My eyes sparkled with pleasure at this unexpected interview, and I willingly confessed my desire to communicate all the knowledge of his brother's destiny which I possessed. He told me, that, returning late to Baltimore, on the last evening, he found his sister in much agitation and distress, which, after a time, she explained to him. She likewise put the packets I had left into his hands.
"I leave you to imagine," continued he, "my surprise and curiosity at this discovery. I was, of course, impatient to see the bearer of such extraordinary tidings. This morning, inquiring for one of your appearance at the taverns, I was, at length, informed of your arrival yesterday in the stage; of your going out alone in the evening; of your subsequent return; and of your early departure this morning. Accidentally I lighted on your footsteps; and, by suitable inquiries on the road, have finally traced you hither.
"You told my sister her husband was dead. You left with her papers that were probably in his possession at the time of his death. I understand from Miss Maurice that the bills belonging to her mother have just been delivered to her. I presume you have no objection to clear up this mystery."
"To you I am anxious to unfold every thing. At this moment, or at any time, but the sooner the more agreeable to me, I will do it."
"This," said he, looking around him, "is no place; there is an inn, not a hundred yards from this gate, where I have left my horse; will you go thither?" I readily consented, and, calling for a private apartment, I laid before this man every incident of my life connected with Welbeck and Watson; my full, circumstantial, and explicit story appeared to remove every doubt which he might have entertained of my integrity.
In Williams I found a plain, good man, of a temper confiding and affectionate. My narration being finished, he expressed, by unaffected tokens, his wonder and his grief on account of Watson's destiny. To my inquiries, which were made with frankness and fervour, respecting his own and his sister's condition, he said that the situation of both was deplorable till the recovery of this property. They had been saved from utter ruin, from beggary and a jail, only by the generosity and lenity of his creditors, who did not suffer the suspicious circumstances attending Watson's disappearance to outweigh former proofs of his probity. They had never relinquished the hopes of receiving some tidings of their kinsman.
I related what had just passed in the house of Mrs. Maurice, and requested to know from him the history and character of this family.
"They have treated you," he answered, "exactly as any one who knew them would have predicted. The mother is narrow, ignorant, bigoted, and avaricious. The eldest daughter, whom you saw, resembles the old lady in many things. Age, indeed, may render the similitude complete. At present, pride and ill-humour are her chief characteristics.
"The youngest daughter has nothing in mind or person in common with her family. Where they are irascible, she is patient; where they are imperious, she is humble; where they are covetous, she is liberal; where they are ignorant and indolent, she is studious and skilful. It is rare, indeed, to find a young lady more amiable than Miss Fanny Maurice, or who has had more crosses and afflictions to sustain.
"The eldest daughter always extorted the supply of her wants, from her parents, by threats and importunities; but the younger could never be prevailed upon to employ the same means, and, hence, she suffered inconveniences which, to any other girl, born to an equal rank, would have been, to the last degree, humiliating and vexatious. To her they only afforded new opportunities for the display of her most shining virtues,—fortitude and charity. No instance of their sordidness or tyranny ever stole a murmur from her. For what they had given, existence and a virtuous education, she said they were entitled to gratitude. What they withheld was their own, in the use of which they were not accountable to her. She was not ashamed to owe her subsistence to her own industry, and was only held by the pride of her family—in this instance their pride was equal to their avarice—from seeking out some lucrative kind of employment. Since the shock which their fortune sustained by Watson's disappearance, she has been permitted to pursue this plan, and she now teaches music in Baltimore for a living. No one, however, in the highest rank, can be more generally respected and caressed than she is."
"But will not the recovery of this money make a favourable change in her condition?"
"I can hardly tell; but I am inclined to think it will not. It will not change her mother's character. Her pride may be awakened anew, and she may oblige Miss Fanny to relinquish her new profession, and that will be a change to be deplored."
"What good has been done, then, by restoring this money?"
"If pleasure be good, you must have conferred a great deal on the Maurices; upon the mother and two of the daughters, at least,—the only pleasure, indeed, which their natures can receive. It is less than if you had raised them from absolute indigence, which has not been the case, since they had wherewithal to live upon besides their Jamaica property. But how?" continued Williams, suddenly recollecting himself; "have you claimed the reward promised to him who should restore these bills?"
"No less than a thousand dollars. It was publicly promised under the hands of Mrs. Maurice and of Hemmings, her husband's executor."
"Really," said I, "that circumstance escaped my attention, and I wonder that it did; but is it too late to repair the evil?"
"Then you have no scruple to accept the reward?"
"Certainly not. Could you suspect me of so strange a punctilio as that?"
"Yes; but I know not why. The story you have just finished taught me to expect some unreasonable refinement upon that head. To be hired, to be bribed, to do our duty is supposed by some to be degrading."
"This is no such bribe to me. I should have acted just as I have done, had no recompense been promised. In truth, this has been my conduct, for I never once thought of the reward; but, now that you remind me of it, I would gladly see it bestowed. To fulfil their engagements, in this respect, is no more than justice in the Maurices. To one in my condition the money will be highly useful. If these people were poor, or generous and worthy, or if I myself were already rich, I might less repine at their withholding it; but, things being as they are with them and with me, it would, I think, be gross injustice in them to withhold, and in me to refuse."
"That injustice," said Williams, "will, on their part, I fear, be committed. 'Tis pity you first applied to Mrs. Maurice. Nothing can be expected from her avarice, unless it be wrested from her by a lawsuit."
"That is a force which I shall never apply."
"Had you gone first to Hemmings, you might, I think, have looked for payment. He is not a mean man. A thousand dollars, he must know, is not much to give for forty thousand. Perhaps, indeed, it may not yet be too late. I am well known to him, and, if you please, will attend you to him in the evening, and state your claim."
I thankfully accepted this offer, and went with him accordingly. I found that Hemmings had been with Mrs. Maurice in the course of the day; had received from her intelligence of this transaction, and had entertained the expectation of a visit from me for this very purpose.
While Williams explained to him the nature of my claim, he scanned me with great intentness. His austere and inflexible brow afforded me little room to hope for success, and this hopelessness was confirmed by his silence and perplexity when Williams had made an end.
"To-be-sure," said he, after some pause, "the contract was explicit. To-be-sure, the conditions on Mr. Mervyn's side have been performed. Certain it is, the bills are entire and complete, but Mrs. Maurice will not consent to do her part, and Mrs. Maurice, to whom the papers were presented, is the person by whom, according to the terms of the contract, the reward must be paid."
"But Mrs. Maurice, you know, sir, may be legally compelled to pay," said Williams.
"Perhaps she may; but I tell you plainly, that she never will do the thing without compulsion. Legal process, however, in this case, will have other inconveniences besides delay. Some curiosity will naturally be excited, as to the history of these papers. Watson disappeared a twelvemonth ago. Who can avoid asking, Where have these papers been deposited all this while, and how came this person in possession of them?"
