The Adventures of Roderick Random, by Tobias Smollett

Chapter LVII

Miss Williams informs me of Narcissa’s Approbation of my Flame — I appease the Squire — write to my Mistress — am blessed with an Answer — beg Leave of her Brother to dance with her at a Ball — obtain his Consent and hers — enjoy a private Conversation with her — am perplexed with Reflections — have the Honour of appearing her Partner at a Ball — we are complimented by a certain Nobleman — he discovers some Symptoms of a Passion for Narcissa — I am stung with Jealousy — Narcissa, alarmed, retires — I observe Melinda in the company — the Squire is captivated by her Beauty

I was met next morning at the usual place by Miss Williams, who gave me joy of the progress I had made in the affection of her mistress, and blessed me with an account of that dear creature’s conversation with her, after she had retired the night before from our company. I could scarce believe her information, when she recounted her expressions in my favour, so much more warm and passionate were they than my most sanguine hopes had presaged; and was particularly pleased to hear that she approved of my behaviour to her brother after she withdrew. Transported at the news of my happiness, I presented my ring to the messenger as a testimony of my gratitude and satisfaction; but she was above such mercenary considerations, and refused my compliment with some resentment, saying, she was not a little mortified to see my opinion of her so low and contemptible. I did myself a piece of justice by explaining my behaviour on this head, and to convince her of my esteem, promised to be ruled by her directions in the prosecution of the whole affair, which I had so much at heart, that the repose of my life depended upon the consequence.

As I fervently wished for another interview, where I might pour out the effusion of my love without danger of being interrupted, and perhaps reep some endearing return from the queen of my desires, I implored her advice and assistance in promoting this event: but she gave me to understand, that Narcissa would make no precipitate compliances of this kind, and I would do well to cultivate her brother’s acquaintance, in the course of which I should not want opportunities of removing that reserve which my mistress thought herself obliged to maintain during the infancy of our correspondence. In the meantime she promised to tell her lady that I had endeavoured by presents and persuasions, to prevail upon her (Miss Williams) to deliver a letter from me, which she had refused to charge herself with, until she should know Narcissa’s sentiments of the matter; and said, by these means she did not doubt of being able to open a literary communication between us, which could not fail of introducing more intimate connections.

I approved of her counsel, and, our appointment being renewed for the next day, left her with an intent of falling upon some method of being reconciled to the squire, who, I supposed, would be offended with the trick we had put upon him. With this view I consulted Freeman, who, from his knowledge of the foxhunter’s disposition, assured me there was no other method of pacifying him, than that of sacrificing ourselves for one night to an equal match with him in drinking. This expedient I found myself necessitated to comply with for the interest of my passion, and therefore determined to commit the debauch at my own lodgings, that I might run no risk of being discovered by Narcissa, in a state of brutal degeneracy. Mr. Freeman, who was to be of the party, went, at my desire, to the squire, in order to engage him, while I took care to furnish myself for his reception. My invitation was accepted, my guests honoured me with their company in the evening, when Bruin gave me to understand that he had drunk many tons of wine in his life, but was never served such a trick as I had played upon him the night before. I promised to atone for my trespass, and, having ordered to every man his bottle, began the contest with a bumper to the health of Narcissa. The toasts circulated with great devotion, the liquor began to operate, our mirth grew noisy, and, as Freeman said, I had the advantage of drinking small French claret, the savage was effectually tamed before our senses were in the least affected, and carried home in an apoplexy of drunkenness.

I was next morning, as usual, favoured with a visit from my kind and punctual confidante, who, telling me she was permitted to receive my letters for her mistress, I took up the pen immediately, and, following the first dictates of my passion, wrote as follows:

“Dear Madam,
Were it possible for the powers of utterance to reveal the soft emotions of my soul, the fond anxiety, the glowing hopes, the chilling flame, that rule my breast by turns, I should need no other witness than this paper, to evince the purity and ardour of that flame your charms have kindled in my heart, But alas! expression wrongs my love! I am inspired with conceptions that no language can convey! Your beauty fills me with wonder, your understanding with ravishment, and your goodness with adoration! I am transported with desire, distracted with doubts, and tortured with impatience. Suffer me then, lovely arbitress of my fate, to approach you in person, to breathe in soft murmurs my passion to your ear, to offer the sacrifice of a heart overflowing with the most genuine and disinterested love, to gaze with ecstacy on the divine object of my wishes, to hear the music of her enchanting tongue, and to rejoice in her smiles of approbation, which will banish the most intolerable suspense from the bosom of
“Your enraptured, R— R—.”

