A very short chapter, and consequently requiring no preface.
Mrs. Bennet having fastened the door, and both the ladies having taken their places, she once or twice offered to speak, when passion stopt her utterance; and, after a minute’s silence, she burst into a flood of tears. Upon which Amelia, expressing the utmost tenderness for her, as well by her look as by her accent, cried, “What can be the reason, dear madam, of all this emotion?” “O, Mrs. Booth!” answered she, “I find I have undertaken what I am not able to perform. You would not wonder at my emotion if you knew you had an adulteress and a murderer now standing before you.”
Amelia turned pale as death at these words, which Mrs. Bennet observing, collected all the force she was able, and, a little composing her countenance, cried, “I see, madam, I have terrified you with such dreadful words; but I hope you will not think me guilty of these crimes in the blackest degree.” “Guilty!” cries Amelia. “O Heavens!” “I believe, indeed, your candour,” continued Mrs. Bennet, “will be readier to acquit me than I am to acquit myself. Indiscretion, at least, the highest, most unpardonable indiscretion, I shall always lay to ray own charge: and, when I reflect on the fatal consequences, I can never, never forgive myself. “Here she again began to lament in so bitter a manner, that Amelia endeavoured, as much as she could (for she was herself greatly shocked), to soothe and comfort her; telling her that, if indiscretion was her highest crime, the unhappy consequences made her rather an unfortunate than a guilty person; and concluded by saying — “Indeed, madam, you have raised my curiosity to the highest pitch, and I beg you will proceed with your story.”
Mrs. Bennet then seemed a second time going to begin her relation, when she cried out, “I would, if possible, tire you with no more of my unfortunate life than just with that part which leads to a catastrophe in which I think you may yourself be interested; but I protest I am at a loss where to begin.”
“Begin wherever you please, dear madam,” cries Amelia; “but I beg you will consider my impatience.” “I do consider it,” answered Mrs. Bennet; “and therefore would begin with that part of my story which leads directly to what concerns yourself; for how, indeed, should my life produce anything worthy your notice?” “Do not say so, madam,” cries Amelia; “I assure you I have long suspected there were some very remarkable incidents in your life, and have only wanted an opportunity to impart to you my desire of hearing them: I beg, therefore, you would make no more apologies.” “I will not, madam,” cries Mrs. Bennet, “and yet I would avoid anything trivial; though, indeed, in stories of distress, especially where love is concerned, many little incidents may appear trivial to those who have never felt the passion, which, to delicate minds, are the most interesting part of the whole.” “Nay, but, dear madam,” cries Amelia, “this is all preface.”
“Well, madam,” answered Mrs. Bennet, “I will consider your impatience.” She then rallied all her spirits in the best manner she could, and began as is written in the next chapter.
And here possibly the reader will blame Mrs. Bennet for taking her story so far back, and relating so much of her life in which Amelia had no concern; but, in truth, she was desirous of inculcating a good opinion of herself, from recounting those transactions where her conduct was unexceptionable, before she came to the more dangerous and suspicious part of her character. This I really suppose to have been her intention; for to sacrifice the time and patience of Amelia at such a season to the mere love of talking of herself would have been as unpardonable in her as the bearing it was in Amelia a proof of the most perfect good breeding.
The beginning of Mrs. Bennet’s history.
“I was the younger of two daughters of a clergyman in Essex; of one in whose praise if I should indulge my fond heart in speaking, I think my invention could not outgo the reality. He was indeed well worthy of the cloth he wore; and that, I think, is the highest character a man can obtain.
“During the first part of my life, even till I reached my sixteenth year, I can recollect nothing to relate to you. All was one long serene day, in looking back upon which, as when we cast our eyes on a calm sea, no object arises to my view. All appears one scene of happiness and tranquillity.
“On the day, then, when I became sixteen years old, must I begin my history; for on that day I first tasted the bitterness of sorrow.
“My father, besides those prescribed by our religion, kept five festivals every year. These were on his wedding-day, and on the birthday of each of his little family; on these occasions he used to invite two or three neighbours to his house, and to indulge himself, as he said, in great excess; for so he called drinking a pint of very small punch; and, indeed, it might appear excess to one who on other days rarely tasted any liquor stronger than small beer.
“Upon my unfortunate birthday, then, when we were all in a high degree of mirth, my mother having left the room after dinner, and staying away pretty long, my father sent me to see for her. I went according to his orders; but, though I searched the whole house and called after her without doors, I could neither see nor hear her. I was a little alarmed at this (though far from suspecting any great mischief had befallen her), and ran back to acquaint my father, who answered coolly (for he was a man of the calmest temper), ‘Very well, my dear, I suppose she is not gone far, and will be here immediately.’ Half an hour or more past after this, when, she not returning, my father himself expressed some surprize at her stay; declaring it must be some matter of importance which could detain her at that time from her company. His surprize now encreased every minute, and he began to grow uneasy, and to shew sufficient symptoms in his countenance of what he felt within. He then despatched the servant-maid to enquire after her mistress in the parish, but waited not her return; for she was scarce gone out of doors before he begged leave of his guests to go himself on the same errand. The company now all broke up, and attended my father, all endeavouring to give him hopes that no mischief had happened. They searched the whole parish, but in vain; they could neither see my mother, nor hear any news of her. My father returned home in a state little short of distraction. His friends in vain attempted to administer either advice or comfort; he threw himself on the floor in the most bitter agonies of despair.
“Whilst he lay in this condition, my sister and myself lying by him, all equally, I believe, and completely miserable, our old servant-maid came into the room and cried out, her mind misgave her that she knew where her mistress was. Upon these words, my father sprung from the floor, and asked her eagerly, where? But oh! Mrs. Booth, how can I describe the particulars of a scene to you, the remembrance of which chills my blood with horror, and which the agonies of my mind, when it past, made all a scene of confusion! The fact then in short was this: my mother, who was a most indulgent mistress to one servant, which was all we kept, was unwilling, I suppose, to disturb her at her dinner, and therefore went herself to fill her tea-kettle at a well, into which, stretching herself too far, as we imagine, the water then being very low, she fell with the tea-kettle in her hand. The missing this gave the poor old wretch the first hint of her suspicion, which, upon examination, was found to be too well grounded.
“What we all suffered on this occasion may more easily be felt than described.” —— “It may indeed,” answered Amelia, “and I am so sensible of it, that, unless you have a mind to see me faint before your face, I beg you will order me something; a glass of water, if you please. “Mrs. Bennet immediately complied with her friend’s request; a glass of water was brought, and some hartshorn drops infused into it; which Amelia having drank off, declared she found herself much better; and then Mrs. Bennet proceeded thus:— “I will not dwell on a scene which I see hath already so much affected your tender heart, and which is as disagreeable to me to relate as it can be to you to hear. I will therefore only mention to you the behaviour of my father on this occasion, which was indeed becoming a philosopher and a Christian divine. On the day after my mother’s funeral he sent for my sister and myself into his room, where, after many caresses and every demonstration of fatherly tenderness as well in silence as in words, he began to exhort us to bear with patience the great calamity that had befallen us; saying, ‘That as every human accident, how terrible soever, must happen to us by divine permission at least, a due sense of our duty to our great Creator must teach us an absolute submission to his will. Not only religion, but common sense, must teach us this; for oh! my dear children,’ cries he, ‘how vain is all resistance, all repining! could tears wash back again my angel from the grave, I should drain all the juices of my body through my eyes; but oh, could we fill up that cursed well with our tears, how fruitless would be all our sorrow!’ — I think I repeat you his very words; for the impression they made on me is never to be obliterated. He then proceeded to comfort us with the chearful thought that the loss was entirely our own, and that my mother was greatly a gainer by the accident which we lamented. ‘I have a wife,’ cries he, ‘my children, and you have a mother, now amongst the heavenly choir; how selfish therefore is all our grief! how cruel to her are all our wishes!’ In this manner he talked to us near half an hour, though I must frankly own to you his arguments had not the immediate good effect on us which they deserved, for we retired from him very little the better for his exhortations; however, they became every day more and more forcible upon our recollection; indeed, they were greatly strengthened by his example; for in this, as in all other instances, he practised the doctrines which he taught. From this day he never mentioned my mother more, and soon after recovered his usual chearfulness in public; though I have reason to think he paid many a bitter sigh in private to that remembrance which neither philosophy nor Christianity could expunge.
“My father’s advice, enforced by his example, together with the kindness of some of our friends, assisted by that ablest of all the mental physicians, Time, in a few months pretty well restored my tranquillity, when fortune made a second attack on my quiet. My sister, whom I dearly loved, and who as warmly returned my affection, had fallen into an ill state of health some time before the fatal accident which I have related. She was indeed at that time so much better, that we had great hopes of her perfect recovery; but the disorders of her mind on that dreadful occasion so affected her body, that she presently relapsed to her former declining state, and thence grew continually worse and worse, till, after a decay of near seven months, she followed my poor mother to the grave.
“I will not tire you, dear madam, with repetitions of grief; I will only mention two observations which have occurred to me from reflections on the two losses I have mentioned. The first is, that a mind once violently hurt grows, as it were, callous to any future impressions of grief, and is never capable of feeling the same pangs a second time. The other observation is, that the arrows of fortune, as well as all others, derive their force from the velocity with which they are discharged; for, when they approach you by slow and perceptible degrees, they have but very little power to do you mischief.
“The truth of these observations I experienced, not only in my own heart, but in the behaviour of my father, whose philosophy seemed to gain a complete triumph over this latter calamity.
“Our family was now reduced to two, and my father grew extremely fond of me, as if he had now conferred an entire stock of affection on me, that had before been divided. His words, indeed, testified no less, for he daily called me his only darling, his whole comfort, his all. He committed the whole charge of his house to my care, and gave me the name of his little housekeeper, an appellation of which I was then as proud as any minister of state can be of his titles. But, though I was very industrious in the discharge of my occupation, I did not, however, neglect my studies, in which I had made so great a proficiency, that I was become a pretty good mistress of the Latin language, and had made some progress in the Greek. I believe, madam, I have formerly acquainted you, that learning was the chief estate I inherited of my father, in which he had instructed me from my earliest youth.
“The kindness of this good man had at length wiped off the remembrance of all losses; and I during two years led a life of great tranquillity, I think I might almost say of perfect happiness.
