Forester, by Maria Edgeworth

Breakfast.

When Henry found that Forester was not in his room in the morning, he concluded that he had rambled out towards Salisbury Craigs, whither he talked the preceding day of going to botanize.

“I am surprised,” said Dr. Campbell, “that the young gentleman is out so early, for I have a notion that he has not had much sleep since we parted, unless he walks in his sleep, for he has been walking over my poor head half the night.”

Breakfast went on — no Forester appeared. Lady Catherine began to fear that he had broken his neck upon Salisbury Craigs, and related all the falls she had ever had, or had ever been near having, in carriages, on horseback, or otherwise. She then entered into the geography of Salisbury Craigs, and began to dispute upon the probability of his having fallen to the east or to the west.

“My dear Lady Catherine,” said Dr. Campbell, “we are not sure that he has been upon Salisbury Craigs; whether he has fallen to the east or to the west, we cannot, therefore, conveniently settle.”

But Lady Catherine, whose prudential imagination travelled fast, went on to inquire of Dr. Campbell, to whom the great Forester estate would go in case of any accident having happened or happening to the young gentleman before he should come of age.

Dr. Campbell was preparing to give her ladyship satisfaction upon this point, when a servant put a letter into his hands. Henry looked in great anxiety. Dr. Campbell glanced his eye over the letter, put it into his pocket, and desired the servant to show the person who brought the letter into his study.

“It’s only a little boy,” said Archibald; “I saw him as I passed through the hall.”

“Cannot a little boy go into my study?” said Dr. Campbell, coolly.

Archibald’s curiosity was strongly excited, and he slipped out of the room a few minutes afterward, resolved to speak to the boy, and to discover the purpose of his embassy. But Dr. Campbell was behind him before he was aware of his approach, and just as Archibald began to cross-examine the boy in these words, “So you came from a young man who is about my size?” Dr. Campbell put both his hands upon his shoulders, saying, “He came from a young man who does not in the least resemble you, believe me, Mr. Archibald Mackenzie.”

Archibald started, turned round, and was so abashed by the civilly contemptuous look with which Dr. Campbell pronounced these words, that he retired from the study without even attempting any of his usual equivocating apologies for his intrusion. Dr. Campbell now read Forester’s letter. It was as follows:—

“Dear Sir,

“Though I have quitted your house thus abruptly, I am not insensible of your kindness. For the step I have taken, I can offer no apology merely to my guardian; but you have treated me, Dr, Campbell, as your friend, and I shall lay my whole soul open to you.

“Notwithstanding your kindness — notwithstanding the friendship of your son Henry, whose excellent qualities I know how to value — I most ingenuously own to you that I have been far from happy in your house. I feel that I cannot be at ease in the vortex of dissipation; and the more I see of the higher ranks of society, the more I regret that I was born a gentleman. Neither my birth nor my fortune shall, however, restrain me from pursuing that line of life which, I am persuaded, leads to virtue and tranquillity. Let those who have no virtuous indignation obey the voice of fashion, and at her commands let her slaves eat the bread of idleness till it palls upon the sense! I reproach myself with having yielded, as I have done of late, my opinions to the persuasions of friendship; my mind has become enervated, and I must fly from the fatal contagion. Thank Heaven, I have yet the power to fly: I have yet sufficient force to break my chains. I am not yet reduced to the mental degeneracy of the base monarch, who hugged his fetters because they were of gold.

“I am conscious of powers that fit me for something better than to waste my existence in a ball-room; and I will not sacrifice my liberty to the absurd ceremonies of daily dissipation. I, that have been the laughing-stock of the mean and frivolous, have yet sufficient manly pride, unextinguished in my breast, to assert my claim to your esteem: to assert, that I never have committed, or shall designedly commit, any action unworthy of the friend of your son.

“I do not write to Henry, lest I should any way involve him in my misfortunes: he is formed to shine in the polite world, and his connexion with me might tarnish the lustre of his character in the eyes of the ‘nice-judging fair.’ I hope, however, that he will not utterly discard me from his heart, though I cannot dance a reel. I beg that he will break open the lock of the trunk that is in my room, and take out of it my Goldsmith’s Animated Nature, which he seemed to like.