"That kind of curiosity," said I, "is natural and laudable, and gladly would I gratify it. Disclosure or concealment in that case, however, would nowise affect my present claim. Whether a bond, legally executed, shall be paid, does not depend upon determining whether the payer is fondest of boiled mutton or roast beef. Truth, in the first case, has no connection with truth in the second. So far from eluding this curiosity, so far from studying concealment, I am anxious to publish the truth."
"You are right, to-be-sure," said Hemmings. "Curiosity is a natural, but only an incidental, consequence in this case. I have no reason for desiring that it should be an unpleasant consequence to you."
"Well, sir," said Williams, "you think that Arthur Mervyn has no remedy in this case but the law?"
"Mrs. Maurice, to-be-sure, will never pay but on compulsion. Mervyn should have known his own interest better. While his left hand was stretched out to give, his right should have been held forth to receive. As it is, he must be contented with the aid of law. Any attorney will prosecute on condition of receiving half the sum when recovered."
We now rose to take our leave, when Hemmings, desiring us to pause a moment, said, "To-be-sure, in the utmost strictness of the terms of our promise, the reward was to be paid by the person who received the papers; but it must be owned that your claim, at any rate, is equitable. I have money of the deceased Mr. Maurice in my hands. These very bills are now in my possession. I will therefore pay you your due, and take the consequences of an act of justice on myself. I was prepared for you. Sign that receipt, and there is a check for the amount."
This unexpected and agreeable decision was accompanied by an invitation to supper, at which we were treated by our host with much affability and kindness. Finding me the author of Williams's good fortune as well as Mrs. Maurice's, and being assured by the former of his entire conviction of the rectitude of my conduct, he laid aside all reserve and distance with regard to me. He inquired into my prospects and wishes, and professed his willingness to serve me.
I dealt with equal unreserve and frankness. "I am poor," said I. "Money for my very expenses hither I have borrowed from a friend, to whom I am, in other respects, much indebted, and whom I expect to compensate only by gratitude and future services.
"In coming hither, I expected only an increase of my debts; to sink still deeper into poverty; but happily the issue has made me rich. This hour has given me competence, at least."
"What! call you a thousand dollars competence?"
"More than competence. I call it an abundance. My own ingenuity, while I enjoy health, will enable me to live. This I regard as a fund, first to pay my debts, and next to supply deficiencies occasioned by untoward accidents or ill health, during the ensuing three or four years at least."
We parted with this new acquaintance at a late hour, and I accepted Williams's invitation to pass the time I should spend at Baltimore, under his sister's roof. There were several motives for prolonging this stay. What I had heard of Miss Fanny Maurice excited strong wishes to be personally acquainted with her. This young lady was affectionately attached to Mrs. Watson, by whose means my wishes were easily accomplished.
I never was in habits of reserve, even with those whom I had no reason to esteem. With those who claimed my admiration and affection, it was impossible to be incommunicative. Before the end of my second interview, both these women were mistresses of every momentous incident of my life, and of the whole chain of my feelings and opinions, in relation to every subject, and particularly in relation to themselves. Every topic disconnected with these is comparatively lifeless and inert.
I found it easy to win their attention, and to render them communicative in their turn. As full disclosures as I had made without condition or request, my inquiries and example easily obtained from Mrs. Watson and Miss Maurice. The former related every event of her youth, and the circumstances leading to her marriage. She depicted the character of her husband, and the whole train of suspenses and inquietudes occasioned by his disappearance. The latter did not hide from me her opinions upon any important subject, and made me thoroughly acquainted with her actual situation.
This intercourse was strangely fascinating. My heart was buoyed up by a kind of intoxication. I now found myself exalted to my genial element, and began to taste the delights of existence. In the intercourse of ingenuous and sympathetic minds, I found a pleasure which I had not previously conceived.
The time flew swiftly away, and a fortnight passed almost before I was aware that a day had gone by. I did not forget the friends whom I had left behind, but maintained a punctual correspondence with Stevens, to whom I imparted all occurrences.
The recovery of my friend's kinsman allowed him in a few days to return home. His first object was the consolation and relief of Carlton, whom, with much difficulty, he persuaded to take advantage of the laws in favour of insolvent debtors. Carlton's only debt was owing to his uncle, and, by rendering up every species of property, except his clothes and the implements of his trade, he obtained a full discharge. In conjunction with his sister, he once more assumed the pen, and, being no longer burdened with debts he was unable to discharge, he resumed, together with his pen, his cheerfulness. Their mutual industry was sufficient for their decent and moderate subsistence.
The chief reason for my hasty return was my anxiety respecting Clemenza Lodi. This reason was removed by the activity and benevolence of my friend. He paid this unfortunate stranger a visit at Mrs. Villars's. Access was easily obtained, and he found her sunk into the deepest melancholy. The recent loss of her child, the death of Welbeck, of which she was soon apprized, her total dependence upon those with whom she was placed, who, however, had always treated her without barbarity or indecorum, were the calamities that weighed down her spirits.
My friend easily engaged her confidence and gratitude, and prevailed upon her to take refuge under his own roof. Mrs. Wentworth's scruples, as well as those of Mrs. Fielding, were removed by his arguments and entreaties, and they consented to take upon themselves, and divide between them, the care of her subsistence and happiness. They condescended to express much curiosity respecting me, and some interest in my welfare, and promised to receive me, on my return, on the footing of a friend.
With some reluctance, I at length bade my new friends farewell, and returned to Philadelphia. Nothing remained, before I should enter on my projected scheme of study and employment, under the guidance of Stevens, but to examine the situation of Eliza Hadwin with my own eyes, and, if possible, to extricate my father from his unfortunate situation.
My father's state had given me the deepest concern. I figured to myself his condition, besotted by brutal appetites, reduced to beggary, shut up in a noisome prison, and condemned to that society which must foster all his depraved propensities. I revolved various schemes for his relief. A few hundreds would take him from prison; but how should he be afterwards disposed of? How should he be cured of his indolent habits? How should he be screened from the contagion of vicious society? By what means, consistently with my own wants and the claims of others, should I secure to him an acceptable subsistence?
Exhortation and example were vain. Nothing but restraint would keep him at a distance from the haunts of brawling and debauchery. The want of money would be no obstacle to prodigality and waste. Credit would be resorted to as long as it would answer his demand. When that failed, he would once more be thrown into a prison; the same means to extricate him would have to be repeated, and money be thus put into the pockets of the most worthless of mankind, the agents of drunkenness and blasphemy, without any permanent advantage to my father, the principal object of my charity.
Though unable to fix on any plausible mode of proceeding, I determined, at least, to discover his present condition. Perhaps something might suggest itself, upon the spot, suited to my purpose. Without delay I proceeded to the village of Newtown, and, alighting at the door of the prison, inquired for my father.
"Sawny Mervyn you want, I suppose," said the keeper. "Poor fellow! He came into limbo in a crazy condition, and has been a burden on my hands ever since. After lingering along for some time, he was at last kind enough to give us the slip. It is just a week since he drank his last pint—and died."
I was greatly shocked at this intelligence. It was some time before my reason came to my aid, and showed me that this was an event, on the whole, and on a disinterested and dispassionate view, not unfortunate. The keeper knew not my relation to the deceased, and readily recounted the behaviour of the prisoner and the circumstances of his last hours.