“I was now. in the nineteenth year of my age, when my father’s good fortune removed us from the county of Essex into Hampshire, where a living was conferred on him by one of his old school-fellows, of twice the value of what he was before possessed of.
“His predecessor in this new living had died in very indifferent circumstances, and had left behind him a widow with two small children. My father, therefore, who, with great economy, had a most generous soul, bought the whole furniture of the parsonage-house at a very high price; some of it, indeed, he would have wanted; for, though our little habitation in Essex was most completely furnished, yet it bore no proportion to the largeness of that house in which he was now to dwell.
“His motive, however, to the purchase was, I am convinced, solely generosity; which appeared sufficiently by the price he gave, and may be farther inforced by the kindness he shewed the widow in another instance; for he assigned her an apartment for the use of herself and her little family, which, he told her, she was welcome to enjoy as long as it suited her conveniency.
“As this widow was very young, and generally thought to be tolerably pretty, though I own she had a cast with her eyes which I never liked, my father, you may suppose, acted from a less noble principle than I have hinted; but I must in justice acquit him, for these kind offers were made her before ever he had seen her face; and I have the greatest reason to think that, for a long time after he had seen her, he beheld her with much indifference.
“This act of my father’s gave me, when I first heard it, great satisfaction; for I may at least, with the modesty of the ancient philosophers, call myself a lover of generosity, but when I became acquainted with the widow I was still more delighted with what my father had done; for though I could not agree with those who thought her a consummate beauty, I must allow that she was very fully possessed of the power of making herself agreeable; and this power she exerted with so much success, with such indefatigable industry to oblige, that within three months I became in the highest manner pleased with my new acquaintance, and had contracted the most sincere friendship for her.
“But, if I was so pleased with the widow, my father was by this time enamoured of her. She had, indeed, by the most artful conduct in the world, so insinuated herself into his favour, so entirely infatuated him, that he never shewed the least marks of chearfulness in her absence, and could, in truth, scarce bear that she should be out of his sight.
“She had managed this matter so well (O, she is the most artful of women!) that my father’s heart was gone before I ever suspected it was in danger. The discovery you may easily believe, madam, was not pleasing. The name of a mother-inlaw sounded dreadful in my ears; nor could I bear the thought of parting again with a share in those dear affections, of which I had purchased the whole by the loss of a beloved mother and sister.
“In the first hurry and disorder of my mind on this occasion I committed a crime of the highest kind against all the laws of prudence and discretion. I took the young lady herself very roundly to task, treated her designs on my father as little better than a design to commit a theft, and in my passion, I believe, said she might be ashamed to think of marrying a man old enough to be her grandfather; for so in reality he almost was.
“The lady on this occasion acted finely the part of a hypocrite. She affected to be highly affronted at my unjust suspicions, as she called them; and proceeded to such asseverations of her innocence, that she almost brought me to discredit the evidence of my own eyes and ears.
“My father, however, acted much more honestly, for he fell the next day into a more violent passion with me than I had ever seen him in before, and asked me whether I intended to return his paternal fondness by assuming the right of controlling his inclinations? with more of the like kind, which fully convinced me what had passed between him and the lady, and how little I had injured her in my suspicions.
“Hitherto, I frankly own, my aversion to this match had been principally on my own account; for I had no ill opinion of the woman, though I thought neither her circumstances nor my father’s age promised any kind of felicity from such an union; but now I learnt some particulars, which, had not our quarrel become public in the parish, I should perhaps have never known. In short, I was Informed that this gentle obliging creature, as she had at first appeared to me, had the spirit of a tigress, and was by many believed to have broken the heart of her first husband.
“The truth of this matter being confirmed to me upon examination, I resolved not to suppress it. On this occasion fortune seemed to favour me, by giving me a speedy opportunity of seeing my father alone and in good humour. He now first began to open his intended marriage, telling me that he had formerly had some religious objections to bigamy, but he had very fully considered the matter, and had satisfied himself of its legality. He then faithfully promised me that no second marriage should in the least impair his affection for me; and concluded with the highest eulogiums on the goodness of the widow, protesting that it was her virtues and not her person with which he was enamoured.
“I now fell upon my knees before him, and bathing his hand in my tears, which flowed very plentifully from my eyes, acquainted him with all I had heard, and was so very imprudent, I might almost say so cruel, to disclose the author of my information.
“My father heard me without any indication of passion, and answered coldly, that if there was any proof of such facts he should decline any further thoughts of this match: ‘But, child,’ said he, ‘though I am far from suspecting the truth of what you tell me, as far as regards your knowledge, yet you know the inclination of the world to slander.’ However, before we parted he promised to make a proper enquiry into what I had told him. — But I ask your pardon, dear madam, I am running minutely into those particulars of my life in which you have not the least concern.”
Amelia stopt her friend short in her apology; and though, perhaps, she thought her impertinent enough, yet (such was her good breeding) she gave her many assurances of a curiosity to know every incident of her life which she could remember; after which Mrs. Bennet proceeded as in the next chapter.
Continuation of Mrs. Bennet’s story.
“I think, madam,” said Mrs. Bennet, “I told you my father promised me to enquire farther into the affair, but he had hardly time to keep his word; for we separated pretty late in the evening and early the next morning he was married to the widow.
“But, though he gave no credit to my information, I had sufficient reason to think he did not forget it, by the resentment which he soon discovered to both the persons whom I had named as my informers.
“Nor was it long before I had good cause to believe that my father’s new wife was perfectly well acquainted with the good opinion I had of her, not only from her usage of me, but from certain hints which she threw forth with an air of triumph. One day, particularly, I remember she said to my father, upon his mentioning his age, ‘O, my dear! I hope you have many years yet to live! unless, indeed, I should be so cruel as to break your heart’ She spoke these words looking me full in the face, and accompanied them with a sneer in which the highest malice was visible, under a thin covering of affected pleasantry.
“I will not entertain you, madam, with anything so common as the cruel usage of a step-mother; nor of what affected me much more, the unkind behaviour of a father under such an influence. It shall suffice only to tell you that I had the mortification to perceive the gradual and daily decrease of my father’s affection. His smiles were converted into frowns; the tender appellations of child and dear were exchanged for plain Molly, that girl, that creature, and sometimes much harder names. I was at first turned all at once into a cypher, and at last seemed to be considered as a nuisance in the family.
“Thus altered was the man of whom I gave you such a character at the entrance on my story; but, alas! he no longer acted from his own excellent disposition, but was in everything governed and directed by my mother-inlaw. In fact, whenever there is great disparity of years between husband and wife, the younger is, I believe, always possessed of absolute power over the elder; for superstition itself is a less firm support of absolute power than dotage.
“But, though his wife was so entirely mistress of my father’s will that she could make him use me ill, she could not so perfectly subdue his understanding as to prevent him from being conscious of such ill-usage; and from this consciousness, he began inveterately to hate me. Of this hatred he gave me numberless instances, and I protest to you I know not any other reason for it than what I have assigned; and the cause, as experience hath convinced me, is adequate to the effect.
“While I was in this wretched situation, my father’s unkindness having almost broken ray heart, he came one day into my room with more anger in his countenance than I had ever seen, and, after bitterly upbraiding me with my undutiful behaviour both to himself and his worthy consort, he bid me pack up my alls, and immediately prepare to quit his house; at the same time gave me a letter, and told me that would acquaint me where I might find a home; adding that he doubted not but I expected, and had indeed solicited, the invitation; and left me with a declaration that he would have no spies in his family.
“The letter, I found on opening it, was from my father’s own sister; but before I mention the contents I will give you a short sketch of her character, as it was somewhat particular. Her personal charms were not great; for she was very tall, very thin, and very homely. Of the defect of her beauty she was, perhaps, sensible; her vanity, therefore, retreated into her mind, where there is no looking-glass, and consequently where we can flatter ourselves with discovering almost whatever beauties we please. This is an encouraging circumstance; and yet I have observed, dear Mrs. Booth, that few women ever seek these comforts from within till they are driven to it by despair of finding any food for their vanity from without. Indeed, I believe the first wish of our whole sex is to be handsome.”
Here both the ladies fixed their eyes on the glass, and both smiled.
“My aunt, however,” continued Mrs. Bennet, “from despair of gaining any applause this way, had applied herself entirely to the contemplation of her understanding, and had improved this to such a pitch, that at the age of fifty, at which she was now arrived, she had contracted a hearty contempt for much the greater part of both sexes; for the women, as being idiots, and for the men, as the admirers of idiots. That word, and fool, were almost constantly in her mouth, and were bestowed with great liberality among all her acquaintance.
“This lady had spent one day only at my father’s house in near two years; it was about a month before his second marriage. At her departure she took occasion to whisper me her opinion of the widow, whom she called a pretty idiot, and wondered how her brother could bear such company under his roof; for neither she nor I had at that time any suspicion of what afterwards happened.
“The letter which my father had just received, and which was the first she had sent him since his marriage, was of such a nature that I should be unjust if I blamed him for being offended; fool and idiot were both plentifully bestowed in it as well on himself as on his wife. But what, perhaps, had principally offended him was that part which related to me; for, after much panegyric on my understanding, and saying he was unworthy of such a daughter, she considered his match not only as the highest indiscretion as it related to himself, but as a downright act of injustice to me. One expression in it I shall never forget. ‘You have placed,’ said she, ‘a woman above your daughter, who, in understanding, the only valuable gift of nature, is the lowest in the whole class of pretty idiots.’ After much more of this kind, it concluded with inviting me to her house.
“I can truly say that when I had read the letter I entirely forgave my father’s suspicion that I had made some complaints to my aunt of his behaviour; for, though I was indeed innocent, there was surely colour enough to suspect the contrary.
“Though I had never been greatly attached to my aunt, nor indeed had she formerly given me any reason for such an attachment, yet I was well enough pleased with her present invitation. To say the truth, I led so wretched a life where I then was, that it was impossible not to be a gainer by any exchange.
“I could not, however, bear the thoughts of leaving my father with an impression on his mind against me which I did not deserve. I endeavoured, therefore, to remove all his suspicion of my having complained to my aunt by the most earnest asseverations of my innocence; but they were all to no purpose. All my tears, all my vows, and all my entreaties were fruitless. My new mother, indeed, appeared to be my advocate; but she acted her part very poorly, and, far from counterfeiting any desire of succeeding in my suit, she could not conceal the excessive joy which she felt on the occasion.
