Whenever I think of this charge, an exquisite pain seizes my heart. There must be the blackest perfidy somewhere. I cannot bear to think that any human creature is capable of such a deed,—a deed which the purest malice must have dictated, since there is none, surely, in the world, whom I have ever intentionally injured.
I cannot deal in conjectures. The subject, I find by my feelings since I began this letter, is too agonizing,—too bewildering. It carries back my thoughts to a time of misery, to which distance, instead of soothing it into apathy, only adds a new sting.
A spotless reputation was once dear to me, but I have now torn the passion from my heart. I am weary of pursuing a phantom. No one has pursued it with more eagerness and perseverance than I; and what has been the fruit of my labour but reiterated mortification and disappointment?
An upright demeanour, a self-acquitting conscience, are not sufficient for our safety. Calumny and misapprehension have no bounds to their rage and their activity.
How little did my thoughtless heart imagine the horrid images which beset the minds of my mother and my husband! Happy ignorance! Would to Heaven it had continued! Since knowledge puts it not in my power to remove the error, it ought to be avoided as the greatest evil.
While I know my own motives, and am convinced of their purity, let me hold in contempt the opinions of the world respecting me. They can never have a basis in truth. Be they favourable or otherwise, they cannot fail to be built on imperfect knowledge. The praise of others is therefore as little to be sought or prized as their censure to be dreaded or shunned.
Heaven knows how much I value the favour and affection of my mother; but, clear as it is, I must give it up. How can I retain it? I cannot confute the charge. I must not acknowledge a guilt that does not belong to me. Added, therefore, to her belief of my guilt, must be the persuasion of my being a hardened and obdurate criminal.
What will she think of my last two letters? The former tacitly confessing my unworthiness and promising compliance with all her wishes, the next asserting my innocence and refusing her generous offers. My first she will probably ascribe to an honourable compunction, left to operate without your control. In the second she will trace your influence. Left to myself, she will imagine me capable of acting as she wishes; but, guided by you, she will lose all hopes of me, and resign me to my fate.
Indeed, I have given up my mother. There is no other alternative but that of giving up you; and in this case I can hesitate, indeed, but I cannot decide against you.
I am placed in a very painful situation. I feel as if every hour spent under this roof was an encroachment on another's rights. My mother's bounty is not withheld, merely because my rebellion against her will is not completed; but I that feel no doubt, and whom mere consideration of her pleasure, important as it is, will never make swerve from my purpose, —ought I to enjoy goods to which I have forfeited all title? Ought I to wait for an express command to begone from her doors? Ought I to lay her under the necessity of declaring her will?
Yet if I change my lodgings immediately, without waiting her directions, will she not regard my conduct as contemptuous? Shall I not then be a rebel indeed?—one that scorns her favour, and is eager to get rid of all my obligations?
How painful is such a situation! yet there is no escaping from it, that I can see. I must, perforce, remain as I am. But perhaps her next letter will throw some light upon my destiny. I suppose my positive assertions will show her that a change of purpose cannot be hoped for from me.
The bell rings. Perhaps it is the postman, and the intelligence I wish for has arrived. Adieu.
To the Same
What shall I say to thee, my friend? How shall I communicate a resolution fatal, as thy tenderness will deem it, to thy peace, yet a resolution suggested by a heart which has, at length, permitted all selfish regards to be swallowed up by a disinterested consideration of thy good?
Why did you conceal from me your father's treatment of you, and the consequences which your fidelity to me has incurred from his rage? I will never be the cause of plunging you into poverty so hopeless. Did you think I would? and could you imagine it possible to conceal from me forever his aversion to me?
How much misery would your forbearance have laid up in store for my future life! When fate had put it out of my power to absolve you from his curses, some accident would have made me acquainted with the full extent of the sufferings and contumelies with which, for my sake, he had loaded you.
But, thanks to Heaven, I am apprized in time of the truth. Instead of the bearer of a letter from my mother, whose signal at the door put an end to my last letter, it was my mother herself.
Dear and welcome as those features and that voice once were, now would I rather have encountered the eyes of a basilisk and the notes of the ill-boding raven.
She hastened with all this expedition to thank me; to urge me to execute; to assist me in performing the promises of my first letter. The second, in which these promises were recalled, never reached her hand. She left New York, as it now appeared, before its arrival. The interval had been spent on the road, where she had been detained by untoward and dangerous accidents.
Think, my friend, of the embarrassments attending this unlooked-for and inauspicious meeting. Joy at my supposed compliance with her wishes, wishes that imaged to themselves my happiness, and only mine, enabled her to support the hardships of this journey. Fatigue and exposure, likely to be fatal to one of so delicate, so infirm a constitution, so lately and imperfectly recovered from a dangerous malady, could not deter her.
