The Children of the Abbey
But mine the sorrow, mine the fault,
And well my life shall pay;
I’ll seek the solitude he sought,
And stretch me where he
To begin then, as they say in a novel, without further preface, I was the only child of a country curate, in the southern part of England, who, like his wife, was of a good but reduced 126 Contented dispositions, and an agreeable neighbourhood, ready on every occasion to oblige them, rendered them, in their humble situation, completely happy. I was the idol of both their hearts. Every one told my mother I should grow up a beauty, and she, poor simple woman, believed the flattering tale; naturally ambitious, and somewhat romantic, she expected nothing less than my attaining by my charms an elevated situation; to fit me for it, therefore, according to her idea, she gave me all the showy, instead of solid, advantages of education; my father being a meek, or rather an indolent man, submitted entirely to her direction: thus, without knowing the grammatical part of my own language, I was taught to gabble bad French by herself, and instead of mending or making my clothes, to flourish upon catgut and embroider satin; I was taught dancing by a man who kept a cheap school for that purpose in the village; music I could not aspire to, my mother’s finances being insufficient to purchase an instrument; she was therefore obliged to content herself with my knowing the vocal part of that delightful science, and instructed me in singing a few old-fashioned airs, with a thousand graces, in her opinion at least.
To make me excel by my dress, as well as my accomplishments, all the misses of the village, the remains of her finery were cut and altered into every form which art or ingenuity could suggest; and heaven forgive me, but my chief inducement in going to meeting on Sunday, was to exhibit my flounced silk petticoat and painted chip hat.
When I attained my sixteenth year, my mother thought me (and supposed every one else must do the same), the most perfect creature in the world; I was lively and thoughtless, vain and ambitious, to an extravagant degree, yet truly innocent in my disposition, and, often forgetting the appearance I had been taught to assume, indulged the natural gaiety of my heart, in a game of hide-and-go-seek, amongst the haycocks in a meadow by moon-light, and enjoyed perfect felicity.
Once a week, accompanied by my mother, I attended the dancing-master’s school, to practice country dances. One evening we had just concluded a set, and were resting ourselves, when an elegant youth, in a fashionable riding-dress, entered the room. His appearance at once excited admiration and surprise: never shall I forget 127 the palpitation of my heart at his approach: every girl experienced the same, every cheek was flushed, and every eye sparkled with hope and expectation. He walked round the room with an easy and unembarrassed air, as if to take a survey of the company; he stopped by a very pretty girl, the miller’s daughter. Good heavens! what were my agonies; my mother too, who sat beside me, turned pale, and would actually, I believe, have fainted, had he taken any farther notice of her. Fortunately he did not, but advanced; my eyes caught his; he again paused, looked surprised and pleased, and, after a moment passed in seeming consideration, bowed with the utmost elegance, and requested the honour of my hand for the ensuing dance. My politeness had hitherto been only in theory; I arose, dropped him a profound courtesy, assured him the honour would be all on my side, and I was happy to grant his request. He smiled, I thought a little archly, and coughed to avoid laughing. I blushed, and felt embarrassed, but he led me to the head of the room to call a dance, and my triumph over my companions so exhilarated my spirits, that I immediately lost all confusion.
I had been engaged to a young farmer, and he was enraged, not only at my breaking my engagement without his permission, but at the superior graces of my partner, who threatened to be a formidable rival to him. “By jingo;” said Clod, coming up to me in a surly manner, “I think, Miss Fanny, you have not used me genteelly; I don’t see why this here fine spark should take the lead of us all.” “Creature!” cried I, with an ineffable look of contempt which he could not bear, and retired grumbling. My partner could no longer refrain from laughing; the simplicity of my manners, notwithstanding the airs I endeavoured to assume, highly delighted him. “No wonder,” cried he, “the poor swain should be mortified at losing the hand of his charming Fanny.”
The dancing over, we rejoined my mother, who was on thorns to begin a conversation with the stranger, that she might let him know we were not to be ranked with the present company. “I am sure, sir,” said she, “a gentleman of your elegant appearance must feel rather awkward in the present party; it is so with us, as indeed it must be with every person of fashion; but in an obscure little village like this, we must not be too nice in our society, except like a hermit, we could do without any.” The stranger assented to whatever she 128 said, and accepted an invitation to sup with us: my mother instantly sent an intimation of her will to my father, to have, not the fatted calf indeed, but the fatted duck prepared: and he and the maid used such expedition, that by the time we returned, a neat, comfortable supper was ready to lay on the table. Mr. Marlowe, the stranger’s name, as he informed us, was all animation and affability; it is unnecessary to say that my mother, father, and myself, were all complaisance, delight, and attention. On departing, he asked, and obtained permission of course to renew his visit next day, and my mother immediately set him down as her future son-in-law.