I shall not repeat the narrative. It is useless to keep alive the sad remembrance. He was now beyond the reach of my charity or pity; and, since reflection could answer no beneficial end to him, it was my duty to divert my thoughts into different channels, and live henceforth for my own happiness and that of those who were within the sphere of my influence.
I was now alone in the world, so far as the total want of kindred creates solitude. Not one of my blood, nor even of my name, was to be found in this quarter of the world. Of my mother's kindred I knew nothing. So far as friendship or service might be claimed from them, to me they had no existence. I was destitute of all those benefits which flow from kindred, in relation to protection, advice, or property. My inheritance was nothing. Not a single relic or trinket in my possession constituted a memorial of my family. The scenes of my childish and juvenile days were dreary and desolate. The fields which I was wont to traverse, the room in which I was born, retained no traces of the past. They were the property and residence of strangers, who knew nothing of the former tenants, and who, as I was now told, had hastened to new-model and transform every thing within and without the habitation.
These images filled me with melancholy, which, however, disappeared in proportion as I approached the abode of my beloved girl. Absence had endeared the image of my Bess—I loved to call her so—to my soul. I could not think of her without a melting softness at my heart, and tears in which pain and pleasure were unaccountably mingled. As I approached Curling's house, I strained my sight, in hopes of distinguishing her form through the evening dusk.
I had told her of my purpose, by letter. She expected my approach at this hour, and was stationed, with a heart throbbing with impatience, at the roadside, near the gate. As soon as I alighted, she rushed into my arms.
I found my sweet friend less blithesome and contented than I wished. Her situation, in spite of the parental and sisterly regards which she received from the Curlings, was mournful and dreary to her imagination. Rural business was irksome, and insufficient to fill up her time. Her life was tiresome, and uniform, and heavy.
I ventured to blame her discontent, and pointed out the advantages of her situation. "Whence," said I, "can these dissatisfactions and repinings arise?"
"I cannot tell," said she; "I don't know how it is with me. I am always sorrowful and thoughtful. Perhaps I think too much of my poor father and of Susan; and yet that can't be it, neither, for I think of them but seldom; not half as much as I ought, perhaps. I think of nobody almost but you. Instead of minding my business, or chatting and laughing with Peggy Curling, I love to get by myself,—to read, over and over, your letters, or to think how you are employed just then, and how happy I should be if I were in Fanny Maurice's place.
"But it is all over now; this visit rewards me for every thing. I wonder how I could ever be sullen or mopeful. I will behave better, indeed I will, and be always, as now, a most happy girl."
The greater part of three days was spent in the society of my friend, in listening to her relation of all that had happened during my absence, and in communicating, in my turn, every incident which had befallen myself. After this I once more returned to the city.
I now set about carrying my plan of life into effect. I began with ardent zeal and unwearied diligence the career of medical study. I bespoke the counsels and instructions of my friend; attended him on his professional visits, and acted, in all practicable cases, as his substitute. I found this application of time more pleasurable than I had imagined. My mind gladly expanded itself, as it were, for the reception of new ideas. My curiosity grew more eager in proportion as it was supplied with food, and every day added strength to the assurance that I was no insignificant and worthless being; that I was destined to be something in this scene of existence, and might some time lay claim to the gratitude and homage of my fellow men.
I was far from being, however, monopolized by these pursuits. I was formed on purpose for the gratification of social intercourse. To love and to be loved; to exchange hearts and mingle sentiments with all the virtuous and amiable whom my good fortune had placed within the circuit of my knowledge, I always esteemed my highest enjoyment and my chief duty.
Carlton and his sister, Mrs. Wentworth, and Achsa Fielding, were my most valuable associates beyond my own family. With all these my correspondence was frequent and unreserved, but chiefly with the latter. This lady had dignity and independence, a generous and enlightened spirit, beyond what her education had taught me to expect. She was circumspect and cautious in her deportment, and was not prompt to make advances, or accept them. She withheld her esteem and confidence until she had full proof of their being deserved.
I am not sure that her treatment of me was fully conformable to her rules. My manners, indeed, as she once told me, she had never met with in another. Ordinary rules were so totally overlooked in my behaviour, that it seemed impossible for any one who knew me to adhere to them. No option was left but to admit my claims to friendship and confidence instantly, or to reject them altogether.
I was not conscious of this singularity. The internal and undiscovered character of another weighed nothing with me in the question whether they should be treated with frankness or reserve. I felt no scruple on any occasion to disclose every feeling and every event. Any one who could listen found me willing to talk. Every talker found me willing to listen. Every one had my sympathy and kindness, without claiming it; but I claimed the kindness and sympathy of every one.
Achsa Fielding's countenance bespoke, I thought, a mind worthy to be known and to be loved. The first moment I engaged her attention, I told her so. I related the little story of my family, spread out before her all my reasonings and determinations, my notions of right and wrong, my fears and wishes. All this was done with sincerity and fervour, with gestures, actions, and looks, in which I felt as if my whole soul was visible. Her superior age, sedateness, and prudence, gave my deportment a filial freedom and affection, and I was fond of calling her "mamma."
I particularly dwelt upon the history of my dear country-girl; painted her form and countenance; recounted our dialogues, and related all my schemes for making her wise, and good, and happy. On these occasions my friend would listen to me with the mutest attention. I showed her the letters I received, and offered her for her perusal those which I wrote in answer, before they were sealed and sent.
On these occasions she would look by turns on my face and away from me. A varying hue would play upon her cheek, and her eyes were fuller than was common, of meaning.
"Such-and-such," I once said, "are my notions; now, what do you think?"
"Think!" emphatically, and turning somewhat aside, she answered; "that you are the most—strange of human creatures."
"But tell me," I resumed, following and searching her averted eyes; "am I right? would you do thus? Can you help me to improve my girl? I wish you knew the bewitching little creature. How would that heart overflow with affection and with gratitude towards you! She should be your daughter. No—you are too nearly of an age for that. A sister; her elder sister, you should be. That, when there is no other relation, includes them all. Fond sisters you would be, and I the fond brother of you both."
My eyes glistened as I spoke. In truth, I am in that respect a mere woman. My friend was more powerfully moved. After a momentary struggle she burst into tears.
"Good heaven!" said I, "what ails you? Are you not well?"
Her looks betrayed an unaccountable confusion, from which she quickly recovered:—"It was folly to be thus affected. Something ailed me, I believe, but it is past. But, come, you want some lines of finishing the description of the Boa in La Cepide."
"True. And I have twenty minutes to spare. Poor Franks is very ill indeed, but he cannot be seen till nine. We'll read till then."
Thus on the wings of pleasure and improvement passed my time; not without some hues, occasionally, of a darker tint. My heart was now and then detected in sighing. This occurred when my thoughts glanced at the poor Eliza, and measured, as it were, the interval between us. "We are too—too far apart," thought I.
The best solace on these occasions was the company of Mrs. Fielding; her music, her discourse, or some book which she set me to rehearsing to her. One evening, when preparing to pay her a visit, I received the following letter from my Bess:—
To A. Mervyn.
