DARNFORD returned the memoirs to Maria, with a most affectionate letter, in which he reasoned on “the absurdity of the laws respecting matrimony, which, till divorces could be more easily obtained, was,” he declared, “the most insufferable bondage. Ties of this nature could not bind minds governed by superior principles; and such beings were privileged to act above the dictates of laws they had no voice in framing, if they had sufficient strength of mind to endure the natural consequence. In her case, to talk of duty, was a farce, excepting what was due to herself. Delicacy, as well as reason, forbade her ever to think of returning to her husband: was she then to restrain her charming sensibility through mere prejudice? These arguments were not absolutely impartial, for he disdained to conceal, that, when he appealed to her reason, he felt that he had some interest in her heart. — The conviction was not more transporting, than sacred — a thousand times a day, he asked himself how he had merited such happiness? — and as often he determined to purify the heart she deigned to inhabit — He intreated to be again admitted to her presence.
He was; and the tear which glistened in his eye, when he respectfully pressed her to his bosom, rendered him peculiarly dear to the unfortunate mother. Grief had stilled the transports of love, only to render their mutual tenderness more touching. In former interviews, Darnford had contrived, by a hundred little pretexts, to sit near her, to take her hand, or to meet her eyes — now it was all soothing affection, and esteem seemed to have rivalled love. He adverted to her narrative, and spoke with warmth of the oppression she had endured. — His eyes, glowing with a lambent flame, told her how much he wished to restore her to liberty and love; but he kissed her hand, as if it had been that of a saint; and spoke of the loss of her child, as if it had been his own. — What could have been more flattering to Maria? — Every instance of self-denial was registered in her heart, and she loved him, for loving her too well to give way to the transports of passion.
They met again and again; and Darnford declared, while passion suffused his cheeks, that he never before knew what it was to love. —
One morning Jemima informed Maria, that her master intended to wait on her, and speak to her without witnesses. He came, and brought a letter with him, pretending that he was ignorant of its contents, though he insisted on having it returned to him. It was from the attorney already mentioned, who informed her of the death of her child, and hinted, “that she could not now have a legitimate heir, and that, would she make over the half of her fortune during life, she should be conveyed to Dover, and permitted to pursue her plan of travelling.”
Maria answered with warmth, “That she had no terms to make with the murderer of her babe, nor would she purchase liberty at the price of her own respect.”
She began to expostulate with her jailor; but he sternly bade her “Be silent — he had not gone so far, not to go further.”
Darnford came in the evening. Jemima was obliged to be absent, and she, as usual, locked the door on them, to prevent interruption or discovery. — The lovers were, at first, embarrassed; but fell insensibly into confidential discourse. Darnford represented, “that they might soon be parted,” and wished her “to put it out of the power of fate to separate them.”
As her husband she now received him, and he solemnly pledged himself as her protector — and eternal friend. —
There was one peculiarity in Maria’s mind: she was more anxious not to deceive, than to guard against deception; and had rather trust without sufficient reason, than be for ever the prey of doubt. Besides, what are we, when the mind has, from reflection, a certain kind of elevation, which exalts the contemplation above the little concerns of prudence! We see what we wish, and make a world of our own — and, though reality may sometimes open a door to misery, yet the moments of happiness procured by the imagination, may, without a paradox, be reckoned among the solid comforts of life. Maria now, imagining that she had found a being of celestial mould — was happy — nor was she deceived. — He was then plastic in her impassioned hand — and reflected all the sentiments which animated and warmed her.12
12 Two and a half lines of dashes follow here in the original [Publisher’s note].
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