Fondly, rapturously did she fold to her bosom the long-lost and late- recovered child. Tears of joy she shed over me, and thanked me for the tranquil and serene close which my return to virtue, as she called my acquiescence, had secured to her life. That life would at all events be short; but my compliances, if they could not much protract it, would at least render its approaching end peaceful.
All attempts to reason with my mother were fruitless. She fell into alarming agonies when she discovered the full import of that coldness and dejection which my demeanour betrayed. Fatigued and indisposed as she was, she made preparation to depart; she refused to pass one night under the same roof,—her own roof,—and determined to begone, on her return home, the very next morning.
Will not your heart comprehend the greatness of this trial, and pity and excuse a momentary wavering, a yielding irresolution? Yet it was but momentary. An hour's solitude and deep reflection fortified my heart against the grief and supplication even of my mother.
Next day she was more calm. She condescended to reason, to expostulate. She carefully shunned the mention of atrocious charges. She dwelt only on the proofs which your past life and your own confessions had afforded of unsteady courage and unwarrantable principles; your treatment of the Woodbury girl; your correspondence with Thomson; your ignoble sloth; your dependence upon others; your helplessness.
From these accusations I defended you in silence. My heart was your secret advocate. I did not verbally repel any of these charges. That of inglorious dependence for subsistence upon others I admitted; but I could not forbear urging that this dependence was on a father. A father who was rich; who had no other child than yourself; whose own treatment of you had planted and reared in you this indisposition to labour; to whose property your title, ultimately, could not be denied.
"And has he then," she exclaimed, "deceived you in that particular? Has he concealed from you his father's resolutions? That his engagement with you has already drawn down his father's anger, and even his curses? On his persisting to maintain an inviolable faith to you, he was ignominiously banished from his father's roof. All kindred and succour were disclaimed, and on you depends the continuance of that decree, and whether that protection and subsistence which he has hitherto enjoyed, and of which his character stands in so much need, shall be lost to him forever."
You did not tell me this, my friend. In claiming your love, far was I from imagining that I tore you from your father's house, and plunged you into that indigence which your character and education so totally unfit you for sustaining or escaping from.
My mother removed all doubt which could not but attend such unwelcome tidings, by showing me her own letter to your father, and his answer to it.
Well do I recollect your behaviour on the evening when my mother's letter was received by your father. At that time, your deep dejection was inexplicable. And did you not—my heart bleeds to think how much my love has cost you—did you not talk of a fall on the ice when I pointed to a bruise on your forehead? That bruise, and every token of dismay, your endeavours at eluding or diverting my attention from your sorrow and solemnity, are now explained.
Good Heaven! And was I indeed the cause of that violence, that contumely,—the rage, and even curses, of a father? And why concealed you these maledictions and this violence from me? Was it not because you well knew that I would never consent to subject you to such a penalty?
Hasten then, I beseech you, to your father; lay this letter before him; let it inform him of my solemn and irrevocable resolution to sever myself from you forever.
But this I will myself do. I will acquaint him with my resignation to his will and that of my mother, and beseech him to restore you to his favour.
Farewell, my friend. By that name, at least, I may continue to call you. Yet no. I must never see you nor hear from you again, unless it be in answer to this letter.
Let your pity stifle the emotions of indignation or grief, and return me such an answer as may tend to reconcile me to the vow which, whether difficult or easy, must not be broken.
To Henry Colden, Senior
I was not informed till to-day of the correspondence that has passed between you and my mother, nor of your aversion to the alliance which was designed to take place between your son and me.
It is my duty to inform you that, in my opinion, your approbation was absolutely necessary to such a union; and consequently, since your concurrence is withheld, it will never take place. Every tie or engagement between us is from this moment dissolved, and all intercourse, by letter or otherwise, will here end.
Your son, in opposing your wishes, imagined himself consulting my happiness. In that he was mistaken; and I have now removed his error, by acquainting him with my present determination.
I am deeply grieved that his attachment to me has forfeited your favour. I hope that there is no other obstacle to reconcilement, and that the termination of all intercourse between us may remove that obstacle.
I join my daughter in assuring you that the alliance, for which a mutual aversion was entertained, cannot take place; and that all her engagements with your son are dissolved. I join her likewise in entreating you to forget his disobedience and restore him to your protection and favour.
To Mrs. Talbot
IT becomes me to submit without a murmur to a resolution dictated by a disinterested regard to my happiness.
That you may find in that persuasion, in your mother's tenderness and gratitude, in the affluence and honour which this determination has secured to you, abundant consolation for every evil that may befall yourself or pursue me, are my only wishes.
