of kindred. I have nothing to console me in obscurity and indigence, but the approbation of my own heart and the good opinion of those who know me as I am. The good may be led to despise and condemn me. Their aversion and scorn shall not make me unhappy; but it is my interest and my duty to rectify their error if I can. I regard your character with esteem. You have been mistaken in condemning me as a liar and impostor, and I came to remove this mistake. I came, if not to procure your esteem, at least to take away hatred and suspicion.
"But this is not all my purpose. You are in an error in relation not only to my character, but to the situation of your nephew Clavering. I formerly told you, that I saw him die; that I assisted at his burial: but my tale was incoherent and imperfect, and you have since received intelligence to which you think proper to trust, and which assures you that he is still living. All I now ask is your attention, while I relate the particulars of my knowledge.
"Proof of my veracity or innocence may be of no value in your eyes, but the fate of your nephew ought to be known to you. Certainty, on this head, may be of much importance to your happiness, and to the regulation of your future conduct. To hear me patiently can do you no injury, and may benefit you much. Will you permit me to go on?"
During this address, little abatement of resentment and scorn was visible in my companion.
"I will hear you," she replied. "Your invention may amuse if it does not edify. But, I pray you, let your story be short."
I was obliged to be content with this ungraceful concession, and proceeded to begin my narration. I described the situation of my father's dwelling. I mentioned the year, month, day, and hour of her nephew's appearance among us. I expatiated minutely on his form, features, dress, sound of his voice, and repeated his words. His favourite gestures and attitudes were faithfully described.
I had gone but a little way in my story, when the effects were visible in her demeanour which I expected from it. Her knowledge of the youth, and of the time and manner of his disappearance, made it impossible for me, with so minute a narrative, to impose upon her credulity. Every word, every incident related, attested my truth, by their agreement with what she herself previously knew.
Her suspicious and angry watchfulness was quickly exchanged for downcast looks, and stealing tears, and sighs difficultly repressed. Meanwhile, I did not pause, but described the treatment he received from my mother's tenderness, his occupations, the freaks of his insanity, and, finally, the circumstances of his death and funeral.
Thence I hastened to the circumstances which brought me to the city; which placed me in the service of Welbeck, and obliged me to perform so ambiguous a part in her presence. I left no difficulty to be solved, and no question unanticipated.
"I have now finished my story," I continued, "and accomplished my design in coming hither. Whether I have vindicated my integrity from your suspicions, I know not. I have done what in me lay to remove your error; and, in that, have done my duty. What more remains? Any inquiries you are pleased to make, I am ready to answer. If there be none to make, I will comply with your former commands, and leave the house with as little ceremony as I entered it."
"Your story," she replied, "has been unexpected. I believe it fully, and am sorry for the hard thoughts which past appearances have made me entertain concerning you."
Here she sunk into mournful silence. "The information," she at length resumed, "which I have received from another quarter respecting that unfortunate youth, astonishes and perplexes me. It is inconsistent with your story, but it must be founded on some mistake, which I am, at present, unable to unravel. Welbeck, whose connection has been so unfortunate to you——"
"Unfortunate! Dear madam! How unfortunate? It has done away a part of my ignorance of the world in which I live. It has led me to the situation in which I am now placed. It has introduced me to the knowledge of many good people. It has made me the witness and the subject of many acts of beneficence and generosity. My knowledge of Welbeck has been useful to me. It has enabled me to be useful to others. I look back upon that allotment of my destiny which first led me to his door, with gratitude and pleasure.
"Would to heaven," continued I, somewhat changing my tone, "intercourse with Welbeck had been as harmless to all others as it has been to me! that no injury to fortune and fame, and innocence and life, had been incurred by others greater than has fallen upon my head! There is one being, whose connection with him has not been utterly dissimilar in its origin and circumstances to mine, though the catastrophe has, indeed, been widely and mournfully different.
"And yet, within this moment, a thought has occurred from which I derive some consolation and some hope. You, dear madam, are rich. These spacious apartments, this plentiful accommodation, are yours. You have enough for your own gratification and convenience, and somewhat to spare. Will you take to your protecting arms, to your hospitable roof, an unhappy girl whom the arts of Welbeck have robbed of fortune, reputation, and honour, who is now languishing in poverty, weeping over the lifeless remains of her babe, surrounded by the agents of vice, and trembling on the verge of infamy?"
"What can this mean?" replied the lady. "Of whom do you speak?"
"You shall know her. You shall be apprized of her claims to your compassion. Her story, as far as is known to me, I will faithfully repeat to you. She is a stranger; an Italian; her name is Clemenza Lodi."
"Clemenza Lodi! Good heaven!" exclaimed Mrs. Wentworth; "why, surely—it cannot be. And yet—is it possible that you are that person?"
"I do not comprehend you, madam."
"A friend has related a transaction of a strange sort. It is scarcely an hour since she told it me. The name of Clemenza Lodi was mentioned in it, and a young man of most singular deportment was described. But tell me how you were engaged on Thursday morning."
"I was coming to this city from a distance. I stopped ten minutes at the house of——"
"The same. Perhaps you know her and her character. Perhaps you can confirm or rectify my present opinions concerning her. It is there that the unfortunate Clemenza abides. It is thence that I wish her to be speedily removed."
"I have heard of you; of your conduct upon that occasion."
"Of me?" answered I, eagerly. "Do you know that woman?" So saying, I produced the card which I had received from her, and on which her name was written.
