In which Captain Booth begins to relate his history.
The tea-table being removed, and Mr. Booth and the lady left alone, he proceeded as follows:
“Since you desire, madam, to know the particulars of my courtship to that best and dearest of women whom I afterwards married, I will endeavour to recollect them as well as I can, at least all those incidents which are most worth relating to you.
“If the vulgar opinion of the fatality in marriage had ever any foundation, it surely appeared in my marriage with my Amelia. I knew her in the first dawn of her beauty; and, I believe, madam, she had as much as ever fell to the share of a woman; but, though I always admired her, it was long without any spark of love. Perhaps the general admiration which at that time pursued her, the respect paid her by persons of the highest rank, and the numberless addresses which were made her by men of great fortune, prevented my aspiring at the possession of those charms which seemed so absolutely out of my reach. However it was, I assure you the accident which deprived her of the admiration of others made the first great impression on my heart in her favour. The injury done to her beauty by the overturning of a chaise, by which, as you may well remember, her lovely nose was beat all to pieces, gave me an assurance that the woman who had been so much adored for the charms of her person deserved a much higher adoration to be paid to her mind; for that she was in the latter respect infinitely more superior to the rest of her sex than she had ever been in the former.”
“I admire your taste extremely,” cried the lady; “I remember perfectly well the great heroism with which your Amelia bore that misfortune.”
“Good heavens! madam,” answered he; “what a magnanimity of mind did her behaviour demonstrate! If the world have extolled the firmness of soul in a man who can support the loss of fortune; of a general who can be composed after the loss of a victory; or of a king who can be contented with the loss of a crown; with what astonishment ought we to behold, with what praises to honour, a young lady, who can with patience and resignation submit to the loss of exquisite beauty, in other words to the loss of fortune, power, glory, everything which human nature is apt to court and rejoice in! what must be the mind which can bear to be deprived of all these in a moment, and by an unfortunate trifling accident; which could support all this, together with the most exquisite torments of body, and with dignity, with resignation, without complaining, almost without a tear, undergo the most painful and dreadful operations of surgery in such a situation!” Here he stopt, and a torrent of tears gushed from his eyes; such tears are apt to flow from a truly noble heart at the hearing of anything surprisingly great and glorious. As soon as he was able he again proceeded thus:
“Would you think, Miss Matthews, that the misfortune of my Amelia was capable of any aggravation? I assure you, she hath often told me it was aggravated with a circumstance which outweighed all the other ingredients. This was the cruel insults she received from some of her most intimate acquaintance, several of whom, after many distortions and grimaces, have turned their heads aside, unable to support their secret triumph, and burst into a loud laugh in her hearing.”
“Good heavens!” cried Miss Matthews; “what detestable actions will this contemptible passion of envy prevail on our sex to commit!”
“An occasion of this kind, as she hath since told me, made the first impression on her gentle heart in my favour. I was one day in company with several young ladies, or rather young devils, where poor Amelia’s accident was the subject of much mirth and pleasantry. One of these said she hoped miss would not hold her head so high for the future. Another answered, ‘I do not know, madam, what she may do with her head, but I am convinced she will never more turn up her nose at her betters.’ Another cried, ‘What a very proper match might now be made between Amelia and a certain captain,’ who had unfortunately received an injury in the same part, though from no shameful cause. Many other sarcasms were thrown out, very unworthy to be repeated. I was hurt with perceiving so much malice in human shape, and cried out very bluntly, Indeed, ladies, you need not express such satisfaction at poor Miss Emily’s accident; for she will still be the handsomest woman in England. This speech of mine was afterwards variously repeated, by some to my honour, and by others represented in a contrary light; indeed, it was often reported to be much ruder than it was. However, it at length reached Amelia’s ears. She said she was very much obliged to me, since I could have so much compassion for her as to be rude to a lady on her account.
“About a month after the accident, when Amelia began to see company in a mask, I had the honour to drink tea with her. We were alone together, and I begged her to indulge my curiosity by showing me her face. She answered in a most obliging manner, ‘Perhaps, Mr. Booth, you will as little know me when my mask is off as when it is on;’ and at the same instant unmasked. — The surgeon’s skill was the least I considered. A thousand tender ideas rushed all at once on my mind. I was unable to contain myself, and, eagerly kissing her hand, I cried — Upon my soul, madam, you never appeared to me so lovely as at this instant. Nothing more remarkable passed at this visit; but I sincerely believe we were neither of us hereafter indifferent to each other.
“Many months, however, passed after this, before I ever thought seriously of making her my wife. Not that I wanted sufficient love for Amelia. Indeed it arose from the vast affection I bore her. I considered my own as a desperate fortune, hers as entirely dependent on her mother, who was a woman, you know, of violent passions, and very unlikely to consent to a match so highly contrary to the interest of her daughter. The more I loved Amelia, the more firmly I resolved within myself never to propose love to her seriously. Such a dupe was my understanding to my heart, and so foolishly did I imagine I could be master of a flame to which I was every day adding fuel.
“O, Miss Matthews! we have heard of men entirely masters of their passions, and of hearts which can carry this fire in them, and conceal it at their pleasure. Perhaps there may be such: but, if there are, those hearts may be compared, I believe, to damps, in which it is more difficult to keep fire alive than to prevent its blazing: in mine it was placed in the midst of combustible matter.
“After several visits, in which looks and sighs had been interchanged on both sides, but without the least mention of passion in private, one day the discourse between us when alone happened to turn on love; I say happened, for I protest it was not designed on my side, and I am as firmly convinced not on hers. I was now no longer master of myself; I declared myself the most wretched of all martyrs to this tender passion; that I had long concealed it from its object. At length, after mentioning many particulars, suppressing, however, those which must have necessarily brought it home to Amelia, I concluded with begging her to be the confidante of my amour, and to give me her advice on that occasion.
“Amelia (O, I shall never forget the dear perturbation!) appeared all confusion at this instant. She trembled, turned pale, and discovered how well she understood me, by a thousand more symptoms than I could take notice of, in a state of mind so very little different from her own. At last, with faltering accents, she said I had made a very ill choice of a counsellor in a matter in which she was so ignorant. — Adding, at last, ‘I believe, Mr. Booth, you gentlemen want very little advice in these affairs, which you all understand better than we do.’
“I will relate no more of our conversation at present; indeed I am afraid I tire you with too many particulars.”
“O, no!” answered she; “I should be glad to hear every step of an amour which had so tender a beginning. Tell me everything you said or did, if you can remember it.”
He then proceeded, and so will we in the next chapter.
Mr. Booth continues his story. In this chapter there are some passages that may serve as a kind of touchstone by which a young lady may examine the heart of her lover. I would advise, therefore, that every lover be obliged to read it over in the presence of his mistress, and that she carefully watch his emotions while he is reading.
“I was under the utmost concern,” cries Booth, “when I retired from my visit, and had reflected coolly on what I had said. I now saw plainly that I had made downright love to Amelia; and I feared, such was my vanity, that I had already gone too far, and been too successful. Feared! do I say? could I fear what I hoped? how shall I describe the anxiety of my mind?”
“You need give yourself no great pain,” cried Miss Matthews, “to describe what I can so easily guess. To be honest with you, Mr. Booth, I do not agree with your lady’s opinion that the men have a superior understanding in the matters of love. Men are often blind to the passions of women: but every woman is as quick-sighted as a hawk on these occasions; nor is there one article in the whole science which is not understood by all our sex.”
“However, madam,” said Mr. Booth, “I now undertook to deceive Amelia. I abstained three days from seeing her; to say the truth, I endeavoured to work myself up to a resolution of leaving her for ever: but when I could not so far subdue my passion —— But why do I talk nonsense of subduing passion? — I should say, when no other passion could surmount my love, I returned to visit her; and now I attempted the strangest project which ever entered into the silly head of a lover. This was to persuade Amelia that I was really in love in another place, and had literally expressed my meaning when I asked her advice and desired her to be my confidante.