Far was I from designing to conceal from you entirely my father's aversion to our views. I frequently apprized you of the inferences to be naturally drawn from his known character; but I trusted to his generosity, to the steadiness of my own deportment, to your own merits, when he should become personally acquainted with you, to his good sense, when reflecting on an evil in his power to lessen though not wholly to remove, for a change in his opinions, or, at least, in his conduct.
There was sufficient resemblance in the characters of both our parents to make me rely on the influence of time and reflection in our favour. Your mother could not cease to love you. I could not by any accident be wholly bereaved of my father's affection. No conduct of theirs had robbed them of my esteem. Why then did I persist in thwarting their wishes? Why encourage you in your opposition? Because I imagined that, in thwarting their present views, which were founded in error, I consulted their lasting happiness, and made myself a title to their future gratitude by challenging their present rebukes.
I told you not of my father's passionate violences, disgraceful to himself and productive of unspeakable anguish to me. Why should I revive the scene? why be the historian of my father's dishonour? why needlessly add to my own and to your affliction?
My concealments arose not from the fear that the disclosure would estrange you from me. I supposed you willing to grant me the same independence of a parent's control which you claimed for yourself. I saw no difference between forbearing to consult a parent, in a case where we know that his answer will condemn us, and slighting his express forbidding.
I say thus much to account for, and, if possible, excuse, that concealment with which you reproach me. Tender and reluctant, indeed, are these reproaches; but,—as I deem it a sacred duty to reveal to you the utmost of my follies, what but injustice to you would be the tacit admission of injurious but groundless charges?
My actual faults are of too deep a dye to allow me to sport with your good opinion, or permit me to be worse thought of by you than I deserve.
You exhort me to seek reconcilement with my father. What mean you? I have not been the injurer. Not an angry word, accusing look, or revengeful thought, has come from me. I have exercised the privilege of a rational and moral being. I have loved, not according to another's estimate of merit, but my own. Of what then am I to repent? Where lies my transgression? If his treatment of me be occasioned by antipathy for you, must I adopt his antipathy and thus creep again into favour? Impossible! If it arise from my refusing to give up an alliance which his heart abhors, your letter to him, which you tell me you mean to write, and which will inform him that every view of that kind is at an end, will remove the evil.
Fear not for me, my friend. Whatever be my lot, be assured that I never can taste pure misery while the thought abides with me that you are not happy.
And what now remains but to leave with you the blessing of a grateful and devoted heart, and to submit, with what humility I can, to the destiny which you have prescribed?
I should not deserve your love, if I did not now relinquish it with an anguish next to despair; neither should I have merit in my own eyes, if I did not end this letter with acquitting you, the author of my loss, of all shadow of blame.
To James Montford
I TOLD you of your brother Stephen's talk with me about accompanying him on his northwest voyage. I mentioned to you what were my objections to the scheme. It was a desperate adventure; a sort of forlorn hope; to be pursued in case my wishes in relation to Jane should be crossed. I had not then any, or much, apprehension of change in her resolutions. So many proofs of a fervent and invincible attachment to me had she lately given, that I could not imagine any motive strong enough to change her purpose. Yet now, my friend, have I arranged matters with your brother, and expect to bid an everlasting farewell to my native shore some day within the ensuing fortnight.
I call it an everlasting farewell, for I have, at present, neither expectation nor desire of returning. A three years' wandering among boisterous seas and through various climates, added to that inward care, that spiritless, dejected heart, which I shall ever bear about me, would surely never let me return, even if I had the wish: but I have not the wish. If I live at all, it must be in a scene far different and distant from that in which I have been hitherto reluctantly detained.
And why have I embraced this scheme? There can be but one cause.
Having just returned from following Thomson's remains to the grave, I received a letter from Jane. Her mother had just arrived. She came, it seems, in consequence of her daughter's apparent compliance with her wishes. The letter retracting my friend's precipitate promise had miscarried or had lingered by the way. What I little suspected, my father had acquainted Mrs. Fielder with his conduct towards me; and this, together with her mother's importunities, had prevailed on Jane once more to renounce me.
There never occurred an event in my life which did not, someway, bear testimony to the usefulness and value of sincerity. Had I fully disclosed all that passed between my father and me, should I not easily have diverted Jane from these extremities? Alone, at a distance from me, and with her mother's eloquence at hand to confirm every wayward sentiment and fortify her in every hostile resolution, she is easily driven into paths, and perhaps kept steadily in them, from which proper explanations and pathetic arguments, had they been early and seasonably employed by me, would have led her easily away.
