The Modern Griselda, by Maria Edgeworth

Chapter 16.

“Que suis je? — qu’ai je fait? Que dois-je faire encore?

Quel transport me saisit? Quel chagrin me dévore?”

Some hours after the quarrel about the straws, when her husband had entirely forgotten it, and was sitting very quietly in his own apartment writing a letter, Griselda entered the room with a countenance prepared for great exploits.

“Mr. Bolingbroke,” she began in an awful tone of voice, “if you are at leisure to attend to me, I wish to speak to you upon a subject of some importance.”

“I am quite at leisure, my dear; pray sit down: what is the matter? you really alarm me!”

“It is not my intention to alarm you, Mr. Bolingbroke,” continued she in a still more solemn tone; “the time is past when what I have to say could have alarmed: I am persuaded that you will now hear it without emotion, or with an emotion of pleasure.”

She paused; he laid down his pen, and looked all expectation.

“I am come to announce to you a fixed, unalterable resolution — To part from you, Mr. Bolingbroke.”

“Are you serious, my dear?”

“Perfectly serious, sir.”

These words did not produce the revolution in her husband’s countenance which Griselda had expected. She trembled with a mixed indescribable emotion of grief and rage when she heard him calmly reply, “Let us part, then, Griselda, if that be your wish; but let me be sure that it is your wish: I must have it repeated from your lips when you are perfectly calm.”

With a voice inarticulate from passion, Griselda began to assure him that she was perfectly calm; but he stopped her, and mildly said, “Take four-and-twenty hours to consider of what you are about, Griselda; I will be here at this time to-morrow to learn your final determination.”

Mr. Bolingbroke left the room.

Mrs. Bolingbroke was incapable of thinking: she could only feel. Conflicting passions assailed her heart. All the woman rushed upon her soul; she loved her husband more at this instant than she had ever loved him before. His firmness excited at once her anger and her admiration. She could not believe that she had heard his words rightly. She sat down to recall minutely every circumstance of what had just passed, every word, every look; she finished by persuading herself, that his calmness was affected, that the best method she could possibly take was by a show of resistance to bully him out of his indifference. She little knew what she hazarded; when the danger of losing her husband’s love was imaginary, and solely of her own creating, it affected her in the most violent manner; but now that the peril was real and imminent, she was insensible to its existence.

A celebrated traveller in the Alps advises people to imagine themselves walking amidst precipices, when they are safe upon smooth ground; and he assures them that by this practice they may inure themselves so to the idea of danger, as to prevent all sense of it in the most perilous situations.

The four-and-twenty hours passed; and at the appointed moment our heroine and her husband met. As she entered the room, she observed that he held a book in his hand, but was not reading: he put it down, rose deliberately, and placed a chair for her, in silence.

“I thank you, I would rather stand,” said she: he put aside the chair, and walked to a door at the other end of the room, to examine whether there was any one in the adjoining apartment.

“It is not necessary that what we have to say should be overheard by servants,” said he.

“I have no objection to being overheard,” said Griselda: “I have nothing to say of which I am ashamed; and all the world must know it soon.”

As Mr. Bolingbroke returned towards her, she examined his countenance with an inquisitive eye. It was expressive of concern; grave, but calm.

Whoever has seen a balloon — the reader, however impatient, must listen to this allusion — whoever has seen a balloon, may have observed that in its flaccid state it can be folded and unfolded with the greatest ease, and it is manageable even by a child; but when once filled, the force of multitudes cannot restrain, nor the art of man direct its course. Such is the human mind — so tractable before, so ungovernable after it fills with passion. By slow degrees, unnoticed by our heroine, the balloon had been filling. It was full; but yet it was held down by strong cords: it remained with her to cut or not to cut them.

“Reflect before you speak, my dear Griselda,” said her husband; “consider that on the words which you are going to pronounce depend your fate and mine.”

“I have reflected sufficiently,” said she, “and decide, Mr. Bolingbroke — to part.”

“Be it so!” cried he; fire flashed from his eyes; he grew red and pale in an instant. “Be it so,” repeated he, in an irrevocable voice —“We part for ever!”

He vanished before Griselda could speak or think. She was breathless; her limbs trembled; she could not support herself; she sunk she knew not where. She certainly loved her husband better than any thing upon earth, except power. When she came to her senses, and perceived that she was alone, she felt as if she was abandoned by all the world. The dreadful words “for ever,” still sounded in her ears. She was tempted to yield her humour to her affection. It was but a momentary struggle; the love of sway prevailed. When she came more fully to herself, she recurred to the belief that her husband could not be in earnest, or at least that he would never persist, if she had but the courage to dare him to the utmost.

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Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:37