“I therefore forged a meeting to have been between me and my imaginary mistress since I had last seen Amelia, and related the particulars, as well as I could invent them, which had passed at our conversation.
“Poor Amelia presently swallowed this bait; and, as she hath told me since, absolutely believed me to be in earnest. Poor dear love! how should the sincerest of hearts have any idea of deceit? for, with all her simplicity, I assure you she is the most sensible woman in the world.”
“It is highly generous and good in you,” said Miss Matthews, with a sly sneer, “to impute to honesty what others would, perhaps, call credulity.”
“I protest, madam,” answered he, “I do her no more than justice. A good heart will at all times betray the best head in the world. —— Well, madam, my angel was now, if possible, more confused than before. She looked so silly, you can hardly believe it.”
“Yes, yes, I can,” answered the lady, with a laugh, “I can believe it. — Well, well, go on.” — “After some hesitation,” cried he, “my Amelia said faintly to me, ‘Mr. Booth, you use me very ill; you desire me to be your confidante, and conceal from me the name of your mistress.’
“Is it possible then, madam,” answered I, “that you cannot guess her, when I tell you she is one of your acquaintance, and lives in this town?”
“‘My acquaintance!’ said she: ‘La! Mr. Booth — In this town! I— I— I thought I could have guessed for once; but I have an ill talent that way — I will never attempt to guess anything again.’ Indeed I do her an injury when I pretend to represent her manner. Her manner, look, voice, everything was inimitable; such sweetness, softness, innocence, modesty! — Upon my soul, if ever man could boast of his resolution, I think I might now, that I abstained from falling prostrate at her feet, and adoring her. However, I triumphed; pride, I believe, triumphed, or perhaps love got the better of love. We once more parted, and I promised, the next time I saw her, to reveal the name of my mistress.
“I now had, I thought, gained a complete victory over myself; and no small compliments did I pay to my own resolution. In short, I triumphed as cowards and niggards do when they flatter themselves with having given some supposed instance of courage or generosity; and my triumph lasted as long; that is to say, till my ascendant passion had a proper opportunity of displaying itself in its true and natural colours.
“Having hitherto succeeded so well in my own opinion, and obtained this mighty self-conquest, I now entertained a design of exerting the most romantic generosity, and of curing that unhappy passion which I perceived I had raised in Amelia.
“Among the ladies who had expressed the greatest satisfaction at my Amelia’s misfortune, Miss Osborne had distinguished herself in a very eminent degree; she was, indeed, the next in beauty to my angel, nay, she had disputed the preference, and had some among her admirers who were blind enough to give it in her favour.”
“Well,” cries the lady, “I will allow you to call them blind; but Miss Osborne was a charming girl.”
“She certainly was handsome,” answered he, “and a very considerable fortune; so I thought my Amelia would have little difficulty in believing me when I fixed on her as my mistress. And I concluded that my thus placing my affections on her known enemy would be the surest method of eradicating every tender idea with which I had been ever honoured by Amelia.
“Well, then, to Amelia I went; she received me with more than usual coldness and reserve; in which, to confess the truth, there appeared to me more of anger than indifference, and more of dejection than of either. After some short introduction, I revived the discourse of my amour, and presently mentioned Miss Osborne as the lady whose name I had concealed; adding, that the true reason why I did not mention her before was, that I apprehended there was some little distance between them, which I hoped to have the happiness of accommodating.
“Amelia answered with much gravity, ‘If you know, sir, that there is any distance between us, I suppose you know the reason of that distance; and then, I think, I could not have expected to be affronted by her name. I would not have you think, Mr. Booth, that I hate Miss Osborne. No! Heaven is my witness, I despise her too much. — Indeed, when I reflect how much I loved the woman who hath treated me so cruelly, I own it gives me pain — when I lay, as I then imagined, and as all about me believed, on my deathbed, in all the agonies of pain and misery, to become the object of laughter to my dearest friend. — O, Mr. Booth, it is a cruel reflection! and could I after this have expected from you — but why not from you, to whom I am a person entirely indifferent, if such a friend could treat me so barbarously?’
“During the greatest part of this speech the tears streamed from her bright eyes. I could endure it no longer. I caught up the word indifferent, and repeated it, saying, Do you think then, madam, that Miss Emily is indifferent to me?
“‘Yes, surely, I do,’ answered she: ‘I know I am; indeed, why should I not be indifferent to you?’
“Have my eyes,” said I, “then declared nothing?”
“‘O! there is no need of your eyes’ answered she; ‘your tongue hath declared that you have singled out of all womankind my greatest, I will say, my basest enemy. I own I once thought that character would have been no recommendation to you; — but why did I think so? I was born to deceive myself.’
“I then fell on my knees before her; and, forcing her hand, cried out, O, my Amelia! I can bear no longer. You are the only mistress of my affections; you are the deity I adore. In this stile I ran on for above two or three minutes, what it is impossible to repeat, till a torrent of contending passions, together with the surprize, overpowered her gentle spirits, and she fainted away in my arms.
“To describe my sensation till she returned to herself is not in my power.” — “You need not,” cried Miss Matthews. — “Oh, happy Amelia! why had I not been blest with such a passion?” — “I am convinced, madam,” continued he, “you cannot expect all the particulars of the tender scene which ensued. I was not enough in my senses to remember it all. Let it suffice to say, that that behaviour with which Amelia, while ignorant of its motive, had been so much displeased, when she became sensible of that motive, proved the strongest recommendation to her favour, and she was pleased to call it generous.”
“Generous!” repeated the lady, “and so it was, almost beyond the reach of humanity. I question whether you ever had an equal.”
Perhaps the critical reader may have the same doubt with Miss Matthews; and lest he should, we will here make a gap in our history, to give him an opportunity of accurately considering whether this conduct of Mr. Booth was natural or no; and consequently, whether we have, in this place, maintained or deviated from that strict adherence to universal truth which we profess above all other historians.
The narrative continued. More of the touchstone.
Booth made a proper acknowledgment of Miss Matthew’s civility, and then renewed his story. “We were upon the footing of lovers; and Amelia threw off her reserve more and more, till at length I found all that return of my affection which the tenderest lover can require.
“My situation would now have been a paradise, had not my happiness been interrupted with the same reflections I have already mentioned; had I not, in short, concluded, that I must derive all my joys from the almost certain ruin of that dear creature to whom I should owe them.
“This thought haunted me night and day, till I at last grew unable to support it: I therefore resolved in the strongest manner, to lay it before Amelia.
“One evening then, after the highest professions of the most disinterested love, in which Heaven knows my sincerity, I took an occasion to speak to Amelia in the following manner:—
“Too true it is, I am afraid, my dearest creature, that the highest human happiness is imperfect. How rich would be my cup, was it not for one poisonous drop which embitters the whole! O, Amelia! what must be the consequence of my ever having the honour to call you mine! — You know my situation in life, and you know your own: I have nothing more than the poor provision of an ensign’s commission to depend on; your sole dependence is on your mother; should any act of disobedience defeat your expectations, how wretched must your lot be with me! O, Amelia! how ghastly an object to my mind is the apprehension of your distress! Can I bear to reflect a moment on the certainty of your foregoing all the conveniences of life? on the possibility of your suffering all its most dreadful inconveniencies? what must be my misery, then, to see you in such a situation, and to upbraid myself with being the accursed cause of bringing you to it? Suppose too in such a season I should be summoned from you. Could I submit to see you encounter all the hazards, the fatigues of war, with me? you could not yourself, however willing, support them a single campaign. What then; must I leave you to starve alone, deprived of the tenderness of a husband, deprived too of the tenderness of the best of mothers, through my means? a woman most dear to me, for being the parent, the nurse, and the friend of my Amelia. —— But oh! my sweet creature, carry your thoughts a little further. Think of the tenderest consequences, the dearest pledges of our love. Can I bear to think of entailing beggary on the posterity of my Amelia? on our —— Oh, Heavens! — on our children! — On the other side, is it possible even to mention the word — I will not, must not, cannot, cannot part with you. —— What must we do, Amelia? It is now I sincerely ask your advice.”