“Well, madam, the next day I departed for my aunt’s, where, after a long journey of forty miles, I arrived, without having once broke my fast on the road; for grief is as capable as food of filling the stomach, and I had too much of the former to admit any of the latter. The fatigue of my journey, and the agitation of my mind, joined to my fasting, so overpowered my spirits, that when I was taken from my horse I immediately fainted away in the arms of the man who helped me from my saddle. My aunt expressed great astonishment at seeing me in this condition, with my eyes almost swollen out of my head with tears; but my father’s letter, which I delivered her soon after I came to myself, pretty well, I believe, cured her surprize. She often smiled with a mixture of contempt and anger while she was reading it; and, having pronounced her brother to be a fool, she turned to me, and, with as much affability as possible (for she is no great mistress of affability), said, ‘Don’t be uneasy, dear Molly, for you are come to the house of a friend — of one who hath sense enough to discern the author of all the mischief: depend upon it, child, I will, ere long, make some people ashamed of their folly.’ This kind reception gave me some comfort, my aunt assuring me that she would convince him how unjustly he had accused me of having made any complaints to her. A paper war was now begun between these two, which not only fixed an irreconcileable hatred between them, but confirmed my father’s displeasure against me; and, in the end, I believe, did me no service with my aunt; for I was considered by both as the cause of their dissension, though, in fact, my stepmother, who very well knew the affection my aunt had for her, had long since done her business with my father; and as for my aunt’s affection towards him, it had been abating several years, from an apprehension that he did not pay sufficient deference to her understanding.
“I had lived about half a year with my aunt when I heard of my stepmother’s being delivered of a boy, and the great joy my father expressed on that occasion; but, poor man, he lived not long to enjoy his happiness; for within a month afterwards I had the melancholy news of his death.
“Notwithstanding all the disobligations I had lately received from him, I was sincerely afflicted at my loss of him. All his kindness to me in my infancy, all his kindness to me while I was growing up, recurred to my memory, raised a thousand tender, melancholy ideas, and totally obliterated all thoughts of his latter behaviour, for which I made also every allowance and every excuse in my power.
“But what may perhaps appear more extraordinary, my aunt began soon to speak of him with concern. She said he had some understanding formerly, though his passion for that vile woman had, in a great measure, obscured it; and one day, when she was in an ill-humour with me, she had the cruelty to throw out a hint that she had never quarrelled with her brother if it had not been on my account. “My father, during his life, had allowed my aunt very handsomely for my board; for generosity was too deeply riveted in his nature to be plucked out by all the power of his wife. So far, however, she prevailed, that, though he died possessed of upwards of L2000, he left me no more than L100, which, as he expressed in his will, was to set me up in some business, if I had the grace to take to any.
“Hitherto my aunt had in general treated me with some degree of affection; but her behaviour began now to be changed. She soon took an opportunity of giving me to understand that her fortune was insufficient to keep me; and, as I could not live on the interest of my own, it was high time for me to consider about going into the world. She added, that her brother having mentioned my setting up in some business in his will was very foolish; that I had been bred to nothing; and, besides, that the sum was too trifling to set me up in any way of reputation; she desired me therefore to think of immediately going into service.
“This advice was perhaps right enough; and I told her I was very ready to do as she directed me, but I was at that time in an ill state of health; I desired her therefore to let me stay with her till my legacy, which was not to be paid till a year after my father’s death, was due; and I then promised to satisfy her for my board, to which she readily consented.
“And now, madam,” said Mrs. Bennet, sighing, “I am going to open to you those matters which lead directly to that great catastrophe of my life which hath occasioned my giving you this trouble, and of trying your patience in this manner.”
Amelia, notwithstanding her impatience, made a very civil answer to this; and then Mrs. Bennet proceeded to relate what is written in the next chapter.
“The curate of the parish where my aunt dwelt was a young fellow of about four-and-twenty. He had been left an orphan in his infancy, and entirely unprovided for, when an uncle had the goodness to take care of his education, both at school and at the university. As the young gentleman was intended for the church, his uncle, though he had two daughters of his own, and no very large fortune, purchased for him the next presentation of a living of near L200 a-year. The incumbent, at the time of the purchase, was under the age of sixty, and in apparent good health; notwithstanding which, he died soon after the bargain, and long before the nephew was capable of orders; so that the uncle was obliged to give the living to a clergyman, to hold it till the young man came of proper age.
“The young gentleman had not attained his proper age of taking orders when he had the misfortune to lose his uncle and only friend, who, thinking he had sufficiently provided for his nephew by the purchase of the living, considered him no farther in his will, but divided all the fortune of which he died possessed between his two daughters; recommending it to them, however, on his deathbed, to assist their cousin with money sufficient to keep him at the university till he should be capable of ordination.
“But, as no appointment of this kind was in the will, the young ladies, who received about each, thought proper to disregard the last words of their father; for, besides that both of them were extremely tenacious of their money, they were great enemies to their cousin, on account of their father’s kindness to him; and thought proper to let him know that they thought he had robbed them of too much already.
“The poor young fellow was now greatly distrest; for he had yet above a year to stay at the university, without any visible means of sustaining himself there.
“In this distress, however, he met with a friend, who had the good nature to lend him the sum of twenty pounds, for which he only accepted his bond for forty, and which was to be paid within a year after his being possessed of his living; that is, within a year after his becoming qualified to hold it.
“With this small sum thus hardly obtained the poor gentleman made a shift to struggle with all difficulties till he became of due age to take upon himself the character of a deacon. He then repaired to that clergyman to whom his uncle had given the living upon the conditions above mentioned, to procure a title to ordination; but this, to his great surprize and mortification, was absolutely refused him.
“The immediate disappointment did not hurt him so much as the conclusion he drew from it; for he could have but little hopes that the man who could have the cruelty to refuse him a title would vouchsafe afterwards to deliver up to him a living of so considerable a value; nor was it long before this worthy incumbent told him plainly that he valued his uncle’s favours at too high a rate to part with them to any one; nay, he pretended scruples of conscience, and said that, if he had made any slight promises, which he did not now well remember, they were wicked and void; that he looked upon himself as married to his parish, and he could no more give it up than he could give up his wife without sin.
“The poor young fellow was now obliged to seek farther for a title, which, at length, he obtained from the rector of the parish where my aunt lived.
“He had not long been settled in the curacy before an intimate acquaintance grew between him and my aunt; for she was a great admirer of the clergy, and used frequently to say they were the only conversible creatures in the country.
“The first time she was in this gentleman’s company was at a neighbour’s christening, where she stood godmother. Here she displayed her whole little stock of knowledge, in order to captivate Mr. Bennet (I suppose, madam, you already guess that to have been his name), and before they parted gave him a very strong invitation to her house.
“Not a word passed at this christening between Mr. Bennet and myself, but our eyes were not unemployed. Here, madam, I first felt a pleasing kind of confusion, which I know not how to describe. I felt a kind of uneasiness, yet did not wish to be without it. I longed to be alone, yet dreaded the hour of parting. I could not keep my eyes off from the object which caused my confusion, and which I was at once afraid of and enamoured with. But why do I attempt to describe my situation to one who must, I am sure, have felt the same?”
Amelia smiled, and Mrs. Bennet went on thus: “O, Mrs. Booth! had you seen the person of whom I am now speaking, you would not condemn the suddenness of my love. Nay, indeed, I had seen him there before, though this was the first time I had ever heard the music of his voice. Oh! it was the sweetest that was ever heard.
“Mr. Bennet came to visit my aunt the very next day. She imputed this respectful haste to the powerful charms of her understanding, and resolved to lose no opportunity in improving the opinion which she imagined he had conceived of her. She became by this desire quite ridiculous, and ran into absurdities and a gallimatia scarce credible.
“Mr. Bennet, as I afterwards found, saw her in the same light with myself; but, as he was a very sensible and well-bred man, he so well concealed his opinion from us both, that I was almost angry, and she was pleased even to raptures, declaring herself charmed with his understanding, though, indeed, he had said very little; but I believe he heard himself into her good opinion, while he gazed himself into love.
“The two first visits which Mr. Bennet made to my aunt, though I was in the room all the time, I never spoke a word; but on the third, on some argument which arose between them, Mr. Bennet referred himself to me. I took his side of the question, as indeed I must to have done justice, and repeated two or three words of Latin. My aunt reddened at this, and exprest great disdain of my opinion, declaring she was astonished that a man of Mr. Bennet’s understanding could appeal to the judgment of a silly girl; ‘Is she,’ said my aunt, bridling herself, ‘fit to decide between us?’ Mr. Bennet spoke very favourably of what I had said; upon which my aunt burst almost into a rage, treated me with downright scurrility, called me conceited fool, abused my poor father for having taught me Latin, which, she said, had made me a downright coxcomb, and made me prefer myself to those who were a hundred times my superiors in knowledge. She then fell foul on the learned languages, declared they were totally useless, and concluded that she had read all that was worth reading, though, she thanked heaven, she understood no language but her own.
“Before the end of this visit Mr. Bennet reconciled himself very well to my aunt, which, indeed, was no difficult task for him to accomplish; but from that hour she conceived a hatred and rancour towards me which I could never appease.
“My aunt had, from my first coming into her house, expressed great dislike to my learning. In plain truth, she envied me that advantage. This envy I had long ago discovered, and had taken great pains to smother it, carefully avoiding ever to mention a Latin word in her presence, and always submitting to her authority; for indeed I despised her ignorance too much to dispute with her. By these means I had pretty well succeeded, and we lived tolerably together; but the affront paid to her understanding by Mr. Bennet in my favour was an injury never to be forgiven to me. She took me severely to task that very evening, and reminded me of going to service in such earnest terms as almost amounted to literally turning me out of doors; advising me, in the most insulting manner, to keep my Latin to myself, which she said was useless to any one, but ridiculous when pretended to by a servant.