As everything is speedily communicated in such a small village as we resided in, we learned, on the preceding evening he had stopped at the inn, and hearing music, he had inquired from whence it proceeded, and had gone out of curiosity to the dance; we also learned that his attendants reported him to be heir to a large fortune. This report, vain as I was, was almost enough of itself to engage my heart. Judge then, whether it was not an easy conquest to a person who, besides the above mentioned attraction, possessed those of a graceful figure and cultivated mind. He visited continually at our cottage, and I, uncultivated as I was, daily strengthened myself in his affection. In conversing with him I forgot the precepts of vanity and affectation, and obeyed the dictates of nature and sensibility. He soon declared the motives of his visits to me. “To have immediately demanded my hand,” he said, “would have gratified the tenderest wish of his soul; but, in his present situation, that was impossible: left at an early age, destitute and distressed, by the death of his parents, an old whimsical uncle, married to a woman equally capricious, had adopted him as heir to their large possessions. He found it he said, “to submit to their ill humour, and was confident, if he took any step against their inclinations, he should for ever forfeit their favour; therefore, if my parents would allow a reciprocal promise to pass between us, binding each to each, the moment he became master of expected fortune, or obtained an independence, he would make me a partaker of it.” They consented, and he enjoined us to the strictest secrecy, saying, “one of his attendants was placed about him as a kind of spy: he had hitherto deceived him with respect to us, declaring my father was an intimate friend, and that his uncle knew he intended visiting him.” But my 129 unfortunate vanity betrayed the secret it was so material for me to keep; I burned indeed to reveal it; one morning a young girl, who had been an intimate acquaintance of mine till I knew Marlowe, came to see me: “Why Fanny,” cried she, “you have given us all up for Mr. Marlowe; take care, my dear, he makes you amends for the loss of all your friends.” “I shall take your advice,” said I, with a smile and a conceited toss of my head. “Faith, for my part,” continued she, “I think you were very foolish not to secure a good settlement for yourself with Clod.” “With Clod!” repeated I, with the utmost haughtiness; “Lord, child, you forget who I am!” “Who are you!” exclaimed she, provoked at my insolence; “oh yes! to be sure I forget that you are the daughter of a poor country curate, with more pride in your head than money in your purse.” “Neither do I forget,” said I, “that your ignorance is equal to your impertinence. If I am the daughter of a poor country curate, I am the affianced wife of a rich man, and as much elevated by expectation, as spirit, above you.” Our conversation was repeated throughout the village, and reached the ears of Marlowe’s attendant, who instantly developed the real motive which detained him so long in the village; he wrote to his uncle an account of the whole affair. The consequence of this was a letter to poor Marlowe, full of the bitterest reproaches, charging him, without delay, to return home. This was like a thunderstroke to us all, but there was no alternative between obeying, or forfeiting his uncle’s favour. “I fear, my dear Fanny,” cried he, as he folded me to his bosom, a little before his departure, “it will be long ere we shall meet again: nay, I also fear, I shall be obliged to promise not to write; if both these fears are realized, impute not either absence or silence to a want of the tenderest affection for you.” He went, and with him all my happiness. My mother, shortly after his departure, was attacked by a nervous fever, which terminated her days; my father, naturally of weak spirits and delicate constitution, was so shocked by the sudden death of his beloved and faithful companion, that he sunk beneath his grief. The horrors of my mind I cannot describe; I seemed to stand alone in the world, without one friendly hand to prevent my sinking into the grave, which contained the dearest objects of my love. I did not know where Marlowe lived, and, even if I had, durst not venture an application, which might be the means of ruining him. The esteem of 130 my neighbours I had forfeited by my conceit; they paid no attention but what common humanity dictated, merely to prevent my perishing; and that they made me sensibly feel. In this distress I received an invitation from a school-fellow of mine, who had married a rich farmer, about forty miles from our village, to take up my residence with her, till I was sufficiently recovered to fix on some plan for future subsistence. I gladly accepted the offer, and after paying a farewell visit to the grave of my regretted parents, I set off, in the cheapest conveyance I could find, to her habitation, with all my treasure packed in a portmanteau.
