Panegyrics on beauty, with other grave matters.
The colonel and Booth walked together to the latter’s lodging, for as it was not that day in the week in which all parts of the town are indifferent, Booth could not wait on the colonel.
When they arrived in Spring-garden, Booth, to his great surprize, found no one at home but the maid. In truth, Amelia had accompanied Mrs. Ellison and her children to his lordship’s; for, as her little girl showed a great unwillingness to go without her, the fond mother was easily persuaded to make one of the company.
Booth had scarce ushered the colonel up to his apartment when a servant from Mrs. James knocked hastily at the door. The lady, not meeting with her husband at her return home, began to despair of him, and performed everything which was decent on the occasion. An apothecary was presently called with hartshorn and sal volatile, a doctor was sent for, and messengers were despatched every way; amongst the rest, one was sent to enquire at the lodgings of his supposed antagonist.
The servant hearing that his master was alive and well above-stairs, ran up eagerly to acquaint him with the dreadful situation in which he left his miserable lady at home, and likewise with the occasion of all her distress, saying, that his lady had been at her brother’s, and had there heard that his honour was killed in a duel by Captain Booth.
The colonel smiled at this account, and bid the servant make haste back to contradict it. And then turning to Booth, he said, “Was there ever such another fellow as this brother of mine? I thought indeed, his behaviour was somewhat odd at the time. I suppose he overheard me whisper that I would give you satisfaction, and thence concluded we went together with a design of tilting. D— n the fellow, I begin to grow heartily sick of him, and wish I could get well rid of him without cutting his throat, which I sometimes apprehend he will insist on my doing, as a return for my getting him made a lieutenant-colonel.”
Whilst these two gentlemen were commenting on the character of the third, Amelia and her company returned, and all presently came up-stairs, not only the children, but the two ladies, laden with trinkets as if they had been come from a fair. Amelia, who had been highly delighted all the morning with the excessive pleasure which her children enjoyed, when she saw Colonel James with her husband, and perceived the most manifest marks of that reconciliation which she knew had been so long and so earnestly wished by Booth, became so transported with joy, that her happiness was scarce capable of addition. Exercise had painted her face with vermilion; and the highest good-humour had so sweetened every feature, and a vast flow of spirits had so lightened up her bright eyes, that she was all a blaze of beauty. She seemed, indeed, as Milton sublimely describes Eve,
With what all Earth or Heaven could bestow
To make her amiable.
Grace was in all her steps, Heaven in her eye,
In every gesture, dignity and love.
Or, as Waller sweetly, though less sublimely sings:—
Sweetness, truth, and every grace
Which time and use are wont to teach,
The eye may in a moment reach,
And read distinctly in her face.
Or, to mention one poet more, and him of all the sweetest, she seemed to be the very person of whom Suckling wrote the following lines, where, speaking of Cupid, he says,
All his lovely looks, his pleasing fires,
All his sweet motions, all his taking smiles;
All that awakes, all that inflames desires,
All that sweetly commands, all that beguiles,
He does into one pair of eyes convey,
And there begs leave that he himself may stay.
Such was Amelia at this time when she entered the room; and, having paid her respects to the colonel, she went up to her husband, and cried, “O, my dear! never were any creatures so happy as your little things have been this whole morning; and all owing to my lord’s goodness; sure never was anything so good-natured and so generous!” She then made the children produce their presents, the value of which amounted to a pretty large sum; for there was a gold watch, amongst the trinkets, that cost above twenty guineas.
Instead of discovering so much satisfaction on this occasion as Amelia expected, Booth very gravely answered, “And pray, my dear, how are we to repay all these obligations to his lordship?” “How can you ask so strange a question?” cries Mrs. Ellison: “how little do you know of the soul of generosity (for sure my cousin deserves that name) when you call a few little trinkets given to children an obligation!” “Indeed, my dear,” cries Amelia, “I would have stopped his hand if it had been possible; nay, I was forced at last absolutely to refuse, or I believe he would have laid a hundred pound out on the children; for I never saw any one so fond of children, which convinces me he is one of the best of men; but I ask your pardon, colonel, “said she, turning to him; “I should not entertain you with these subjects; yet I know you have goodness enough to excuse the folly of a mother.”
The colonel made a very low assenting bow, and soon after they all sat down to a small repast; for the colonel had promised Booth to dine with him when they first came home together, and what he had since heard from his own house gave him still less inclination than ever to repair thither.
But, besides both these, there was a third and stronger inducement to him to pass the day with his friend, and this was the desire of passing it with his friend’s wife. When the colonel had first seen Amelia in France, she was but just recovered from a consumptive habit, and looked pale and thin; besides, his engagements with Miss Bath at that time took total possession of him, and guarded his heart from the impressions of another woman; and, when he had dined with her in town, the vexations through which she had lately passed had somewhat deadened her beauty; besides, he was then engaged, as we have seen, in a very warm pursuit of a new mistress, but now he had no such impediment; for, though the reader hath just before seen his warm declarations of a passion for Miss Matthews, yet it may be remembered that he had been in possession of her for above a fortnight; and one of the happy properties of this kind of passion is, that it can with equal violence love half a dozen or half a score different objects at one and the same time.
But indeed such were the charms now displayed by Amelia, of which we endeavoured above to draw some faint resemblance, that perhaps no other beauty could have secured him from their influence; and here, to confess a truth in his favour, however the grave or rather the hypocritical part of mankind may censure it, I am firmly persuaded that to withdraw admiration from exquisite beauty, or to feel no delight in gazing at it, is as impossible as to feel no warmth from the most scorching rays of the sun. To run away is all that is in our power; and in the former case, if it must be allowed we have the power of running away, it must be allowed also that it requires the strongest resolution to execute it; for when, as Dryden says,
All paradise is open’d in a face,
how natural is the desire of going thither! and how difficult to quit the lovely prospect!
And yet, however difficult this may be, my young readers, it is absolutely necessary, and that immediately too: flatter not yourselves that fire will not scorch as well as warm, and the longer we stay within its reach the more we shall burn. The admiration of a beautiful woman, though the wife of our dearest friend, may at first perhaps be innocent, but let us not flatter ourselves it will always remain so; desire is sure to succeed; and wishes, hopes, designs, with a long train of mischiefs, tread close at our heels. In affairs of this kind we may most properly apply the well-known remark of nemo repente fuit turpissimus. It fares, indeed, with us on this occasion as with the unwary traveller in some parts of Arabia the desert, whom the treacherous sands imperceptibly betray till he is overwhelmed and lost. In both cases the only safety is by withdrawing our feet the very first moment we perceive them sliding.
This digression may appear impertinent to some readers; we could not, however, avoid the opportunity of offering the above hints; since of all passions there is none against which we should so strongly fortify ourselves as this, which is generally called love; for no other lays before us, especially in the tumultuous days of youth, such sweet, such strong and almost irresistible temptations; none hath produced in private life such fatal and lamentable tragedies; and what is worst of all, there is none to whose poison and infatuation the best of minds are so liable. Ambition scarce ever produces any evil but when it reigns in cruel and savage bosoms; and avarice seldom flourishes at all but in the basest and poorest soil. Love, on the contrary, sprouts usually up in the richest and noblest minds; but there, unless nicely watched, pruned, and cultivated, and carefully kept clear of those vicious weeds which are too apt to surround it, it branches forth into wildness and disorder, produces nothing desirable, but choaks up and kills whatever is good and noble in the mind where it so abounds. In short, to drop the allegory, not only tenderness and good nature, but bravery, generosity, and every virtue are often made the instruments of effecting the most atrocious purposes of this all-subduing tyrant.
Which will not appear, we presume, unnatural to all married readers.
If the table of poor Booth afforded but an indifferent repast to the colonel’s hunger, here was most excellent entertainment of a much higher kind. The colonel began now to wonder within himself at his not having before discovered such incomparable beauty and excellence. This wonder was indeed so natural that, lest it should arise likewise in the reader, we thought proper to give the solution of it in the preceding chapter.
During the first two hours the colonel scarce ever had his eyes off from Amelia; for he was taken by surprize, and his heart was gone before he suspected himself to be in any danger. His mind, however, no sooner suggested a certain secret to him than it suggested some degree of prudence to him at the same time; and the knowledge that he had thoughts to conceal, and the care of concealing them, had birth at one and the same instant. During the residue of the day, therefore, he grew more circumspect, and contented himself with now and then stealing a look by chance, especially as the more than ordinary gravity of Booth made him fear that his former behaviour had betrayed to Booth’s observation the great and sudden liking he had conceived for his wife, even before he had observed it in himself.