“The next visit Mr. Bennet made at our house I was not suffered to be present. This was much the shortest of all his visits; and when he went away he left my aunt in a worse humour than ever I had seen her. The whole was discharged on me in the usual manner, by upbraiding me with my learning, conceit, and poverty; reminding me of obligations, and insisting on my going immediately to service. With all this I was greatly pleased, as it assured me that Mr. Bennet had said something to her in my favour; and I would have purchased a kind expression of his at almost any price.
“I should scarce, however, have been so sanguine as to draw this conclusion, had I not received some hints that I had not unhappily placed my affections on a man who made me no return; for, though he had scarce addressed a dozen sentences to me (for, indeed, he had no opportunity), yet his eyes had revealed certain secrets to mine with which I was not displeased.
“I remained, however, in a state of anxiety near a month; sometimes pleasing myself with thinking Mr. Bennet’s heart was in the same situation with my own; sometimes doubting that my wishes had flattered and deceived me, and not in the least questioning that my aunt was my rival; for I thought no woman could be proof against the charms that had subdued me. Indeed, Mrs. Booth, he was a charming young fellow; I must — I must pay this tribute to his memory. O, gracious Heaven! why, why did I ever see him? why was I doomed to such misery?” Here she burst into a flood of tears, and remained incapable of speech for some time; during which the gentle Amelia endeavoured all she could to soothe her, and gave sufficient marks of sympathizing in the tender affliction of her friend.
Mrs. Bennet, at length, recovered her spirits, and proceeded, as in the next chapter.
The story of Mrs. Bennet continued.
I scarce know where I left off — Oh! I was, I think, telling you that I esteemed my aunt as my rival; and it is not easy to conceive a greater degree of detestation than I had for her; and what may, perhaps, appear strange, as she daily grew more and more civil to me, my hatred encreased with her civility; for I imputed it all to her triumph over me, and to her having secured, beyond all apprehension, the heart I longed for.
“How was I surprized when, one day, with as much good-humour as she was mistress of (for her countenance was not very pleasing), she asked me how I liked Mr. Bennet? The question, you will believe, madam, threw me into great confusion, which she plainly perceived, and, without waiting for my answer, told me she was very well satisfied, for that it did not require her discernment to read my thoughts in my countenance. ‘Well, child,’ she said, ‘I have suspected this a great while, and I believe it will please you to know that I yesterday made the same discovery in your lover.’ This, I confess to you, was more than I could well bear, and I begged her to say no more to me at that time on that subject. ‘Nay, child,’ answered she, ‘I must tell you all, or I should not act a friendly part. Mr. Bennet, I am convinced, hath a passion for you; but it is a passion which, I think, you should not encourage. For, to be plain with you, I fear he is in love with your person only. Now this is a love, child, which cannot produce that rational happiness which a woman of sense ought to expect.’ In short, she ran on with a great deal of stuff about rational happiness, and women of sense, and concluded with assuring me that, after the strictest scrutiny, she could not find that Mr. Bennet had an adequate opinion of my understanding; upon which she vouchsafed to make me many compliments, but mixed with several sarcasms concerning my learning.
“I hope, madam, however,” said she to Amelia, “you have not so bad an opinion of my capacity as to imagine me dull enough to be offended with Mr. Bennet’s sentiments, for which I presently knew so well to account. I was, indeed, charmed with his ingenuity, who had discovered, perhaps, the only way of reconciling my aunt to those inclinations which I now assured myself he had for me.
“I was not long left to support my hopes by my sagacity. He soon found an opportunity of declaring his passion. He did this in so forcible though gentle a manner, with such a profusion of fervency and tenderness at once, that his love, like a torrent, bore everything before it; and I am almost ashamed to own to you how very soon he prevailed upon me to — to — in short, to be an honest woman, and to confess to him the plain truth.
“When we were upon a good footing together he gave me a long relation of what had past at several interviews with my aunt, at which I had not been present. He said he had discovered that, as she valued herself chiefly on her understanding, so she was extremely jealous of mine, and hated me on account of my learning. That, as he had loved me passionately from his first seeing me, and had thought of nothing from that time but of throwing himself at my feet, he saw no way so open to propitiate my aunt as that which he had taken by commending my beauty, a perfection to which she had long resigned all claim, at the expense of my understanding, in which he lamented my deficiency to a degree almost of ridicule. This he imputed chiefly to my learning; on this occasion he advanced a sentiment which so pleased my aunt that she thought proper to make it her own; for I heard it afterwards more than once from her own mouth. Learning, he said, had the same effect on the mind that strong liquors have on the constitution; both tending to eradicate all our natural fire and energy. His flattery had made such a dupe of my aunt that she assented, without the least suspicion of his sincerity, to all he said; so sure is vanity to weaken every fortress of the understanding, and to betray us to every attack of the enemy.
“You will believe, madam, that I readily forgave him all he had said, not only from that motive which I have mentioned, but as I was assured he had spoke the reverse of his real sentiments. I was not, however, quite so well pleased with my aunt, who began to treat me as if I was really an idiot. Her contempt, I own, a little piqued me; and I could not help often expressing my resentment, when we were alone together, to Mr. Bennet, who never failed to gratify me by making her conceit the subject of his wit; a talent which he possessed in the most extraordinary degree.
“This proved of very fatal consequence; for one day, while we were enjoying my aunt in a very thick arbour in the garden, she stole upon us unobserved, and overheard our whole conversation. I wish, my dear, you understood Latin, that I might repeat you a sentence in which the rage of a tigress that hath lost her young is described. No English poet, as I remember, hath come up to it; nor am I myself equal to the undertaking. She burst in upon us, open-mouthed, and after discharging every abusive word almost, in the only language she understood, on poor Mr. Bennet, turned us both out of doors, declaring she would send my rags after me, but would never more permit me to set my foot within her threshold.
“Consider, dear madam, to what a wretched condition we were now reduced. I had not yet received the small legacy left me by my father; nor was Mr. Bennet master of five pounds in the whole world.
“In this situation, the man I doated on to distraction had but little difficulty to persuade me to a proposal which, indeed, I thought generous in him to make, as it seemed to proceed from that tenderness for my reputation to which he ascribed it; indeed, it could proceed from no motive with which I should have been displeased. In a word, within two days we were man and wife.
“Mr. Bennet now declared himself the happiest of men; and, for my part, I sincerely declared I envied no woman upon earth. How little, alas! did I then know or suspect the price I was to pay for all my joys! A match of real love is, indeed, truly paradise; and such perfect happiness seems to be the forbidden fruit to mortals, which we are to lament having tasted during the rest of our lives.
“The first uneasiness which attacked us after our marriage was on my aunt’s account. It was very disagreeable to live under the nose of so near a relation, who did not acknowledge us, but on the contrary, was ever doing us all the ill turns in her power, and making a party against us in the parish, which is always easy enough to do amongst the vulgar against persons who are their superiors in rank, and, at the same time, their inferiors in fortune. This made Mr. Bennet think of procuring an exchange, in which intention he was soon after confirmed by the arrival of the rector. It was the rector’s custom to spend three months every year at his living, for which purpose he reserved an apartment in his parsonage-house, which was full large enough for two such little families as then occupied it. We at first promised ourselves some little convenience from his boarding with us; and Mr. Bennet began to lay aside his thoughts of leaving his curacy, at least for some time. But these golden ideas presently vanished; for, though we both used our utmost endeavours to please him, we soon found the impossibility of succeeding. He was, indeed, to give you his character in a word, the most peevish of mortals. This temper, notwithstanding that he was both a good and a pious man, made his company so insufferable that nothing could compensate it. If his breakfast was not ready to a moment — if a dish of meat was too much or too little done — in short, if anything failed of exactly hitting his taste, he was sure to be out of humour all that day, so that, indeed, he was scarce ever in a good temper a whole day together; for fortune seems to take a delight in thwarting this kind of disposition, to which human life, with its many crosses and accidents, is, in truth, by no means fitted.
“Mr. Bennet was now, by my desire as well as his own, determined to quit the parish; but when he attempted to get an exchange, he found it a matter of more difficulty than he had apprehended; for the rector’s temper was so well known among the neighbouring clergy, that none of them could be brought to think of spending three months in a year with him.
“After many fruitless enquiries, Mr. Bennet thought best to remove to London, the great mart of all affairs, ecclesiastical and civil. This project greatly pleased him, and he resolved, without more delay, to take his leave of the rector, which he did in the most friendly manner possible, and preached his farewell sermon; nor was there a dry eye in the church, except among the few, whom my aunt, who remained still inexorable, had prevailed upon to hate us without any cause.
“To London we came, and took up our lodging the first night at the inn where the stage-coach set us down: the next morning my husband went out early on his business, and returned with the good news of having heard of a curacy, and of having equipped himself with a lodging in the neighbourhood of a worthy peer, ‘who,’ said he, ‘was my fellow-collegiate; and, what is more, I have a direction to a person who will advance your legacy at a very reasonable rate.’
“This last particular was extremely agreeable to me, for our last guinea was now broached; and the rector had lent my husband ten pounds to pay his debts in the country, for, with all his peevishness, he was a good and a generous man, and had, indeed, so many valuable qualities, that I lamented his temper, after I knew him thoroughly, as much on his account as on my own.
“We now quitted the inn and went to our lodgings, where my husband having placed me in safety, as he said, he went about the business of the legacy with good assurance of success.
“My husband returned elated with his success, the person to whom he applied having undertaken to advance the legacy, which he fulfilled as soon as the proper enquiries could be made, and proper instruments prepared for that purpose.
“This, however, took up so much time, that, as our fund was so very low, we were reduced to some distress, and obliged to live extremely penurious; nor would all do without my taking a most disagreeable way of procuring money by pawning one of my gowns.
“Mr. Bennet was now settled in a curacy in town, greatly to his satisfaction, and our affairs seemed to have a prosperous aspect, when he came home to me one morning in much apparent disorder, looking as pale as death, and begged me by some means or other to get him a dram, for that he was taken with a sudden faintness and lowness of spirits.
“Frighted as I was, I immediately ran downstairs, and procured some rum of the mistress of the house; the first time, indeed, I ever knew him drink any. When he came to himself he begged me not to be alarmed, for it was no distemper, but something that had vexed him, which had caused his disorder, which he had now perfectly recovered.