With my friend I trusted I should enjoy a calm and happy asylum, till Marlowe was able to fulfil his promise, and allow me to reward her kindness; but this idea she soon put to flight, by informing me, as my health returned, I must think of some method for supporting myself. I started, as at the utter annihilation of all my hopes, for vain and ignorant of the world, I imagined Marlowe would never think of me, if once disgraced by servitude. I told her I understood but little of anything, except fancy work; she was particularly glad, she said, to hear I knew that, as it would in all probability, gain me admittance to the service of a rich old lady in the neighbourhood, who had long been seeking for a person who could read agreeably, and do fancy works, with which she delighted to ornament her house; she was a little whimsical, to be sure, she added, but well-timed flattery might turn those whims to advantage, and if I regarded my reputation, I should not reject so respectable a protection. There was no alternative; I inquired particularly about her; but how great was my emotion when I heard she was the aunt of Marlowe! my heart throbbed with exquisite delight at the idea of being in the same house with him. Besides, the service of his aunt would not, I flattered myself, degrade me as much in his eyes as that of another person. It was necessary, however, my name should be concealed, and I requested my friend to comply with my wish in that respect. She rallied me about my pride, which she supposed had suggested the request, but promised to comply with it. She had no doubt but her recommendation would be sufficient to procure me immediate admittance, and accordingly, taking some of my work with me, I proceeded to the habitation of Marlowe. It was an antique mansion, surrounded with neat clipped hedges, level lawns, and 131 formal plantations; two statues, cast in the same mould, and resembling nothing either in heaven, earth, or sea, stood grinning horribly upon the pillars of a massy gate, as if to guard the entrance from impertinent intrusion. On knocking, an old porter appeared. I gave him my message, but he, like the statues, seemed stationary, and would not, I believe, have stirred from his situation to deliver an embassy from the king; he called, however, to a domestic, who happening to be a little deaf, was full half an hour before he heard him. At last I was ushered up stairs into an apartment, from the heat of which one might have conjectured it was under the torrid zone: though in the middle of July, a heavy hot fire burned in the grate; a thick carpet, representing birds, beasts, and flowers, was spread on the floor, and the windows, closely screwed down, were heavy with wood-work, and darkened with dust; the master and mistress of the mansion, like Derby and Joan, sat in arm chairs on each side of the fire; three dogs and as many cats slumbered at their feet; he was leaning on a spider table, over a voluminous book, and she was stitching a counterpane. Sickness and ill-nature were visible in each countenance, “So!” said she, raising a huge pair of spectacles at my entrance, and examining me from head to foot, “you are come from Mrs. Wilson’s: why, bless me, child, you are quite too young for any business—pray what is your name, and where did you come from?” I was prepared for these questions, and told her the truth, only concealing my real name, and the place of my nativity. “Well, let me see those works of yours,” cried she. I produced them and the spectacles were again drawn down. “Why, they are neat enough, to be sure,” said she, “but the design is bad, very bad indeed: there is taste! there is execution!” directing me to some pictures in heavy gilt frames, hung round the room. I told her, with sincerity, I had never seen any thing like them. “To be sure, child,” exclaimed she; pleased at what she considered admiration in me, “’tis running a great risk to take you, but if you think you can conform to the regulations of my house, I will from compassion, and as you are recommended by Mrs. Wilson, venture to engage you; but remember, I must have no gad-about, no fly flapper, no chatterer in my family; you must be decent in your dress and carriage, discreet in your words, industrious at your work, and satisfied with the indulgence of going to church on Sunday.” I saw I was about entering on a painful servitude, but the idea of its being sweetened by the sympathy of Marlowe, 132 a little reconciled me to it. On promising all she desired, everything was settled for my admission into her family, and she took care I should perform the promises I made her. I shall not recapitulate the various trials I underwent from her austerity and peevishness; suffice it to say, my patience, as well as taste, underwent a perfect martyrdom. I was continually seated at a frame working pictures of her own invention, which were everything that was hideous in nature. I was never allowed to go out, except on a Sunday to church, or on a chance evening when it was too dark to distinguish colours.