Curling's, May 6, 1794.
Where does this letter you promised me stay all this while? Indeed, Arthur, you torment me more than I deserve, and more than I could ever find it in my heart to do you. You treat me cruelly. I must say so, though I offend you. I must write, though you do not deserve that I should, and though I fear I am in a humour not very fit for writing. I had better go to my chamber and weep; weep at your—unkindness, I was going to say; but, perhaps, it is only forgetfulness; and yet what can be more unkind than forgetfulness? I am sure I have never forgotten you. Sleep itself, which wraps all other images in forgetfulness, only brings you nearer, and makes me see you more distinctly.
But where can this letter stay?—Oh! that—hush! foolish girl! If a word of that kind escape thy lips, Arthur will be angry with thee; and then, indeed, thou mightest weep in earnest. Then thou wouldst have some cause for thy tears. More than once already has he almost broken thy heart with his reproaches. Sore and weak as it now is, any new reproaches would assuredly break it quite.
I will be content. I will be as good a housewife and dairywoman, stir about as briskly, and sing as merrily, as Peggy Curling. Why not? I am as young, as innocent, and enjoy as good health. Alas! she has reason to be merry. She has father, mother, brothers; but I have none. And he that was all these, and more than all these, to me, has—forgotten me.
But, perhaps, it is some accident that hinders. Perhaps Oliver left the market earlier than he used to do; or you mistook the house; or perhaps some poor creature was sick, was taken suddenly ill, and you were busy in chafing his clay-cold limbs; it fell to you to wipe the clammy drops from his brow. Such things often happen (don't they, Arthur?) to people of your trade, and some such thing has happened now; and that was the reason you did not write.
And if so, shall I repine at your silence? Oh no! At such a time the poor Bess might easily be, and ought to be, forgotten. She would not deserve your love if she could repine at a silence brought about this way.
And oh! may it be so! May there be nothing worse than this! If the sick man—see, Arthur, how my hand trembles. Can you read this scrawl? What is always bad, my fears make worse than ever.
I must not think that. And yet, if it be so, if my friend himself be sick, what will become of me? Of me, that ought to cherish you and comfort you; that ought to be your nurse. Endure for you your sickness, when she cannot remove it.
Oh! that——I will speak out—Oh that this strange scruple had never possessed you! Why should I not be with you? Who can love you and serve you as well as I? In sickness and health, I will console and assist you. Why will you deprive yourself of such a comforter and such an aid as I would be to you?
Dear Arthur, think better of it. Let me leave this dreary spot, where, indeed, as long as I am thus alone, I can enjoy no comfort. Let me come to you. I will put up with any thing for the sake of seeing you, though it be but once a day. Any garret or cellar in the dirtiest lane or darkest alley will be good enough for me. I will think it a palace, so that I can but see you now and then.
Do not refuse—do not argue with me, so fond you always are of arguing! My heart is set upon your compliance. And yet, dearly as I prize your company, I would not ask it, if I thought there was any thing improper. You say there is, and you talk about it in a way that I do not understand. For my sake, you tell me, you refuse; but let me entreat you to comply for my sake.
Your pen cannot teach me like your tongue. You write me long letters, and tell me a great deal in them; but my soul droops when I call to mind your voice and your looks, and think how long a time must pass before I see you and hear you again. I have no spirit to think upon the words and paper before me. My eye and my thought wander far away.
I bethink me how many questions I might ask you; how many doubts you might clear up if you were but within hearing. If you were but close to me; but I cannot ask them here. I am too poor a creature at the pen, and, somehow or another, it always happens, I can only write about myself or about you. By the time I have said all this, I have tired my fingers, and when I set about telling you how this poem and that story have affected me, I am at a loss for words; I am bewildered and bemazed, as it were.
It is not so when we talk to one another. With your arm about me, and your sweet face close to mine, I can prattle forever. Then my heart overflows at my lips. After hours thus spent, it seems as if there were a thousand things still to be said. Then I can tell you what the book has told me. I can repeat scores of verses by heart, though I heard them only once read; but it is because you have read them to me.
Then there is nobody here to answer my questions. They never look into books. They hate books. They think it waste of time to read. Even Peggy, who you say has naturally a strong mind, wonders what I can find to amuse myself in a book. In her playful mood, she is always teasing me to lay it aside.
I do not mind her, for I like to read; but, if I did not like it before, I could not help doing so ever since you told me that nobody could gain your love who was not fond of books. And yet, though I like it on that account more than I did, I don't read somehow so earnestly and understand so well as I used to do when my mind was all at ease, always frolicsome, and ever upon tiptoe, as I may say.
How strangely (have you not observed it?) I am altered of late!—I, that was ever light of heart, the very soul of gayety, brimfull of glee, am now demure as our old tabby—and not half as wise. Tabby had wit enough to keep her paws out of the coals, whereas poor I have—but no matter what. It will never come to pass, I see that. So many reasons for every thing! Such looking forward! Arthur, are not men sometimes too wise to be happy?
I am now so grave. Not one smile can Peggy sometimes get from me, though she tries for it the whole day. But I know how it comes. Strange, indeed, if, losing father and sister, and thrown upon the wide world, penniless and friendless too, now that you forget me, I should continue to smile. No. I never shall smile again. At least, while I stay here, I never shall, I believe.
If a certain somebody suffer me to live with him,—near him, I mean,—perhaps the sight of him as he enters the door, perhaps the sound of his voice, asking, "Where is my Bess?" might produce a smile. Such a one as the very thought produces now,—yet not, I hope, so transient, and so quickly followed by a tear. Women are born, they say, to trouble, and tears are given them for their relief. 'Tis all very true.
Let it be as I wish, will you? If Oliver bring not back good tidings, if he bring not a letter from thee, or thy letter still refuses my request,—I don't know what may happen. Consent, if you love your poor girl.
The reading of this letter, though it made me mournful, did not hinder me from paying the visit I intended. My friend noticed my discomposure.
"What, Arthur! thou art quite the 'penseroso' to-night. Come, let me cheer thee with a song. Thou shalt have thy favourite ditty." She stepped to the instrument, and, with more than airy lightness, touched and sung:—
"Now knit hands and beat the ground
In a light, fantastic round,
Till the telltale sun descry
Our conceal'd solemnity."
Her music, though blithsome and aerial, was not sufficient for the end. My cheerfulness would not return even at her bidding. She again noticed my sedateness, and inquired into the cause.
"This girl of mine," said I, "has infected me with her own sadness. There is a letter I have just received." She took it and began to read.
Meanwhile, I placed myself before her, and fixed my eyes steadfastly upon her features. There is no book in which I read with more pleasure than the face of woman. That is generally more full of meaning, and of better meaning too, than the hard and inflexible lineaments of man; and this woman's face has no parallel.
She read it with visible emotion. Having gone through it, she did not lift her eye from the paper, but continued silent, as if buried in thought. After some time, (for I would not interrupt the pause,) she addressed me thus:—
"This girl seems to be very anxious to be with you."