"I know her well. She is my countrywoman and my friend."
"Your friend? Then she is good; she is innocent; she is generous. Will she be a sister, a protectress, to Clemenza? Will you exhort her to a deed of charity? Will you be, yourself, an example of beneficence? Direct me to Miss Fielding, I beseech you. I have called on her already, but in vain, and there is no time to be lost."
"Why are you so precipitate? What would you do?"
"Take her away from that house instantly—bring her hither—place her under your protection—give her Mrs. Wentworth for a counsellor—a friend—a mother. Shall I do this? Shall I hie thither to-day, this very hour—now? Give me your consent, and she shall be with you before noon."
"By no means," replied she, with earnestness. "You are too hasty. An affair of so much importance cannot be despatched in a moment. There are many difficulties and doubts to be first removed."
"Let them be reserved for the future. Withhold not your helping hand till the struggle has disappeared forever. Think on the gulf that is already gaping to swallow her. This is no time to hesitate and falter. I will tell you her story, but not now; we will postpone it till to-morrow, and first secure her from impending evils. She shall tell it you herself. In an hour I will bring her hither, and she herself shall recount to you her sorrows. Will you let me?"
"Your behaviour is extraordinary. I can scarcely tell whether this simplicity be real or affected. One would think that your common sense would show you the impropriety of your request. To admit under my roof a woman notoriously dishonoured, and from an infamous house——"
"My dearest madam! How can you reflect upon the situation without irresistible pity? I see that you are thoroughly aware of her past calamity and her present danger. Do not these urge you to make haste to her relief? Can any lot be more deplorable than hers? Can any state be more perilous? Poverty is not the only evil that oppresses or that threatens her. The scorn of the world, and her own compunction, the death of the fruit of her error and the witness of her shame, are not the worst. She is exposed to the temptations of the profligate; while she remains with Mrs. Villars, her infamy accumulates; her further debasement is facilitated; her return to reputation and to virtue is obstructed by new bars."
"How know I that her debasement is not already complete and irremediable? She is a mother, but not a wife. How came she thus? Is her being Welbeck's prostitute no proof of her guilt?"
"Alas! I know not. I believe her not very culpable; I know her to be unfortunate; to have been robbed and betrayed. You are a stranger to her history. I am myself imperfectly acquainted with it.
"But let me tell you the little that I know. Perhaps my narrative may cause you to think of her as I do."
She did not object to this proposal, and I immediately recounted all that I had gained from my own observations, or from Welbeck himself, respecting this forlorn girl. Having finished my narrative, I proceeded thus:—
"Can you hesitate to employ that power which was given you for good ends, to rescue this sufferer? Take her to your home; to your bosom; to your confidence. Keep aloof those temptations which beset her in her present situation. Restore her to that purity which her desolate condition, her ignorance, her misplaced gratitude and the artifices of a skilful dissembler, have destroyed, if it be destroyed; for how know we under what circumstances her ruin was accomplished? With what pretences, or appearances, or promises, she was won to compliance?"
"True. I confess my ignorance; but ought not that ignorance to be removed before she makes a part of my family?"
"Oh, no! It may be afterwards removed. It cannot be removed before. By bringing her hither you shield her, at least, from future and possible evils. Here you can watch her conduct and sift her sentiments conveniently and at leisure. Should she prove worthy of your charity, how justly may you congratulate yourself on your seasonable efforts in her cause! If she prove unworthy, you may then demean yourself according to her demerits."
"I must reflect upon it.—To-morrow——"
"Let me prevail on you to admit her at once, and without delay. This very moment may be the critical one. To-day we may exert ourselves with success, but to-morrow all our efforts may be fruitless. Why fluctuate, why linger, when so much good may be done, and no evil can possibly be incurred? It requires but a word from you; you need not move a finger. Your house is large. You have chambers vacant and convenient. Consent only that your door shall not be barred against her; that you will treat her with civility: to carry your kindness into effect; to persuade her to attend me hither and to place herself in your care, shall be my province."
These and many similar entreaties and reasonings were ineffectual. Her general disposition was kind, but she was unaccustomed to strenuous or sudden exertions. To admit the persuasions of such an advocate to so uncommon a scheme as that of sharing her house with a creature thus previously unknown to her, thus loaded with suspicion and with obloquy, was not possible.
I at last forbore importunity, and requested her to tell me when I might expect to meet with Mrs. Fielding at her lodgings. Inquiry was made to what end I sought an interview. I made no secret of my purpose.
"Are you mad, young man?" she exclaimed. "Mrs. Fielding has already been egregiously imprudent. On the faith of an ancient slight acquaintance with Mrs. Villars in Europe, she suffered herself to be decoyed into a visit. Instead of taking warning by numerous tokens of the real character of that woman, in her behaviour and in that of her visitants, she consented to remain there one night. The next morning took place that astonishing interview with you which she has since described to me. She is now warned against the like indiscretion. And, pray, what benevolent scheme would you propose to her?"
"Has she property? Is she rich?"
"She is. Unhappily, perhaps, for her, she is absolute mistress of her fortune, and has neither guardian nor parent to control her in the use of it."
"Has she virtue? Does she know the value of affluence and a fair fame? And will not she devote a few dollars to rescue a fellow-creature from indigence and infamy and vice? Surely she will. She will hazard nothing by the boon. I will be her almoner. I will provide the wretched stranger with food and raiment and dwelling; I will pay for all, if Mrs. Fielding, from her superfluity, will supply the means. Clemenza shall owe life and honour to your friend, till I am able to supply the needful sum from my own stock."