Having finished this effusion, I committed it to the care of my faithful friend, with an injunction to second my entreaty with all her eloquence and influence, and in the meantime went to dress, with an intention of visiting Mrs. Snapper and Miss, whom I had utterly neglected, and indeed almost forgotten, since my dear Narcissa had resumed the empire of my soul. The old gentlewoman received me very kindly, and Miss affected a frankness and gaiety which, however, I could easily perceive was forced and dissembled: among other things, she pretended to joke me upon my passion for Narcissa, which she averred was no secret, and asked if I intended to dance with her at the next assembly. I was a good deal concerned to find myself become the town talk on this subject, lest the squire, having notice of my inclinations, should disapprove of them, and, by breaking off all correspondence with me, deprive me of the opportunities I now enjoyed. But I resolved to use the interest I had with him, while it lasted; and that very night, meeting him occasionally, asked his permission to solicit her company at the ball, which he very readily granted, to my inexpressible satisfaction.

Having been kept awake the greatest part of the night by a thousand delightful reveries that took possession of my fancy, I got up by times, and, flying to the place of rendezvous, had in a little time the pleasure of seeing Miss Williams approach with a smile on her countenance, which I interpreted into a good omen. Neither was I mistaken in my presage. She presented me with a letter from the idol of my soul, which, after having kissed it devoutly, I opened with the utmost eagerness, and was blessed with her approbation in these terms:

“Sir,
“To say I look upon you with indifference would be a piece of dissimulation which I think no decorum requires, and no custom can justify. As my heart never felt an impression that my tongue was ashamed to declare, I will not scruple to own myself pleased with your passion; confident of your integrity, and so well convinced of my own discretion, that I should not hesitate in granting you the interview you desire, were I not overawed by the prying curiosity of a malicious world, the censure of which might be fatally prejudicial to the reputation of
Your Narcissa.”

No anchorite in the ecstacy of devotion ever adored a relic with more fervour than that with which I kissed this inimitable proof of my charmer’s candour, generosity, and affection! I read it over a hundred times, was ravished with her confession in the beginning; but the subscription of Your Narcissa yielded me such delight as I had never felt before! My happiness was still increased by Miss Williams, who blessed me with a repetition of her lady’s tender expressions in my favour, when she received and read my letter. In short, I had all the reason in the world to believe that this gentle creature’s bosom was possessed by a passion for me, as warm, though perhaps not so impetuous as mine for her.

I informed my friend of the squire’s consent to my dancing with Narcissa at the ball and desired her to tell her mistress, that I would do myself the honour of visiting her in the afternoon, in consequence of his permission, when I hoped to find her as indulgent as her brother had been complaisant in that particular. Miss Williams expressed a good deal of joy at hearing I was so much in favour with the foxhunter, and ventured to assure me, that my visit would be very agreeable to my mistress, the rather because Bruin was engaged to dine abroad. This was a circumstance which, I scarce need say, pleased me. I went immediately to the Long Room, where I found him, and, affecting to know nothing of his engagement, told him, I would do myself the pleasure to wait upon him in the afternoon, and to present his sister with a ticket for the ball. He shook me by the band, according to custom, and, giving me to understand that he was to dine abroad, desired me to go and drink tea with Narcissa notwithstanding, and promised to prepare her for my visit in the meantime.

Everything succeeding thus to my wish, I waited with incredible impatience for the time, which no sooner arrived than I hastened to the scene, which my fancy had preoccupied long before. I was introduced accordingly to the dear enchantress, whom I found accompanied by Miss Williams, who, on pretence of ordering tea, retired at my approach. This favourable accident, which alarmed my whole soul, disordered her also. I found myself actuated by an irresistible impulse; I advanced to her with eagerness and awe; and, profiting by the confusion that prevailed over her, clasped the fair angel in my arms, and imprinted a glowing kiss upon her lips, more soft and fragrant than the dewy rosebud just bursting from the stem! Her face was in an instant covered with blushes, her eyes sparkled with resentment; I threw myself at her feet, and implored her pardon. Her love became advocate in my cause; her look softened into forgiveness; she raised me up, and chid me with so much sweetness of displeasure that I could have been tempted to repeat the offence, had not the coming in of the servant with the tea-board prevented my presumption. While we were subject to be interrupted or overheard, we conversed about the approaching ball, at which she promised to grace me as a partner, but, when the equipage was removed, and we were left alone, I resumed the more interesting theme, and expressed myself with such transport and agitation, that my mistress, fearing I should commit some extravagance, rang the bell for her maid, whom she detained in the room, as a check upon my vivacity. I was not sorry for this precaution, because I could unbosom myself without reserve before Miss Williams, who was the confidante of us both. I therefore gave a loose to the inspirations of my passion, which operated so successfully upon the tender affections of Narcissa, that she laid aside the constraint she had hitherto worn, and blessed me with the most melting declaration of her mutual flame! It was impossible for me to forbear taking the advantage of this endearing condescension. She now gently yielded to my embraces; while I, encircling all that I held dear within my arms, tasted in advance the joys of that paradise I hoped in a little time wholly to possess! We spent the afternoon in all the ecstacy of hope that the most fervent love exchanged by mutual vows could inspire; and Miss Williams was so much affected with our chaste caresses, which recalled the sad remembrance of what she was, that her eyes were filled with tears.