Amelia continued the whole day in the highest spirits and highest good humour imaginable, never once remarking that appearance of discontent in her husband of which the colonel had taken notice; so much more quick-sighted, as we have somewhere else hinted, is guilt than innocence. Whether Booth had in reality made any such observations on the colonel’s behaviour as he had suspected, we will not undertake to determine; yet so far may be material to say, as we can with sufficient certainty, that the change in Booth’s behaviour that day, from what was usual with him, was remarkable enough. None of his former vivacity appeared in his conversation; and his countenance was altered from being the picture of sweetness and good humour, not indeed to sourness or moroseness, but to gravity and melancholy.
Though the colonel’s suspicion had the effect which we have mentioned on his behaviour, yet it could not persuade him to depart. In short, he sat in his chair as if confined to it by enchantment, stealing looks now and then, and humouring his growing passion, without having command enough over his limbs to carry him out of the room, till decency at last forced him to put an end to his preposterous visit. When the husband and wife were left alone together, the latter resumed the subject of her children, and gave Booth a particular narrative of all that had passed at his lordship’s, which he, though something had certainly disconcerted him, affected to receive with all the pleasure he could; and this affectation, however aukwardly he acted his part, passed very well on Amelia; for she could not well conceive a displeasure of which she had not the least hint of any cause, and indeed at a time when, from his reconciliation with James, she imagined her husband to be entirely and perfectly happy.
The greatest part of that night Booth past awake; and, if during the residue he might be said to sleep, he could scarce be said to enjoy repose; his eyes were no sooner closed, that he was pursued and haunted by the most frightful and terrifying dreams, which threw him into so restless a condition, that he soon disturbed his Amelia, and greatly alarmed her with apprehensions that he had been seized by some dreadful disease, though he had not the least symptoms of a fever by any extraordinary heat, or any other indication, but was rather colder than usual.
As Booth assured his wife that he was very well, but found no inclination to sleep, she likewise bid adieu to her slumbers, and attempted to entertain him with her conversation. Upon which his lordship occurred as the first topic; and she repeated to him all the stories which she had heard from Mrs. Ellison, of the peer’s goodness to his sister and his nephew and niece. “It is impossible, my dear,” says she, “to describe their fondness for their uncle, which is to me an incontestible sign of a parent’s goodness.” In this manner she ran on for several minutes, concluding at last, that it was pity so very few had such generous minds joined to immense fortunes.
Booth, instead of making a direct answer to what Amelia had said, cried coldly, “But do you think, my dear, it was right to accept all those expensive toys which the children brought home? And I ask you again, what return we are to make for these obligations?”
“Indeed, my dear,” cries Amelia, “you see this matter in too serious a light. Though I am the last person in the world who would lessen his lordship’s goodness (indeed I shall always think we are both infinitely obliged to him), yet sure you must allow the expense to be a mere trifle to such a vast fortune. As for return, his own benevolence, in the satisfaction it receives, more than repays itself, and I am convinced he expects no other.”
“Very well, my dear,” cries Booth, “you shall have it your way; I must confess I never yet found any reason to blame your discernment; and perhaps I have been in the wrong to give myself so much uneasiness on this account.”
“Uneasiness, child!” said Amelia eagerly; “Good Heavens! hath this made you uneasy?”
“I do own it hath,” answered Booth, “and it hath been the only cause of breaking my repose.”
“Why then I wish,” cries Amelia, “all the things had been at the devil before ever the children had seen them; and, whatever I may think myself, I promise you they shall never more accept the value of a farthing:— if upon this occasion I have been the cause of your uneasiness, you will do me the justice to believe that I was totally innocent.”
At those words Booth caught her in his arms, and with the tenderest embrace, emphatically repeating the word innocent, cried, “Heaven forbid I should think otherwise! Oh, thou art the best of creatures that ever blessed a man!”
“Well, but,” said she, smiling, “do confess, my dear, the truth; I promise you I won’t blame you nor disesteem you for it; but is not pride really at the bottom of this fear of an obligation?”
“Perhaps it may,” answered he; “or, if you will, you may call it fear. I own I am afraid of obligations, as the worst kind of debts; for I have generally observed those who confer them expect to be repaid ten thousand-fold.”
Here ended all that is material of their discourse; and a little time afterwards, they both fell fast asleep in one another’s arms; from which time Booth had no more restlessness, nor any further perturbation in his dreams.
Their repose, however, had been so much disturbed in the former part of the night, that, as it was very late before they enjoyed that sweet sleep I have just mentioned, they lay abed the next day till noon, when they both rose with the utmost chearfulness; and, while Amelia bestirred herself in the affairs of her family, Booth went to visit the wounded colonel.
He found that gentleman still proceeding very fast in his recovery, with which he was more pleased than he had reason to be with his reception; for the colonel received him very coldly indeed, and, when Booth told him he had received perfect satisfaction from his brother, Bath erected his head and answered with a sneer, “Very well, sir, if you think these matters can be so made up, d — n me if it is any business of mine. My dignity hath not been injured.”
“No one, I believe,” cries Booth, “dare injure it.”
“You believe so!” said the colonel: “I think, sir, you might be assured of it; but this, at least, you may be assured of, that if any man did, I would tumble him down the precipice of hell, d — n me, that you may be assured of.”
As Booth found the colonel in this disposition, he had no great inclination to lengthen out his visit, nor did the colonel himself seem to desire it: so he soon returned back to his Amelia, whom he found performing the office of a cook, with as much pleasure as a fine lady generally enjoys in dressing herself out for a ball.
In which the history looks a little backwards.
Before we proceed farther in our history we shall recount a short scene to our reader which passed between Amelia and Mrs. Ellison whilst Booth was on his visit to Colonel Bath. We have already observed that Amelia had conceived an extraordinary affection for Mrs. Bennet, which had still encreased every time she saw her; she thought she discovered something wonderfully good and gentle in her countenance and disposition, and was very desirous of knowing her whole history.
She had a very short interview with that lady this morning in Mrs. Ellison’s apartment. As soon, therefore, as Mrs. Bennet was gone, Amelia acquainted Mrs. Ellison with the good opinion she had conceived of her friend, and likewise with her curiosity to know her story: “For there must be something uncommonly good,” said she, “in one who can so truly mourn for a husband above three years after his death.”
“O!” cries Mrs. Ellison, “to be sure the world must allow her to have been one of the best of wives. And, indeed, upon the whole, she is a good sort of woman; and what I like her the best for is a strong resemblance that she bears to yourself in the form of her person, and still more in her voice. But for my own part, I know nothing remarkable in her fortune, unless what I have told you, that she was the daughter of a clergyman, had little or no fortune, and married a poor parson for love, who left her in the utmost distress. If you please, I will shew you a letter which she writ to me at that time, though I insist upon your promise never to mention it to her; indeed, you will be the first person I ever shewed it to.” She then opened her scrutore, and, taking out the letter, delivered it to Amelia, saying, “There, madam, is, I believe, as fine a picture of distress as can well be drawn.”
“As I have no other friend on earth but yourself, I hope you will pardon my writing to you at this season; though I do not know that you can relieve my distresses, or, if you can, have I any pretence to expect that you should. My poor dear, O Heavens — my —— lies dead in the house; and, after I had procured sufficient to bury him, a set of ruffians have entered my house, seized all I have, have seized his dear, dear corpse, and threaten to deny it burial. For Heaven’s sake, send me, at least, some advice; little Tommy stands now by me crying for bread, which I have not to give him. I can say no more than that I am
Your most distressed humble servant,
Amelia read the letter over twice, and then returning it with tears in her eyes, asked how the poor creature could possibly get through such distress.
“You may depend upon it, madam,” said Mrs. Ellison, “the moment I read this account I posted away immediately to the lady. As to the seizing the body, that I found was a mere bugbear; but all the rest was literally true. I sent immediately for the same gentleman that I recommended to Mr. Booth, left the care of burying the corpse to him, and brought my friend and her little boy immediately away to my own house, where she remained some months in the most miserable condition. I then prevailed with her to retire into the country, and procured her a lodging with a friend at St Edmundsbury, the air and gaiety of which place by degrees recovered her; and she returned in about a twelve-month to town, as well, I think, as she is at present.”
“I am almost afraid to ask,” cries Amelia, “and yet I long methinks to know what is become of the poor little boy.”
“He hath been dead,” said Mrs. Ellison, “a little more than half a year; and the mother lamented him at first almost as much as she did her husband, but I found it indeed rather an easier matter to comfort her, though I sat up with her near a fortnight upon the latter occasion.”