“‘What advice can I give you,’ said she, ‘in such an alternative? Would to Heaven we had never met!’
“These words were accompanied with a sigh, and a look inexpressibly tender, the tears at the same time overflowing all her lovely cheeks. I was endeavouring to reply when I was interrupted by what soon put an end to the scene.
“Our amour had already been buzzed all over the town; and it came at last to the ears of Mrs. Harris: I had, indeed, observed of late a great alteration in that lady’s behaviour towards me whenever I visited at the house; nor could I, for a long time before this evening, ever obtain a private interview with Amelia; and now, it seems, I owed it to her mother’s intention of overhearing all that passed between us.
“At the period then above mentioned, Mrs. Harris burst from the closet where she had hid herself, and surprised her daughter, reclining on my bosom in all that tender sorrow I have just described. I will not attempt to paint the rage of the mother, or the daughter’s confusion, or my own. ‘Here are very fine doings, indeed,’ cries Mrs. Harris: ‘you have made a noble use, Amelia, of my indulgence, and the trust I reposed in you. — As for you, Mr. Booth, I will not accuse you; you have used my child as I ought to have expected; I may thank myself for what hath happened;’ with much more of the same kind, before she would suffer me to speak; but at last I obtained a hearing, and offered to excuse my poor Amelia, who was ready to sink into the earth under the oppression of grief, by taking as much blame as I could on myself. Mrs. Harris answered, ‘No, sir, I must say you are innocent in comparison of her; nay, I can say I have heard you use dissuasive arguments; and I promise you they are of weight. I have, I thank Heaven, one dutiful child, and I shall henceforth think her my only one.’ — She then forced the poor, trembling, fainting Amelia out of the room; which when she had done, she began very coolly to reason with me on the folly, as well as iniquity, which I had been guilty of; and repeated to me almost every word I had before urged to her daughter. In fine, she at last obtained of me a promise that I would soon go to my regiment, and submit to any misery rather than that of being the ruin of Amelia.
“I now, for many days, endured the greatest torments which the human mind is, I believe, capable of feeling; and I can honestly say I tried all the means, and applied every argument which I could raise, to cure me of my love. And to make these the more effectual, I spent every night in walking backwards and forwards in the sight of Mrs. Harris’s house, where I never failed to find some object or other which raised some tender idea of my lovely Amelia, and almost drove me to distraction.”
“And don’t you think, sir,” said Miss Matthews, “you took a most preposterous method to cure yourself?”
“Alas, madam,” answered he, “you cannot see it in a more absurd light than I do; but those know little of real love or grief who do not know how much we deceive ourselves when we pretend to aim at the cure of either. It is with these, as it is with some distempers of the body, nothing is in the least agreeable to us but what serves to heighten the disease.
“At the end of a fortnight, when I was driven almost to the highest degree of despair, and could contrive no method of conveying a letter to Amelia, how was I surprised when Mrs. Harris’s servant brought me a card, with an invitation from the mother herself to drink tea that evening at her house!
“You will easily believe, madam, that I did not fail so agreeable an appointment: on my arrival I was introduced into a large company of men and women, Mrs. Harris and my Amelia being part of the company.
“Amelia seemed in my eyes to look more beautiful than ever, and behaved with all the gaiety imaginable. The old lady treated me with much civility, but the young lady took little notice of me, and addressed most of her discourse to another gentleman present. Indeed, she now and then gave me a look of no discouraging kind, and I observed her colour change more than once when her eyes met mine; circumstances, which, perhaps, ought to have afforded me sufficient comfort, but they could not allay the thousand doubts and fears with which I was alarmed, for my anxious thoughts suggested no less to me than that Amelia had made her peace with her mother at the price of abandoning me forever, and of giving her ear to some other lover. All my prudence now vanished at once; and I would that instant have gladly run away with Amelia, and have married her without the least consideration of any consequences.
“With such thoughts I had tormented myself for near two hours, till most of the company had taken their leave. This I was myself incapable of doing, nor do I know when I should have put an end to my visit, had not Dr Harrison taken me away almost by force, telling me in a whisper that he had something to say to me of great consequence. — You know the doctor, madam — ”
“Very well, sir,” answered Miss Matthews, “and one of the best men in the world he is, and an honour to the sacred order to which he belongs.”
“You will judge,” replied Booth, “by the sequel, whether I have reason to think him so.” — He then proceeded as in the next chapter.
The story of Mr. Booth continued. In this chapter the reader will perceive a glimpse of the character of a very good divine, with some matters of a very tender kind.
“The doctor conducted me into his study, and I then, desiring me to sit down, began, as near as I can remember, in these words, or at least to this purpose:
“‘You cannot imagine, young gentleman, that your love for Miss Emily is any secret in this place; I have known it some time, and have been, I assure you, very much your enemy in this affair.’
“I answered, that I was very much obliged to him.
“‘Why, so you are,’ replied he; ‘and so, perhaps, you will think yourself when you know all. — I went about a fortnight ago to Mrs. Harris, to acquaint her with my apprehensions on her daughter’s account; for, though the matter was much talked of, I thought it might possibly not have reached her ears. I will be very plain with you. I advised her to take all possible care of the young lady, and even to send her to some place, where she might be effectually kept out of your reach while you remained in the town.’
“And do you think, sir, said I, that this was acting a kind part by me? or do you expect that I should thank you on this occasion?
“‘Young man,’ answered he, ‘I did not intend you any kindness, nor do I desire any of your thanks. My intention was to preserve a worthy lady from a young fellow of whom I had heard no good character, and whom I imagined to have a design of stealing a human creature for the sake of her fortune.’
“It was very kind of you, indeed, answered I, to entertain such an opinion of me.
“‘Why, sir,’ replied the doctor, ‘it is the opinion which, I believe, most of you young gentlemen of the order of the rag deserve. I have known some instances, and have heard of more, where such young fellows have committed robbery under the name of marriage.’
“I was going to interrupt him with some anger when he desired me to have a little patience, and then informed me that he had visited Mrs. Harris with the above-mentioned design the evening after the discovery I have related; that Mrs. Harris, without waiting for his information, had recounted to him all which had happened the evening before; and, indeed, she must have an excellent memory, for I think she repeated every word I said, and added, that she had confined her daughter to her chamber, where she kept her a close prisoner, and had not seen her since.
“I cannot express, nor would modesty suffer me if I could, all that now past. The doctor took me by the hand and burst forth into the warmest commendations of the sense and generosity which he was pleased to say discovered themselves in my speech. You know, madam, his strong and singular way of expressing himself on all occasions, especially when he is affected with anything. ‘Sir,’ said he, ‘if I knew half a dozen such instances in the army, the painter should put red liveries upon all the saints in my closet.’
“From this instant, the doctor told me, he had become my friend and zealous advocate with Mrs. Harris, on whom he had at last prevailed, though not without the greatest difficulty, to consent to my marrying Amelia, upon condition that I settled every penny which the mother should lay down, and that she would retain a certain sum in her hands which she would at any time deposit for my advancement in the army.
“You will, I hope, madam, conceive that I made no hesitation at these conditions, nor need I mention the joy which I felt on this occasion, or the acknowledgment I paid the doctor, who is, indeed, as you say, one of the best of men.
“The next morning I had permission to visit Amelia, who received me in such a manner, that I now concluded my happiness to be complete.