While thus speaking, my companion gazed at me with steadfastness:—"I know not what to make of you. Your language and ideas are those of a lunatic. Are you acquainted with Mrs. Fielding?"
"Yes. I have seen her two days ago, and she has invited me to see her again."
"And on the strength of this acquaintance you expect to be her almoner? To be the medium of her charity?"
"I desire to save her trouble; to make charity as light and easy as possible. 'Twill be better if she perform those offices herself. 'Twill redound more to the credit of her reason and her virtue. But I solicit her benignity only in the cause of Clemenza. For her only do I wish at present to call forth her generosity and pity."
"And do you imagine she will intrust her money to one of your age and sex, whom she knows so imperfectly, to administer to the wants of one whom she found in such a house as Mrs. Villars's? She never will. She mentioned her imprudent engagement to meet you, but she is now warned against the folly of such confidence.
"You have told me plausible stories of yourself and of this Clemenza. I cannot say that I disbelieve them, but I know the ways of the world too well to bestow implicit faith so easily. You are an extraordinary young man. You may possibly be honest. Such a one as you, with your education and address, may possibly have passed all your life in a hovel; but it is scarcely credible, let me tell you. I believe most of the facts respecting my nephew, because my knowledge of him before his flight would enable me to detect your falsehood; but there must be other proofs besides an innocent brow and a voluble tongue, to make me give full credit to your pretensions.
"I have no claim upon Welbeck which can embarrass you. On that score, you are free from any molestation from me or my friends. I have suspected you of being an accomplice in some vile plot, and am now inclined to acquit you; but that is all that you must expect from me, till your character be established by other means than your own assertions. I am engaged at present, and must therefore request you to put an end to your visit."
This strain was much unlike the strain which preceded it. I imagined, by the mildness of her tone and manners, that her unfavourable prepossessions were removed; but they seemed to have suddenly regained their pristine force. I was somewhat disconcerted by this unexpected change. I stood for a minute silent and irresolute.
Just then a knock was heard at the door, and presently entered that very female whom I had met with at Villars's. I caught her figure as I glanced through the window. Mrs. Wentworth darted at me many significant glances, which commanded me to withdraw; but, with this object in view, it was impossible.
As soon as she entered, her eyes were fixed upon me. Certain recollections naturally occurred at that moment, and made her cheeks glow. Some confusion reigned for a moment, but was quickly dissipated. She did not notice me, but exchanged salutations with her friend.
All this while I stood near the window, in a situation not a little painful. Certain tremors which I had not been accustomed to feel, and which seemed to possess a mystical relation to the visitant, disabled me at once from taking my leave, or from performing any useful purpose by staying. At length, struggling for composure, I approached her, and, showing her the card she had given me, said,—
"Agreeably to this direction, I called an hour ago, at your lodgings. I found you not. I hope you will permit me to call once more. When shall I expect to meet you at home?"
Her eyes were cast on the floor. A kind of indirect attention was fixed on Mrs. Wentworth, serving to intimidate and check her. At length she said, in an irresolute voice, "I shall be at home this evening."
"And this evening," replied I, "I will call to see you." So saying, I left the house.
This interval was tedious, but was to be endured with equanimity. I was impatient to be gone to Baltimore, and hoped to be able to set out by the dawn of next day. Meanwhile, I was necessarily to perform something with respect to Clemenza.
After dinner I accompanied Mrs. Stevens to visit Miss Carlton. I was eager to see a woman who could bear adversity in the manner which my friend had described.
She met us at the door of her apartment. Her seriousness was not abated by her smiles of affability and welcome. "My friend!" whispered I, "how truly lovely is this Miss Carlton! Are the heart and the intelligence within worthy of these features?"
"Yes, they are. The account of her employments, of her resignation to the ill fate of the brother whom she loves, proves that they are."
My eyes were riveted to her countenance and person. I felt uncontrollable eagerness to speak to her, and to gain her good opinion.
"You must know this young man, my dear Miss Carlton," said my friend, looking at me; "he is my husband's friend, and professes a great desire to be yours. You must not treat him as a mere stranger, for he knows your character and situation already, as well as that of your brother."
She looked at me with benignity:—"I accept his friendship willingly and gratefully, and shall endeavour to convince him that his good opinion is not misplaced."
There now ensued a conversation somewhat general, in which this young woman showed a mind vigorous from exercise and unembarrassed by care. She affected no concealment of her own condition, of her wants, or her comforts. She laid no stress upon misfortunes, but contrived to deduce some beneficial consequence to herself, and some motive for gratitude to Heaven, from every wayward incident that had befallen her.
This demeanour emboldened me, at length, to inquire into the cause of her brother's imprisonment, and the nature of his debt.
She answered frankly and without hesitation:—"It is a debt of his father's, for which he made himself responsible during his father's life. The act was generous but imprudent, as the event has shown; though, at the time, the unhappy effects could not be foreseen.
"My father," continued she, "was arrested by his creditor, at a time when the calmness and comforts of his own dwelling were necessary to his health. The creditor was obdurate, and would release him upon no condition but that of receiving a bond from my brother, by which he engaged to pay the debt at several successive times and in small portions. All these instalments were discharged with great difficulty indeed, but with sufficient punctuality, except the last, to which my brother's earnings were not adequate."