“You are a good creature,” said Amelia, “and I love you dearly.”
“Alas! madam,” cries she, “what could I have done if it had not been for the goodness of that best of men, my noble cousin! His lordship no sooner heard of the widow’s distress from me than he immediately settled one hundred and fifty pounds a year upon her during her life.”
“Well! how noble, how generous was that!” said Amelia. “I declare I begin to love your cousin, Mrs. Ellison.”
“And I declare if you do,” answered she, “there is no love lost, I verily believe; if you had heard what I heard him say yesterday behind your back —— ”
“Why, what did he say, Mrs. Ellison?” cries Amelia.
“He said,” answered the other, “that you was the finest woman his eyes ever beheld. — Ah! it is in vain to wish, and yet I cannot help wishing too. — O, Mrs. Booth! if you had been a single woman, I firmly believe I could have made you the happiest in the world. And I sincerely think I never saw a woman who deserved it more.”
“I am obliged to you, madam,” cries Amelia, “for your good opinion; but I really look on myself already as the happiest woman in the world. Our circumstances, it is true, might have been a little more fortunate; but O, my dear Mrs. Ellison! what fortune can be put in the balance with such a husband as mine?”
“I am afraid, dear madam,” answered Mrs. Ellison, “you would not hold the scale fairly. — I acknowledge, indeed, Mr. Booth is a very pretty gentleman; Heaven forbid I should endeavour to lessen him in your opinion; yet, if I was to be brought to confession, I could not help saying I see where the superiority lies, and that the men have more reason to envy Mr. Booth than the women have to envy his lady.”
“Nay, I will not bear this,” replied Amelia. “You will forfeit all my love if you have the least disrespectful opinion of my husband. You do not know him, Mrs. Ellison; he is the best, the kindest, the worthiest of all his sex. I have observed, indeed, once or twice before, that you have taken some dislike to him. I cannot conceive for what reason. If he hath said or done anything to disoblige you, I am sure I can justly acquit him of design. His extreme vivacity makes him sometimes a little too heedless; but, I am convinced, a more innocent heart, or one more void of offence, was never in a human bosom.”
“Nay, if you grow serious,” cries Mrs. Ellison, “I have done. How is it possible you should suspect I had taken any dislike to a man to whom I have always shewn so perfect a regard; but to say I think him, or almost any other man in the world, worthy of yourself, is not within my power with truth. And since you force the confession from me, I declare, I think such beauty, such sense, and such goodness united, might aspire without vanity to the arms of any monarch in Europe.”
“Alas! my dear Mrs. Ellison,” answered Amelia, “do you think happiness and a crown so closely united? how many miserable women have lain in the arms of kings? — Indeed, Mrs. Ellison, if I had all the merit you compliment me with, I should think it all fully rewarded with such a man as, I thank Heaven, hath fallen to my lot; nor would I, upon my soul, exchange that lot with any queen in the universe.”
“Well, there are enow of our sex,” said Mrs. Ellison, “to keep you in countenance; but I shall never forget the beginning of a song of Mr. Congreve’s, that my husband was so fond of that he was always singing it:—
Love’s but a frailty of the mind,
When ’tis not with ambition join’d.
Love without interest makes but an unsavoury dish, in my opinion.”
“And pray how long hath this been your opinion?” said Amelia, smiling.
“Ever since I was born,” answered Mrs. Ellison; “at least, ever since I can remember.”
“And have you never,” said Amelia, “deviated from this generous way of thinking?”
“Never once,” answered the other, “in the whole course of my life.”
“O, Mrs. Ellison! Mrs. Ellison!” cries Amelia; “why do we ever blame those who are disingenuous in confessing their faults, when we are so often ashamed to own ourselves in the right? Some women now, in my situation, would be angry that you had not made confidantes of them; but I never desire to know more of the secrets of others than they are pleased to intrust me with. You must believe, however, that I should not have given you these hints of my knowing all if I had disapproved your choice. On the contrary, I assure you I highly approve it. The gentility he wants, it will be easily in your power to procure for him; and as for his good qualities, I will myself be bound for them; and I make not the least doubt, as you have owned to me yourself that you have placed your affections on him, you will be one of the happiest women in the world.”
“Upon my honour,” cries Mrs. Ellison very gravely, “I do not understand one word of what you mean.”
“Upon my honour, you astonish me,” said Amelia; “but I have done.”
“Nay then,” said the other, “I insist upon knowing what you mean.”
“Why, what can I mean,” answered Amelia, “but your marriage with serjeant Atkinson?”
“With serjeant Atkinson!” cries Mrs. Ellison eagerly, “my marriage with a serjeant!”
“Well, with Mr. Atkinson, then, Captain Atkinson, if you please; for so I hope to see him.”
“And have you really no better opinion of me,” said Mrs. Ellison, “than to imagine me capable of such condescension? What have I done, dear Mrs. Booth, to deserve so low a place in your esteem? I find indeed, as Solomon says, Women ought to watch the door of their lips. How little did I imagine that a little harmless freedom in discourse could persuade any one that I could entertain a serious intention of disgracing my family! for of a very good family am I come, I assure you, madam, though I now let lodgings. Few of my lodgers, I believe, ever came of a better.”
“If I have offended you, madam,” said Amelia, “I am very sorry, and ask your pardon; but, besides what I heard from yourself, Mr. Booth told me — ”
“O yes!” answered Mrs. Ellison, “Mr. Booth, I know, is a very good friend of mine. Indeed, I know you better than to think it could be your own suspicion. I am very much obliged to Mr. Booth truly.”
“Nay,” cries Amelia, “the serjeant himself is in fault; for Mr. Booth, I am positive, only repeated what he had from him.”
“Impudent coxcomb!” cries Mrs. Ellison. “I shall know how to keep such fellows at a proper distance for the future — I will tell you, dear madam, all that happened. When I rose in the morning I found the fellow waiting in the entry; and, as you had exprest some regard for him as your foster-brother — nay, he is a very genteel fellow, that I must own — I scolded my maid for not shewing him into my little back-room; and I then asked him to walk into the parlour. Could I have imagined he would have construed such little civility into an encouragement?”
“Nay, I will have justice done to my poor brother too,” said Amelia. “I myself have seen you give him much greater encouragement than that.”
“Well, perhaps I have,” said Mrs. Ellison. “I have been always too unguarded in my speech, and can’t answer for all I have said.” She then began to change her note, and, with an affected laugh, turned all into ridicule; and soon afterwards the two ladies separated, both in apparent good humour; and Amelia went about those domestic offices in which Mr. Booth found her engaged at the end of the preceding chapter.
Containing a very extraordinary incident.
In the afternoon Mr. Booth, with Amelia and her children, went to refresh themselves in the Park. The conversation now turned on what past in the morning with Mrs. Ellison, the latter part of the dialogue, I mean, recorded in the last chapter. Amelia told her husband that Mrs. Ellison so strongly denied all intentions to marry the serjeant, that she had convinced her the poor fellow was under an error, and had mistaken a little too much levity for serious encouragement; and concluded by desiring Booth not to jest with her any more on that subject.
Booth burst into a laugh at what his wife said. “My dear creature,” said he, “how easily is thy honesty and simplicity to be imposed on! how little dost thou guess at the art and falsehood of women! I knew a young lady who, against her father’s consent, was married to a brother officer of mine; and, as I often used to walk with her (for I knew her father intimately well), she would of her own accord take frequent occasions to ridicule and vilify her husband (for so he was at the time), and exprest great wonder and indignation at the report which she allowed to prevail that she should condescend ever to look at such a fellow with any other design than of laughing at and despising him. The marriage afterwards became publicly owned, and the lady was reputably brought to bed. Since which I have often seen her; nor hath she ever appeared to be in the least ashamed of what she had formerly said, though, indeed, I believe she hates me heartily for having heard it.”
“But for what reason,” cries Amelia, “should she deny a fact, when she must be so certain of our discovering it, and that immediately?”
“I can’t answer what end she may propose,” said Booth. “Sometimes one would be almost persuaded that there was a pleasure in lying itself. But this I am certain, that I would believe the honest serjeant on his bare word sooner than I would fifty Mrs. Ellisons on oath. I am convinced he would not have said what he did to me without the strongest encouragement; and, I think, after what we have been both witnesses to, it requires no great confidence in his veracity to give him an unlimited credit with regard to the lady’s behaviour.”
To this Amelia made no reply; and they discoursed of other matters during the remainder of a very pleasant walk.