Marlowe was absent on my entering the family, nor durst I ask when he was expected. My health and spirits gradually declined from my close confinement; when allowed as I have before said a chance time to go out, instead of enjoying the fresh air, I sat down to weep over scenes of former happiness. I dined constantly with the old housekeeper. She informed me, one day, that Mr. Marlowe, her master’s young heir who had been absent some time on a visit, was expected home on the ensuing day. Fortunately the good dame was too busily employed to notice my agitation. I retired as soon as possible from the table, in a state of indescribable pleasure. Never shall I forget my emotions when I heard the trampling of his horse’s feet, and saw him enter the house! Vainly I endeavoured to resume my work; my hands trembled, and I sunk back on my chair, to indulge in the delightful idea of an interview with him, which I believed to be inevitable. My severe task-mistress soon awakened me from my delightful dream. She came to tell me, “I must confine myself to my own and the house-keeper’s room, which to a virtuous, discreet maiden, such as I appeared to be, she supposed would be no hardship, while her nephew, who was young, perhaps rather a wild young man, remained in the house: when he again left it, which would soon be the case, I should regain my liberty.” My heart sunk within me at her words; but when the first shock was over, I consoled myself by thinking I should be able to elude her vigilance. I was, however, mistaken: she and the house-keeper were perfect Arguses. To be in the same house with Marlowe, yet without his knowing it, drove me almost distracted.
I at last thought of an expedient, which, I hoped, would effect the discovery I wanted. I had just finished a piece of work, which my mistress was delighted with; it was an enormous flower basket, mounted on the back of a cat, which held beneath its paw a 133 trembling mouse. The raptures the old lady expressed at seeing her own design so ably executed encouraged me to ask permission to embroider a picture of my own designing, for which I had silks lying by me. She complied, and I about it with alacrity. I copied my face and figure as exactly as I could, and in mourning drapery and a pensive attitude, placed the little image by a rustic grave in the church yard of my native village, at the head of which, half embowered in trees, appeared the lowly cottage of my departed parents; these well-known objects, I thought, would revive, if indeed she was absent from it, the idea of poor Fanny in the mind of Marlowe; I presented the picture to my mistress, who was pleased with the present, and promised to have it framed. The next day, while I sat at dinner, the door suddenly opened, and Marlowe entered the room. I thought I should have fainted; my companion dropped her knife and fork, with great precipitation, and Marlowe told her he was very ill, and wanted a cordial from her. She rose with a dissatisfied air to comply with his request. He, taking this opportunity of approaching a little nearer, darted a glance of pity and tenderness, and softly whispered, “To-night, at eleven, meet me in the front parlour.” You may conceive how tardily the hours passed till the appointed time came, when stealing to the parlour, I found Marlowe expecting me; he folded me to his heart, and his tears mingled with mine, as I related my melancholy tale. “You are now, my Fanny,” he cried, “entirely, mine! deprived of the protection of your tender parents, I shall endeavour to fulfil the sacred trust they reposed in my honour, by securing mine to you, as far as lies in my power. I was not mistaken,” continued he, “in the idea I had formed of the treatment I should receive from my flinty-hearted relations on leaving you. Had I not promised to drop all correspondence with you I must have relinquished all hopes of their favour. Bitter indeed,” cried he, while a tear started in his eye, “is the bread of dependence; ill could my soul submit to the indignities I received; but I consoled myself throughout them, by the idea of future happiness with my Fanny. Had I known her situation (which indeed it was impossible I should, as my uncle’s spy attended me wherever I went,) no dictate of prudence would have prevented my flying to her aid!” “Thank heaven, then, you were ignorant of it,” said I. “My aunt,” he proceeded, “showed me your work, lavishing the highest encomiums on it. I glanced my 134 eye carelessly upon it, but in a moment, how was that careless eye attracted by the well-known objects presented to it! This, I said to my heart, can only be Fanny’s work. I tried to discover from my aunt whether my conjectures were wrong, but without success. When I retired to dress, I asked my servant if there had been any addition to the family during my absence. He said a young woman was hired to do fine works, but she never appeared among the servants.”