“Everything was now agreed on all sides, and lawyers employed to prepare the writings, when an unexpected cloud arose suddenly in our serene sky, and all our joys were obscured in a moment.
“When matters were, as I apprehended, drawing near a conclusion, I received an express, that a sister whom I tenderly loved was seized with a violent fever, and earnestly desired me to come to her. I immediately obeyed the summons, and, as it was then about two in the morning, without staying even to take leave of Amelia, for whom I left a short billet, acquainting her with the reason of my absence.
“The gentleman’s house where my sister then was stood at fifty miles’ distance, and, though I used the utmost expedition, the unmerciful distemper had, before my arrival, entirely deprived the poor girl of her senses, as it soon after did of her life.
“Not all the love I bore Amelia, nor the tumultuous delight with which the approaching hour of possessing her filled my heart, could, for a while, allay my grief at the loss of my beloved Nancy. Upon my soul, I cannot yet mention her name without tears. Never brother and sister had, I believe, a higher friendship for each other. Poor dear girl! whilst I sat by her in her light-head fits, she repeated scarce any other name but mine; and it plainly appeared that, when her dear reason was ravished away from her, it had left my image on her fancy, and that the last use she made of it was to think on me. ‘Send for my dear Billy immediately,’ she cried; ‘I know he will come to me in a moment. Will nobody fetch him to me? pray don’t kill me before I see him once more. You durst not use me so if he was here.’ — Every accent still rings in my ears. Oh, heavens! to hear this, and at the same time to see the poor delirious creature deriving the greatest horrors from my sight, and mistaking me for a highwayman who had a little before robbed her. But I ask your pardon; the sensations I felt are to be known only from experience, and to you must appear dull and insipid. At last, she seemed for a moment to know me, and cried, ‘O heavens! my dearest brother!’ upon which she fell into immediate convulsions, and died away in my arms.”
Here Mr. Booth stopped a moment, and wiped his eyes; and Miss Matthews, perhaps out of complaisance, wiped hers.
Containing strange revolutions of fortune
Booth proceeded thus:
“This loss, perhaps, madam, you will think had made me miserable enough; but Fortune did not think so; for, on the day when my Nancy was to be buried, a courier arrived from Dr Harrison, with a letter, in which the doctor acquainted me that he was just come from Mrs. Harris when he despatched the express, and earnestly desired me to return the very instant I received his letter, as I valued my Amelia. ‘Though if the daughter,’ added he, ‘should take after her mother (as most of them do) it will be, perhaps, wiser in you to stay away.’
“I presently sent for the messenger into my room, and with much difficulty extorted from him that a great squire in his coach and six was come to Mrs. Harris’s, and that the whole town said he was shortly to be married to Amelia.
“I now soon perceived how much superior my love for Amelia was to every other passion; poor Nancy’s idea disappeared in a moment; I quitted the dear lifeless corpse, over which I had shed a thousand tears, left the care of her funeral to others, and posted, I may almost say flew, back to Amelia, and alighted at the doctor’s house, as he had desired me in his letter.
“The good man presently acquainted me with what had happened in my absence. Mr. Winckworth had, it seems, arrived the very day of my departure, with a grand equipage, and, without delay, had made formal proposals to Mrs. Harris, offering to settle any part of his vast estate, in whatever manner she pleased, on Amelia. These proposals the old lady had, without any deliberation, accepted, and had insisted, in the most violent manner, on her daughter’s compliance, which Amelia had as peremptorily refused to give; insisting, on her part, on the consent which her mother had before given to our marriage, in which she was heartily seconded by the doctor, who declared to her, as he now did to me, ‘that we ought as much to be esteemed man and wife as if the ceremony had already past between us.’
“These remonstrances, the doctor told me, had worked no effect on Mrs. Harris, who still persisted in her avowed resolution of marrying her daughter to Winckworth, whom the doctor had likewise attacked, telling him that he was paying his addresses to another man’s wife; but all to no purpose; the young gentleman was too much in love to hearken to any dissuasives.
“We now entered into a consultation what means to employ. The doctor earnestly protested against any violence to be offered to the person of Winckworth, which, I believe, I had rashly threatened; declaring that, if I made any attempt of that kind, he would for ever abandon my cause. I made him a solemn promise of forbearance. At last he determined to pay another visit to Mrs. Harris, and, if he found her obdurate, he said he thought himself at liberty to join us together without any further consent of the mother, which every parent, he said, had a right to refuse, but not retract when given, unless the party himself, by some conduct of his, gave a reason.
“The doctor having made his visit with no better success than before, the matter now debated was, how to get possession of Amelia by stratagem, for she was now a closer prisoner than ever; was her mother’s bedfellow by night, and never out of her sight by day.
“While we were deliberating on this point a wine-merchant of the town came to visit the doctor, to inform him that he had just bottled off a hogshead of excellent old port, of which he offered to spare him a hamper, saying that he was that day to send in twelve dozen to Mrs. Harris.
“The doctor now smiled at a conceit which came into his head; and, taking me aside, asked me if I had love enough for the young lady to venture into the house in a hamper. I joyfully leapt at the proposal, to which the merchant, at the doctor’s intercession, consented; for I believe, madam, you know the great authority which that worthy mart had over the whole town. The doctor, moreover, promised to procure a license, and to perform the office for us at his house, if I could find any means of conveying Amelia thither.
“In this hamper, then, I was carried to the house, and deposited in the entry, where I had not lain long before I was again removed and packed up in a cart in order to be sent five miles into the country; for I heard the orders given as I lay in the entry; and there I likewise heard that Amelia and her mother were to follow me the next morning.
“I was unloaded from my cart, and set down with the rest of the lumber in a great hall. Here I remained above three hours, impatiently waiting for the evening, when I determined to quit a posture which was become very uneasy, and break my prison; but Fortune contrived to release me sooner, by the following means: The house where I now was had been left in the care of one maid-servant. This faithful creature came into the hall with the footman who had driven the cart. A scene of the highest fondness having past between them, the fellow proposed, and the maid consented, to open the hamper and drink a bottle together, which, they agreed, their mistress would hardly miss in such a quantity. They presently began to execute their purpose. They opened the hamper, and, to their great surprise, discovered the contents.
“I took an immediate advantage of the consternation which appeared in the countenances of both the servants, and had sufficient presence of mind to improve the knowledge of those secrets to which I was privy. I told them that it entirely depended on their behaviour to me whether their mistress should ever be acquainted, either with what they had done or with what they had intended to do; for that if they would keep my secret I would reciprocally keep theirs. I then acquainted them with my purpose of lying concealed in the house, in order to watch an opportunity of obtaining a private interview with Amelia.
“In the situation in which these two delinquents stood, you may be assured it was not difficult for me to seal up their lips. In short, they agreed to whatever I proposed. I lay that evening in my dear Amelia’s bedchamber, and was in the morning conveyed into an old lumber-garret, where I was to wait till Amelia (whom the maid promised, on her arrival, to inform of my place of concealment) could find some opportunity of seeing me.”
“I ask pardon for interrupting you,” cries Miss Matthews, “but you bring to my remembrance a foolish story which I heard at that time, though at a great distance from you: That an officer had, in confederacy with Miss Harris, broke open her mother’s cellar and stole away a great quantity of her wine. I mention it only to shew you what sort of foundations most stories have.”
Booth told her he had heard some such thing himself, and then continued his story as in the next chapter.
Containing many surprising adventures.
“There,” continued he, “I remained the whole day in hopes of a happiness, the expected approach of which gave me such a delight that I would not have exchanged my poor lodgings for the finest palace in the universe.
“A little after it was dark Mrs. Harris arrived, together with Amelia and her sister. I cannot express how much my heart now began to flutter; for, as my hopes every moment encreased, strange fears, which I had not felt before, began now to intermingle with them.