When they returned home Amelia was surprized to find an appearance of disorder in her apartment. Several of the trinkets which his lordship had given the children lay about the room; and a suit of her own cloaths, which she had left in her drawers, was now displayed upon the bed.
She immediately summoned her little girl up-stairs, who, as she plainly perceived the moment she came up with a candle, had half cried her eyes out; for, though the girl had opened the door to them, as it was almost dark, she had not taken any notice of this phenomenon in her countenance.
The girl now fell down upon her knees and cried, “For Heaven’s sake, madam, do not be angry with me. Indeed, I was left alone in the house; and, hearing somebody knock at the door, I opened it — I am sure thinking no harm. I did not know but it might have been you, or my master, or Madam Ellison; and immediately as I did, the rogue burst in and ran directly up-stairs, and what he hath robbed you of I cannot tell; but I am sure I could not help it, for he was a great swinging man with a pistol in each hand; and, if I had dared to call out, to be sure he would have killed me. I am sure I was never in such a fright in my born days, whereof I am hardly come to myself yet. I believe he is somewhere about the house yet, for I never saw him go out.”
Amelia discovered some little alarm at this narrative, but much less than many other ladies would have shewn, for a fright is, I believe, sometimes laid hold of as an opportunity of disclosing several charms peculiar to that occasion. And which, as Mr. Addison says of certain virtues,
Shun the day, and lie conceal’d
In the smooth seasons and the calms of life.
Booth, having opened the window, and summoned in two chairmen to his assistance, proceeded to search the house; but all to no purpose; the thief was flown, though the poor girl, in her state of terror, had not seen him escape.
But now a circumstance appeared which greatly surprized both Booth and Amelia; indeed, I believe it will have the same effect on the reader; and this was, that the thief had taken nothing with him. He had, indeed, tumbled over all Booth’s and Amelia’s cloaths and the children’s toys, but had left all behind him.
Amelia was scarce more pleased than astonished at this discovery, and reexamined the girl, assuring her of an absolute pardon if she confessed the truth, but grievously threatening her if she was found guilty of the least falsehood. “As for a thief, child,” says she, “that is certainly not true; you have had somebody with you to whom you have been shewing the things; therefore tell me plainly who it was.”
The girl protested in the solemnest manner that she knew not the person; but as to some circumstances she began to vary a little from her first account, particularly as to the pistols, concerning which, being strictly examined by Booth, she at last cried — “To be sure, sir, he must have had pistols about him.” And instead of persisting in his having rushed in upon her, she now confessed that he had asked at the door for her master and mistress; and that at his desire she had shewn him up-stairs, where he at first said he would stay till their return home; “but, indeed,” cried she, “I thought no harm, for he looked like a gentleman-like sort of man. And, indeed, so I thought he was for a good while, whereof he sat down and behaved himself very civilly, till he saw some of master’s and miss’s things upon the chest of drawers; whereof he cried, ‘Hey-day! what’s here?’ and then he fell to tumbling about the things like any mad. Then I thinks, thinks I to myself, to be sure he is a highwayman, whereof I did not dare speak to him; for I knew Madam Ellison and her maid was gone out, and what could such a poor girl as I do against a great strong man? and besides, thinks I, to be sure he hath got pistols about him, though I can’t indeed, (that I will not do for the world) take my Bible-oath that I saw any; yet to be sure he would have soon pulled them out and shot me dead if I had ventured to have said anything to offend him.”
“I know not what to make of this,” cries Booth. “The poor girl, I verily believe, speaks to the best of her knowledge. A thief it could not be, for he hath not taken the least thing; and it is plain he had the girl’s watch in his hand. If it had been a bailiff, surely he would have staid till our return. I can conceive no other from the girl’s account than that it must have been some madman.”
“O good sir!” said the girl, “now you mention it, if he was not a thief, to be sure he must have been a madman: for indeed he looked, and behaved himself too, very much like a madman; for, now I remember it, he talked to himself and said many strange kind of words that I did not understand. Indeed, he looked altogether as I have seen people in Bedlam; besides, if he was not a madman, what good could it do him to throw the things all about the room in such a manner? and he said something too about my master just before he went down-stairs. I was in such a fright I cannot remember particularly, but I am sure they were very ill words; he said he would do for him — I am sure he said that, and other wicked bad words too, if I could but think of them.”
“Upon my word,” said Booth, “this is the most probable conjecture; but still I am puzzled to conceive who it should be, for I have no madman to my knowledge of my acquaintance, and it seems, as the girl says, he asked for me.” He then turned to the child, and asked her if she was certain of that circumstance.
The poor maid, after a little hesitation, answered, “Indeed, sir, I cannot be very positive; for the fright he threw me into afterwards drove everything almost out of my mind.”
“Well, whatever he was,” cries Amelia, “I am glad the consequence is no worse; but let this be a warning to you, little Betty, and teach you to take more care for the future. If ever you should be left alone in the house again, be sure to let no persons in without first looking out at the window and seeing who they are. I promised not to chide you any more on this occasion, and I will keep my word; but it is very plain you desired this person to walk up into our apartment, which was very wrong in our absence.”
Betty was going to answer, but Amelia would not let her, saying, “Don’t attempt to excuse yourself; for I mortally hate a liar, and can forgive any fault sooner than falsehood.”
The poor girl then submitted; and now Amelia, with her assistance, began to replace all things in their order; and little Emily hugging her watch with great fondness, declared she would never part with it any more.
Thus ended this odd adventure, not entirely to the satisfaction of Booth; for, besides his curiosity, which, when thoroughly roused, is a very troublesome passion, he had, as is I believe usual with all persons in his circumstances, several doubts and apprehensions of he knew not what. Indeed, fear is never more uneasy than when it doth not certainly know its object; for on such occasions the mind is ever employed in raising a thousand bugbears and fantoms, much more dreadful than any realities, and, like children when they tell tales of hobgoblins, seems industrious in terrifying itself.
Containing some matters not very unnatural.
Matters were scarce sooner reduced into order and decency than a violent knocking was heard at the door, such indeed as would have persuaded any one not accustomed to the sound that the madman was returned in the highest spring-tide of his fury.
Instead, however, of so disagreeable an appearance, a very fine lady presently came into the room, no other, indeed, than Mrs. James herself; for she was resolved to shew Amelia, by the speedy return of her visit, how unjust all her accusation had been of any failure in the duties of friendship; she had, moreover, another reason to accelerate this visit, and that was, to congratulate her friend on the event of the duel between Colonel Bath and Mr. Booth.
The lady had so well profited by Mrs. Booth’s remonstrance, that she had now no more of that stiffness and formality which she had worn on a former occasion. On the contrary, she now behaved with the utmost freedom and good-humour, and made herself so very agreeable, that Amelia was highly pleased and delighted with her company.
An incident happened during this visit, that may appear to some too inconsiderable in itself to be recorded; and yet, as it certainly produced a very strong consequence in the mind of Mr. Booth, we cannot prevail on ourselves to pass it by.
Little Emily, who was present in the room while Mrs. James was there, as she stood near that lady happened to be playing with her watch, which she was so greatly overjoyed had escaped safe from the madman. Mrs. James, who exprest great fondness for the child, desired to see the watch, which she commended as the prettiest of the kind she had ever seen.
Amelia caught eager hold of this opportunity to spread the praises of her benefactor. She presently acquainted Mrs. James with the donor’s name, and ran on with great encomiums on his lordship’s goodness, and particularly on his generosity. To which Mrs. James answered, “O! certainly, madam, his lordship hath universally the character of being extremely generous-where he likes.”
In uttering these words she laid a very strong emphasis on the three last monosyllables, accompanying them at the same time with a very sagacious look, a very significant leer, and a great flirt with her fan.
The greatest genius the world hath ever produced observes, in one of his most excellent plays, that
Trifles, light as air,
Are to the jealous confirmations strong
As proofs of holy writ.
That Mr. Booth began to be possessed by this worst of fiends, admits, I think, no longer doubt; for at this speech of Mrs. James he immediately turned pale, and, from a high degree of chearfulness, was all on a sudden struck dumb, so that he spoke not another word till Mrs. James left the room.
The moment that lady drove from the door Mrs. Ellison came up-stairs. She entered the room with a laugh, and very plentifully rallied both Booth and Amelia concerning the madman, of which she had received a full account below-stairs; and at last asked Amelia if she could not guess who it was; but, without receiving an answer, went on, saying, “For my own part, I fancy it must be some lover of yours! some person that hath seen you, and so is run mad with love. Indeed, I should not wonder if all mankind were to do the same. La! Mr. Booth, what makes you grave? why, you are as melancholy as if you had been robbed in earnest. Upon my word, though, to be serious, it is a strange story, and, as the girl tells it, I know not what to make of it. Perhaps it might be some rogue that intended to rob the house, and his heart failed him; yet even that would be very extraordinary. What, did you lose nothing, madam?”