Marlowe proceeded to say, “he could not bear I should longer continue in servitude, and that without delay he was resolved to unite his fate to mine.” I opposed this resolution a little, but soon, too self-interested I fear, acquiesced in it. It was agreed I should inform his aunt my health would no longer permit my continuing in her family, and that I should retire to a village six miles off, where Marlowe undertook to bring a young clergyman, a particular friend of his, to perform the ceremony. Our plan, as settled, was carried into execution, and I became the wife of Marlowe. I was now, you will suppose, elevated to the pinnacle of happiness. I was so, indeed, but my own folly precipitated me from it. The secrecy I was compelled to observe mortified me exceedingly, as I panted to emerge from the invidious cloud which had so long concealed my beauty and accomplishments from a world, that, I was confident, if seen, would pay them the homage they merited. The people with whom I lodged had been obliged by Marlowe, and therefore, from interest and gratitude, obeyed the injunction he gave them of keeping my residence at their house a secret. They believed, or affected to believe, I was an orphan committed to his care, whom his uncle would be displeased to know he had taken under his protection.—Three or four times a week I received stolen visits from Marlowe, when one day, (after a month had elapsed in this manner) standing at the parlour window, I saw Mrs. Wilson walking down the village. I started back, but too late to escape her observation. She immediately bolted into the room, with all the eagerness of curiosity. I bore her first interrogatories tolerably well, but when she upbraided me for leaving the excellent services she had procured for me, for duplicity in saying I was going to another, and for my indiscretion in respect to Marlowe, I lost all command of my temper, and remembering the inhumanity with which she had forced me into servitude, I resolved to mortify her 135 completely, by assuming all the airs I had heretofore so ridiculously aspired to; lolling in my chair, with an air of the most careless indifference, I bid her no longer petrify me with her discourse. This raised all the violence of rage, and she plainly told me, “from my conduct with Marlowe, I was unworthy her notice.” “Therefore,” cried I, forgetting every dictate of prudence, “his wife will neither desire nor receive it in future.” “His wife!” she repeated, with a look of scorn and incredulity. I produced the certificate of my marriage: thus, from an impulse of vanity and resentment, putting myself in the power of a woman, a stranger to every liberal feeling, and whose mind was inflamed with envy towards me. The hint I forced myself at parting to give her, to keep the affair a secret, only determined her more strongly to reveal it. The day after her visit Marlowe entered my . Pale, agitated, and breathless, he sunk into a chair; a pang like conscious guilt smote my heart, and I trembled as I approached him. He repulsed me when I attempted to touch his hand; “Cruel, inconsiderate woman,” he said, “to what dreadful lengths has your vanity hurried you, it has drawn destruction upon your head as well as mine.” Shame and remorse tied my tongue; had I spoken, indeed, I could not have vindicated myself, and I turned aside and wept. Marlowe, mild, tender, and adoring, could not longer retain resentment: he started from his chair, and clasped me to his bosom. “Oh Fanny!” he cried, “though you have ruined me, you are still dear as ever to me.”—This tenderness affected me even more than reproaches, and tears and sighs declared my penitence. His expectations relative to his uncle were finally destroyed on being informed of our marriage, which Mrs. lost no time in telling him. He burned his will, and immediately made another in favour of a distant relation. On hearing this intelligence, I was almost distracted; I flung myself at my husband’s feet, imploring his pardon, yet declaring I could never forgive myself. He grew more composed upon the increase of my agitation, as if purposely to soothe my spirits, assuring me that, though his uncle’s favor was lost, he had other friends on whom he greatly depended. We set off for London, and found his dependence was not ill placed: for soon after our arrival, he obtained a place of considerable emolument in one of the public offices. My husband delighted in gratifying me, though I was often both extravagant and whimsical, and 136 almost ever on the wing for admiration and amusement. I was reckoned a pretty woman, and received with rapture the nonsense and adulation addressed to me. I became acquainted with a young widow who concealed a depraved heart under a specious appearance of innocence and virtue, and, by aiding the vices of others procured the means of gratifying her own: yet so secret were all her transactions, that calumny had not yet attacked her, and her house was the rendezvous of the most fashionable people. My husband, who did not dislike her manner, encouraged our intimacy, and at her parties I was noticed by a young nobleman then at the head of the ton; he declared I was one of the most charming objects he had ever beheld, and, for such a declaration, I thought him the most polite I had ever known: as Lord T—— condescended to wear my chains, I must certainly, I thought, become quite the rage. My transports, however, were a little checked by the grave remonstrances of my husband, who assured me Lord T—— was a famous, or rather an infamous, libertine, and that, if I did not avoid his lordship’s particular attentions, he must insist on my relinquishing the widow’s society. This I thought cruel, but I saw him resolute and promised to act as he desired; a promise I never adhered to, except when he was present. I was now in a situation to promise an increase of family, and Marlowe wished me to nurse the child. The tenderness of my heart seconding this wish, I resolved on obeying it: but when the widow heard my intention she laughed at it, and said it was absolutely ridiculous, for the sake of a squalling brat, to give up all the pleasures of life; besides, it would be much better taken care of in some of the villages about London. I denied this: still, however, she dwelt on the sacrifices I must make, the amusements I must give up, and at last completely conquered my resolution. I pretended to Marlowe my health was too delicate to allow me to bear such fatigue, and he immediately sacrificed his own inclination to mine. I have often wondered at the kind of infatuation with which he complied with all my desires. My little girl, almost as soon as born, was sent from me; but, on being able to go out again, I received a considerable shock from hearing my noble admirer was gone to the continent owing to a trifling derangement in his affairs. The vain pursuits of pleasure and dissipation were still continued; three years passed in this manner, during which I had a son, and my little girl was brought home. I have 137 since often felt astonished at the cold indifference with which I regarded Marlowe and our lovely babe, on whom he doated with all the enthusiasm of tenderness: alas! vanity had then absorbed my heart, and deadened every feeling of nature and sensibility; it is the parent of self-love and apathy, and degrades those who harbour it below humanity.