“When I had continued full two hours in these circumstances, I heard a woman’s step tripping upstairs, which I fondly hoped was my Amelia; but all on a sudden the door flew open, and Mrs. Harris herself appeared at it, with a countenance pale as death, her whole body trembling, I suppose with anger; she fell upon me in the most bitter language. It is not necessary to repeat what she said, nor indeed can I, I was so shocked and confounded on this occasion. In a word, the scene ended with my departure without seeing Amelia.”
“And pray,” cries Miss Matthews, “how happened this unfortunate discovery?”
Booth answered, That the lady at supper ordered a bottle of wine, “which neither myself,” says he, “nor the servants had presence of mind to provide. Being told there was none in the house, though she had been before informed that the things came all safe, she had sent for the maid, who, being unable to devise any excuse, had fallen on her knees, and, after confessing her design of opening a bottle, which she imputed to the fellow, betrayed poor me to her mistress.
“Well, madam, after a lecture of about a quarter of an hour’s duration from Mrs. Harris, I suffered her to conduct me to the outward gate of her court-yard, whence I set forward in a disconsolate condition of mind towards my lodgings. I had five miles to walkin a dark and rainy night: but how can I mention these trifling circumstances as any aggravation of my disappointment!”
“How was it possible,” cried Miss Matthews, “that you could be got out of the house without seeing Miss Harris?”
“I assure you, madam,” answered Booth, “I have often wondered at it myself; but my spirits were so much sunk at the sight of her mother, that no man was ever a greater coward than I was at that instant. Indeed, I believe my tender concern for the terrors of Amelia were the principal cause of my submission. However it was, I left the house, and walked about a hundred yards, when, at the corner of the garden-wall, a female voice, in a whisper, cried out, ‘Mr. Booth.’ The person was extremely near me, but it was so dark I could scarce see her; nor did I, in the confusion I was in, immediately recognize the voice. I answered in a line of Congreve’s, which burst from my lips spontaneously; for I am sure I had no intention to quote plays at that time.
“‘Who calls the wretched thing that was Alphonso?’
“Upon which a woman leapt into my arms, crying out — ‘O! it is indeed my Alphonso, my only Alphonso!’ — O Miss Matthews! guess what I felt when I found I had my Amelia in my arms. I embraced her with an ecstasy not to be described, at the same instant pouring a thousand tendernesses into her ears; at least, if I could express so many to her in a minute, for in that time the alarm began at the house; Mrs. Harris had mist her daughter, and the court was presently full of lights and noises of all kinds.
“I now lifted Amelia over a gate, and, jumping after, we crept along together by the side of a hedge, a different way from what led to the town, as I imagined that would be the road through which they would pursue us. In this opinion I was right; for we heard them pass along that road, and the voice of Mrs. Harris herself, who ran with the rest, notwithstanding the darkness and the rain. By these means we luckily made our escape, and clambring over hedge and ditch, my Amelia performing the part of a heroine all the way, we at length arrived at a little green lane, where stood a vast spreading oak, under which we sheltered ourselves from a violent storm.
“When this was over and the moon began to appear, Amelia declared she knew very well where she was; and, a little farther striking into another lane to the right, she said that would lead us to a house where we should be both safe and unsuspected. I followed her directions, and we at length came to a little cottage about three miles distant from Mrs. Harris’s house.
“As it now rained very violently, we entered this cottage, in which we espied a light, without any ceremony. Here we found an elderly woman sitting by herself at a little fire, who had no sooner viewed us than she instantly sprung from her seat, and starting back gave the strongest tokens of amazement; upon which Amelia said, ‘Be not surprised, nurse, though you see me in a strange pickle, I own.’ The old woman, after having several times blessed herself, and expressed the most tender concern for the lady who stood dripping before her, began to bestir herself in making up the fire; at the same time entreating Amelia that she might be permitted to furnish her with some cloaths, which, she said, though not fine, were clean and wholesome and much dryer than her own. I seconded this motion so vehemently, that Amelia, though she declared herself under no apprehension of catching cold (she hath indeed the best constitution in the world), at last consented, and I retired without doors under a shed, to give my angel an opportunity of dressing herself in the only room which the cottage afforded belowstairs.
“At my return into the room, Amelia insisted on my exchanging my coat for one which belonged to the old woman’s son.” “I am very glad,” cried Miss Matthews, “to find she did not forget you. I own I thought it somewhat cruel to turn you out into the rain.” — “O, Miss Matthews!” continued he, taking no notice of her observation, “I had now an opportunity of contemplating the vast power of exquisite beauty, which nothing almost can add to or diminish. Amelia, in the poor rags of her old nurse, looked scarce less beautiful than I have seen her appear at a ball or an assembly.” “Well, well,” cries Miss Matthews, “to be sure she did; but pray go on with your story.”
“The old woman,” continued he, “after having equipped us as well as she could, and placed our wet cloaths before the fire, began to grow inquisitive; and, after some ejaculations, she cried — ‘O, my dear young madam! my mind misgives me hugeously; and pray who is this fine young gentleman? Oh! Miss Emmy, Miss Emmy, I am afraid madam knows nothing of all this matter.’ ‘Suppose he should be my husband, nurse,’ answered Amelia. ‘Oh! good! and if he be,’ replies the nurse, ‘I hope he is some great gentleman or other, with a vast estate and a coach and six: for to be sure, if an he was the greatest lord in the land, you would deserve it all.’ But why do I attempt to mimic the honest creature? In short, she discovered the greatest affection for my Amelia; with which I was much more delighted than I was offended at the suspicions she shewed of me, or the many bitter curses which she denounced against me, if I ever proved a bad husband to so sweet a young lady.
“I so well improved the hint given me by Amelia, that the old woman had no doubt of our being really married; and, comforting herself that, if it was not as well as it might have been, yet madam had enough for us both, and that happiness did not always depend on great riches, she began to rail at the old lady for having turned us out of doors, which I scarce told an untruth in asserting. And when Amelia said, ‘She hoped her nurse would not betray her,’ the good woman answered with much warmth — ‘Betray you, my dear young madam! no, that I would not, if the king would give me all that he is worth: no, not if madam herself would give me the great house, and the whole farm belonging to it.’
“The good woman then went out and fetched a chicken from the roost, which she killed, and began to pick, without asking any questions. Then, summoning her son, who was in bed, to her assistance, she began to prepare this chicken for our supper. This she afterwards set before us in so neat, I may almost say elegant, a manner, that whoever would have disdained it either doth not know the sensation of hunger, or doth not deserve to have it gratified. Our food was attended with some ale, which our kind hostess said she intended not to have tapped till Christmas; ‘but,’ added she, ‘I little thought ever to have the honour of seeing my dear honoured lady in this poor place.’
“For my own part, no human being was then an object of envy to me, and even Amelia seemed to be in pretty good spirits; she softly whispered to me that she perceived there might be happiness in a cottage.”
“A cottage!” cries Miss Matthews, sighing, “a cottage, with the man one loves, is a palace.”
“When supper was ended,” continued Booth, “the good woman began to think of our further wants, and very earnestly recommended her bed to us, saying, it was a very neat, though homely one, and that she could furnish us with a pair of clean sheets. She added some persuasives which painted my angel all over with vermilion. As for myself, I behaved so awkwardly and foolishly, and so readily agreed to Amelia’s resolution of sitting up all night, that, if it did not give the nurse any suspicion of our marriage, it ought to have inspired her with the utmost contempt for me.
“We both endeavoured to prevail with nurse to retire to her own bed, but found it utterly impossible to succeed; she thanked Heaven she understood breeding better than that. And so well bred was the good woman, that we could scarce get her out of the room the whole night. Luckily for us, we both understood French, by means of which we consulted together, even in her presence, upon the measures we were to take in our present exigency. At length it was resolved that I should send a letter by this young lad, whom I have just before mentioned, to our worthy friend the doctor, desiring his company at our hut, since we thought it utterly unsafe to venture to the town, which we knew would be in an uproar on our account before the morning.”