"As much as I am that she should be so." My friend's countenance betrayed some perplexity. As soon as I perceived it, I said, "Why are you thus grave?" Some little confusion appeared, as if she would not have her gravity discovered. "There again," said I, "new tokens in your face, my good mamma, of something which you will not mention. Yet, sooth to say, this is not your first perplexity. I have noticed it before, and wondered. It happens only when my Bess is introduced. Something in relation to her it must be, but what I cannot imagine. Why does her name, particularly, make you thoughtful, disturbed, dejected? There now—but I must know the reason. You don't agree with me in my notions of this girl, I fear, and you will not disclose your thoughts."
By this time, she had gained her usual composure, and, without noticing my comments on her looks, said, "Since you are both of one mind, why does she not leave the country?"
"That cannot be, I believe. Mrs. Stevens says it would be disreputable. I am no proficient in etiquette, and must, therefore, in affairs of this kind, be guided by those who are. But would to heaven I were truly her father or brother! Then all difficulties would be done away."
"Can you seriously wish that?"
"Why, no. I believe it would be more rational to wish that the world would suffer me to act the fatherly or brotherly part, without the relationship."
"And is that the only part you wish to act towards this girl?"
"Certainly, the only part."
"You surprise me. Have you not confessed your love for her?"
"I do love her. There is nothing upon earth more dear to me than my Bess."
"But love is of different kinds. She was loved by her father——"
"Less than by me. He was a good man, but not of lively feelings. Besides, he had another daughter, and they shared his love between them; but she has no sister to share my love. Calamity, too, has endeared her to me; I am all her consolation, dependence, and hope, and nothing, surely, can induce me to abandon her."
"Her reliance upon you for happiness," replied my friend, with a sigh, "is plain enough."
"It is; but why that sigh? And yet I understand it. It remonstrates with me on my incapacity for her support. I know it well, but it is wrong to be cast down. I have youth, health, and spirits, and ought not to despair of living for my own benefit and hers; but you sigh again, and it is impossible to keep my courage when you sigh. Do tell me what you mean by it."
"You partly guessed the cause. She trusts to you for happiness, but I somewhat suspect she trusts in vain."
"In vain! I beseech you, tell me why you think so."
"You say you love her: why then not make her your wife?"
"My wife! Surely her extreme youth, and my destitute condition, will account for that."
"She is fifteen; the age of delicate fervour, of inartificial love, and suitable enough for marriage. As to your condition, you may live more easily together than apart. She has no false taste or perverse desires to gratify. She has been trained in simple modes and habits. Besides, that objection can be removed another way. But are these all your objections?"
"Her youth I object to, merely in connection with her mind. She is too little improved to be my wife. She wants that solidity of mind, that maturity of intelligence which ten years more may possibly give her, but which she cannot have at this age."
"You are a very prudential youth: then you are willing to wait ten years for a wife?"
"Does that follow? Because my Bess will not be qualified for wedlock in less time, does it follow that I must wait for her?"
"I spoke on the supposition that you loved her."
"And that is true; but love is satisfied with studying her happiness as her father or brother. Some years hence, perhaps in half a year, (for this passion, called wedded or marriage-wishing love, is of sudden growth,) my mind may change and nothing may content me but to have Bess for my wife. Yet I do not expect it."
"Then you are determined against marriage with this girl?"
"Of course; until that love comes which I feel not now; but which, no doubt, will come, when Bess has had the benefit of five or eight years more, unless previously excited by another."
"All this is strange, Arthur. I have heretofore supposed that you actually loved (I mean with the marriage-seeking passion) your Bess."
"I believe I once did; but it happened at a time when marriage was improper; in the life of her father and sister, and when I had never known in what female excellence consisted. Since that time my happier lot has cast me among women so far above Eliza Hadwin,—so far above, and so widely different from any thing which time is likely to make her,—that, I own, nothing appears more unlikely than that I shall ever love her."
"Are you not a little capricious in that respect, my good friend? You have praised your Bess as rich in natural endowments; as having an artless purity and rectitude of mind, which somewhat supersedes the use of formal education; as being full of sweetness and tenderness, and in her person a very angel of loveliness."
"All that is true. I never saw features and shape so delicately beautiful; I never knew so young a mind so quick-sighted and so firm; but, nevertheless, she is not the creature whom I would call my wife. My bosom-slave; counsellor; friend; the mother; the pattern; the tutoress of my children, must be a different creature."
"But what are the attributes of this desirable which Bess wants?"
"Every thing she wants. Age, capacity, acquirements, person, features, hair, complexion, all, all are different from this girl's."
"And pray of what kind may they be?"
"I cannot portray them in words—but yes, I can:—The creature whom I shall worship:—it sounds oddly, but, I verily believe, the sentiment which I shall feel for my wife will be more akin to worship than any thing else. I shall never love but such a creature as I now image to myself, and such a creature will deserve, or almost deserve, worship. But this creature, I was going to say, must be the exact counterpart, my good mamma—of yourself."
This was said very earnestly, and with eyes and manner that fully expressed my earnestness; perhaps my expressions were unwittingly strong and emphatic, for she started and blushed, but the cause of her discomposure, whatever it was, was quickly removed, and she said,—
"Poor Bess! This will be sad news to thee!"
"Heaven forbid!" said I; "of what moment can my opinions be to her?"
"Strange questioner that thou art. Thou knowest that her gentle heart is touched with love. See how it shows itself in the tender and inimitable strain of this epistle. Does not this sweet ingenuousness bewitch you?"
"It does so, and I love, beyond expression, the sweet girl; but my love is, in some inconceivable way, different from the passion which that other creature will produce. She is no stranger to my thoughts. I will impart every thought over and over to her. I question not but I shall make her happy without forfeiting my own."
"Would marriage with her be a forfeiture of your happiness?"
"Not absolutely or forever, I believe. I love her company. Her absence for a long time is irksome. I cannot express the delight with which I see and hear her. To mark her features, beaming with vivacity; playful in her pleasures; to hold her in my arms, and listen to her prattle, always musically voluble, always sweetly tender, or artlessly intelligent—and this you will say is the dearest privilege of marriage; and so it is; and dearly should I prize it; and yet, I fear my heart would droop as often as that other image should occur to my fancy. For then, you know, it would occur as something never to be possessed by me.
"Now, this image might, indeed, seldom occur. The intervals, at least, would be serene. It would be my interest to prolong these intervals as much as possible, and my endeavours to this end would, no doubt, have some effect. Besides, the bitterness of this reflection would be lessened by contemplating, at the same time, the happiness of my beloved girl.
"I should likewise have to remember, that to continue unmarried would not necessarily secure me the possession of the other good——"
"But these reflections, my friend," (broke she in upon me,) "are of as much force to induce you to marry, as to reconcile you to a marriage already contracted."
"Perhaps they are. Assuredly, I have not a hope that the fancied excellence will ever be mine. Such happiness is not the lot of humanity, and is, least of all, within my reach."
"Your diffidence," replied my friend, in a timorous accent, "has not many examples; but your character, without doubt, is all your own, possessing all and disclaiming all,—is, in few words, your picture."