"How much is the debt?"
"Four hundred dollars."
"And is the state of the creditor such as to make the loss of four hundred dollars of more importance to him than the loss of liberty to your brother?"
She answered, smiling, "That is a very abstract view of things. On such a question you and I might, perhaps, easily decide in favour of my brother; but would there not be some danger of deciding partially? His conduct is a proof of his decision, and there is no power to change it."
"Will not argument change it? Methinks in so plain a case I should be able to convince him. You say he is rich and childless. His annual income is ten times more than this sum. Your brother cannot pay the debt while in prison; whereas, if at liberty, he might slowly and finally discharge it. If his humanity would not yield, his avarice might be brought to acquiesce."
"But there is another passion which you would find it somewhat harder to subdue, and that is his vengeance. He thinks himself wronged, and imprisons my brother, not to enforce payment, but to inflict misery. If you could persuade him that there is no hardship in imprisonment, you would speedily gain the victory; but that could not be attempted consistently with truth. In proportion to my brother's suffering is his gratification."
"You draw an odious and almost incredible portrait."
"And yet such a one would serve for the likeness of almost every second man we meet."
"And is such your opinion of mankind? Your experience must surely have been of a rueful tenor to justify such hard thoughts of the rest of your species."
"By no means. It has been what those whose situation disables them from looking further than the surface of things would regard as unfortunate; but, if my goods and evils were equitably balanced, the former would be the weightiest. I have found kindness and goodness in great numbers, but have likewise met prejudice and rancor in many. My opinion of Farquhar is not lightly taken up. I saw him yesterday, and the nature of his motives in the treatment of my brother was plain enough."
Here this topic was succeeded by others, and the conversation ceased not till the hour had arrived on which I had preconcerted to visit Mrs. Fielding. I left my two friends for this purpose.
I was admitted to Mrs. Fielding's presence without scruple or difficulty. There were two females in her company, and one of the other sex, well-dressed, elderly, and sedate persons. Their discourse turned upon political topics, with which, as you know, I have but slight acquaintance. They talked of fleets and armies, of Robespierre and Pitt, of whom I had only a newspaper-knowledge.
In a short time the women rose, and, huddling on their cloaks, disappeared, in company with the gentleman. Being thus left alone with Mrs. Fielding, some embarrassment was mutually betrayed. With much hesitation, which, however, gradually disappeared, my companion, at length, began the conversation:—
"You met me lately, in a situation, sir, on which I look back with trembling and shame, but not with any self-condemnation. I was led into it without any fault, unless a too hasty confidence may be styled a fault. I had known Mrs. Villars in England, where she lived with an untainted reputation, at least; and the sight of my countrywoman, in a foreign land, awakened emotions in the indulgence of which I did not imagine there was either any guilt or any danger. She invited me to see her at her house with so much urgency and warmth, and solicited me to take a place immediately in a chaise in which she had come to the city, that I too incautiously complied.
"You are a stranger to me, and I am unacquainted with your character. What little I have seen of your deportment, and what little I have lately heard concerning you from Mrs. Wentworth, do not produce unfavourable impressions; but the apology I have made was due to my own reputation, and should have been offered to you whatever your character had been." There she stopped.
"I came not hither," said I, "to receive an apology. Your demeanour, on our first interview, shielded you sufficiently from any suspicions or surmises that I could form. What you have now mentioned was likewise mentioned by your friend, and was fully believed upon her authority. My purpose, in coming, related not to you, but to another. I desired merely to interest your generosity and justice on behalf of one whose destitute and dangerous condition may lay claim to your compassion and your succour."
"I comprehend you," said she, with an air of some perplexity. "I know the claims of that person."
"And will you comply with them?"
"In what manner can I serve her?"
"By giving her the means of living."
"Does she not possess them already?"
"She is destitute. Her dependence was wholly placed upon one that is dead, by whom her person was dishonoured and her fortune embezzled."
"But she still lives. She is not turned into the street. She is not destitute of home."
"But what a home!"
"Such as she may choose to remain in."
"She cannot choose it. She must not choose it. She remains through ignorance, or through the incapacity of leaving it."
"But how shall she be persuaded to a change?"
"I will persuade her. I will fully explain her situation. I will supply her with a new home."
"You will persuade her to go with you, and to live at a home of your providing and on your bounty?"
"Would that change be worthy of a cautious person? Would it benefit her reputation? Would it prove her love of independence?"
"My purposes are good. I know not why she should suspect them. But I am only anxious to be the instrument. Let her be indebted to one of her own sex, of unquestionable reputation. Admit her into this house. Invite her to your arms. Cherish and console her as your sister."
"Before I am convinced that she deserves it? And even then, what regard shall I, young, unmarried, independent, affluent, pay to my own reputation in harbouring a woman in these circumstances?"
"But you need not act yourself. Make me your agent and almoner. Only supply her with the means of subsistence through me."
"Would you have me act a clandestine part? Hold meetings with one of your sex, and give him money for a purpose which I must hide from the world? Is it worth while to be a dissembler and impostor? And will not such conduct incur more dangerous surmises and suspicions than would arise from acting openly and directly? You will forgive me for reminding you, likewise, that it is particularly incumbent upon those in my situation to be circumspect in their intercourse with men and with strangers. This is the second time that I have seen you. My knowledge of you is extremely dubious and imperfect, and such as would make the conduct you prescribe to me, in a high degree, rash and culpable. You must not, therefore, expect me to pursue it."