Here Booth made a full stop, smiled, and then said he was going to mention so ridiculous a distress, that he could scarce think of it without laughing. What this was the reader shall know in the next chapter.
The story of Booth continued. — More surprising adventures.
From what trifles, dear Miss Matthews,” cried Booth, “may some of our greatest distresses arise! Do you not perceive I am going to tell you we had neither pen, ink, nor paper, in our present exigency?
“A verbal message was now our only resource; however, we contrived to deliver it in such terms, that neither nurse nor her son could possibly conceive any suspicion from it of the present situation of our affairs. Indeed, Amelia whispered me, I might safely place any degree of confidence in the lad; for he had been her foster-brother, and she had a great opinion of his integrity. He was in truth a boy of very good natural parts; and Dr Harrison, who had received him into his family, at Amelia’s recommendation, had bred him up to write and read very well, and had taken some pains to infuse into him the principles of honesty and religion. He was not, indeed, even now discharged from the doctor’s service, but had been at home with his mother for some time, on account of the small-pox, from which he was lately recovered.
“I have said so much,” continued Booth, “of the boy’s character, that you may not be surprised at some stories which I shall tell you of him hereafter.
“I am going now, madam, to relate to you one of those strange accidents which are produced by such a train of circumstances, that mere chance hath been thought incapable of bringing them together; and which have therefore given birth, in superstitious minds, to Fortune, and to several other imaginary beings.
“We were now impatiently expecting the arrival of the doctor; our messenger had been gone much more than a sufficient time, which to us, you may be assured, appeared not at all shorter than it was, when nurse, who had gone out of doors on some errand, came running hastily to us, crying out, ‘O my dear young madam, her ladyship’s coach is just at the door!’ Amelia turned pale as death at these words; indeed, I feared she would have fainted, if I could be said to fear, who had scarce any of my senses left, and was in a condition little better than my angel’s.
“While we were both in this dreadful situation, Amelia fallen back in her chair with the countenance in which ghosts are painted, myself at her feet, with a complexion of no very different colour, and nurse screaming out and throwing water in Amelia’s face, Mrs. Harris entered the room. At the sight of this scene she threw herself likewise into a chair, and called immediately for a glass of water, which Miss Betty her daughter supplied her with; for, as to nurse, nothing was capable of making any impression on her whilst she apprehended her young mistress to be in danger.
“The doctor had now entered the room, and, coming immediately up to Amelia, after some expressions of surprize, he took her by the hand, called her his little sugar-plum, and assured her there were none but friends present. He then led her tottering across the room to Mrs. Harris. Amelia then fell upon her knees before her mother; but the doctor caught her up, saying, ‘Use that posture, child, only to the Almighty!’ but I need not mention this singularity of his to you who know him so well, and must have heard him often dispute against addressing ourselves to man in the humblest posture which we use towards the Supreme Being.
“I will tire you with no more particulars: we were soon satisfied that the doctor had reconciled us and our affairs to Mrs. Harris; and we now proceeded directly to church, the doctor having before provided a licence for us.”
“But where is the strange accident?” cries Miss Matthews; “sure you have raised more curiosity than you have satisfied.”
“Indeed, madam,” answered he, “your reproof is just; I had like to have forgotten it; but you cannot wonder at me when you reflect on that interesting part of my story which I am now relating. — But before I mention this accident I must tell you what happened after Amelia’s escape from her mother’s house. Mrs. Harris at first ran out into the lane among her servants, and pursued us (so she imagined) along the road leading to the town; but that being very dirty, and a violent storm of rain coming, she took shelter in an alehouse about half a mile from her own house, whither she sent for her coach; she then drove, together with her daughter, to town, where, soon after her arrival, she sent for the doctor, her usual privy counsellor in all her affairs. They sat up all night together, the doctor endeavouring, by arguments and persuasions, to bring Mrs. Harris to reason; but all to no purpose, though, as he hath informed me, Miss Betty seconded him with the warmest entreaties.”
Here Miss Matthews laughed; of which Booth begged to know the reason: she, at last, after many apologies, said, “It was the first good thing she ever heard of Miss Betty; nay,” said she, “and asking your pardon for my opinion of your sister, since you will have it, I always conceived her to be the deepest of hypocrites.”
Booth fetched a sigh, and said he was afraid she had not always acted so kindly; — and then, after a little hesitation, proceeded:
“You will be pleased, madam, to remember the lad was sent with a verbal message to the doctor: which message was no more than to acquaint him where we were, and to desire the favour of his company, or that he would send a coach to bring us to whatever place he would please to meet us at. This message was to be delivered to the doctor himself, and the messenger was ordered, if he found him not at home, to go to him wherever he was. He fulfilled his orders and told it to the doctor in the presence of Mrs. Harris.”
“Oh, the idiot!” cries Miss Matthews. “Not at all,” answered Booth: “he is a very sensible fellow, as you will, perhaps, say hereafter. He had not the least reason to suspect that any secrecy was necessary; for we took the utmost care he should not suspect it. — Well, madam, this accident, which appeared so unfortunate, turned in the highest degree to our advantage. Mrs. Harris no sooner heard the message delivered than she fell into the most violent passion imaginable, and accused the doctor of being in the plot, and of having confederated with me in the design of carrying off her daughter.
“The doctor, who had hitherto used only soothing methods, now talked in a different strain. He confessed the accusation and justified his conduct. He said he was no meddler in the family affairs of others, nor should he have concerned himself with hers, but at her own request; but that, since Mrs. Harris herself had made him an agent in this matter, he would take care to acquit himself with honour, and above all things to preserve a young lady for whom he had the highest esteem; ‘for she is,’ cries he, and, by heavens, he said true, ‘the most worthy, generous, and noble of all human beings. You have yourself, madam,’ said he, ‘consented to the match. I have, at your request, made the match;’ and then he added some particulars relating to his opinion of me, which my modesty forbids me to repeat.” — “Nay, but,” cries Miss Matthews, “I insist on your conquest of that modesty for once. We women do not love to hear one another’s praises, and I will be made amends by hearing the praises of a man, and of a man whom, perhaps,” added she with a leer, “I shall not think much the better of upon that account.” — “In obedience to your commands, then, madam,” continued he, “the doctor was so kind to say he had enquired into my character and found that I had been a dutiful son and an affectionate brother. Relations, said he, in which whoever discharges his duty well, gives us a well-grounded hope that he will behave as properly in all the rest. He concluded with saying that Amelia’s happiness, her heart, nay, her very reputation, were all concerned in this matter, to which, as he had been made instrumental, he was resolved to carry her through it; and then, taking the licence from his pocket, declared to Mrs. Harris that he would go that instant and marry her daughter wherever he found her. This speech, the doctor’s voice, his look, and his behaviour, all which are sufficiently calculated to inspire awe, and even terror, when he pleases, frightened poor Mrs. Harris, and wrought a more sensible effect than it was in his power to produce by all his arguments and entreaties; and I have already related what followed.
“Thus the strange accident of our wanting pen, ink, and paper, and our not trusting the boy with our secret, occasioned the discovery to Mrs. Harris; that discovery put the doctor upon his metal, and produced that blessed event which I have recounted to you, and which, as my mother hath since confessed, nothing but the spirit which he had exerted after the discovery could have brought about.
“Well, madam, you now see me married to Amelia; in which situation you will, perhaps, think my happiness incapable of addition. Perhaps it was so; and yet I can with truth say that the love which I then bore Amelia was not comparable to what I bear her now.” “Happy Amelia!” cried Miss Matthews. “If all men were like you, all women would be blessed; nay, the whole world would be so in a great measure; for, upon my soul, I believe that from the damned inconstancy of your sex to ours proceeds half the miseries of mankind.”