Lord T—— now returned from the continent. He swore my idea had never been absent from his mind, and that I was more charming than ever; while I thought him, if possible, more polite and engaging. Again my husband remonstrated; sometimes I seemed to regard these remonstrances, sometimes protested that I would not submit to such unnecessary control; I knew, indeed, that my intentions were innocent, and I believed I might safely indulge my vanity, without endangering either my reputation or peace. About this time Marlowe received a summons to attend a dying friend some miles from London; our little girl was then in a slight fever, which had alarmed her father, and confined me, most unwillingly, I must confess, to the house. Marlowe, on the point of parting, pressed me to his breast. “My heart, my beloved Fanny,” said he, “feels unusually heavy; I trust the feeling is no presentiment of approaching ill. Oh! my Fanny, on you and my babe I rest for happiness; take care of our little cherub, and above all (his meek eye encountering mine) of yourself, that, with accustomed rapture, I may, on my return, receive you to my arms.” There was something so solemn, and so tender in this address, that my heart melted, and my tears mingled with those which trickled down his pale cheeks. For two days I attended my child assiduously, when the widow made her appearance. She assured me, I should injure myself by such close confinement, and that my cheeks were already faded by it; she mentioned a delightful masquerade which was to be given that night, and for which Lord T—— had presented her with tickets for me and herself; but she declared, except I would accompany her, she would not go. I had often wished to go to a masquerade; I now, however, declined this opportunity of gratifying my inclination, but so faintly as to prompt a renewal of her solicitations, to which I at last yielded, and committing my babe to the care of a servant, set off with the widow to a warehouse to choose dresses. Lord T—— dined with us, and we were all in the highest spirits imaginable. About twelve we 138 went in his chariot to the Haymarket, and I was absolutely intoxicated with his flattery, and the dazzling objects around me. At five we quitted the scene of gaiety; the widow took a chair; I would have followed her example, but my lord absolutely lifted me into his chariot, and there began talking in a strain which provoked my contempt, and excited my apprehensions. I expressed my displeasure in terms which checked his boldness, and convinced him he had some difficulties yet to overcome, ere he completed his designs: he made his apologies with so much humility, that I was soon appeased and prevailed on to accept them. We arrived at the widow’s house in as much harmony as we left it; the flags were wet, and Lord T—— insisted on carrying me into the house. At the door I observed a man muffled up, but as no one noticed him, I thought no more about it. We sat down to supper in high spirits, and chatted for a considerable time about our past amusements. His lordship said, “after a little sleep, we should recruit ourselves by a pleasant jaunt to Richmond, where he had a charming villa.” We agreed to his proposal, and retired to rest; about noon we arose, and while I was dressing myself for the projected excursion, a letter was brought in to me.—“Good Lord! Halcot,” exclaimed I, turning to the widow, “If Marlowe is returned what will become of me?” “Oh! read, my dear creature,” cried she, “and then we can think of excuses.” I have the letter here, continued Mrs. Marlowe, laying her hand to her breast, and drawing it forth, after a short pause, I laid it to my heart to guard against future folly.