“Nothing at all,” answered Amelia. “He did not even take the child’s watch.”
“Well, captain,” cries Mrs. Ellison, “I hope you will take more care of the house tomorrow; for your lady and I shall leave you alone to the care of it. Here, madam,” said she, “here is a present from my lord to us; here are two tickets for the masquerade at Ranelagh. You will be so charmed with it! It is the sweetest of all diversions.”
“May I be damned, madam,” cries Booth, “if my wife shall go thither.”
Mrs. Ellison stared at these words, and, indeed, so did Amelia; for they were spoke with great vehemence. At length the former cried out with an air of astonishment, “Not let your lady go to Ranelagh, sir?”
“No, madam,” cries Booth, “I will not let my wife go to Ranelagh.”
“You surprize me!” cries Mrs. Ellison. “Sure, you are not in earnest?”
“Indeed, madam,” returned he, “I am seriously in earnest. And, what is more, I am convinced she would of her own accord refuse to go.”
“Now, madam,” said Mrs. Ellison, “you are to answer for yourself: and I will for your husband, that, if you have a desire to go, he will not refuse you.”
“I hope, madam,” answered Amelia with great gravity, “I shall never desire to go to any place contrary to Mr. Booth’s inclinations.”
“Did ever mortal hear the like?” said Mrs. Ellison; “you are enough to spoil the best husband in the universe. Inclinations! what, is a woman to be governed then by her husband’s inclinations, though they are never so unreasonable?”
“Pardon me, madam,” said Amelia; “I will not suppose Mr. Booth’s inclinations ever can be unreasonable. I am very much obliged to you for the offer you have made me; but I beg you will not mention it any more; for, after what Mr. Booth hath declared, if Ranelagh was a heaven upon earth, I would refuse to go to it.”
“I thank you, my dear,” cries Booth; “I do assure you, you oblige me beyond my power of expression by what you say; but I will endeavour to shew you, both my sensibility of such goodness, and my lasting gratitude to it.”
“And pray, sir,” cries Mrs. Ellison, “what can be your objection to your lady’s going to a place which, I will venture to say, is as reputable as any about town, and which is frequented by the best company?”
“Pardon me, good Mrs. Ellison,” said Booth: “as my wife is so good to acquiesce without knowing my reasons, I am not, I think, obliged to assign them to any other person.”
“Well,” cries Mrs. Ellison, “if I had been told this, I would not have believed it. What, refuse your lady an innocent diversion, and that too when you have not the pretence to say it would cost you a farthing?”
“Why will you say any more on this subject, dear madam?” cries Amelia. “All diversions are to me matters of such indifference, that the bare inclinations of any one for whom I have the least value would at all times turn the balance of mine. I am sure then, after what Mr. Booth hath said — ”
“My dear,” cries he, taking her up hastily, “I sincerely ask your pardon; I spoke inadvertently, and in a passion. I never once thought of controuling you, nor ever would. Nay, I said in the same breath you would not go; and, upon my honour, I meant nothing more.”
“My dear,” said she, “you have no need of making any apology. I am not in the least offended, and am convinced you will never deny me what I shall desire.”
“Try him, try him, madam,” cries Mrs. Ellison; “I will be judged by all the women in town if it is possible for a wife to ask her husband anything more reasonable. You can’t conceive what a sweet, charming, elegant, delicious place it is. Paradise itself can hardly be equal to it.”
“I beg you will excuse me, madam,” said Amelia; “nay, I entreat you will ask me no more; for be assured I must and will refuse. Do let me desire you to give the ticket to poor Mrs. Bennet. I believe it would greatly oblige her.”
“Pardon me, madam,” said Mrs. Ellison; “if you will not accept of it, I am not so distressed for want of company as to go to such a public place with all sort of people neither. I am always very glad to see Mrs. Bennet at my own house, because I look upon her as a very good sort of woman; but I don’t chuse to be seen with such people in public places.”
Amelia exprest some little indignation at this last speech, which she declared to be entirely beyond her comprehension; and soon after, Mrs. Ellison, finding all her efforts to prevail on Amelia were ineffectual, took her leave, giving Mr. Booth two or three sarcastical words, and a much more sarcastical look, at her departure.
A scene in which some ladies will possibly think Amelia’s conduct exceptionable.
Booth and his wife being left alone, a solemn silence prevailed during a few minutes. At last Amelia, who, though a good, was yet a human creatures said to her husband, “Pray, my dear, do inform me what could put you into so great a passion when Mrs. Ellison first offered me the tickets for this masquerade?”
“I had rather you would not ask me,” said Booth. “You have obliged me greatly in your ready acquiescence with my desire, and you will add greatly to the obligation by not enquiring the reason of it. This you may depend upon, Amelia, that your good and happiness are the great objects of all my wishes, and the end I propose in all my actions. This view alone could tempt me to refuse you anything, or to conceal anything from you.”
“I will appeal to yourself,” answered she, “whether this be not using me too much like a child, and whether I can possibly help being a little offended at it?”
“Not in the least,” replied he; “I use you only with the tenderness of a friend. I would only endeavour to conceal that from you which I think would give you uneasiness if you knew. These are called the pious frauds of friendship.”
“I detest all fraud,” says she; “and pious is too good an epithet to be joined to so odious a word. You have often, you know, tried these frauds with no better effect than to teize and torment me. You cannot imagine, my dear, but that I must have a violent desire to know the reason of words which I own I never expected to have heard. And the more you have shown a reluctance to tell me, the more eagerly I have longed to know. Nor can this be called a vain curiosity, since I seem so much interested in this affair. If after all this, you still insist on keeping the secret, I will convince you I am not ignorant of the duty of a wife by my obedience; but I cannot help telling you at the same time you will make me one of the most miserable of women.”
“That is,” cries he, “in other words, my dear Emily, to say, I will be contented without the secret, but I am resolved to know it, nevertheless.”
“Nay, if you say so,” cries she, “I am convinced you will tell me. Positively, dear Billy, I must and will know.”
“Why, then, positively,” says Booth, “I will tell you. And I think I shall then shew you that, however well you may know the duty of a wife, I am not always able to behave like a husband. In a word then, my dear, the secret is no more than this; I am unwilling you should receive any more presents from my lord.”
“Mercy upon me!” cries she, with all the marks of astonishment; “what! a masquerade ticket!” —
“Yes, my dear,” cries he; “that is, perhaps, the very worst and most dangerous of all. Few men make presents of those tickets to ladies without intending to meet them at the place. And what do we know of your companion? To be sincere with you, I have not liked her behaviour for some time. What might be the consequence of going with such a woman to such a place, to meet such a person, I tremble to think. And now, my dear, I have told you my reason of refusing her offer with some little vehemence, and I think I need explain myself no farther.”
“You need not, indeed, sir,” answered she. “Good Heavens! did I ever expect to hear this? I can appeal to heaven, nay, I will appeal to yourself, Mr. Booth, if I have ever done anything to deserve such a suspicion. If ever any action of mine, nay, if ever any thought, had stained the innocence of my soul, I could be contented.”
“How cruelly do you mistake me!” said Booth. “What suspicion have I ever shewn?”
“Can you ask it,” answered she, “after what you have just now declared?”
“If I have declared any suspicion of you,” replied he, “or if ever I entertained a thought leading that way, may the worst of evils that ever afflicted human nature attend me! I know the pure innocence of that tender bosom, I do know it, my lovely angel, and adore it. The snares which might be laid for that innocence were alone the cause of my apprehension. I feared what a wicked and voluptuous man, resolved to sacrifice everything to the gratification of a sensual appetite with the most delicious repast, might attempt. If ever I injured the unspotted whiteness of thy virtue in my imagination, may hell —— ”
“Do not terrify me,” cries she, interrupting him, “with such imprecations. O, Mr. Booth! Mr. Booth! you must well know that a woman’s virtue is always her sufficient guard. No husband, without suspecting that, can suspect any danger from those snares you mention; and why, if you are liable to take such things into your head, may not your suspicions fall on me as well as on any other? for sure nothing was ever more unjust, I will not say ungrateful, than the suspicions which you have bestowed on his lordship. I do solemnly declare, in all the times I have seen the poor man, he hath never once offered the least forwardness. His behaviour hath been polite indeed, but rather remarkably distant than otherwise. Particularly when we played at cards together. I don’t remember he spoke ten words to me all the evening; and when I was at his house, though he shewed the greatest fondness imaginable to the children, he took so little notice of me, that a vain woman would have been very little pleased with him. And if he gave them many presents, he never offered me one. The first, indeed, which he ever offered me was that which you in that kind manner forced me to refuse.”