That we may give the reader leisure to consider well the foregoing sentiment, we will here put an end to this chapter.
In which our readers will probably be divided in their opinion of Mr. Booth’s conduct.
Booth proceeded as follows:—
“The first months of our marriage produced nothing remarkable enough to mention. I am sure I need not tell Miss Matthews that I found in my Amelia every perfection of human nature. Mrs. Harris at first gave us some little uneasiness. She had rather yielded to the doctor than given a willing consent to the match; however, by degrees, she became more and more satisfied, and at last seemed perfectly reconciled. This we ascribed a good deal to the kind offices of Miss Betty, who had always appeared to be my friend. She had been greatly assisting to Amelia in making her escape, which I had no opportunity of mentioning to you before, and in all things behaved so well, outwardly at least, to myself as well as her sister, that we regarded her as our sincerest friend.
“About half a year after our marriage two additional companies were added to our regiment, in one of which I was preferred to the command of a lieutenant. Upon this occasion Miss Betty gave the first intimation of a disposition which we have since too severely experienced.”
“Your servant, sir,” says Miss Matthews; “then I find I was not mistaken in my opinion of the lady. — No, no, shew me any goodness in a censorious prude, and — ”
As Miss Matthews hesitated for a simile or an execration, Booth proceeded: “You will please to remember, madam, there was formerly an agreement between myself and Mrs. Harris that I should settle all my Amelia’s fortune on her, except a certain sum, which was to be laid out in my advancement in the army; but, as our marriage was carried on in the manner you have heard, no such agreement was ever executed. And since I was become Amelia’s husband not a word of this matter was ever mentioned by the old lady; and as for myself, I declare I had not yet awakened from that delicious dream of bliss in which the possession of Amelia had lulled me.”
Here Miss Matthews sighed, and cast the tenderest of looks on Booth, who thus continued his story:—
“Soon after my promotion Mrs. Harris one morning took an occasion to speak to me on this affair. She said, that, as I had been promoted gratis to a lieutenancy, she would assist me with money to carry me yet a step higher; and, if more was required than was formerly mentioned, it should not be wanting, since she was so perfectly satisfied with my behaviour to her daughter. Adding that she hoped I had still the same inclination to settle on my wife the remainder of her fortune.
“I answered with very warm acknowledgments of my mother’s goodness, and declared, if I had the world, I was ready to lay it at my Amelia’s feet. — And so, Heaven knows, I would ten thousand worlds.
“Mrs. Harris seemed pleased with the warmth of my sentiments, and said she would immediately send to her lawyer and give him the necessary orders; and thus ended our conversation on this subject.
“From this time there was a very visible alteration in Miss Betty’s behaviour. She grew reserved to her sister as well as to me. She was fretful and captious on the slightest occasion; nay, she affected much to talk on the ill consequences of an imprudent marriage, especially before her mother; and if ever any little tenderness or endearments escaped me in public towards Amelia, she never failed to make some malicious remark on the short duration of violent passions; and, when I have expressed a fond sentiment for my wife, her sister would kindly wish she might hear as much seven years hence.
“All these matters have been since suggested to us by reflection; for, while they actually past, both Amelia and myself had our thoughts too happily engaged to take notice of what discovered itself in the mind of any other person.
“Unfortunately for us, Mrs. Harris’s lawyer happened at this time to be at London, where business detained him upwards of a month, and, as Mrs. Harris would on no occasion employ any other, our affair was under an entire suspension till his return.
“Amelia, who was now big with child, had often expressed the deepest concern at her apprehensions of my being some time commanded abroad; a circumstance, which she declared if it should ever happen to her, even though she should not then be in the same situation as at present, would infallibly break her heart. These remonstrances were made with such tenderness, and so much affected me, that, to avoid any probability of such an event, I endeavoured to get an exchange into the horse-guards, a body of troops which very rarely goes abroad, unless where the king himself commands in person. I soon found an officer for my purpose, the terms were agreed on, and Mrs. Harris had ordered the money which I was to pay to be ready, notwithstanding the opposition made by Miss Betty, who openly dissuaded her mother from it; alledging that the exchange was highly to my disadvantage; that I could never hope to rise in the army after it; not forgetting, at the same time, some insinuations very prejudicial to my reputation as a soldier.
“When everything was agreed on, and the two commissions were actually made out, but not signed by the king, one day, at my return from hunting, Amelia flew to me, and eagerly embracing me, cried out, ‘O Billy, I have news for you which delights my soul. Nothing sure was ever so fortunate as the exchange you have made. The regiment you was formerly in is ordered for Gibraltar.’
“I received this news with far less transport than it was delivered. I answered coldly, since the case was so, I heartily hoped the commissions might be both signed. ‘What do you say?’ replied Amelia eagerly; ‘sure you told me everything was entirely settled. That look of yours frightens me to death.’ — But I am running into too minute particulars. In short, I received a letter by that very post from the officer with whom I had exchanged, insisting that, though his majesty had not signed the commissions, that still the bargain was valid, partly urging it as a right, and partly desiring it as a favour, that he might go to Gibraltar in my room.
“This letter convinced me in every point. I was now informed that the commissions were not signed, and consequently that the exchange was not compleated; of consequence the other could have no right to insist on going; and, as for granting him such a favour, I too clearly saw I must do it at the expense of my honour. I was now reduced to a dilemma, the most dreadful which I think any man can experience; in which, I am not ashamed to own, I found love was not so overmatched by honour as he ought to have been. The thoughts of leaving Amelia in her present condition to misery, perhaps to death or madness, were insupportable; nor could any other consideration but that which now tormented me on the other side have combated them a moment.”
“No woman upon earth,” cries Miss Matthews, “can despise want of spirit in a man more than myself; and yet I cannot help thinking you was rather too nice on this occasion.”
“You will allow, madam,” answered Booth, “that whoever offends against the laws of honour in the least instance is treated as the highest delinquent. Here is no excuse, no pardon; and he doth nothing who leaves anything undone. But if the conflict was so terrible with myself alone, what was my situation in the presence of Amelia? how could I support her sighs, her tears, her agonies, her despair? could I bear to think myself the cruel cause of her sufferings? for so I was: could I endure the thought of having it in my power to give her instant relief, for so it was, and refuse it her?
“Miss Betty was now again become my friend. She had scarce been civil to me for a fortnight last past, yet now she commended me to the skies, and as severely blamed her sister, whom she arraigned of the most contemptible weakness in preferring my safety to my honour: she said many ill-natured things on the occasion, which I shall not now repeat.
“In the midst of this hurricane the good doctor came to dine with Mrs. Harris, and at my desire delivered his opinion on the matter.”
Here Mr. Booth was interrupted in his narrative by the arrival of a person whom we shall introduce in the next chapter.
Containing a scene of a different kind from any of the preceding.
The gentleman who now arrived was the keeper; or, if you please (for so he pleased to call himself), the governor of the prison.
He used so little ceremony at his approach, that the bolt, which was very slight on the inside, gave way, and the door immediately flew open. He had no sooner entered the room than he acquainted Miss Matthews that he had brought her very good news, for which he demanded a bottle of wine as his due.
This demand being complied with, he acquainted Miss Matthews that the wounded gentleman was not dead, nor was his wound thought to be mortal: that loss of blood, and perhaps his fright, had occasioned his fainting away; “but I believe, madam,” said he, “if you take the proper measures you may be bailed tomorrow. I expect the lawyer here this evening, and if you put the business into his hands I warrant it will be done. Money to be sure must be parted with, that’s to be sure. People to be sure will expect to touch a little in such cases. For my own part, I never desire to keep a prisoner longer than the law allows, not I; I always inform them they can be bailed as soon as I know it; I never make any bargain, not I; I always love to leave those things to the gentlemen and ladies themselves. I never suspect gentlemen and ladies of wanting generosity.”