“The presages of my heart were but too true—we parted never to meet again. O! Fanny, beloved of my soul, how are you lost to yourself and Marlowe! The independence, splendour, riches, which I gave up for your sake, were mean sacrifices, in my estimation, to the felicity I fondly expected to have enjoyed with you through life: your beauty charmed my mind, but it was your simplicity captivated my heart. I took, as I thought, the perfect child of innocence and sincerity to my bosom: resolved, from duty, as well as from inclination, to shelter you in that bosom, to the utmost of my power, from every adverse storm. Whenever you were indisposed, what agonies did I endure! yet what I then dreaded, could I have possibly foreseen, would have been comparative happiness to my present misery; for, oh! my Fanny, far preferable would it have been to behold you in the arms of death than infamy.
“I returned immediately after witnessing the last pangs of my friend—oppressed with the awful scene of death, yet cheering my spirits by an anticipation of the consolation I should receive from my Fanny’s sympathy,—Good God! what was my horror, when I 139 found my little babe, instead of being restored to health by a mother’s care, nearly expiring through her neglect! the angel lay gasping on her bed, deserted by the mercenary wretch to whose care she was consigned. I inquired, and the fatal truth rushed upon my soul, yet when the first tumult of passion had subsided, I felt that, without yet stronger proofs, I could not abandon you. Alas! too soon did I receive those proofs! I traced you, Fanny, through your giddy round till I saw you borne in the arms of the vile Lord T—— into the house of his vile paramour. You will wonder, perhaps, I did not tear you from his grasp. Could such a procedure have restored you to me with all your unsullied innocence, I should not have hesitated, but that was impossible; and mine eyes then gazed upon Fanny for the last time. I returned to my motherless babe, and am not ashamed to say, I wept over it with all the agonies of a fond and betrayed heart.
“Ere I bid an irrevocable adieu, I would, if possible, endeavour to convince you that conscience cannot always be stifled, that illicit love is constantly attended by remorse and disappointment; for, when familiarity or disease have diminished the charms which excited it, the frail fetters of admiration are broken by him who looks only to an exterior for delight; if indeed your conscience should not be awakened till this hour of desertion comes, when it does arrive, you may perhaps think of Marlowe. Yes, Fanny, when your cheeks are faded by care, when your wit is enfeebled by despondency, you may think of him whose tenderness would have outlived both time and change, and supported you, without abatement, through every stage of life.
“To stop short in the career of vice, is, they say, the noblest effort of virtue; may such an effort be yours, and may you yet give joy to the angels of heaven, who, we are taught to believe, rejoice over them that are truly repentant! That want should strew no thorns in the path of penitence, all that I could take from my babe I have assigned to you. Oh! my dear culprit, remember the precepts of your early youth, of those who, sleeping in the dust, are spared the bitter tear of anguish such as I now shed, and, ere too late, expiate your errors. In the solitude to which I am hastening, I shall continually pray for you, and when my child raises its spotless hands to heaven, it shall implore its mercy for erring mortals; yet think not it shall ever hear your story; oh! never shall the blush of shame for the frailties of one so near, tinge its ingenuous countenance. May the sincerity of your repentance restore that peace and brightness to your life, which, at present, I think you must have forfeited, and support you with fortitude through its closing period! As a friend, once dear, you will ever exist in the memory of
As I concluded the letter, my spirits, which had been gradually receding, entirely forsook me, and I fell senseless on the floor. Mrs. Halcot and Lord T—— took this opportunity of gratifying their curiosity by perusing the letter, and, when I recovered, I found myself supported between them. “You see, my dear angel,” cried Lord T——, “your cruel husband has abandoned you: but grieve not, for in my arms you shall find a kinder asylum than he ever afforded you.” “True,” said Mrs. Halcot, “for my part I think she has reason to rejoice at his desertion.”