“All this may be only the effect of art,” said Booth. “I am convinced he doth, nay, I am convinced he must like you; and my good friend James, who perfectly well knows the world, told me, that his lordship’s character was that of the most profuse in his pleasures with women; nay, what said Mrs. James this very evening? ‘His lordship is extremely generous — where he likes.’ I shall never forget the sneer with which she spoke those last words.”
“I am convinced they injure him,” cries Amelia. “As for Mrs. James, she was always given to be censorious; I remarked it in her long ago, as her greatest fault. And for the colonel, I believe he may find faults enow of this kind in his own bosom, without searching after them among his neighbours. I am sure he hath the most impudent look of all the men I know; and I solemnly declare, the very last time he was here he put me out of countenance more than once.”
“Colonel James,” answered Booth, “may have his faults very probably. I do not look upon him as a saint, nor do I believe he desires I should; but what interest could he have in abusing this lord’s character to me? or why should I question his truth, when he assured me that my lord had never done an act of beneficence in his life but for the sake of some woman whom he lusted after?”
“Then I myself can confute him,” replied Amelia: “for, besides his services to you, which, for the future, I shall wish to forget, and his kindness to my little babes, how inconsistent is the character which James gives of him with his lordship’s behaviour to his own nephew and niece, whose extreme fondness of their uncle sufficiently proclaims his goodness to them? I need not mention all that I have heard from Mrs. Ellison, every word of which I believe; for I have great reason to think, notwithstanding some little levity, which, to give her her due, she sees and condemns in herself, she is a very good sort of woman.”
“Well, my dear,” cries Booth, “I may have been deceived, and I heartily hope I am so; but in cases of this nature it is always good to be on the surest side; for, as Congreve says,
‘The wise too jealous are: fools too secure.’”
Here Amelia burst into tears, upon which Booth immediately caught her in his arms, and endeavoured to comfort her. Passion, however, for a while obstructed her speech, and at last she cried, “O, Mr. Booth! can I bear to hear the word jealousy from your mouth?”
“Why, my love,” said Booth, “will you so fatally misunderstand my meaning? how often shall I protest that it is not of you, but of him, that I was jealous? If you could look into my breast, and there read all the most secret thoughts of my heart, you would not see one faint idea to your dishonour.”
“I don’t misunderstand you, my dear,” said she, “so much as I am afraid you misunderstand yourself. What is it you fear? — you mention not force, but snares. Is not this to confess, at least, that you have some doubt of my understanding? do you then really imagine me so weak as to be cheated of my virtue? — am I to be deceived into an affection for a man before I perceive the least inward hint of my danger? No, Mr. Booth, believe me, a woman must be a fool indeed who can have in earnest such an excuse for her actions. I have not, I think, any very high opinion of my judgment, but so far I shall rely upon it, that no man breathing could have any such designs as you have apprehended without my immediately seeing them; and how I should then act I hope my whole conduct to you hath sufficiently declared.”
“Well, my dear,” cries Booth, “I beg you will mention it no more; if possible, forget it. I hope, nay, I believe, I have been in the wrong; pray forgive me.”
“I will, I do forgive you, my dear,” said she, “if forgiveness be a proper word for one whom you have rather made miserable than angry; but let me entreat you to banish for ever all such suspicions from your mind. I hope Mrs. Ellison hath not discovered the real cause of your passion; but, poor woman, if she had, I am convinced it would go no farther. Oh, Heavens! I would not for the world it should reach his lordship’s ears. You would lose the best friend that ever man had. Nay, I would not for his own sake, poor man; for I really believe it would affect him greatly, and I must, I cannot help having an esteem for so much goodness. An esteem which, by this dear hand,” said she, taking Booth’s hand and kissing it, “no man alive shall ever obtain by making love to me.”
Booth caught her in his arms and tenderly embraced her. After which the reconciliation soon became complete; and Booth, in the contemplation of his happiness, entirely buried all his jealous thoughts.
A chapter in which there is much learning.
The next morning, whilst Booth was gone to take his morning walk, Amelia went down into Mrs. Ellison’s apartment, where, though she was received with great civility, yet she found that lady was not at all pleased with Mr. Booth; and, by some hints which dropt from her in conversation, Amelia very greatly apprehended that Mrs. Ellison had too much suspicion of her husband’s real uneasiness; for that lady declared very openly she could not help perceiving what sort of man Mr. Booth was: “And though I have the greatest regard for you, madam, in the world,” said she, “yet I think myself in honour obliged not to impose on his lordship, who, I know very well, hath conceived his greatest liking to the captain on my telling him that he was the best husband in the world.”
Amelia’s fears gave her much disturbance, and when her husband returned she acquainted him with them; upon which occasion, as it was natural, she resumed a little the topic of their former discourse, nor could she help casting, though in very gentle terms, some slight blame on Booth for having entertained a suspicion which, she said, might in its consequence very possibly prove their ruin, and occasion the loss of his lordship’s friendship.
Booth became highly affected with what his wife said, and the more, as he had just received a note from Colonel James, informing him that the colonel had heard of a vacant company in the regiment which Booth had mentioned to him, and that he had been with his lordship about it, who had promised to use his utmost interest to obtain him the command.
The poor man now exprest the utmost concern for his yesterday’s behaviour, said “he believed the devil had taken possession of him,” and concluded with crying out, “Sure I was born, my dearest creature, to be your torment.”
Amelia no sooner saw her husband’s distress than she instantly forbore whatever might seem likely to aggravate it, and applied herself, with all her power, to comfort him. “If you will give me leave to offer my advice, my dearest soul,” said she, “I think all might yet be remedied. I think you know me too well to suspect that the desire of diversion should induce me to mention what I am now going to propose; and in that confidence I will ask you to let me accept my lord’s and Mrs. Ellison’s offer, and go to the masquerade. No matter how little while I stay there; if you desire it I will not be an hour from you. I can make an hundred excuses to come home, or tell a real truth, and say I am tired with the place. The bare going will cure everything.”
Amelia had no sooner done speaking than Booth immediately approved her advice, and readily gave his consent. He could not, however, help saying, that the shorter her stay was there, the more agreeable it would be to him; “for you know, my dear,” said he, “I would never willingly be a moment out of your sight.”
In the afternoon Amelia sent to invite Mrs. Ellison to a dish of tea; and Booth undertook to laugh off all that had passed yesterday, in which attempt the abundant good humour of that lady gave him great hopes of success.
Mrs. Bennet came that afternoon to make a visit, and was almost an hour with Booth and Amelia before the entry of Mrs. Ellison.
Mr. Booth had hitherto rather disliked this young lady, and had wondered at the pleasure which Amelia declared she took in her company. This afternoon, however, he changed his opinion, and liked her almost as much as his wife had done. She did indeed behave at this time with more than ordinary gaiety; and good humour gave a glow to her countenance that set off her features, which were very pretty, to the best advantage, and lessened the deadness that had usually appeared in her complexion.
But if Booth was now pleased with Mrs. Bennet, Amelia was still more pleased with her than ever. For, when their discourse turned on love, Amelia discovered that her new friend had all the same sentiments on that subject with herself. In the course of their conversation Booth gave Mrs. Bennet a hint of wishing her a good husband, upon which both the ladies declaimed against second marriages with equal vehemence.
Upon this occasion Booth and his wife discovered a talent in their visitant to which they had been before entirely strangers, and for which they both greatly admired her, and this was, that the lady was a good scholar, in which, indeed, she had the advantage of poor Amelia, whose reading was confined to English plays and poetry; besides which, I think she had conversed only with the divinity of the great and learned Dr Barrow, and with the histories of the excellent Bishop Burnet.
Amelia delivered herself on the subject of second marriages with much eloquence and great good sense; but when Mrs. Bennet came to give her opinion she spoke in the following manner: “I shall not enter into the question concerning the legality of bigamy. Our laws certainly allow it, and so, I think, doth our religion. We are now debating only on the decency of it, and in this light I own myself as strenuous an advocate against it as any Roman matron would have been in those ages of the commonwealth when it was held to be infamous. For my own part, how great a paradox soever my opinion may seem, I solemnly declare, I see but little difference between having two husbands at one time and at several times; and of this I am very confident, that the same degree of love for a first husband which preserves a woman in the one case will preserve her in the other. There is one argument which I scarce know how to deliver before you, sir; but — if a woman hath lived with her first husband without having children, I think it unpardonable in her to carry barrenness into a second family. On the contrary, if she hath children by her first husband, to give them a second father is still more unpardonable.”