The evening being pretty far advanced, I forced myself from the dear object of my flame, who indulged me in a tender embrace at parting, and, repairing to my lodgings, communicated to my friend Strap every circumstance of my happiness, which filled him with so much pleasure, that it ran over at his eyes; and he prayed heartily, that no envious devil might, as formerly, dash the cup of blessing from my lip. When I reflected on what had happened, and especially on the unreserved protestations of Narcissa’s love, I could not help being amazed at her omitting to inquire into the particular circumstances of life and fortune of one whom she had favoured with her affection, and I began to be a little anxious about the situation of her finances; well knowing that I should do an irreparable injury to the person my soul held most dear, if I should espouse her without being able to support her in the rank which was certainly her due. I bad heard, indeed, while I served her aunt, that her father had left her a considerable sum; and that everybody believed she would inherit the greatest part of her kinswoman’s dowry, but I did not know how far she might be restricted by the old gentleman’s will in the enjoyment of what he left her: and I was too well informed of the virtuoso’s late conduct, to think my mistress could have any expectation from that quarter. I confided, however, in the good sense and policy of my charmer, who, I was sure, would not consent to unite her fate with mine, before she had fully considered and provided for the consequence.

The ball night being arrived, I dressed myself in a suit I had reserved for some grand occasion; and, having drunk tea with Narcissa and her brother, conducted my angel to the scene, where she, in a moment, eclipsed all her female competitors for beauty, and attracted the admiration of the whole assembly. My heart dilated with pride on this occasion, and my triumph rejected all bounds, when, after we had danced together, a certain nobleman, remarkable for his figure, and influence in the beau monde, came up, and in the hearing of all present, honoured us with a very particular compliment upon our accomplishments and appearance; but this transport was soon checked, when I perceived his lordship attach himself with great assiduity to my mistress, and say some warm things, which, I thought, savoured too much of passion. It was then I began to feel the pangs of jealousy; I dreaded the power and address of my rival; I sickened at his discourse; when she opened her lips to answer, my heart died within me; when she smiled, I felt the pains of the damned! I was enraged at his presumption: I cursed her complaisance: at length he quitted her, and went to the other side of the room. Narcissa, suspecting nothing of the rage that inflamed me, put some questions to me as soon as he was gone, to which I made no reply, but assumed a grim look, which too well denoted the agitation of my breast, and surprised her not a little. She no sooner observed my emotion than she changed colour, and asked what ailed me? but before I could make answer, her brother, pulling me by the sleeve, bade me take notice of a lady who sat fronting us, whom I immediately, to my vast astonishment, distinguished to be Melinda, accompanied by her mother, and an elderly gentleman, whom I did not know. “Wounds! Mr. Randan,” cried the squire, “is she not a delicate piece of stuff? ‘Sdeath! I have a good mind — if I thought she was a single person.”

Notwithstanding the perplexity I was in, I had reflection enough to foresee that my passion might suffer greatly by the presence of this lady, who, in all probability, would revenge herself upon me, for having formerly disgraced her, by spreading reports to my prejudice. I was therefore alarmed at these symptoms of the Squire’s admiration; and for some time did not know what reply to make, when he asked my opinion of her beauty; at length I came to a determination, and told him that her name was Melinda, that she had a fortune of ten thousand pounds, and was said to be under promise of marriage to a certain lord, who deferred his nuptials a few mouths until he should be of age. I thought this piece of intelligence, which I had myself invented, would have hindered him effectually from entertaining any further thoughts of her; but I was egregiously mistaken. The foxhunter had too much self-sufficiency to despair of success against any competitor on earth. He therefore made light of her engagement, saying, with a smile of self-approbation, “Mayhap she will change her mind; what signifies his being a lord? I think myself as good a man as e’er a lord in Christendom, and I’ll see if a commoner worth three thousand a year won’t serve her turn.” This determination startled me not a little; I knew he would soon discover the contrary of what I advanced; and as I believed he would find her ear open to his addresses, did not doubt of meeting with every obstacle in my amour that her malice could invent, and her influence execute. This reflection increased my chagrin — my vexation was evident. Narcissa insisted on going home immediately: and, as I led her to the door, her noble admirer, with a look full of languishment, directed to her a profound bow, which stung me to the soul. Before she went into the chair, she asked, with an appearance of concern, what was the matter with me? and I could pronounce no more than “By heaven, I am distracted!”

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/s/smollett/tobias/random/chapter57.html

Last updated Wednesday, March 5, 2014 at 22:30