I shall not attempt to repeat all I said to them, in the height of my distraction; suffice it to say, I reproached them both as the authors 140 of my shame and misery, and while I spurned Lord T—— indignantly from my feet, accused Mrs. Halcot of possessing neither delicacy nor feeling. Alas! accusation or reproach could not lighten the weight on my heart. I felt a dreadful consciousness of having occasioned my own misery; I seemed as if awakening from a disordered dream, which had confused my senses: and the more clearly my perception of what was right returned, the more bitterly I lamented my deviation from it: to be reinstated in the esteem and affection of my husband was all the felicity I could desire to possess. Full of the idea of being able to effect a reconciliation, I started up, but ere I reached the door sunk into an agony of tears, recollecting that ere this he was probably far distant from me. My base companions tried to assuage my grief, and make me in reality the wretch poor Marlowe supposed me to be. I heard them in silent contempt, unable to move, till a servant informed me a gentleman below stairs desired to see me. The idea of a relenting husband instantly occurred, and I flew down; but how great was my disappointment only to see a particular friend of his! our meeting was painful in the extreme. I asked him if he knew any thing of Marlowe, and he solemnly assured me he did not. When my confusion and distress had a little subsided, he informed me that in the morning he had received a letter from him, with an account of our separation, and the fatal cause of it. The letter contained a deed of settlement on me of a small paternal estate, and a bill of fifty pounds, which Marlowe requested his friend to present himself to me; he also added, my clothes were sent to his house, as our lodgings had been discharged. I did not find it difficult to convince this gentleman of my innocence, and, putting myself under his protection, was immediately conveyed to lodgings in a retired part of the town. Here he consoled me with assurance of using every effort to discover the residence of my husband. All, alas! proved unsuccessful, and my health gradually declined! as time wore away, my hope yet left still undiminished my desire of seeing him; change of air was at last deemed requisite to preserve my existence, and I went to Bristol. I had the good fortune to lodge in the house with an elderly Irish lady, whose sweet and benevolent manners soon gained my warmest esteem, and tempted me to divulge my melancholy tale, where so certain of obtaining pity. She had also suffered severely from the pressure of sorrow; but hers, as it proceeded not 141 from imprudence, but the common vicissitudes of life, was borne without that degree of anguish mine occasioned. As the period approached for her return to her native country, I felt the deepest regret at the prospect of our separation, which she, however, removed, by asking me to reside entirely with her. Eight years had elapsed since the loss of my husband, and no latent hope of his return remained in my heart sufficiently strong to tempt me to forego the advantages of such society. Ere I departed, however, I wrote to several of his friends, informing them of the step I intended taking, and, if any tidings of Marlowe occurred, where I was to be found. Five years I passed with my valuable friend in retirement, and had the pleasure of thinking I had contributed to the ease of her last moments. This cottage, with a few acres adjoining it, and four hundred pounds, was all her wealth, and to me she bequeathed it, having no relations whose wants gave them any claim upon her.
The events I have just related will, I hope, strengthen the moral so many wish to impress upon the minds of youth, namely, that without a strict adherence to propriety, there can be no permanent pleasure; and that it is the actions of early life must give to old age either happiness and comfort, or sorrow and remorse. Had I attended to the admonitions of wisdom and experience, I should have checked my wanderings from prudence, and preserved my happiness from being sacrificed at the shrine of vanity; then, instead of being a solitary being in the world, I might have had my little fireside enlivened by the partner of my heart, and, perhaps my children’s children sporting around; but suffering is the proper tax we pay for folly. The frailty of human nature, the prevalence of example, the allurements of the world, are mentioned by many as extenuations for misconduct. Though virtue, say they, is willing, she is often too weak, to resist the wishes they excite. Mistaken idea; and blessed is that virtue which, by opposing, ends them! With every temptation we have the means of escape; woe be to us if we neglect those means, or hesitate to disentangle ourselves from the snares which vice or folly may have spread around us. Sorrow and disappointment are incident to mortality, and, when not occasioned by any conscious imprudence, should be considered as temporary trials from heaven to improve and correct us, and therefore cheerfully to be borne.” A sigh stole from Oscar as she spoke, and a tear trickled down the soft 142 cheek of Adela. “I have,” continued Mrs. Marlowe, “given you, like an old woman, a tedious tale; but that tediousness, with every other imperfection I have acknowledged and may betray, I rest upon your friendship and candour to excuse.”
Notes and Corrections: Chapter XIII
And stretch me where he lay.
text has lay,
a good but reduced family.
text has family,
He found it difficult,” he said,
close quote missing
with all my worldly treasure packed in a portmanteau.
text has wordly
on a spider table, poring over a voluminous book
text has pouring
her nephew, who was a young, perhaps rather a wild young man
text has who was young,
She complied, and I set about it with alacrity
text has sat
Marlowe entered my apartment
text has appartment
Wilson lost no time in telling him.
text has Willson
“Well, colonel,” said Oscar, “I fancy I was not mistaken . . .
The night was waning fast, and Adela rose to depart as her friend concluded her story