“But suppose, madam,” cries Booth, interrupting her with a smile, “she should have had children by her first husband, and have lost them?”
“That is a case,” answered she, with a sigh, “which I did not desire to think of, and I must own it the most favourable light in which a second marriage can be seen. But the Scriptures, as Petrarch observes, rather suffer them than commend them; and St Jerom speaks against them with the utmost bitterness.” — “I remember,” cries Booth (who was willing either to shew his learning, or to draw out the lady’s), “a very wise law of Charondas, the famous lawgiver of Thurium, by which men who married a second time were removed from all public councils; for it was scarce reasonable to suppose that he who was so great a fool in his own family should be wise in public affairs. And though second marriages were permitted among the Romans, yet they were at the same time discouraged, and those Roman widows who refused them were held in high esteem, and honoured with what Valerius Maximus calls the Corona Pudicitiae. In the noble family of Camilli there was not, in many ages, a single instance of this, which Martial calls adultery:
Quae toties nubit, non nubit; adultera lege est.“
“True, sir,” says Mrs. Bennet, “and Virgil calls this a violation of chastity, and makes Dido speak of it with the utmost detestation:
Sed mihi vel Tellus optem prius ima dehiscat
Vel Pater omnipotens adigat me fulmine ad umbras,
Pallentes umbras Erebi, noctemque profundam,
Ante, fudor, quam te violo, aut tua jura resolvo.
Ille meos, primum qui me sibi junxit, amores,
Ille habeat semper secum, servetque Sepulchro.“
She repeated these lines with so strong an emphasis, that she almost frightened Amelia out of her wits, and not a little staggered Booth, who was himself no contemptible scholar. He expressed great admiration of the lady’s learning; upon which she said it was all the fortune given her by her father, and all the dower left her by her husband; “and sometimes,” said she, “I am inclined to think I enjoy more pleasure from it than if they had bestowed on me what the world would in general call more valuable.” — She then took occasion, from the surprize which Booth had affected to conceive at her repeating Latin with so good a grace, to comment on that great absurdity (for so she termed it) of excluding women from learning; for which they were equally qualified with the men, and in which so many had made so notable a proficiency; for a proof of which she mentioned Madam Dacier, and many others.
Though both Booth and Amelia outwardly concurred with her sentiments, it may be a question whether they did not assent rather out of complaisance than from their real judgment.
Containing some unaccountable behaviour in Mrs. Ellison.
Mrs. Ellison made her entrance at the end of the preceding discourse. At her first appearance she put on an unusual degree of formality and reserve; but when Amelia had acquainted her that she designed to accept the favour intended her, she soon began to alter the gravity of her muscles, and presently fell in with that ridicule which Booth thought proper to throw on his yesterday’s behaviour.
The conversation now became very lively and pleasant, in which Booth having mentioned the discourse that passed in the last chapter, and having greatly complimented Mrs. Bennet’s speech on that occasion, Mrs. Ellison, who was as strenuous an advocate on the other side, began to rally that lady extremely, declaring it was a certain sign she intended to marry again soon. “Married ladies,” cries she, “I believe, sometimes think themselves in earnest in such declarations, though they are oftener perhaps meant as compliments to their husbands; but, when widows exclaim loudly against second marriages, I would always lay a wager that the man, if not the wedding-day, is absolutely fixed on.”
Mrs. Bennet made very little answer to this sarcasm. Indeed, she had scarce opened her lips from the time of Mrs. Ellison’s coming into the room, and had grown particularly grave at the mention of the masquerade. Amelia imputed this to her being left out of the party, a matter which is often no small mortification to human pride, and in a whisper asked Mrs. Ellison if she could not procure a third ticket, to which she received an absolute negative.
During the whole time of Mrs. Bennet’s stay, which was above an hour afterwards, she remained perfectly silent, and looked extremely melancholy. This made Amelia very uneasy, as she concluded she had guessed the cause of her vexation. In which opinion she was the more confirmed from certain looks of no very pleasant kind which Mrs. Bennet now and then cast on Mrs. Ellison, and the more than ordinary concern that appeared in the former lady’s countenance whenever the masquerade was mentioned, and which; unfortunately, was the principal topic of their discourse; for Mrs. Ellison gave a very elaborate description of the extreme beauty of the place and elegance of the diversion.
When Mrs. Bennet was departed, Amelia could not help again soliciting Mrs. Ellison for another ticket, declaring she was certain Mrs. Bennet had a great inclination to go with them; but Mrs. Ellison again excused herself from asking it of his lordship. “Besides, madam,” says she, “if I would go thither with Mrs. Bennet, which, I own to you, I don’t chuse, as she is a person whom nobody knows, I very much doubt whether she herself would like it; for she is a woman of a very unaccountable turn. All her delight lies in books; and as for public diversions, I have heard her often declare her abhorrence of them.”
“What then,” said Amelia, “could occasion all that gravity from the moment the masquerade was mentioned?”
“As to that,” answered the other, “there is no guessing. You have seen her altogether as grave before now. She hath had these fits of gravity at times ever since the death of her husband.”
“Poor creature!” cries Amelia; “I heartily pity her, for she must certainly suffer a great deal on these occasions. I declare I have taken a strange fancy to her.”
“Perhaps you would not like her so well if you knew her thoroughly,” answered Mrs. Ellison. — “She is, upon the whole, but of a whimsical temper; and, if you will take my opinion, you should not cultivate too much intimacy with her. I know you will never mention what I say; but she is like some pictures, which please best at a distance.”
Amelia did not seem to agree with these sentiments, and she greatly importuned Mrs. Ellison to be more explicit, but to no purpose; she continued to give only dark hints to Mrs. Bennet’s disadvantage; and, if ever she let drop something a little too harsh, she failed not immediately to contradict herself by throwing some gentle commendations into the other scale; so that her conduct appeared utterly unaccountable to Amelia, and, upon the whole, she knew not whether to conclude Mrs. Ellison to be a friend or enemy to Mrs. Bennet.
During this latter conversation Booth was not in the room, for he had been summoned down-stairs by the serjeant, who came to him with news from Murphy, whom he had met that evening, and who assured the serjeant that, if he was desirous of recovering the debt which he had before pretended to have on Booth, he might shortly have an opportunity, for that there was to be a very strong petition to the board the next time they sat. Murphy said further that he need not fear having his money, for that, to his certain knowledge, the captain had several things of great value, and even his children had gold watches.
This greatly alarmed Booth, and still more when the serjeant reported to him, from Murphy, that all these things had been seen in his possession within a day last past. He now plainly perceived, as he thought, that Murphy himself, or one of his emissaries, had been the supposed madman; and he now very well accounted to himself, in his own mind, for all that had happened, conceiving that the design was to examine into the state of his effects, and to try whether it was worth his creditors’ while to plunder him by law.
At his return to his apartment he communicated what he had heard to Amelia and Mrs. Ellison, not disguising his apprehensions of the enemy’s intentions; but Mrs. Ellison endeavoured to laugh him out of his fears, calling him faint-hearted, and assuring him he might depend on her lawyer. “Till you hear from him,” said she, “you may rest entirely contented: for, take my word for it, no danger can happen to you of which you will not be timely apprized by him. And as for the fellow that had the impudence to come into your room, if he was sent on such an errand as you mention, I heartily wish I had been at home; I would have secured him safe with a constable, and have carried him directly before justice Thresher. I know the justice is an enemy to bailiffs on his own account.”
This heartening speech a little roused the courage of Booth, and somewhat comforted Amelia, though the spirits of both had been too much hurried to suffer them either to give or receive much entertainment that evening; which Mrs. Ellison perceiving soon took her leave, and left this unhappy couple to seek relief from sleep, that powerful friend to the distrest, though, like other powerful friends, he is not always ready to give his assistance to those who want it most.
Containing a very strange incident.
When the husband and wife were alone they again talked over the news which the serjeant had brought; on which occasion Amelia did all she could to conceal her own fears, and to quiet those of her husband. At last she turned the conversation to another subject, and poor Mrs. Bennet was brought on the carpet. “I should be sorry,” cries Amelia, “to find I had conceived an affection for a bad woman; and yet I begin to fear Mrs. Ellison knows something of her more than she cares to discover; why else should she be unwilling to be seen with her in public? Besides, I have observed that Mrs. Ellison hath been always backward to introduce her to me, nor would ever bring her to my apartment, though I have often desired her. Nay, she hath given me frequent hints not to cultivate the acquaintance. What do you think, my dear? I should be very sorry to contract an intimacy with a wicked person.”