I begin to think it is vain to strive against maternal influence. What but momentary victory can I hope to attain? What but poverty, dependence, ignominy, will she share with me? And if her strenuous spirit set naught by these, (and I know she is capable of rising above them,) how will she support her mother's indignation and grief?
I have now, indeed, no hope of even momentary victory. There are but two persons in the world who command her affections. Either, when present, (the other absent or silent,) has absolute dominion over her. Her mother, no doubt, is apprized of this, and has now pursued the only effectual method of securing submission.
I have already written an answer; I hope such a one as, when the present tumults of passion have subsided, when the eye sedately scrutinizes, and the heart beats in an even tenor, may be read without shame or remorse.
I shall also write to her mother. In doing this I must keep down the swelling bitterness. It may occupy my solitude, torment my feelings; but why should it infect my pen?
I have sometimes given myself credit for impartiality in judging of others. Indeed, I am inclined to think myself no blind or perverse judge even of my own actions. Hence, indeed, the greater part of my unhappiness. If my conduct had always conformed, instead of being adverse, to my principles, I should have moved on tranquilly and self-satisfied, at least; but, in truth, the being that goes by my name was never more thoroughly contemned by another than by myself.—But this is falling into the old strain,-irksome, tiresome, and useless to you as to me. Yet I cannot write just now in any other; therefore I will stop.
Adieu, my friend. There will be time enough to hear from you ere my departure. Let me hear, then, from you.
To Henry Colden
Philadelphia, December 3.
My daughter informs me that the letter she has just despatched to you contains her resolution of never seeing you more. I likewise discover that she has requested and expects a reply from you, in which, she doubts not, you will confirm her resolution.
You, no doubt, regard me as your worst enemy. No request from me can hope to be complied with; yet I cannot forbear suggesting the propriety of your refraining from making any answer to my daughter's letter.
In my treatment of you, I shall not pretend any direct concern for your happiness. I am governed, whether erroneously or not, merely by views to the true interest of Mrs. Talbot, which, in my opinion, forbids her to unite herself to you. But if that union be calculated to bereave her of happiness, it cannot certainly be conducive to yours. If you consider the matter rightly, therefore, instead of accounting me an enemy, you will rank me among your benefactors.
You have shown yourself, in some instances, not destitute of generosity. It is but justice to acknowledge that your late letter to me avows sentiments such as I by no means expected, and makes me disposed to trust your candour to acquit my intention, at least, of some of the consequences of your father's resentment.
I was far from designing to subject you to violence or ignominy, and meant nothing by my application to him but your genuine and lasting happiness.
I dare not hope that it will ever be in my power to appease that resentment which you feel for me. I cannot expect that you are so far raised above the rest of men, that any action will be recommended to you by its tendency to oblige me; yet I cannot conceal from you that your reconcilement with your father will give me peculiar satisfaction.
I ventured on a former occasion to make you an offer, on condition of your going to Europe, which I now beg leave to repeat. By accepting the enclosed bill, and embarking for a foreign land without any further intercourse, personally or by letter, with my daughter, and after reconciliation with your father, you will confer a very great favour on one who, notwithstanding appearances, has acted in a manner that becomes
Your true friend,
To Mrs. Fielder
Baltimore, December 5.
I pretend not to be raised above any of the infirmities of human nature; but I am too sensible of the errors of my past conduct, and the defects which will ever cleave to my character, to be either surprised or indignant at the disapprobation of a virtuous mind. So far from harbouring resentment against you, it is with reluctance I decline the acceptance of your bill. I cannot consider it in any other light than as an alms which my situation is far from making necessary, and by receiving which I should defraud those whose poverty may plead a superior title.
I hasten to give you pleasure by informing you of my intention to leave America immediately. My destiny is far from being certain; but at present I both desire and expect never to revisit my native land.
I design not to solicit another interview with Mrs. Talbot. You dissuade me from making any reply to her letter, from the fear, no doubt, that my influence will be exerted to change her resolution. Dismiss, I entreat you, madam, every apprehension of that kind. Your daughter has deliberately made her election. If no advantage be taken of her tenderness and pity, she will be happy in her new scheme. Shall I, who pretend to love her, subject her to new trials and mortifications? Am I able to reward her, by my affection, for the loss of every other comfort? What can I say in favour of my own attachment to her, which may not be urged in favour of her attachment to her mother? The happiness of the one or the other must be sacrificed; and shall I not rather offer than demand the sacrifice? and how poor and selfish should I be if I did not strive to lessen the difficulties of her choice, and persuade her that in gratifying her mother she inflicts no lasting misery on me!