"I scarcely understand you. Do you think I ever shall be happy to that degree which I have imagined? Think you I shall ever meet with an exact copy of yourself?"
"Unfortunate you will be, if you do not meet with many better. Your Bess, in personals, is, beyond measure, my superior, and in mind, allowing for difference in years, quite as much so."
"But that," returned I, with quickness and fervour, "is not the object. The very counterpart of you I want; neither worse nor better, nor different in any thing. Just such form, such features, such hues. Just that melting voice, and, above all, the same habits of thinking and conversing. In thought, word, and deed; gesture, look, and form, that rare and precious creature whom I shall love must be your resemblance. Your——"
"Have done with these comparisons," interrupted she, in some hurry, "and let us return to the country-girl, thy Bess.
"You once, my friend, wished me to treat this girl of yours as my sister. Do you know what the duties of a sister are?"
"They imply no more kindness or affection than you already feel towards my Bess. Are you not her sister?"
"I ought to have been so. I ought to have been proud of the relation you ascribe to me, but I have not performed any of its duties. I blush to think upon the coldness and perverseness of my heart. With such means as I possess, of giving happiness to others, I have been thoughtless and inactive to a strange degree; perhaps, however, it is not yet too late. Are you still willing to invest me with all the rights of an elder sister over this girl? And will she consent, think you?"
"Certainly she will; she has."
"Then the first act of sistership will be to take her from the country; from persons on whose kindness she has no natural claim, whose manners and characters are unlike her own, and with whom no improvement can be expected, and bring her back to her sister's house and bosom, to provide for her subsistence and education, and watch over her happiness.
"I will not be a nominal sister. I will not be a sister by halves. All the rights of that relation I will have, or none. As for you, you have claims upon her on which I must be permitted to judge, as becomes the elder sister, who, by the loss of all other relations, must occupy the place, possess the rights, and fulfil the duties, of father, mother, and brother.
"She has now arrived at an age when longer to remain in a cold and churlish soil will stunt her growth and wither her blossoms. We must hasten to transplant her to a genial element and a garden well enclosed. Having so long neglected this charming plant, it becomes me henceforth to take her wholly to myself.
"And now, for it is no longer in her or your power to take back the gift, since she is fully mine, I will charge you with the office of conducting her hither. I grant it you as a favour. Will you go?"
"Go! I will fly!" I exclaimed, in an ecstasy of joy, "on pinions swifter than the wind. Not the lingering of an instant will I bear. Look! one, two, three—thirty minutes after nine. I will reach Curling's gate by the morn's dawn. I will put my girl into a chaise, and by noon she shall throw herself into the arms of her sister. But first, shall I not, in some way, manifest my gratitude?"
My senses were bewildered, and I knew not what I did. I intended to kneel, as to my mother or my deity; but, instead of that, I clasped her in my arms, and kissed her lips fervently. I stayed not to discover the effects of this insanity, but left the room and the house, and, calling for a moment at Stevens's, left word with the servant, my friend being gone abroad, that I should not return till the morrow.
Never was a lighter heart, a gayety more overflowing and more buoyant, than mine. All cold from a boisterous night, at a chilly season, all weariness from a rugged and miry road, were charmed away. I might have ridden; but I could not brook delay, even the delay of inquiring for and equipping a horse. I might thus have saved myself fatigue, and have lost no time; but my mind was in too great a tumult for deliberation and forecast. I saw nothing but the image of my girl, whom my tidings would render happy.
The way was longer than my fond imagination had foreseen. I did not reach Curling's till an hour after sunrise. The distance was full thirty-five miles. As I hastened up the green lane leading to the house, I spied my Bess passing through a covered way, between the dwelling and kitchen. I caught her eye. She stopped and held up her hands, and then ran into my arms.
"What means my girl? Why this catching of the breath? Why this sobbing? Look at me, my love. It is Arthur,—he who has treated you with forgetfulness, neglect, and cruelty."
"Oh, do not," she replied, hiding her face with her hand. "One single reproach, added to my own, will kill me. That foolish, wicked letter—I could tear my fingers for writing it."
"But," said I, "I will kiss them;" and put them to my lips. "They have told me the wishes of my girl. They have enabled me to gratify her wishes. I have come to carry thee this very moment to town."
"Lord bless me, Arthur," said she, lost in a sweet confusion, and her cheeks, always glowing, glowing still more deeply, "indeed, I did not mean——I meant only——I will stay here——I would rather stay——"
"It grieves me to hear that," said I, with earnestness; "I thought I was studying our mutual happiness."
"It grieves you? Don't say so. I would not grieve you for the world; but, indeed, indeed, it is too soon. Such a girl as I am not yet fit to—live in your city." Again she hid her glowing face in my bosom.
"Sweet consciousness! Heavenly innocence!" thought I; "may Achsa's conjectures prove false!—You have mistaken my design, for I do not intend to carry you to town with such a view as you have hinted; but merely to place you with a beloved friend, with Achsa Fielding, of whom already you know so much, where we shall enjoy each other's company without restraint or intermission."
I then proceeded to disclose to her the plan suggested by my friend, and to explain all the consequences that would flow from it. I need not say that she assented to the scheme. She was all rapture and gratitude. Preparations for departure were easily and speedily made. I hired a chaise of a neighbouring farmer, and, according to my promise, by noon the same day, delivered the timid and bashful girl into the arms of her new sister.
She was received with the utmost tenderness, not only by Mrs. Fielding, but by all my friends. Her affectionate heart was encouraged to pour forth all its feeling as into the bosom of a mother. She was reinspired with confidence. Her want of experience was supplied by the gentlest admonitions and instructions. In every plan for her improvement suggested by her new mamma, (for she never called her by any other name,) she engaged with docility and eagerness; and her behaviour and her progress exceeded the most sanguine hopes that I had formed as to the softness of her temper and the acuteness of her genius.
Those graces which a polished education, and intercourse with the better classes of society, are adapted to give, my girl possessed, in some degree, by a native and intuitive refinement and sagacity of mind. All that was to be obtained from actual observation and instruction was obtained without difficulty; and in a short time nothing but the affectionate simplicity and unperverted feelings of the country-girl bespoke the original condition.
"What art so busy about, Arthur? Always at thy pen of late. Come, I must know the fruit of all this toil and all this meditation. I am determined to scrape acquaintance with Haller and Linnæus. I will begin this very day. All one's friends, you know, should be ours. Love has made many a patient, and let me see if it cannot, in my case, make a physician. But, first, what is all this writing about?"
"Mrs. Wentworth has put me upon a strange task,—not disagreeable, however, but such as I should, perhaps, have declined, had not the absence of my Bess, and her mamma, made the time hang somewhat heavy. I have, oftener than once, and far more circumstantially than now, told her my adventures, but she is not satisfied. She wants a written narrative, for some purpose which she tells me she will disclose to me hereafter.