“In my table-drawer there are my Martyn’s Letters on Botany, in which you will find a number of plants that I have dried for Flora —Miss Flora Campbell, I should say. After what passed last night, I can scarcely hope they will be accepted. I would rather have them burned than refused; therefore please to burn them, and say nothing more upon the subject. Dear sir, do not judge harshly of me; I have had a severe conflict with myself before I could resolve to leave you. But I would rather that you should judge of me with severity than that you should extend to me the same species of indulgence with which you last night viewed the half-intoxicated baronet.

“I can bear any thing but contempt.

“Yours, &c.

“P.S. I trust that you will not question the bearer; he knows where I am; I therefore put you on your guard. I mean to earn my own bread as a gardener; I have always preferred the agricultural to the commercial system.”

To this letter, in which the mixture of sense and extravagance did not much surprise Dr. Campbell, he returned the following answer:—

“My dear cobbler, gardener, orator, or by whatever other name you choose to be addressed, I am too old to be surprised at any thing, otherwise I might have been rather surprised at some things in your eloquent letter. You tell me that you have the power to fly, and that you do not hug your chains, though they are of gold! Are you an alderman, or Daedalus? or are these only figures of speech? You inform me, that you cannot live in the vortex of dissipation, or eat the bread of idleness, and that you are determined to be a gardener. These things seem to have no necessary connexion with each other. Why you should reproach yourself so bitterly for having spent one evening of your life in a ball-room, which I suppose is what you allude to when you speak of a vortex of dissipation, I am at a loss to discover. And why you cannot, with so much honest pride yet unextinguished in your breast, find any occupation more worthy of your talents, and as useful to society, as that of a gardener, I own, puzzles me a little. Consider these things coolly; return to dinner, and we will compare at our leisure the advantages of the mercantile and the agricultural system. I forbear to question your messenger, as you desire; and I shall not show your letter to Henry till after we have dined. I hope by that time you will insist upon my burning it; which, at your request, I shall do with pleasure, although it contains several good sentences. As I am not yet sure you have departed this life, I shall not enter upon my office of executor; I shall not break open the lock of your trunk (of which I hope you will some time, when your mind is less exalted, find the key), nor shall I stir in the difficult case of Flora’s legacy. When next you write your will, let me, for the sake of your executor, advise you to be more precise in your directions; for what can be done if you order him to give and burn the same thing in the same sentence? As you have, amongst your other misfortunes, the misfortune to be born heir to five or six thousand a year, you should learn a little how to manage your own affairs, lest you should, amongst your poor or rich companions, meet with some who are not quite so honest as yourself.

“If, instead of returning to dine with us, you should persist in your gardening scheme, I shall have less esteem for your good sense, but I shall forbear to reproach you. I shall leave you to learn by your own experience, if it be not in my power to give you the advantages of mine gratis. But, at the same time, I shall discover where you are, and shall inform myself exactly of all your proceedings. This, as your guardian, is my duty. I should further warn you, that I shall not, whilst you choose to live in a rank below your own, supply you with your customary yearly allowance. Two hundred guineas a year would be an extravagant allowance in your present circumstances. I do not mention money with any idea of influencing your generous mind by mercenary motives; but it is necessary that you should not deceive yourself by inadequate experiments: you cannot be rich and poor at the same time. I gave you the day before yesterday five ten-pound notes for your last quarterly allowance; I suppose you have taken these with you, therefore you cannot be in any immediate distress for money. I am sorry, I own, that you are so well provided, because a man who has fifty guineas in his pocket-book cannot distinctly feel what it is to be compelled to earn his own bread.