These words were delivered with an air of firmness and dignity. I was not insensible to the truth of her representations. "I confess," said I, "what you have said makes me doubt the propriety of my proposal; yet I would fain be of service to her. Cannot you point out some practicable method?"
She was silent and thoughtful, and seemed indisposed to answer my question.
"I had set my heart upon success in this negotiation," continued I, "and could not imagine any obstacle to its success; but I find my ignorance of the world's ways much greater than I had previously expected. You defraud yourself of all the happiness redounding from the act of making others happy. You sacrifice substance to show, and are more anxious to prevent unjust aspersions from lighting on yourself, than to rescue a fellow-creature from guilt and infamy.
"You are rich, and abound in all the conveniences and luxuries of life. A small portion of your superfluity would obviate the wants of a being not less worthy than yourself. It is not avarice or aversion to labour that makes you withhold your hand. It is dread of the sneers and surmises of malevolence and ignorance.
"I will not urge you further at present. Your determination to be wise should not be hasty. Think upon the subject calmly and sedately, and form your resolution in the course of three days. At the end of that period I will visit you again." So saying, and without waiting for comment or answer, I withdrew.
I mounted the stage-coach at daybreak the next day, in company with a sallow Frenchman from St. Domingo, his fiddle-case, an ape, and two female blacks. The Frenchman, after passing the suburbs, took out his violin and amused himself with humming to his own tweedle-tweedle. The monkey now and then munched an apple, which was given to him from a basket by the blacks, who gazed with stupid wonder, and an exclamatory La! La! upon the passing scenery, or chattered to each other in a sort of open-mouthed, half-articulate, monotonous, singsong jargon.
The man looked seldom either on this side or that; and spoke only to rebuke the frolics of the monkey, with a "Tenez! Dominique! Prenez garde! Diable noir!"
As to me, my thought was busy in a thousand ways. I sometimes gazed at the faces of my four companions, and endeavoured to discern the differences and samenesses between them. I took an exact account of the features, proportions, looks, and gestures of the monkey, the Congolese, and the Creole Gaul. I compared them together, and examined them apart. I looked at them in a thousand different points of view, and pursued, untired and unsatiated, those trains of reflections which began at each change of tone, feature, and attitude.
I marked the country as it successively arose before me, and found endless employment in examining the shape and substance of the fence, the barn, and the cottage, the aspect of earth and of heaven. How great are the pleasures of health and of mental activity!
My chief occupation, however, related to the scenes into which I was about to enter. My imaginations were, of course, crude and inadequate; and I found an uncommon gratification in comparing realities, as they successively occurred, with the pictures which my wayward fancy had depicted.
I will not describe my dreams. My proper task is to relate the truth. Neither shall I dwell upon the images suggested by the condition of the country through which I passed. I will confine myself to mentioning the transactions connected with the purpose of my journey.
I reached Baltimore at night. I was not so fatigued but that I could ramble through the town. I intended, at present, merely the gratification of a stranger's curiosity. My visit to Mrs. Watson and her brother I designed should take place on the morrow. The evening of my arrival I deemed an unseasonable time.
While roving about, however, it occurred to me, that it might not be impolitic to find the way to their habitation even now. My purposes of general curiosity would equally be served whichever way my steps were bent; and to trace the path to their dwelling would save me the trouble of inquiries and interrogations to-morrow.
When I looked forward to an interview with the wife of Watson, and to the subject which would be necessarily discussed at that interview, I felt a trembling and misgiving at my heart. "Surely," thought I, "it will become me to exercise immeasurable circumspection and address; and yet how little are these adapted to the impetuosity and candour of my nature!
"How am I to introduce myself? What am I to tell her? That I was a sort of witness to the murder of her husband? That I received from the hand of his assassin the letter which I afterwards transmitted to her? and, from the same hands, the bills contained in his girdle?
"How will she start and look aghast! What suspicions will she harbour? What inquiries shall be made of me? How shall they be disarmed and eluded, or answered? Deep consideration will be necessary before I trust myself to such an interview. The coming night shall be devoted to reflection upon this subject."
From these thoughts I proceeded to inquiries for the street mentioned in the advertisement, where Mrs. Watson was said to reside. The street, and, at length, the habitation, was found. Having reached a station opposite, I paused and surveyed the mansion. It was a wooden edifice of two stories, humble, but neat. You ascended to the door by several stone steps. Of the two lower windows, the shutters of one were closed, but those of the other were open. Though late in the evening, there was no appearance of light or fire within.
Beside the house was a painted fence, through which was a gate leading to the back of the building. Guided by the impulse of the moment, I crossed the street to the gate, and, lifting the latch, entered the paved alley, on one side of which was a paled fence, and on the other the house, looking through two windows into the alley.
The first window was dark like those in front; but at the second a light was discernible. I approached it, and, looking through, beheld a plain but neat apartment, in which parlour, kitchen, and nursery seemed to be united. A fire burned cheerfully in the chimney, over which was a tea-kettle. On the hearth sat a smiling and playful cherub of a boy, tossing something to a black girl who sat opposite, and whose innocent and regular features wanted only a different hue to make them beautiful. Near it, in a rocking-chair, with a sleeping babe in her lap, sat a female figure in plain but neat and becoming attire. Her posture permitted half her face to be seen, and saved me from any danger of being observed.