“He then told me the whole affair. He had hitherto deferred paying a visit to the lord whom I mentioned to have been formerly his fellow-collegiate, and was now his neighbour, till he could put himself in decent rigging. He had now purchased a new cassock, hat, and wig, and went to pay his respects to his old acquaintance, who had received from him many civilities and assistances in his learning at the university, and had promised to return them fourfold hereafter.
“It was not without some difficulty that Mr. Bennet got into the antechamber. Here he waited, or as the phrase is, cooled his heels, for above an hour before he saw his lordship; nor had he seen him then but by an accident; for my lord was going out when he casually intercepted him in his passage to his chariot. He approached to salute him with some familiarity, though with respect, depending on his former intimacy, when my lord, stepping short, very gravely told him he had not the pleasure of knowing him. How! my lord, said he, can you have so soon forgot your old acquaintance Tom Bennet? O, Mr. Bennet! cries his lordship, with much reserve, is it you? you will pardon my memory. I am glad to see you, Mr. Bennet, but you must excuse me at present, for I am in very great haste. He then broke from him, and without more ceremony, or any further invitation, went directly into his chariot.
“This cold reception from a person for whom my husband had a real friendship, and from whom he had great reason to expect a very warm return of affection, so affected the poor man, that it caused all those symptoms which I have mentioned before.
“Though this incident produced no material consequence, I could not pass it over in silence, as, of all the misfortunes which ever befel him, it affected my husband the most. I need not, however, to a woman of your delicacy, make any comments on a behaviour which, though I believe it is very common, is, nevertheless, cruel and base beyond description, and is diametrically opposite to true honour as well as to goodness.
“To relieve the uneasiness which my husband felt on account of his false friend, I prevailed with him to go every night, almost for a fortnight together, to the play; a diversion of which he was greatly fond, and from which he did not think his being a clergyman excluded him; indeed, it is very well if those austere persons who would be inclined to censure him on this head have themselves no greater sins to answer for.
“From this time, during three months, we past our time very agreeably, a little too agreeably perhaps for our circumstances; for, however innocent diversions may be in other respects, they must be owned to be expensive. When you consider then, madam, that our income from the curacy was less than forty pounds a year, and that, after payment of the debt to the rector, and another to my aunt, with the costs in law which she had occasioned by suing for it, my legacy was reduced to less than seventy pounds, you will not wonder that, in diversions, cloaths, and the common expenses of life, we had almost consumed our whole stock.
“The inconsiderate manner in which we had lived for some time will, I doubt not, appear to you to want some excuse; but I have none to make for it. Two things, however, now happened, which occasioned much serious reflexion to Mr. Bennet; the one was, that I grew near my time; the other, that he now received a letter from Oxford, demanding the debt of forty pounds which I mentioned to you before. The former of these he made a pretence of obtaining a delay for the payment of the latter, promising, in two months, to pay off half the debt, by which means he obtained a forbearance during that time.
“I was now delivered of a son, a matter which should in reality have encreased our concern, but, on the contrary, it gave us great pleasure; greater indeed could not have been conceived at the birth of an heir to the most plentiful estate: so entirely thoughtless were we, and so little forecast had we of those many evils and distresses to which we had rendered a human creature, and one so dear to us, liable. The day of a christening is, in all families, I believe, a day of jubilee and rejoicing; and yet, if we consider the interest of that little wretch who is the occasion, how very little reason would the most sanguine persons have for their joy!
“But, though our eyes were too weak to look forward, for the sake of our child, we could not be blinded to those dangers that immediately threatened ourselves. Mr. Bennet, at the expiration of the two months, received a second letter from Oxford, in a very peremptory stile, and threatening a suit without any farther delay. This alarmed us in the strongest manner; and my husband, to secure his liberty, was advised for a while to shelter himself in the verge of the court.
“And, now, madam, I am entering on that scene which directly leads to all my misery.” — Here she stopped, and wiped her eyes; and then, begging Amelia to excuse her for a few minutes, ran hastily out of the room, leaving Amelia by herself, while she refreshed her spirits with a cordial to enable her to relate what follows in the next chapter.
Mrs. Bennet, returning into the room, made a short apology for her absence, and then proceeded in these words:
“We now left our lodging, and took a second floor in that very house where you now are, to which we were recommended by the woman where we had before lodged, for the mistresses of both houses were acquainted; and, indeed, we had been all at the play together. To this new lodging then (such was our wretched destiny) we immediately repaired, and were received by Mrs. Ellison (how can I bear the sound of that detested name?) with much civility; she took care, however, during the first fortnight of our residence, to wait upon us every Monday morning for her rent; such being, it seems, the custom of this place, which, as it was inhabited chiefly by persons in debt, is not the region of credit.
“My husband, by the singular goodness of the rector, who greatly compassionated his case, was enabled to continue in his curacy, though he could only do the duty on Sundays. He was, however, sometimes obliged to furnish a person to officiate at his expence; so that our income was very scanty, and the poor little remainder of the legacy being almost spent, we were reduced to some difficulties, and, what was worse, saw still a prospect of greater before our eyes.
“Under these circumstances, how agreeable to poor Mr. Bennet must have been the behaviour of Mrs. Ellison, who, when he carried her her rent on the usual day, told him, with a benevolent smile, that he needed not to give himself the trouble of such exact punctuality. She added that, if it was at any time inconvenient to him, he might pay her when he pleased. ‘To say the truth,’ says she, ‘I never was so much pleased with any lodgers in my life; I am convinced, Mr. Bennet, you are a very worthy man, and you are a very happy one too; for you have the prettiest wife and the prettiest child I ever saw’ These, dear madam, were the words she was pleased to make use of: and I am sure she behaved to me with such an appearance of friendship and affection, that, as I could not perceive any possible views of interest which she could have in her professions, I easily believed them real.
“There lodged in the same house — O, Mrs. Booth! the blood runs cold to my heart, and should run cold to yours, when I name him — there lodged in the same house a lord — the lord, indeed, whom I have since seen in your company. This lord, Mrs. Ellison told me, had taken a great fancy to my little Charley. Fool that I was, and blinded by my own passion, which made me conceive that an infant, not three months old, could be really the object of affection to any besides a parent, and more especially to a gay young fellow! But, if I was silly in being deceived, how wicked was the wretch who deceived me — who used such art, and employed such pains, such incredible pains, to deceive me! He acted the part of a nurse to my little infant; he danced it, he lulled it, he kissed it; declared it was the very picture of a nephew of his — his favourite sister’s child; and said so many kind and fond things of its beauty, that I myself, though, I believe, one of the tenderest and fondest of mothers, scarce carried my own ideas of my little darling’s perfection beyond the compliments which he paid it.
“My lord, however, perhaps from modesty, before my face, fell far short of what Mrs. Ellison reported from him. And now, when she found the impression which was made on me by these means, she took every opportunity of insinuating to me his lordship’s many virtues, his great goodness to his sister’s children in particular; nor did she fail to drop some hints which gave me the most simple and groundless hopes of strange consequences from his fondness to my Charley.
“When, by these means, which, simple as they may appear, were, perhaps, the most artful, my lord had gained something more, I think, than my esteem, he took the surest method to confirm himself in my affection. This was, by professing the highest friendship for my husband; for, as to myself, I do assure you he never shewed me more than common respect; and I hope you will believe I should have immediately startled and flown off if he had. Poor I accounted for all the friendship which he expressed for my husband, and all the fondness which he shewed to my boy, from the great prettiness of the one and the great merit of the other; foolishly conceiving that others saw with my eyes and felt with my heart. Little did I dream that my own unfortunate person was the fountain of all this lord’s goodness, and was the intended price of it.
“One evening, as I was drinking tea with Mrs. Ellison by my lord’s fire (a liberty which she never scrupled taking when he was gone out), my little Charley, now about half a year old, sitting in her lap, my lord — accidentally, no doubt, indeed I then thought it so — came in. I was confounded, and offered to go; but my lord declared, if he disturbed Mrs. Ellison’s company, as he phrased it, he would himself leave the room. When I was thus prevailed on to keep my seat, my lord immediately took my little baby into his lap, and gave it some tea there, not a little at the expense of his embroidery; for he was very richly drest; indeed, he was as fine a figure as perhaps ever was seen. His behaviour on this occasion gave me many ideas in his favour. I thought he discovered good sense, good nature, condescension, and other good qualities, by the fondness he shewed to my child, and the contempt he seemed to express for his finery, which so greatly became him; for I cannot deny but that he was the handsomest and genteelest person in the world, though such considerations advanced him not a step in my favour.
“My husband now returned from church (for this happened on a Sunday), and was, by my lord’s particular desire, ushered into the room. My lord received him with the utmost politeness, and with many professions of esteem, which, he said, he had conceived from Mrs. Ellison’s representations of his merit. He then proceeded to mention the living which was detained from my husband, of which Mrs. Ellison had likewise informed him; and said, he thought it would be no difficult matter to obtain a restoration of it by the authority of the bishop, who was his particular friend, and to whom he would take an immediate opportunity of mentioning it. This, at last, he determined to do the very next day, when he invited us both to dinner, where we were to be acquainted with his lordship’s success.
“My lord now insisted on my husband’s staying supper with him, without taking any notice of me; but Mrs. Ellison declared he should not part man and wife, and that she herself would stay with me. The motion was too agreeable to me to be rejected; and, except the little time I retired to put my child to bed, we spent together the most agreeable evening imaginable; nor was it, I believe, easy to decide whether Mr. Bennet or myself were most delighted with his lordship and Mrs. Ellison; but this, I assure you, the generosity of the one, and the extreme civility and kindness of the other, were the subjects of our conversation all the ensuing night, during which we neither of us closed our eyes.