Miss Matthews made a very slight answer to all these friendly professions. She said she had done nothing she repented of, and was indifferent as to the event. “All I can say,” cries she, “is, that if the wretch is alive there is no greater villain in life than himself;” and, instead of mentioning anything of the bail, she begged the keeper to leave her again alone with Mr. Booth. The keeper replied, “Nay, madam, perhaps it may be better to stay a little longer here, if you have not bail ready, than to buy them too dear. Besides, a day or two hence, when the gentleman is past all danger of recovery, to be sure some folks that would expect an extraordinary fee now cannot expect to touch anything. And to be sure you shall want nothing here. The best of all things are to be had here for money, both eatable and drinkable: though I say it, I shan’t turn my back to any of the taverns for either eatables or wind. The captain there need not have been so shy of owning himself when he first came in; we have had captains and other great gentlemen here before now; and no shame to them, though I say it. Many a great gentleman is sometimes found in places that don’t become them half so well, let me tell them that, Captain Booth, let me tell them that.”
“I see, sir,” answered Booth, a little discomposed, “that you are acquainted with my title as well as my name.”
“Ay, sir,” cries the keeper, “and I honour you the more for it. I love the gentlemen of the army. I was in the army myself formerly; in the Lord of Oxford’s horse. It is true I rode private; but I had money enough to have bought in quarter-master, when I took it into my head to marry, and my wife she did not like that I should continue a soldier, she was all for a private life; and so I came to this business.”
“Upon my word, sir,” answered Booth, “you consulted your wife’s inclinations very notably; but pray will you satisfy my curiosity in telling me how you became acquainted that I was in the army? for my dress I think could not betray me.”
“Betray!” replied the keeper; “there is no betraying here, I hope — I am not a person to betray people. — But you are so shy and peery, you would almost make one suspect there was more in the matter. And if there be, I promise you, you need not be afraid of telling it me. You will excuse me giving you a hint; but the sooner the better, that’s all. Others may be beforehand with you, and first come first served on these occasions, that’s all. Informers are odious, there’s no doubt of that, and no one would care to be an informer if he could help it, because of the ill-usage they always receive from the mob: yet it is dangerous to trust too much; and when safety and a good part of the reward too are on one side and the gallows on the other — I know which a wise man would chuse.”
“What the devil do you mean by all this?” cries Booth.
“No offence, I hope,” answered the keeper: “I speak for your good; and if you have been upon the snaffling lay — you understand me, I am sure.”
“Not I,” answered Booth, “upon my honour.”
“Nay, nay,” replied the keeper, with a contemptuous sneer, “if you are so peery as that comes to, you must take the consequence. — But for my part, I know I would not trust Robinson with twopence untold.”
“What do you mean?” cries Booth; “who is Robinson?”
“And you don’t know Robinson?” answered the keeper with great emotion. To which Booth replying in the negative, the keeper, after some tokens of amazement, cried out, “Well, captain, I must say you are the best at it of all the gentlemen I ever saw. However, I will tell you this: the lawyer and Mr. Robinson have been laying their heads together about you above half an hour this afternoon. I overheard them mention Captain Booth several times, and, for my part, I would not answer that Mr. Murphy is not now gone about the business; but if you will impeach any to me of the road, or anything else, I will step away to his worship Thrasher this instant, and I am sure I have interest enough with him to get you admitted an evidence.”
“And so,” cries Booth, “you really take me for a highwayman?”
“No offence, captain, I hope,” said the keeper; “as times go, there are many worse men in the world than those. Gentlemen may be driven to distress, and when they are, I know no more genteeler way than the road. It hath been many a brave man’s case, to my knowledge, and men of as much honour too as any in the world.”
“Well, sir,” said Booth, “I assure you I am not that gentleman of honour you imagine me.”
Miss Matthews, who had long understood the keeper no better than Mr. Booth, no sooner heard his meaning explained than she was fired with greater indignation than the gentleman had expressed. “How dare you, sir,” said she to the keeper, “insult a man of fashion, and who hath had the honour to bear his majesty’s commission in the army? as you yourself own you know. If his misfortunes have sent him hither, sure we have no laws that will protect such a fellow as you in insulting him.” “Fellow!” muttered the keeper — “I would not advise you, madam, to use such language to me.” — “Do you dare threaten me?” replied Miss Matthews in a rage. “Venture in the least instance to exceed your authority with regard to me, and I will prosecute you with the utmost vengeance.”
A scene of very high altercation now ensued, till Booth interposed and quieted the keeper, who was, perhaps, enough inclined to an accommodation; for, in truth, he waged unequal war. He was besides unwilling to incense Miss Matthews, whom he expected to be bailed out the next day, and who had more money left than he intended she should carry out of the prison with her; and as for any violent or unjustifiable methods, the lady had discovered much too great a spirit to be in danger of them. The governor, therefore, in a very gentle tone, declared that, if he had given any offence to the gentleman, he heartily asked his pardon; that, if he had known him to be really a captain, he should not have entertained any such suspicions; but the captain was a very common title in that place, and belonged to several gentlemen that had never been in the army, or, at most, had rid private like himself. “To be sure, captain,” said he, “as you yourself own, your dress is not very military” (for he had on a plain fustian suit); “and besides, as the lawyer says, noscitur a sosir, is a very good rule. And I don’t believe there is a greater rascal upon earth than that same Robinson that I was talking of. Nay, I assure you, I wish there may be no mischief hatching against you. But if there is I will do all I can with the lawyer to prevent it. To be sure, Mr. Murphy is one of the cleverest men in the world at the law; that even his enemies must own, and as I recommend him to all the business I can (and it is not a little to be sure that arises in this place), why one good turn deserves another. And I may expect that he will not be concerned in any plot to ruin any friend of mine, at least when I desire him not. I am sure he could not be an honest man if he would.”
Booth was then satisfied that Mr. Robinson, whom he did not yet know by name, was the gamester who had won his money at play. And now Miss Matthews, who had very impatiently borne this long interruption, prevailed on the keeper to withdraw. As soon as he was gone Mr. Booth began to felicitate her upon the news of the wounded gentleman being in a fair likelihood of recovery. To which, after a short silence, she answered, “There is something, perhaps, which you will not easily guess, that makes your congratulations more agreeable to me than the first account I heard of the villain’s having escaped the fate he deserves; for I do assure you, at first, it did not make me amends for the interruption of my curiosity. Now I hope we shall be disturbed no more till you have finished your whole story. — You left off, I think, somewhere in the struggle about leaving Amelia — the happy Amelia.” “And can you call her happy at such a period?” cries Booth. “Happy, ay, happy, in any situation,” answered Miss Matthews, “with such a husband. I, at least, may well think so, who have experienced the very reverse of her fortune; but I was not born to be happy. I may say with the poet,
“The blackest ink of fate was sure my lot,
And when fate writ my name, it made a blot.”
“Nay, nay, dear Miss Matthews,” answered Booth, “you must and shall banish such gloomy thoughts. Fate hath, I hope, many happy days in store for you.” — “Do you believe it, Mr. Booth?” replied she; “indeed you know the contrary — you must know — for you can’t have forgot. No Amelia in the world can have quite obliterated — forgetfulness is not in our own power. If it was, indeed, I have reason to think — but I know not what I am saying. — Pray do proceed in that story.”
Booth so immediately complied with this request that it is possible he was pleased with it. To say the truth, if all which unwittingly dropt from Miss Matthews was put together, some conclusions might, it seems, be drawn from the whole, which could not convey a very agreeable idea to a constant husband. Booth, therefore, proceeded to relate what is written in the third book of this history.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:54