This countenance was full of sweetness and benignity, but the sadness that veiled its lustre was profound. Her eyes were now fixed upon the fire and were moist with the tears of remembrance, while she sung, in low and scarcely-audible strains, an artless lullaby.
This spectacle exercised a strange power over my feelings. While occupied in meditating on the features of the mother, I was unaware of my conspicuous situation. The black girl, having occasion to change her situation, in order to reach the ball which was thrown at her, unluckily caught a glance of my figure through the glass. In a tone of half surprise and half terror, she cried out, "Oh! see dare! a man!"
I was tempted to draw suddenly back, but a second thought showed me the impropriety of departing thus abruptly and leaving behind me some alarm. I felt a sort of necessity for apologizing for my intrusion into these precincts, and hastened to a door that led into the same apartment. I knocked. A voice somewhat confused bade me enter. It was not till I opened the door and entered the room, that I fully saw in what embarrassments I had incautiously involved myself.
I could scarcely obtain sufficient courage to speak, and gave a confused assent to the question, "Have you business with me, sir?" She offered me a chair, and I sat down. She put the child, not yet awakened, into the arms of the black, who kissed it and rocked it in her arms with great satisfaction, and, resuming her seat, looked at me with inquisitiveness mingled with complacency.
After a moment's pause, I said, "I was directed to this house as the abode of Mr. Ephraim Williams. Can he be seen, madam?"
"He is not in town at present. If you will leave a message with me, I will punctually deliver it."
The thought suddenly occurred, whether any more was needful than merely to leave the bills suitably enclosed, as they already were, in a packet. Thus all painful explanations might be avoided, and I might have reason to congratulate myself on his seasonable absence. Actuated by these thoughts, I drew forth the packet, and put it into her hand, saying, "I will leave this in your possession, and must earnestly request you to keep it safe until you can deliver it into his own hands."
Scarcely had I said this before new suggestions occurred. Was it right to act in this clandestine and mysterious manner? Should I leave these persons in uncertainty respecting the fate of a husband and a brother? What perplexities, misunderstandings, and suspenses might not grow out of this uncertainty? and ought they not to be precluded at any hazard to my own safety or good name?
These sentiments made me involuntarily stretch forth my hand to retake the packet. This gesture, and other significances in my manners, joined to a trembling consciousness in herself, filled my companion with all the tokens of confusion and fear. She alternately looked at me and at the paper. Her trepidation increased, and she grew pale. These emotions were counteracted by a strong effort.
At length she said, falteringly, "I will take good care of them, and will give them to my brother."
She rose and placed them in a drawer, after which she resumed her seat.
On this occasion all my wariness forsook me. I cannot explain why my perplexity and the trouble of my thoughts were greater upon this than upon similar occasions. However it be, I was incapable of speaking, and fixed my eyes upon the floor. A sort of electrical sympathy pervaded my companion, and terror and anguish were strongly manifested in the glances which she sometimes stole at me. We seemed fully to understand each other without the aid of words.
This imbecility could not last long. I gradually recovered my composure, and collected my scattered thoughts. I looked at her with seriousness, and steadfastly spoke:—"Are you the wife of Amos Watson?"
She started:—"I am indeed. Why do you ask? Do you know any thing of——?" There her voice failed.
I replied with quickness, "Yes. I am fully acquainted with his destiny."
"Good God!" she exclaimed, in a paroxysm of surprise, and bending eagerly forward, "my husband is then alive! This packet is from him. Where is he? When have you seen him?"
"'Tis a long time since."
"But where, where is he now? Is he well? Will he return to me?"
"Merciful Heaven!" (looking upwards and clasping her hands,) "I thank thee at least for his life! But why has he forsaken me? Why will he not return?"
"For a good reason," said I, with augmented solemnity, "he will never return to thee. Long ago was he laid in the cold grave."
She shrieked; and, at the next moment, sunk in a swoon upon the floor. I was alarmed. The two children shrieked, and ran about the room terrified and unknowing what they did. I was overwhelmed with somewhat like terror, yet I involuntarily raised the mother in my arms, and cast about for the means of recalling her from this fit.
Time to effect this had not elapsed, when several persons, apparently Mrs. Watson's neighbours, and raised by the outcries of the girls, hastily entered the room. They looked at me with mingled surprise and suspicion; but my attitude, being not that of an injurer but helper; my countenance, which showed the pleasure their entrance, at this critical moment, afforded me; and my words, in which I besought their assistance, and explained, in some degree, and briefly, the cause of those appearances, removed their ill thoughts.
Presently, the unhappy woman, being carried by the new-comers into a bedroom adjoining, recovered her sensibility. I only waited for this. I had done my part. More information would be useless to her, and not to be given by me, at least in the present audience, without embarrassment and peril. I suddenly determined to withdraw, and this, the attention of the company being otherwise engaged, I did without notice. I returned to my inn, and shut myself up in my chamber. Such was the change which, undesigned, unforeseen, half an hour had wrought in my situation. My cautious projects had perished in their conception. That which I had deemed so arduous, to require such circumspect approaches, such well-concerted speeches, was done.
I had started up before this woman as if from the pores of the ground. I had vanished with the same celerity, but had left her in possession of proofs sufficient that I was neither spectre nor demon. "I will visit her," said I, "again. I will see her brother, and know the full effect of my disclosure. I will tell them all that I myself know. Ignorance would be no less injurious to them than to myself; but, first, I will see the Maurices."