“The next day at dinner my lord acquainted us that he had prevailed with the bishop to write to the clergyman in the country; indeed, he told us that he had engaged the bishop to be very warm in our interest, and had not the least doubt of success. This threw us both into a flow of spirits; and in the afternoon Mr. Bennet, at Mrs. Ellison’s request, which was seconded by his lordship, related the history of our lives from our first acquaintance. My lord seemed much affected with some tender scenes, which, as no man could better feel, so none could better describe, than my husband. When he had finished, my lord begged pardon for mentioning an occurrence which gave him such a particular concern, as it had disturbed that delicious state of happiness in which we had lived at our former lodging. ‘It would be ungenerous,’ said he, ‘to rejoice at an accident which, though it brought me fortunately acquainted with two of the most agreeable people in the world, was yet at the expense of your mutual felicity. The circumstance, I mean, is your debt at Oxford; pray, how doth that stand? I am resolved it shall never disturb your happiness hereafter.’ At these words the tears burst from my poor husband’s eyes; and, in an ecstasy of gratitude, he cried out, ‘Your lordship overcomes me with generosity. If you go on in this manner, both my wife’s gratitude and mine must be bankrupt’ He then acquainted my lord with the exact state of the case, and received assurances from him that the debt should never trouble him. My husband was again breaking out into the warmest expressions of gratitude, but my lord stopt him short, saying, ‘If you have any obligation, it is to my little Charley here, from whose little innocent smiles I have received more than the value of this trifling debt in pleasure.’ I forgot to tell you that, when I offered to leave the room after dinner upon my child’s account, my lord would not suffer me, but ordered the child to be brought to me. He now took it out of my arms, placed it upon his own knee, and fed it with some fruit from the dessert. In short, it would be more tedious to you than to myself to relate the thousand little tendernesses he shewed to the child. He gave it many baubles; amongst the rest was a coral worth at least three pounds; and, when my husband was confined near a fortnight to his chamber with a cold, he visited the child every day (for to this infant’s account were all the visits placed), and seldom failed of accompanying his visit with a present to the little thing.
“Here, Mrs. Booth, I cannot help mentioning a doubt which hath often arisen in my mind since I have been enough mistress of myself to reflect on this horrid train which was laid to blow up my innocence. Wicked and barbarous it was to the highest degree without any question; but my doubt is, whether the art or folly of it be the more conspicuous; for, however delicate and refined the art must be allowed to have been, the folly, I think, must upon a fair examination appear no less astonishing: for to lay all considerations of cruelty and crime out of the case, what a foolish bargain doth the man make for himself who purchases so poor a pleasure at so high a price!
“We had lived near three weeks with as much freedom as if we had been all of the same family, when, one afternoon, my lord proposed to my husband to ride down himself to solicit the surrender; for he said the bishop had received an unsatisfactory answer from the parson, and had writ a second letter more pressing, which his lordship now promised us to strengthen by one of his own that my husband was to carry with him. Mr. Bennet agreed to this proposal with great thankfulness, and the next day was appointed for his journey. The distance was near seventy miles.
“My husband set out on his journey, and he had scarce left me before Mrs. Ellison came into my room, and endeavoured to comfort me in his absence; to say the truth, though he was to be from me but a few days, and the purpose of his going was to fix our happiness on a sound foundation for all our future days, I could scarce support my spirits under this first separation. But though I then thought Mrs. Ellison’s intentions to be most kind and friendly, yet the means she used were utterly ineffectual, and appeared to me injudicious. Instead of soothing my uneasiness, which is always the first physic to be given to grief, she rallied me upon it, and began to talk in a very unusual stile of gaiety, in which she treated conjugal love with much ridicule.
“I gave her to understand that she displeased me by this discourse; but she soon found means to give such a turn to it as made a merit of all she had said. And now, when she had worked me into a good humour, she made a proposal to me which I at first rejected — but at last fatally, too fatally, suffered myself to be over-persuaded. This was to go to a masquerade at Ranelagh, for which my lord had furnished her with tickets.”
At these words Amelia turned pale as death, and hastily begged her friend to give her a glass of water, some air, or anything. Mrs. Bennet, having thrown open the window, and procured the water, which prevented Amelia from fainting, looked at her with much tenderness, and cried, “I do not wonder, my dear madam, that you are affected with my mentioning that fatal masquerade; since I firmly believe the same ruin was intended for you at the same place; the apprehension of which occasioned the letter I sent you this morning, and all the trial of your patience which I have made since.”
Amelia gave her a tender embrace, with many expressions of the warmest gratitude; assured her she had pretty well recovered her spirits, and begged her to continue her story, which Mrs. Bennet then did. However, as our readers may likewise be glad to recover their spirits also, we shall here put an end to this chapter.
The story farther continued.
Mrs. Bennet proceeded thus:
“I was at length prevailed on to accompany Mrs. Ellison to the masquerade. Here, I must confess, the pleasantness of the place, the variety of the dresses, and the novelty of the thing, gave me much delight, and raised my fancy to the highest pitch. As I was entirely void of all suspicion, my mind threw off all reserve, and pleasure only filled my thoughts. Innocence, it is true, possessed my heart; but it was innocence unguarded, intoxicated with foolish desires, and liable to every temptation. During the first two hours we had many trifling adventures not worth remembering. At length my lord joined us, and continued with me all the evening; and we danced several dances together.
“I need not, I believe, tell you, madam, how engaging his conversation is. I wish I could with truth say I was not pleased with it; or, at least, that I had a right to be pleased with it. But I will disguise nothing from you. I now began to discover that he had some affection for me, but he had already too firm a footing in my esteem to make the discovery shocking. I will — I will own the truth; I was delighted with perceiving a passion in him, which I was not unwilling to think he had had from the beginning, and to derive his having concealed it so long from his awe of my virtue, and his respect to my understanding. I assure you, madam, at the same time, my intentions were never to exceed the bounds of innocence. I was charmed with the delicacy of his passion; and, in the foolish thoughtless turn of mind in which I then was, I fancied I might give some very distant encouragement to such a passion in such a man with the utmost safety — that I might indulge my vanity and interest at once, without being guilty of the least injury.
“I know Mrs. Booth will condemn all these thoughts, and I condemn them no less myself; for it is now my stedfast opinion that the woman who gives up the least outwork of her virtue doth, in that very moment, betray the citadel.
“About two o’clock we returned home, and found a very handsome collation provided for us. I was asked to partake of it, and I did not, I could not refuse. I was not, however, entirely void of all suspicion, and I made many resolutions; one of which was, not to drink a drop more than my usual stint. This was, at the utmost, little more than half a pint of small punch.
“I adhered strictly to my quantity; but in the quality I am convinced I was deceived; for before I left the room I found my head giddy. What the villain gave me I know not; but, besides being intoxicated, I perceived effects from it which are not to be described.
“Here, madam, I must draw a curtain over the residue of that fatal night. Let it suffice that it involved me in the most dreadful ruin; a ruin to which I can truly say I never consented, and of which I was scarce conscious when the villanous man avowed it to my face in the morning.
“Thus I have deduced my story to the most horrid period; happy had I been had this been the period of my life, but I was reserved for greater miseries; but before I enter on them I will mention something very remarkable, with which I was now acquainted, and that will shew there was nothing of accident which had befallen me, but that all was the effect of a long, regular, premeditated design.
“You may remember, madam, I told you that we were recommended to Mrs. Ellison by the woman at whose house we had before lodged. This woman, it seems, was one of my lord’s pimps, and had before introduced me to his lordship’s notice.
“You are to know then, madam, that this villain, this lord, now confest to me that he had first seen me in the gallery at the oratorio, whither I had gone with tickets with which the woman where I first lodged had presented me, and which were, it seems, purchased by my lord. Here I first met the vile betrayer, who was disguised in a rug coat and a patch upon his face.”
At these words Amelia cried, “O, gracious heavens!” and fell back in her chair. Mrs. Bennet, with proper applications, brought her back to life; and then Amelia acquainted her that she herself had first seen the same person in the same place, and in the same disguise. “O, Mrs. Bennet!” cried she, “how am I indebted to you! what words, what thanks, what actions can demonstrate the gratitude of my sentiments! I look upon you, and always shall look upon you, as my preserver from the brink of a precipice, from which I was falling into the same ruin which you have so generously, so kindly, and so nobly disclosed for my sake.”
Here the two ladies compared notes; and it appeared that his lordship’s behaviour at the oratorio had been alike to both; that he had made use of the very same words, the very same actions to Amelia, which he had practised over before on poor unfortunate Mrs. Bennet. It may, perhaps, be thought strange that neither of them could afterwards recollect him; but so it was. And, indeed, if we consider the force of disguise, the very short time that either of them was with him at this first interview, and the very little curiosity that must have been supposed in the minds of the ladies, together with the amusement in which they were then engaged, all wonder will, I apprehend, cease. Amelia, however, now declared she remembered his voice and features perfectly well, and was thoroughly satisfied he was the same person. She then accounted for his not having visited in the afternoon, according to his promise, from her declared resolutions to Mrs. Ellison not to see him. She now burst forth into some very satirical invectives against that lady, and declared she had the art, as well as the wickedness, of the devil himself.
Many congratulations now past from Mrs. Bennet to Amelia, which were returned with the most hearty acknowledgments from that lady. But, instead of filling our paper with these, we shall pursue Mrs. Bennet’s story, which she resumed as we shall find in the next chapter.
“No sooner,” said Mrs. Bennet, continuing her story, “was my lord departed, than Mrs. Ellison came to me. She behaved in such a manner, when she became acquainted with what had past, that, though I was at first satisfied of her guilt, she began to stagger my opinion, and at length prevailed upon me entirely to acquit her. She raved like a mad woman against my lord, swore he should not stay a moment in her house, and that she would never speak to him more. In short, had she been the most innocent woman in the world, she could not have spoke nor acted any otherwise, nor could she have vented more wrath and indignation against the betrayer.
“That part of her denunciation of vengeance which concerned my lord’s leaving the house she vowed should be executed immediately; but then, seeming to recollect herself, she said, ‘Consider, my dear child, it is for your sake alone I speak; will not such a proceeding give some suspicion to your husband?’ I answered, that I valued not that; that I was resolved to inform my husband of all the moment I saw him; with many expressions of detestation of myself and an indifference for life and for everything else.
“Mrs. Ellison, however, found means to soothe me, and to satisfy me with my own innocence, a point in which, I believe, we are all easily convinced. In short, I was persuaded to acquit both myself and her, to lay the whole guilt upon my lord, and to resolve to conceal it from my husband.
“That whole day I confined myself to my chamber and saw no person but Mrs. Ellison. I was, indeed, ashamed to look any one in the face. Happily for me, my lord went into the country without attempting to come near me, for I believe his sight would have driven me to madness.