"Luckily, my friend Stevens has saved me more than half the trouble. He has done me the favour to compile much of my history with his own hand. I cannot imagine what could prompt him to so wearisome an undertaking; but he says that adventures and a destiny so singular as mine ought not to be abandoned to forgetfulness like any vulgar and every-day existence. Besides, when he wrote it, he suspected that it might be necessary to the safety of my reputation and my life, from the consequences of my connection with Welbeck. Time has annihilated that danger. All enmities and all suspicions are buried with that ill-fated wretch. Wortley has been won by my behaviour, and confides in my integrity now as much as he formerly suspected it. I am glad, however, that the task was performed. It has saved me a world of writing. I had only to take up the broken thread, and bring it down to the period of my present happiness; and this was done, just as you tripped along the entry this morning.
"To bed, my friend; it is late, and this delicate frame is not half so able to encounter fatigue as a youth spent in the hay-field and the dairy might have been expected to be."
"I will, but let me take these sheets along with me. I will read them, that I am determined, before I sleep, and watch if you have told the whole truth."
"Do so, if you please; but remember one thing. Mrs. Wentworth requested me to write not as if it were designed for her perusal, but for those who have no previous knowledge of her or of me. 'Twas an odd request. I cannot imagine what she means by it; but she never acts without good reason, and I have done so. And now, withdraw, my dear, and farewell."
Move on, my quill! wait not for my guidance. Reanimated with thy master's spirit, all airy light! A heyday rapture! A mounting impulse sways him: lifts him from the earth.
I must, cost what it will, rein in this upward-pulling, forward-going—what shall I call it? But there are times, and now is one of them, when words are poor.
It will not do—down this hill, up that steep; through this thicket, over that hedge—I have laboured to fatigue myself: to reconcile me to repose; to lolling on a sofa; to poring over a book, to any thing that might win for my heart a respite from these throbs; to deceive me into a few tolerable moments of forgetfulness.
Let me see; they tell me this is Monday night. Only three days yet to come! If thus restless to-day; if my heart thus bounds till its mansion scarcely can hold it, what must be my state to-morrow! What next day! What as the hour hastens on; as the sun descends; as my hand touches hers in sign of wedded unity, of love without interval; of concord without end!
I must quell these tumults. They will disable me else. They will wear out all my strength. They will drain away life itself. But who could have thought! So soon! Not three months since I first set eyes upon her. Not three weeks since our plighted love, and only three days to terminate suspense and give me all.
I must compel myself to quiet; to sleep. I must find some refuge from anticipations so excruciating. All extremes are agonies. A joy like this is too big for this narrow tenement. I must thrust it forth; I must bar and bolt it out for a time, or these frail walls will burst asunder. The pen is a pacifier. It checks the mind's career; it circumscribes her wanderings. It traces out and compels us to adhere to one path. It ever was my friend. Often it has blunted my vexations; hushed my stormy passions; turned my peevishness to soothing; my fierce revenge to heart-dissolving pity.
Perhaps it will befriend me now. It may temper my impetuous wishes; lull my intoxication; and render my happiness supportable; and, indeed, it has produced partly this effect already. My blood, within the few minutes thus employed, flows with less destructive rapidity. My thoughts range themselves in less disorder. And, now that the conquest is effected, what shall I say? I must continue at the pen, or shall immediately relapse.
What shall I say? Let me look back upon the steps that led me hither. Let me recount the preliminaries. I cannot do better.
And first as to Achsa Fielding,—to describe this woman.
To recount, in brief, so much of her history as has come to my knowledge will best account for that zeal, almost to idolatry, with which she has, ever since I thoroughly knew her, been regarded by me.
Never saw I one to whom the term lovely more truly belonged. And yet in stature she is too low; in complexion dark and almost sallow; and her eyes, though black and of piercing lustre, have a cast which I cannot well explain. It lessens without destroying their lustre and their force to charm; but all personal defects are outweighed by her heart and her intellect. There is the secret of her power to entrance the soul of the listener and beholder. It is not only when she sings that her utterance is musical. It is not only when the occasion is urgent and the topic momentous that her eloquence is rich and flowing. They are always so.
I had vowed to love her and serve her, and been her frequent visitant, long before I was acquainted with her past life. I had casually picked up some intelligence, from others, or from her own remarks. I knew very soon that she was English by birth, and had been only a year and a half in America; that she had scarcely passed her twenty-fifth year, and was still embellished with all the graces of youth; that she had been a wife; but was uninformed whether the knot had been untied by death or divorce; that she possessed considerable, and even splendid, fortune; but the exact amount, and all besides these particulars, were unknown to me till some time after our acquaintance was begun.
One evening she had been talking very earnestly on the influence annexed, in Great Britain, to birth, and had given me some examples of this influence. Meanwhile my eyes were fixed steadfastly on hers. The peculiarity in their expression never before affected me so strongly. A vague resemblance to something seen elsewhere, on the same day, occurred, and occasioned me to exclaim, suddenly, in a pause of her discourse,—
"As I live, my good mamma, those eyes of yours have told me a secret. I almost think they spoke to me; and I am not less amazed at the strangeness than at the distinctness of their story."
"And, pr'ythee, what have they said?"
"Perhaps I was mistaken. I might have been deceived by a fancied voice, or have confounded one word with another near akin to it; but let me die if I did not think they said that you were—a Jew."
At this sound, her features were instantly veiled with the deepest sorrow and confusion. She put her hand to her eyes, the tears started, and she sobbed. My surprise at this effect of my words was equal to my contrition. I besought her to pardon me for having thus unknowingly alarmed and grieved her.
After she had regained some composure, she said, "You have not offended, Arthur. Your surmise was just and natural, and could not always have escaped you. Connected with that word are many sources of anguish, which time has not, and never will, dry up; and the less I think of past events the less will my peace be disturbed. I was desirous that you should know nothing of me but what you see; nothing but the present and the future, merely that no allusions might occur in our conversation which will call up sorrows and regrets that will avail nothing.
"I now perceive the folly of endeavouring to keep you in ignorance, and shall therefore, once for all, inform you of what has befallen me, that your inquiries and suggestions may be made and fully satisfied at once, and your curiosity have no motive for calling back my thoughts to what I ardently desire to bury in oblivion.
"My father was indeed a Jew, and one of the most opulent of his nation in London,—a Portuguese by birth, but came to London when a boy. He had few of the moral or external qualities of Jews; for I suppose there is some justice in the obloquy that follows them so closely. He was frugal without meanness, and cautious in his dealings, without extortion. I need not fear to say this, for it was the general voice.
"Me, an only child, and, of course, the darling of my parents, they trained up in the most liberal manner. My education was purely English. I learned the same things and of the same masters with my neighbours. Except frequenting their church and repeating their creed, and partaking of the same food, I saw no difference between them and me. Hence I grew more indifferent, perhaps, than was proper, to the distinctions of religion. They were never enforced upon me. No pains were taken to fill me with scruples and antipathies. They never stood, as I may say, upon the threshold. They were often thought upon, but were vague and easily eluded or forgotten.