Next morning I arose betimes, and equipped myself without delay. I had eight or ten miles to walk, so far from the town being the residence of these people; and I forthwith repaired to their dwelling. The persons whom I desired to see were known to me only by name, and by their place of abode. It was a mother and her three daughters to whom I now carried the means not only of competence but riches; means which they, no doubt, had long ago despaired of regaining, and which, among all possible messengers, one of my age and guise would be the least suspected of being able to restore.
I arrived, through intricate ways, at eleven o'clock, at the house of Mrs. Maurice. It was a neat dwelling, in a very fanciful and rustic style, in the bosom of a valley, which, when decorated by the verdure and blossoms of the coming season, must possess many charms. At present it was naked and dreary.
As I approached it, through a long avenue, I observed two female figures, walking arm-in-arm and slowly to and fro, in the path in which I now was. "These," said I, "are daughters of the family. Graceful, well-dressed, fashionable girls they seem at this distance. May they be deserving of the good tidings which I bring!" Seeing them turn towards the house, I mended my pace, that I might overtake them and request their introduction of me to their mother.
As I more nearly approached, they again turned; and, perceiving me, they stood as if in expectation of my message. I went up to them.
A single glance, cast at each, made me suspect that they were not sisters; but, somewhat to my disappointment, there was nothing highly prepossessing in the countenance of either. They were what is every day met with, though less embellished by brilliant drapery and turban, in markets and streets. An air somewhat haughty, somewhat supercilious, lessened still more their attractions. These defects, however, were nothing to me.
I inquired, of her that seemed to be the elder of the two, for Mrs. Maurice.
"She is indisposed," was the cold reply.
"That is unfortunate. Is it not possible to see her?"
"No;" with still more gravity.
I was somewhat at a loss how to proceed. A pause ensued. At length the same lady resumed, "What's your business? You can leave your message with me."
"With nobody but her. If she be not very indisposed——"
"She is very indisposed," interrupted she, peevishly. "If you cannot leave your message, you may take it back again, for she must not be disturbed."
This was a singular reception. I was disconcerted and silent. I knew not what to say. "Perhaps," I at last observed, "some other time——"
"No," (with increasing heat,) "no other time. She is more likely to be worse than better. Come, Betsy," said she, taking hold of her companion's arm; and, hieing into the house, shut the door after her, and disappeared. I stood, at the bottom of the steps, confounded at such strange and unexpected treatment. I could not withdraw till my purpose was accomplished. After a moment's pause, I stepped to the door, and pulled the bell. A negro came, of a very unpropitious aspect, and, opening the door, looked at me in silence. To my question, Was Mrs. Maurice to be seen? he made some answer, in a jargon which I could not understand; but his words were immediately followed by an unseen person within the house:—"Mrs. Maurice can't be seen by anybody. Come in, Cato, and shut the door." This injunction was obeyed by Cato without ceremony.
Here was a dilemma! I came with ten thousand pounds in my hands, to bestow freely on these people, and such was the treatment I received. "I must adopt," said I, "a new mode."
I lifted the latch, without a second warning, and, Cato having disappeared, went into a room, the door of which chanced to be open, on my right hand. I found within the two females whom I had accosted in the portico. I now addressed myself to the younger:—"This intrusion, when I have explained the reason of it, will, I hope, be forgiven. I come, madam——"
"Yes," interrupted the other, with a countenance suffused by indignation, "I know very well whom you come from, and what it is that prompts this insolence; but your employer shall see that we have not sunk so low as he imagines. Cato! Bob! I say."
"My employer, madam! I see you labour under some great mistake. I have no employer. I come from a great distance. I come to bring intelligence of the utmost importance to your family. I come to benefit and not to injure you."
By this time, Bob and Cato, two sturdy blacks, entered the room. "Turn this person," said the imperious lady, regardless of my explanations, "out of the house. Don't you hear me?" she continued, observing that they looked one upon the other and hesitated.
"Surely, madam," said I, "you are precipitate. You are treating like an enemy one who will prove himself your mother's best friend."
"Will you leave the house?" she exclaimed, quite beside herself with anger. "Villains! why don't you do as I bid you?"
The blacks looked upon each other, as if waiting for an example. Their habitual deference for every thing white, no doubt, held their hands from what they regarded as a profanation. At last Bob said, in a whining, beseeching tone, "Why, missee, massa buckra wanna go for doo, dan he winna go fo' wee."
The lady now burst into tears of rage. She held out her hand, menacingly. "Will you leave the house?"
"Not willingly," said I, in a mild tone. "I came too far to return with the business that brought me unperformed. I am persuaded, madam, you mistake my character and my views. I have a message to deliver your mother which deeply concerns her and your happiness, if you are her daughter. I merely wished to see her, and leave with her a piece of important news; news in which her fortune is deeply interested."
These words had a wonderful effect upon the young lady. Her anger was checked. "Good God!" she exclaimed, "are you Watson?"
"No; I am only Watson's representative, and come to do all that Watson could do if he were present."
She was now importunate to know my business.
"My business lies with Mrs. Maurice. Advertisements, which I have seen, direct me to her, and to this house; and to her only shall I deliver my message."
"Perhaps," said she, with a face of apology, "I have mistaken you. Mrs. Maurice is my mother. She is really indisposed, but I can stand in her place on this occasion."