“Nay, my dear,” cries Booth. “I know no more of her, nor indeed hardly so much as yourself. But this I think, that if Mrs. Ellison knows any reason why she should not have introduced Mrs. Bennet into your company, she was very much in the wrong in introducing her into it.”
In discourses of this kind they past the remainder of the evening. In the morning Booth rose early, and, going down-stairs, received from little Betty a sealed note, which contained the following words:
Beware, beware, beware;
For I apprehend a dreadful snare
Is laid for virtuous innocence,
Under a friend’s false pretence.
Booth immediately enquired of the girl who brought this note? and was told it came by a chair-man, who, having delivered it, departed without saying a word.
He was extremely staggered at what he read, and presently referred the advice to the same affair on which he had received those hints from Atkinson the preceding evening; but when he came to consider the words more maturely he could not so well reconcile the two last lines of this poetical epistle, if it may be so called, with any danger which the law gave him reason to apprehend. Mr. Murphy and his gang could not well be said to attack either his innocence or virtue; nor did they attack him under any colour or pretence of friendship.
After much deliberation on this matter a very strange suspicion came into his head; and this was, that he was betrayed by Mrs. Ellison. He had, for some time, conceived no very high opinion of that good gentlewoman, and he now began to suspect that she was bribed to betray him. By this means he thought he could best account for the strange appearance of the supposed madman. And when this conceit once had birth in his mind, several circumstances nourished and improved it. Among these were her jocose behaviour and raillery on that occasion, and her attempt to ridicule his fears from the message which the serjeant had brought him.
This suspicion was indeed preposterous, and not at all warranted by, or even consistent with, the character and whole behaviour of Mrs. Ellison, but it was the only one which at that time suggested itself to his mind; and, however blameable it might be, it was certainly not unnatural in him to entertain it; for so great a torment is anxiety to the human mind, that we always endeavour to relieve ourselves from it by guesses, however doubtful or uncertain; on all which occasions, dislike and hatred are the surest guides to lead our suspicion to its object.
When Amelia rose to breakfast, Booth produced the note which he had received, saying, “My dear, you have so often blamed me for keeping secrets from you, and I have so often, indeed, endeavoured to conceal secrets of this kind from you with such ill success, that I think I shall never more attempt it.” Amelia read the letter hastily, and seemed not a little discomposed; then, turning to Booth with a very disconsolate countenance, she said, “Sure fortune takes a delight in terrifying us! what can be the meaning of this?” Then, fixing her eyes attentively on the paper, she perused it for some time, till Booth cried, “How is it possible, my Emily, you can read such stuff patiently? the verses are certainly as bad as ever were written.” — “I was trying, my dear,” answered she, “to recollect the hand; for I will take my oath I have seen it before, and that very lately;” and suddenly she cried out, with great emotion, “I remember it perfectly now; it is Mrs. Bennet’s hand. Mrs. Ellison shewed me a letter from her but a day or two ago. It is a very remarkable hand, and I am positive it is hers.”
“If it be hers,” cries Booth, “what can she possibly mean by the latter part of her caution? sure Mrs. Ellison hath no intention to betray us.”
“I know not what she means,” answered Amelia, “but I am resolved to know immediately, for I am certain of the hand. By the greatest luck in the world, she told me yesterday where her lodgings were, when she pressed me exceedingly to come and see her. She lives but a very few doors from us, and I will go to her this moment.”
Booth made not the least objection to his wife’s design. His curiosity was, indeed, as great as hers, and so was his impatience to satisfy it, though he mentioned not this his impatience to Amelia; and perhaps it had been well for him if he had.
Amelia, therefore, presently equipped herself in her walking dress, and, leaving her children to the care of her husband, made all possible haste to Mrs. Bennet’s lodgings.
Amelia waited near five minutes at Mrs. Bennet’s door before any one came to open it; at length a maid servant appeared, who, being asked if Mrs. Bennet was at home, answered, with some confusion in her countenance, that she did not know; “but, madam,” said she, “if you will send up your name, I will go and see.” Amelia then told her name, and the wench, after staying a considerable time, returned and acquainted her that Mrs. Bennet was at home. She was then ushered into a parlour and told that the lady would wait on her presently.
In this parlour Amelia cooled her heels, as the phrase is, near a quarter of an hour. She seemed, indeed, at this time, in the miserable situation of one of those poor wretches who make their morning visits to the great to solicit favours, or perhaps to solicit the payment of a debt, for both are alike treated as beggars, and the latter sometimes considered as the more troublesome beggars of the two.
During her stay here, Amelia observed the house to be in great confusion; a great bustle was heard above-stairs, and the maid ran up and down several times in a great hurry.
At length Mrs. Bennet herself came in. She was greatly disordered in her looks, and had, as the women call it, huddled on her cloaths in much haste; for, in truth, she was in bed when Amelia first came. Of this fact she informed her, as the only apology she could make for having caused her to wait so long for her company.
Amelia very readily accepted her apology, but asked her with a smile, if these early hours were usual with her? Mrs. Bennet turned as red as scarlet at the question, and answered, “No, indeed, dear madam. I am for the most part a very early riser; but I happened accidentally to sit up very late last night. I am sure I had little expectation of your intending me such a favour this morning.”
Amelia, looking very steadfastly at her, said, “Is it possible, madam, you should think such a note as this would raise no curiosity in me?” She then gave her the note, asking her if she did not know the hand.
Mrs. Bennet appeared in the utmost surprize and confusion at this instant. Indeed, if Amelia had conceived but the slightest suspicion before, the behaviour of the lady would have been a sufficient confirmation to her of the truth. She waited not, therefore, for an answer, which, indeed, the other seemed in no haste to give, but conjured her in the most earnest manner to explain to her the meaning of so extraordinary an act of friendship; “for so,” said she, “I esteem it, being convinced you must have sufficient reason for the warning you have given me.”
Mrs. Bennet, after some hesitation, answered, “I need not, I believe, tell you how much I am surprized at what you have shewn me; and the chief reason of my surprize is, how you came to discover my hand. Sure, madam, you have not shewn it to Mrs. Ellison?”
Amelia declared she had not, but desired she would question her no farther. “What signifies how I discovered it, since your hand it certainly is?”
“I own it is,” cries Mrs. Bennet, recovering her spirits, “and since you have not shewn it to that woman I am satisfied. I begin to guess now whence you might have your information; but no matter; I wish I had never done anything of which I ought to be more ashamed. No one can, I think, justly accuse me of a crime on that account; and I thank Heaven my shame will never be directed by the false opinion of the world. Perhaps it was wrong to shew my letter, but when I consider all circumstances I can forgive it.”
“Since you have guessed the truth,” said Amelia, “I am not obliged to deny it. She, indeed, shewed me your letter, but I am sure you have not the least reason to be ashamed of it. On the contrary, your behaviour on so melancholy an occasion was highly praiseworthy; and your bearing up under such afflictions as the loss of a husband in so dreadful a situation was truly great and heroical.”
“So Mrs. Ellison then hath shewn you my letter?” cries Mrs. Bennet eagerly.
“Why, did not you guess it yourself?” answered Amelia; “otherwise I am sure I have betrayed my honour in mentioning it. I hope you have not drawn me inadvertently into any breach of my promise. Did you not assert, and that with an absolute certainty, that you knew she had shewn me your letter, and that you was not angry with her for so doing?”
“I am so confused,” replied Mrs. Bennet, “that I scarce know what I say; yes, yes, I remember I did say so — I wish I had no greater reason to be angry with her than that.”
“For Heaven’s sake,” cries Amelia, “do not delay my request any longer; what you say now greatly increases my curiosity, and my mind will be on the rack till you discover your whole meaning; for I am more and more convinced that something of the utmost importance was the purport of your message.”
“Of the utmost importance, indeed,” cries Mrs. Bennet; “at least you will own my apprehensions were sufficiently well founded. O gracious Heaven! how happy shall I think myself if I should have proved your preservation! I will, indeed, explain my meaning; but, in order to disclose all my fears in their just colours, I must unfold my whole history to you. Can you have patience, madam, to listen to the story of the most unfortunate of women?”
Amelia assured her of the highest attention, and Mrs. Bennet soon after began to relate what is written in the seventh book of this history.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:08