“Do not, my dear ward, think me harsh; my friendship for you gives me courage to inflict present pain, with a view to your future advantage. You must not expect to see any thing of your friend Henry until you return to us. I shall, as his father and your guardian, request that he will trust implicitly to my prudence upon this occasion; that he will make no inquiries concerning you; and that he will abstain from all connexion with you whilst you absent yourself from your friends. You cannot live amongst the vulgar (by the vulgar I mean the ill-educated, the ignorant, those who have neither noble sentiments nor agreeable manners), and at the same time enjoy the pleasures of cultivated society. I shall wait, not without anxiety, till your choice be decided.

“Believe me to be

“Your sincere friend and guardian,

“H. CAMPBELL.”

As soon as Dr. Campbell had despatched this letter, he returned to the company. The ladies, after breakfast, proceeded to the charity-school; but Henry was so anxious to learn what was become of his friend Forester, that he could scarcely enjoy the effects of his own benevolent exertions. It was with difficulty, such as he had never before experienced, that Dr. Campbell obtained from him the promise to suspend all intercourse with Forester. Henry’s first impulse, when he read the letter, which his father now found it prudent to show him, was to search for his friend instantly. “I am sure,” said he, “I shall be able to find him out; and if I can but see him, and speak to him, I know I could prevail upon him to return to us.”

“Yes,” said Dr. Campbell, “perhaps you might persuade him to return; but that is not the object: unless his understanding be convinced, what should we gain?”

“It should be convinced. I could convince him,” cried Henry.

“I have, my dear son,” said Dr. Campbell, smiling, “the highest opinion of your logic and eloquence; but are your reasoning powers stronger to-day than they were yesterday? Have you any new arguments to produce? I thought you had exhausted your whole store without effect.”

Henry paused.

“Believe me,” continued his father, lowering his voice, “I am not insensible to your friend’s good, and, I will say, great qualities; I do not leave him to suffer evils, without feeling as much perhaps as you can do; but I am convinced, that the solidity of his character, and the happiness of his whole life, will depend upon the impression that is now made upon his mind by realities. He will see society as it is. He has abilities and generosity of mind which will make him a first-rate character, if his friends do not spoil him out of false kindness.”

Henry, at these words, held out his hand to his father, and gave him the promise which he desired.

“But,” added he, “I still have hopes from your letter — I should not be surprised to see Forester at dinner to-day,”

“I should,” said Dr. Campbell.

Dr. Campbell, alas! was right. Henry looked eagerly towards the door every time it opened, when they were at dinner: but he was continually disappointed. Flora, whose gaiety usually enlivened the evenings, and agreeably relieved her father and brother after their morning studies, was now silent.

Whilst Lady Catherine’s volubility overpowered even the philosophy of Dr. Campbell, she wondered — she never ceased wondering — that Mr. Forester did not appear, and that the doctor and Mrs. Campbell, and Henry and Flora, were not more alarmed. She proposed sending twenty different messengers after him. She was now convinced, that he had not fallen from Salisbury Craigs, because Dr. Campbell assured her ladyship, that he had a letter from him in his pocket, and that he was safe; but she thought that there was imminent danger of his enlisting in a frolic, or, perhaps, marrying some cobbler’s daughter in a pet. She turned to Archibald Mackenzie, and exclaimed, “He was at a cobbler’s; it could not be merely to mend his shoes. What sort of a lassy is the cobbler’s daughter? or has the cobbler a daughter?”

“She is hump-backed, luckily,” said Dr. Campbell, coolly.

“That does not signify,” said Lady Catherine; “I’m convinced she is at the bottom of the whole mystery; for I once heard Mr. Forester say — and I’m sure you must recollect it, Flora, my dear, for he looked at you at the time — I once heard him say, that personal beauty was no merit, and that ugly people ought to be liked — or some such thing — out of humanity. Now, out of humanity, with his odd notions, it’s ten to one, Dr. Campbell, he marries this cobbler’s hump-backed daughter. I’m sure, if I were his guardian, I could not rest an instant with such a thought in my head.”

“Nor I,” said Dr. Campbell, quietly; and in spite of her ladyship’s astonishment, remonstrances, and conjectures, he maintained his resolute composure.

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Last updated Sunday, March 2, 2014 at 14:44