"Hence it was that my heart too readily admitted impressions that more zeal and more parental caution would have saved me from. They could scarcely be avoided, as my society was wholly English, and my youth, my education, and my father's wealth made me an object of much attention. And the same causes that lulled to sleep my own watchfulness had the same effect upon that of others. To regret or to praise this remissness is now too late. Certain it is, that my destiny, and not a happy destiny, was fixed by it.
"The fruit of this remissness was a passion for one who fully returned it. Almost as young as I, who was only sixteen; he knew as little as myself what obstacles the difference of our births was likely to raise between us. His father, Sir Ralph Fielding, a man nobly born, high in office, splendidly allied, could not be expected to consent to the marriage of his eldest son, in such green youth, to the daughter of an alien, a Portuguese, a Jew; but these impediments were not seen by my ignorance, and were overlooked by the youth's passion.
"But, strange to tell, what common prudence would have so confidently predicted did not happen. Sir Ralph had a numerous family, likely to be still more so; had but slender patrimony; the income of his offices nearly made up his all. The young man was headstrong, impetuous, and would probably disregard the inclinations of his family. Yet the father would not consent but on one condition,—that of my admission to the English Church.
"No very strenuous opposition to these terms could be expected from me. At so thoughtless an age, with an education so unfavourable to religious impressions; swayed, likewise, by the strongest of human passions; made somewhat impatient, by the company I kept, of the disrepute and scorn to which the Jewish nation are everywhere condemned, I could not be expected to be very averse to the scheme.
"My fears as to what my father's decision would be were soon at an end. He loved his child too well to thwart her wishes in so essential a point. Finding in me no scruples, no unwillingness, he thought it absurd to be scrupulous for me. My own heart having abjured my religion, it was absurd to make any difficulty about a formal renunciation. These were his avowed reasons for concurrence, but time showed that he had probably other reasons, founded, indeed, in his regard for my happiness, but such as, if they had been known, would probably have strengthened into invincible the reluctance of my lover's family.
"No marriage was ever attended with happier presages. The numerous relations of my husband admitted me with the utmost cordiality among them. My father's tenderness was unabated by this change, and those humiliations to which I had before been exposed were now no more; and every tie was strengthened, at the end of a year, by the feelings of a mother. I had need, indeed, to know a season of happiness, that I might be fitted to endure the sad reverses that succeeded. One after the other my disasters came, each one more heavy than the last, and in such swift succession that they hardly left me time to breathe.
"I had scarcely left my chamber, I had scarcely recovered my usual health, and was able to press with true fervour the new and precious gift to my bosom, when melancholy tidings came. I was in the country, at the seat of my father-in-law, when the messenger arrived.
"A shocking tale it was! and told abruptly, with every unpitying aggravation. I hinted to you once my father's death. The kind of death—oh! my friend! It was horrible. He was then a placid, venerable old man; though many symptoms of disquiet had long before been discovered by my mother's watchful tenderness. Yet none could suspect him capable of such a deed; for none, so carefully had he conducted his affairs, suspected the havoc that mischance had made of his property.
"I, that had so much reason to love my father,—I will leave you to imagine how I was affected by a catastrophe so dreadful, so unlooked-for. Much less could I suspect the cause of his despair; yet he had foreseen his ruin before my marriage; had resolved to defer it, for his daughter's and his wife's sake, as long as possible, but had still determined not to survive the day that should reduce him to indigence. The desperate act was thus preconcerted—thus deliberate.
"The true state of his affairs was laid open by his death. The failure of great mercantile houses at Frankfort and Liege was the cause of his disasters.
"Thus were my prospects shut in. That wealth which, no doubt, furnished the chief inducement with my husband's family to concur in his choice, was now suddenly exchanged for poverty.
"Bred up, as I had been, in pomp and luxury; conscious that my wealth was my chief security from the contempt of the proud and bigoted, and my chief title to the station to which I had been raised, and which I the more delighted in because it enabled me to confer so great obligations on my husband,—what reverse could be harder than this, and how much bitterness was added by it to the grief occasioned by the violent death of my father!
"Yet loss of fortune, though it mortified my pride, did not prove my worst calamity. Perhaps it was scarcely to be ranked with evils, since it furnished a touchstone by which my husband's affections were to be tried; especially as the issue of the trial was auspicious; for my misfortune seemed only to heighten the interest which my character had made for me in the hearts of all that knew me. The paternal regards of Sir Ralph had always been tender, but that tenderness seemed now to be redoubled.
"New events made this consolation still more necessary. My unhappy mother!—She was nearer to the dreadful scene when it happened; had no surviving object to beguile her sorrow; was rendered, by long habit, more dependent upon fortune than her child.
"A melancholy, always mute, was the first effect upon my mother. Nothing could charm her eye, or her ear. Sweet sounds that she once loved, and especially when her darling child was the warbler, were heard no longer. How, with streaming eyes, have I sat and watched the dear lady, and endeavoured to catch her eye, to rouse her attention!—But I must not think of these things.
"But even this distress was little in comparison with what was to come. A frenzy thus mute, motionless, and vacant, was succeeded by fits, talkative, outrageous, requiring incessant superintendence, restraint, and even violence.
"Why led you me thus back to my sad remembrances? Excuse me for the present. I will tell you the rest some other time; to-morrow."
To-morrow, accordingly, my friend resumed her story.
"Let me now make an end," said she, "of my mournful narrative, and never, I charge you, do any thing to revive it again.
"Deep as was my despondency, occasioned by these calamities, I was not destitute of some joy. My husband and my child were lovely and affectionate. In their caresses, in their welfare, I found peace; and might still have found it, had there not been——. But why should I open afresh wounds which time has imperfectly closed? But the story must some time be told to you, and the sooner it is told and dismissed to forgetfulness the better.
"My ill fate led me into company with a woman too well known in the idle and dissipated circles. Her character was not unknown to me. There was nothing in her features or air to obviate disadvantageous prepossessions. I sought not her intercourse; I rather shunned it, as unpleasing and discreditable, but she would not be repulsed. Self-invited, she made herself my frequent guest; took unsolicited part in my concerns; did me many kind offices; and, at length, in spite of my counter-inclination, won upon my sympathy and gratitude.
"No one in the world, did I fondly think, had I less reason to fear than Mrs. Waring. Her character excited not the slightest apprehension for my own safety. She was upwards of forty, nowise remarkable for grace or beauty; tawdry in her dress; accustomed to render more conspicuous the traces of age by her attempts to hide them; the mother of a numerous family, with a mind but slenderly cultivated; always careful to save appearances; studiously preserving distance with my husband, and he, like myself, enduring rather than wishing her society. What could I fear from the arts of such a one?
"But alas! the woman had consummate address. Patience, too, that nothing could tire. Watchfulness that none could detect. Insinuation the wiliest and most subtle. Thus wound she herself into my affections, by an unexampled perseverance in seeming kindness; by tender confidence; by artful glosses of past misconduct; by self-rebukes and feigned contritions.
"Never were stratagems so intricate, dissimulation so profound! But still, that such a one should seduce my husband; young, generous, ambitious, impatient of contumely and reproach, and surely not indifferent; before this fatal intercourse, not indifferent to his wife and child!—Yet so it was!