“The next day I told Mrs. Ellison that I was resolved to leave her lodgings the moment my lord came to town; not on her account (for I really inclined to think her innocent), but on my lord’s, whose face I was resolved, if possible, never more to behold. She told me I had no reason to quit her house on that score, for that my lord himself had left her lodgings that morning in resentment, she believed, of the abuses Which she had cast on him the day before.
“This confirmed me in the opinion of her innocence; nor hath she from that day to this, till my acquaintance with you, madam, done anything to forfeit my opinion. On the contrary, I owe her many good offices; amongst the rest, I have an annuity of one hundred and fifty pounds a-year from my lord, which I know was owing to her solicitations, for she is not void of generosity or good-nature; though by what I have lately seen, I am convinced she was the cause of my ruin, and hath endeavoured to lay the same snares for you.
“But to return to my melancholy story. My husband returned at the appointed time; and I met him with an agitation of mind not to be described. Perhaps the fatigue which he had undergone in his journey, and his dissatisfaction at his ill success, prevented his taking notice of what I feared was too visible. All his hopes were entirely frustrated; the clergyman had not received the bishop’s letter, and as to my lord’s he treated it with derision and contempt. Tired as he was, Mr. Bennet would not sit down till he had enquired for my lord, intending to go and pay his compliments. Poor man! he little suspected that he had deceived him, as I have since known, concerning the bishop; much less did he suspect any other injury. But the lord — the villain was gone out of town, so that he was forced to postpone all his gratitude.
“Mr. Bennet returned to town late on the Saturday night, nevertheless he performed his duty at church the next day, but I refused to go with him. This, I think, was the first refusal I was guilty of since our marriage; but I was become so miserable, that his presence, which had been the source of all my happiness, was become my bane. I will not say I hated to see him, but I can say I was ashamed, indeed afraid, to look him in the face. I was conscious of I knew not what — guilt I hope it cannot be called.”
“I hope not, nay, I think not,” cries Amelia.
“My husband,” continued Mrs. Bennet, “perceived my dissatisfaction, and imputed it to his ill-success in the country. I was pleased with this self-delusion, and yet, when I fairly compute the agonies I suffered at his endeavours to comfort me on that head, I paid most severely for it. O, my dear Mrs. Booth! happy is the deceived party between true lovers, and wretched indeed is the author of the deceit!
“In this wretched condition I passed a whole week, the most miserable I think of my whole life, endeavouring to humour my husband’s delusion and to conceal my own tortures; but I had reason to fear I could not succeed long, for on the Saturday night I perceived a visible alteration in his behaviour to me. He went to bed in an apparent ill-humour, turned sullenly from me, and if I offered at any endearments he gave me only peevish answers.
“After a restless turbulent night, he rose early on Sunday morning and walked down-stairs. I expected his return to breakfast, but was soon informed by the maid that he was gone forth, and that it was no more than seven o’clock. All this you may believe, madam, alarmed me. I saw plainly he had discovered the fatal secret, though by what means I could not divine. The state of my mind was very little short of madness. Sometimes I thought of running away from my injured husband, and sometimes of putting an end to my life.
“In the midst of such perturbations I spent the day. My husband returned in the evening. O, Heavens! can I describe what followed? — It is impossible! I shall sink under the relation. He entered the room with a face as white as a sheet, his lips trembling and his eyes red as coals of fire starting as it were from his head. — ‘Molly,’ cries he, throwing himself into his chair, ‘are you well?’ ‘Good Heavens!’ says I, ‘what’s the matter? — Indeed I can’t say I am well.’ ‘No!’ says he, starting from his chair, ‘false monster, you have betrayed me, destroyed me, you have ruined your husband!’ Then looking like a fury, he snatched off a large book from the table, and, with the malice of a madman, threw it at my head and knocked me down backwards. He then caught me up in his arms and kissed me with most extravagant tenderness; then, looking me stedfastly in the face for several moments, the tears gushed in a torrent from his eyes, and with his utmost violence he threw me again on the floor, kicked me, stamped upon me. I believe, indeed, his intent was to kill me, and I believe he thought he had accomplished it.
“I lay on the ground for some minutes, I believe, deprived of my senses. When I recovered myself I found my husband lying by my side on his face, and the blood running from him. It seems, when he thought he had despatched me, he ran his head with all his force against a chest of drawers which stood in the room, and gave himself a dreadful wound in his head.
“I can truly say I felt not the least resentment for the usage I had received; I thought I deserved it all; though, indeed, I little guessed what he had suffered from me. I now used the most earnest entreaties to him to compose himself; and endeavoured, with my feeble arms, to raise him from the ground. At length he broke from me, and, springing from the ground, flung himself into a chair, when, looking wildly at me, he cried — ‘Go from me, Molly. I beseech you, leave me. I would not kill you.’ — He then discovered to me — O Mrs. Booth! can you not guess it? — I was indeed polluted by the villain — I had infected my husband. — O heavens! why do I live to relate anything so horrid — I will not, I cannot yet survive it. I cannot forgive myself. Heaven cannot forgive me!”
Here she became inarticulate with the violence of her grief, and fell presently into such agonies, that the frighted Amelia began to call aloud for some assistance. Upon this a maid-servant came up, who, seeing her mistress in a violent convulsion fit, presently screamed out she was dead. Upon which one of the other sex made his appearance: and who should this be but the honest serjeant? whose countenance soon made it evident that, though a soldier, and a brave one too, he was not the least concerned of all the company on this occasion.
The reader, if he hath been acquainted with scenes of this kind, very well knows that Mrs. Bennet, in the usual time, returned again to the possession of her voice: the first use of which she made was to express her astonishment at the presence of the serjeant, and, with a frantic air, to enquire who he was.
The maid, concluding that her mistress was not yet returned to her senses, answered, “Why, ’tis my master, madam. Heaven preserve your senses, madam! — Lord, sir, my mistress must be very bad not to know you!”
What Atkinson thought at this instant, I will not say; but certain it is he looked not over-wise. He attempted twice to take hold of Mrs. Bennet’s hand, but she withdrew it hastily, and presently after, rising up from her chair, she declared herself pretty well again, and desired Atkinson and the maid to withdraw. Both of whom presently obeyed: the serjeant appearing by his countenance to want comfort almost as much as the lady did to whose assistance he had been summoned,
It is a good maxim to trust a person entirely or not at all; for a secret is often innocently blabbed out by those who know but half of it. Certain it is that the maid’s speech communicated a suspicion to the mind of Amelia which the behaviour of the serjeant did not tend to remove: what that is, the sagacious readers may likewise probably suggest to themselves; if not, they must wait our time for disclosing it. We shall now resume the history of Mrs. Bennet, who, after many apologies, proceeded to the matters in the next chapter.
The conclusion of Mrs. Bennet’s history.
“When I became sensible,” cries Mrs. Bennet, “of the injury I had done my husband, I threw myself at his feet, and embracing his knees, while I bathed them with my tears, I begged a patient hearing, declaring, if he was not satisfied with what I should say, I would become a willing victim of his resentment, I said, and I said truly, that, if I owed my death that instant to his hands, I should have no other terrour but of the fatal consequence which it might produce to himself.
“He seemed a little pacified, and bid me say whatever I pleased.
“I then gave him a faithful relation of all that had happened. He heard me with great attention, and at the conclusion cried, with a deep sigh — ‘O Molly! I believe it all. — You must have been betrayed as you tell me; you could not be guilty of such baseness, such cruelty, such ingratitude.’ He then — O! it is impossible to describe his behaviour — he exprest such kindness, such tenderness, such concern for the manner in which he had used me — I cannot dwell on this scene — I shall relapse — you must excuse me.”
Amelia begged her to omit anything which so affected her; and she proceeded thus: “My husband, who was more convinced than I was of Mrs. Ellison’s guilt, declared he would not sleep that night in her house. He then went out to see for a lodging; he gave me all the money he had, and left me to pay her bill, and put up the cloaths, telling me, if I had not money enough, I might leave the cloaths as a pledge; but he vowed he could not answer for himself if he saw the face of Mrs. Ellison.
“Words cannot scarce express the behaviour of that artful woman, it was so kind and so generous. She said, she did not blame my husband’s resentment, nor could she expect any other, but that he and all the world should censure her — that she hated her house almost as much as we did, and detested her cousin, if possible, more. In fine, she said I might leave my cloaths there that evening, but that she would send them to us the next morning; that she scorned the thought of detaining them; and as for the paultry debt, we might pay her whenever we pleased; for, to do her justice, with all her vices, she hath some good in her.”
“Some good in her, indeed!” cried Amelia, with great indignation.
“We were scarce settled in our new lodgings,” continued Mrs. Bennet, “when my husband began to complain of a pain in his inside. He told me he feared he had done himself some injury in his rage, and burst something within him. As to the odious — I cannot bear the thought, the great skill of his surgeon soon entirely cured him; but his other complaint, instead of yielding to any application, grew still worse and worse, nor ever ended till it brought him to his grave.
“O Mrs. Booth! could I have been certain that I had occasioned this, however innocently I had occasioned it, I could never have survived it; but the surgeon who opened him after his death assured me that he died of what they called a polypus in his heart, and that nothing which had happened on account of me was in the least the occasion of it.
“I have, however, related the affair truly to you. The first complaint I ever heard of the kind was within a day or two after we left Mrs. Ellison’s; and this complaint remained till his death, which might induce him perhaps to attribute his death to another cause; but the surgeon, who is a man of the highest eminence, hath always declared the contrary to me, with the most positive certainty; and this opinion hath been my only comfort.
“When my husband died, which was about ten weeks after we quitted Mrs. Ellison’s, of whom I had then a different opinion from what I have now, I was left in the most wretched condition imaginable. I believe, madam, she shewed you my letter. Indeed, she did everything for me at that time which I could have expected from the best of friends, She supplied me with money from her own pocket, by which means I was preserved from a distress in which I must have otherwise inevitably perished.
“Her kindness to me in this season of distress prevailed on me to return again to her house. Why, indeed, should I have refused an offer so very convenient for me to accept, and which seemed so generous in her to make? Here I lived a very retired life with my little babe, seeing no company but Mrs. Ellison herself for a full quarter of a year. At last Mrs. Ellison brought me a parchment from my lord, in which he had settled upon me, at her instance, as she told me, and as I believe it was, an annuity of one hundred and fifty pounds a-year. This was, I think, the very first time she had mentioned his hateful name to me since my return to her house. And she now prevailed upon me, though I assure you not without some difficulty, to suffer him to execute the deed in my presence.