"You cannot represent her in this instance. If I cannot have access to her now, I must go; and shall return when you are willing to grant it."
"Nay," replied she, "she is not, perhaps, so very sick but that I will go, and see if she will admit you." So saying, she left me for three minutes; and, returning, said her mother wished to see me.
I followed up-stairs, at her request; and, entering an ill-furnished chamber, found, seated in an arm-chair, a lady seemingly in years, pale, and visibly infirm. The lines of her countenance were far from laying claim to my reverence. It was too much like the daughter's.
She looked at me, at my entrance, with great eagerness, and said, in a sharp tone, "Pray, friend, what is it you want with me? Make haste; tell your story, and begone."
"My story is a short one, and easily told. Amos Watson was your agent in Jamaica. He sold an estate belonging to you, and received the money."
"He did," said she, attempting ineffectually to rise from her seat, and her eyes beaming with a significance that shocked me; "he did, the villain, and purloined the money, to the ruin of me and my daughters. But if there be justice on earth it will overtake him. I trust I shall have the pleasure one day—I hope to hear he's hanged. Well, but go on, friend. He did sell it, I tell you."
"He sold it for ten thousand pounds," I resumed, "and invested this sum in bills of exchange. Watson is dead. These bills came into my hands. I was lately informed, by the public papers, who were the real owners, and have come from Philadelphia with no other view than to restore them to you. There they are," continued I, placing them in her lap, entire and untouched.
She seized the papers, and looked at me and at her daughter, by turns, with an air of one suddenly bewildered. She seemed speechless, and, growing suddenly more ghastly pale, leaned her head back upon the chair. The daughter screamed, and hastened to support the languid parent, who difficultly articulated, "Oh, I am sick; sick to death. Put me on the bed."
I was astonished and affrighted at this scene. Some of the domestics, of both colours, entered, and gazed at me with surprise. Involuntarily I withdrew, and returned to the room below, into which I had first entered, and which I now found deserted.
I was for some time at a loss to guess at the cause of these appearances. At length it occurred to me, that joy was the source of the sickness that had seized Mrs. Maurice. The abrupt recovery of what had probably been deemed irretrievable would naturally produce this effect upon a mind of a certain texture.
I was deliberating whether to stay or go, when the daughter entered the room, and, after expressing some surprise at seeing me, whom she supposed to have retired, told me that her mother wished to see me again before my departure. In this request there was no kindness. All was cold, supercilious, and sullen. I obeyed the summons without speaking.
I found Mrs. Maurice seated in her arm-chair, much in her former guise. Without desiring me to be seated, or relaxing aught in her asperity of looks and tones,—"Pray, friend, how did you come by these papers?"
"I assure you, madam, they were honestly come by," answered I, sedately and with half a smile; "but, if the whole is there that was missing, the mode and time in which they came to me is matter of concern only to myself. Is there any deficiency?"
"I am not sure. I don't know much of these matters. There may be less. I dare say there is. I shall know that soon. I expect a friend of mine every minute who will look them over. I don't doubt you can give a good account of yourself."
"I doubt not but I can—to those who have a right to demand it. In this case, curiosity must be very urgent indeed before I shall consent to gratify it."
"You must know this is a suspicious case. Watson, to-be-sure, embezzled the money; to-be-sure, you are his accomplice."
"Certainly," said I, "my conduct, on this occasion, proves that. What I have brought to you, of my own accord; what I have restored to you, fully and unconditionally, it is plain Watson embezzled, and that I was aiding in the fraud. To restore what was never stolen always betrays the thief. To give what might be kept without suspicion is, without doubt, arrant knavery. To be serious, madam, in coming thus far, for this purpose, I have done enough; and must now bid you farewell."
"Nay, don't go yet. I have something more to say to you. My friend, I'm sure, will be here presently. There he is;" (noticing a peal upon the bell.) "Polly, go down, and see if that's Mr. Somers. If it is, bring him up." The daughter went.
I walked to the window absorbed in my own reflections. I was disappointed and dejected. The scene before me was the unpleasing reverse of all that my fancy, while coming hither, had foreboded. I expected to find virtuous indigence and sorrow lifted, by my means, to affluence and exultation. I expected to witness the tears of gratitude and the caresses of affection. What had I found? Nothing but sordidness, stupidity, and illiberal suspicion.
The daughter stayed much longer than the mother's patience could endure. She knocked against the floor with her heel. A servant came up. "Where's Polly, you slut? It was not you, hussy, that I wanted. It was her."
"She is talking in the parlour with a gentleman."
"Mr. Somers, I suppose; hey, fool? Run with my compliments to him, wench. Tell him, please walk up."
"It is not Mr. Somers, ma'am."
"No? Who then, saucebox? What gentleman can have any thing to do with Polly?"
"I don't know, ma'am."
"Who said you did, impertinence? Run, and tell her I want her this instant."
The summons was not delivered, or Polly did not think proper to obey it. Full ten minutes of thoughtful silence on my part, and of muttered vexation and impatience on that of the old lady, elapsed before Polly's entrance. As soon as she appeared, the mother began to complain bitterly of her inattention and neglect; but Polly, taking no notice of her, addressed herself to me, and told me that a gentleman below wished to see me. I hastened down, and found a stranger, of a plain appearance, in the parlour. His aspect was liberal and ingenuous; and I quickly collected, from his discourse, that this was the brother-in-law of Watson, and the companion of his last voyage.