“I will not describe our interview — I am not able to describe it, and I have often wondered how I found spirits to support it. This I will say for him, that, if he was not a real penitent, no man alive could act the part better.
“Beside resentment, I had another motive of my backwardness to agree to such a meeting; and this was — fear. I apprehended, and surely not without reason, that the annuity was rather meant as a bribe than a recompence, and that further designs were laid against my innocence; but in this I found myself happily deceived; for neither then, nor at any time since, have I ever had the least solicitation of that kind. Nor, indeed, have I seen the least occasion to think my lord had any such desires.
“Good heavens! what are these men? what is this appetite which must have novelty and resistance for its provocatives, and which is delighted with us no longer than while we may be considered in the light of enemies?”
“I thank you, madam,” cries Amelia, “for relieving me from my fears on your account; I trembled at the consequence of this second acquaintance with such a man, and in such a situation.”
“I assure you, madam, I was in no danger,” returned Mrs. Bennet; “for, besides that I think I could have pretty well relied on my own resolution, I have heard since, at St Edmundsbury, from an intimate acquaintance of my lord’s, who was an entire stranger to my affairs, that the highest degree of inconstancy is his character; and that few of his numberless mistresses have ever received a second visit from him.
“Well, madam,” continued she, “I think I have little more to trouble you with; unless I should relate to you my long ill state of health, from which I am lately, I thank Heaven, recovered; or unless I should mention to you the most grievous accident that ever befel me, the loss of my poor dear Charley.” Here she made a full stop, and the tears ran down into her bosom.
Amelia was silent a few minutes, while she gave the lady time to vent her passion; after which she began to pour forth a vast profusion of acknowledgments for the trouble she had taken in relating her history, but chiefly for the motive which had induced her to it, and for the kind warning which she had given her by the little note which Mrs. Bennet had sent her that morning.
“Yes, madam,” cries Mrs. Bennet, “I am convinced, by what I have lately seen, that you are the destined sacrifice to this wicked lord; and that Mrs. Ellison, whom I no longer doubt to have been the instrument of my ruin, intended to betray you in the same manner. The day I met my lord in your apartment I began to entertain some suspicions, and I took Mrs. Ellison very roundly to task upon them; her behaviour, notwithstanding many asseverations to the contrary, convinced me I was right; and I intended, more than once, to speak to you, but could not; till last night the mention of the masquerade determined me to delay it no longer. I therefore sent you that note this morning, and am glad you so luckily discovered the writer, as it hath given me this opportunity of easing my mind, and of honestly shewing you how unworthy I am of your friendship, at the same time that I so earnestly desire it.”
Being the last chapter of the seventh book.
Amelia did not fail to make proper compliments to Mrs. Bennet on the conclusion of her speech in the last chapter. She told her that, from the first moment of her acquaintance, she had the strongest inclination to her friendship, and that her desires of that kind were much increased by hearing her story. “Indeed, madam,” says she, “you are much too severe a judge on yourself; for they must have very little candour, in my opinion, who look upon your case with any severe eye. To me, I assure you, you appear highly the object of compassion; and I shall always esteem you as an innocent and an unfortunate woman.”
Amelia would then have taken her leave, but Mrs. Bennet so strongly pressed her to stay to breakfast, that at length she complied; indeed, she had fasted so long, and her gentle spirits had been so agitated with variety of passions, that nature very strongly seconded Mrs. Bennet’s motion.
Whilst the maid was preparing the tea-equipage, Amelia, with a little slyness in her countenance, asked Mrs. Bennet if serjeant Atkinson did not lodge in the same house with her? The other reddened so extremely at the question, repeated the serjeant’s name with such hesitation, and behaved so aukwardly, that Amelia wanted no further confirmation of her suspicions. She would not, however, declare them abruptly to the other, but began a dissertation on the serjeant’s virtues; and, after observing the great concern which he had manifested when Mrs. Bennet was in her fit, concluded with saying she believed the serjeant would make the best husband in the world, for that he had great tenderness of heart and a gentleness of manners not often to be found in any man, and much seldomer in persons of his rank.
“And why not in his rank?” said Mrs. Bennet. “Indeed, Mrs. Booth, we rob the lower order of mankind of their due. I do not deny the force and power of education; but, when we consider how very injudicious is the education of the better sort in general, how little they are instructed in the practice of virtue, we shall not expect to find the heart much improved by it. And even as to the head, how very slightly do we commonly find it improved by what is called a genteel education! I have myself, I think, seen instances of as great goodness, and as great understanding too, among the lower sort of people as among the higher. Let us compare your serjeant, now, with the lord who hath been the subject of conversation; on which side would an impartial judge decide the balance to incline?”
“How monstrous then,” cries Amelia, “is the opinion of those who consider our matching ourselves the least below us in degree as a kind of contamination!”
“A most absurd and preposterous sentiment,” answered Mrs. Bennet warmly; “how abhorrent from justice, from common sense, and from humanity — but how extremely incongruous with a religion which professes to know no difference of degree, but ranks all mankind on the footing of brethren! Of all kinds of pride, there is none so unchristian as that of station; in reality, there is none so contemptible. Contempt, indeed, may be said to be its own object; for my own part, I know none so despicable as those who despise others.”
“I do assure you,” said Amelia, “you speak my own sentiments. I give you my word, I should not be ashamed of being the wife of an honest man in any station. — Nor if I had been much higher than I was, should I have thought myself degraded by calling our honest serjeant my husband.”
“Since you have made this declaration,” cries Mrs. Bennet, “I am sure you will not be offended at a secret I am going to mention to you.”
“Indeed, my dear,” answered Amelia, smiling, “I wonder rather you have concealed it so long; especially after the many hints I have given you.”
“Nay, pardon me, madam,” replied the other; “I do not remember any such hints; and, perhaps, you do not even guess what I am going to say. My secret is this; that no woman ever had so sincere, so passionate a lover, as you have had in the serjeant.”
“I a lover in the serjeant! — I!” cries Amelia, a little surprized.
“Have patience,” answered the other; — “I say, you, my dear. As much surprized as you appear, I tell you no more than the truth; and yet it is a truth you could hardly expect to hear from me, especially with so much good-humour; since I will honestly confess to you. — But what need have I to confess what I know you guess already? — Tell me now sincerely, don’t you guess?”
“I guess, indeed, and hope,” said she, “that he is your husband.”
“He is, indeed, my husband,” cries the other; “and I am most happy in your approbation. In honest truth, you ought to approve my choice; since you was every way the occasion of my making it. What you said of him very greatly recommended him to my opinion; but he endeared himself to me most by what he said of you. In short, I have discovered that he hath always loved you with such a faithful, honest, noble, generous passion, that I was consequently convinced his mind must possess all the ingredients of such a passion; and what are these but true honour, goodness, modesty, bravery, tenderness, and, in a word, every human virtue? — Forgive me, my dear; but I was uneasy till I became myself the object of such a passion.”
“And do you really think,” said Amelia, smiling, “that I shall forgive you robbing me of such a lover? or, supposing what you banter me with was true, do you really imagine you could change such a passion?”
“No, my dear,” answered the other; “I only hope I have changed the object; for be assured, there is no greater vulgar error than that it is impossible for a man who loves one woman ever to love another. On the contrary, it is certain that a man who can love one woman so well at a distance will love another better that is nearer to him. Indeed, I have heard one of the best husbands in the world declare, in the presence of his wife, that he had always loved a princess with adoration. These passions, which reside only in very amorous and very delicate minds, feed only on the delicacies there growing; and leave all the substantial food, and enough of the delicacy too, for the wife.”
The tea being now ready, Mrs. Bennet, or, if you please, for the future, Mrs. Atkinson, proposed to call in her husband; but Amelia objected. She said she should be glad to see him any other time, but was then in the utmost hurry, as she had been three hours absent from all she most loved. However, she had scarce drank a dish of tea before she changed her mind; and, saying she would not part man and wife, desired Mr. Atkinson might appear.
The maid answered that her master was not at home; which words she had scarce spoken, when he knocked hastily at the door, and immediately came running into the room, all pale and breathless, and, addressing himself to Amelia, cried out, “I am sorry, my dear lady, to bring you ill news; but Captain Booth” — “What! what!” cries Amelia, dropping the tea-cup from her hand, “is anything the matter with him?” — “Don’t be frightened, my dear lady,” said the serjeant: “he is in very good health; but a misfortune hath happened.” — ” Are my children well?” said Amelia. — “O, very well,” answered the serjeant. “Pray, madam, don’t be frightened; I hope it will signify nothing — he is arrested, but I hope to get him out of their damned hands immediately.” “Where is he?” cries Amelia; “I will go to him this instant!” “He begs you will not,” answered the serjeant. “I have sent his lawyer to him, and am going back with Mrs. Ellison this moment; but I beg your ladyship, for his sake, and for your own sake, not to go.” “Mrs. Ellison! what is Mrs. Ellison to do?” cries Amelia: “I must and will go.” Mrs. Atkinson then interposed, and begged that she would not hurry her spirits, but compose herself, and go home to her children, whither she would attend her. She comforted her with the thoughts that the captain was in no immediate danger; that she could go to him when she would; and desired her to let the serjeant return with Mrs. Ellison, saying she might be of service, and that there was much wisdom, and no kind of shame, in making use of bad people on certain occasions.
“And who,” cries Amelia, a little come to herself, “hath done this barbarous action?”
“One I am ashamed to name,” cries the serjeant; “indeed I had always a very different opinion of him: I could not have believed anything but my own ears and eyes; but Dr Harrison is the man who hath done the deed.”
“Dr Harrison!” cries Amelia. “Well, then, there is an end of all goodness in the world. I will never have a good opinion of any human being more.”
The serjeant begged that he might not be detained from the captain; and that, if Amelia pleased to go home, he would wait upon her. But she did not chuse to see Mrs. Ellison at this time; and, after a little consideration, she resolved to stay where she was; and Mrs. Atkinson agreed to go and fetch her children to her, it being not many doors distant.
The serjeant then departed; Amelia, in her confusion, never having once thought of wishing him joy on his marriage.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:54