I regard in its true light what you can say with respect to a reconcilement with my father, and am always ready to comply with your wishes in the only way that a conviction of my own rectitude will permit. I have patiently endured revilings and blows, but I shall not needlessly expose myself to new insults. Though willing to accept apology and grant an oblivion of the past, I will never avow a penitence which I do not feel, or confess that I deserved the treatment I received.
Truly can I affirm that your daughter's happiness is of all earthly things most dear to me. I fervently thank Heaven that I leave her exempt from all the hardships of poverty, and in the bosom of one who will guard her safety with a zeal equal to my own. All that I fear is, that your efforts to console her will fail. I know the heart which, if you thought me worthy of the honour, I should account it my supreme felicity to call mine. Let it be a precious deposit in your hands.
And now, madam, permit me to conclude with a solemn blessing on your head and on hers, and with an eternal farewell to you both.
To James Montford
Philadelphia, December 7.
I hope you will approve of my design to accompany Stephen. The influence of variety and novelty will no doubt be useful. Why should I allow my present feelings, which assure me that I have lost what is indispensable not only to my peace but my life, to supplant the invariable lesson of experience, which teaches that time and absence will dull the edge of every calamity? And have I not found myself peculiarly susceptible of this healing influence?
Time and change of scene will, no doubt, relieve me; but, in the mean time, I have not a name for that wretchedness into which I am sunk. The light of day, the company of mankind, is at this moment insupportable. Of all places in the world, this is the most hateful to my soul. I should not have entered the city, I should not abide in it a moment, were it not for a thought that occurred just before I left Baltimore.
You know the mysterious and inexplicable calumny which has heightened Mrs. Fielder's antipathy against me.
Of late, I have been continually ruminating on it, and especially since Mrs. Talbot's last letter. Methinks it is impossible for me to leave the country till I have cleared her character of this horrid aspersion. Can there be any harmony between mother and child, must not suspicion and mistrust perpetually rankle in their bosoms, while this imposture is believed?
Yet how to detect the fraud—Some clue must be discernible; perseverance must light on it at last. The agent in this sordid iniquity must be human; must be influenced by the ordinary motives; must be capable of remorse or of error; must have moments of repentance or of negligence.
My mind was particularly full of this subject in a midnight ramble which I took just before I left Baltimore. Something—I know not what— recalled to my mind a conversation which I had with the poor washwoman at Wilmington. Miss Jessup, whom you well know by my report, passed through Wilmington just as I left the sick woman's house, and stopped a moment just to give me a "How d'ye" and to drop some railleries founded on my visits to Miss Secker, a single and solitary lady. On reaching Philadelphia, she amused herself with perplexing Jane by jesting exaggerations on the same subject, in a way that seemed to argue somewhat of malignity; yet I thought nothing of it at the time.
On my next visit to the sick woman, it occurred to me, for want of other topics of conversation, to introduce Miss Jessup. Did she know any thing, I asked, of that lady?
Oh, yes, was the answer. A great deal. She lived a long time in the family. She remembered her well, and was a sufferer by many of her freaks.
It was always disagreeable to me to listen to the slanderous prate of servants; I am careful, whenever it intrudes itself, to discourage and rebuke it; but just at this time I felt some resentment against this lady, and hardly supposed it possible for any slanderer to exaggerate her contemptible qualities. I suffered her therefore to run on in a tedious and minute detail of the capricious, peevish, and captious deportment of Miss Jessup.
After the rhetoric of half an hour, all was wound up, in a kind of satirical apology, with, "No wonder; for the girl was over head and ears in love, and her man would have nothing to say to her. A hundred times has she begged and prayed him to be kind, but he slighted all her advances; and always, after they had been shut up together, she wreaked her disappointment and ill-humour upon us."
"Pray," said I, "who was this ungrateful person?"
"His name was Talbot. Miss Jessup would not give him up, but teased him with letters and prayers till the man at last got married,—ten to one, for no other reason than to get rid of her."
This intelligence was new. Much as I had heard of Miss Jessup, a story like this had never reached my ears. I quickly ascertained that the Talbot spoken of was the late husband of my friend.
Some incident interrupted the conversation here. The image of Miss Jessup was displaced to give room to more important reveries, and I thought no more of her till this night's ramble. I now likewise recollected that the only person suspected of having entered the apartment where lay Mrs. Talbot's unfinished letter was no other than Miss Jessup herself, who was always gadding at unseasonable hours. How was this suspicion removed? By Miss Jessup herself, who, on being charged with the theft, asserted that she was elsewhere engaged at the time.
It was, indeed, exceedingly improbable that Miss Jessup had any agency in this affair,—a volatile, giddy, thoughtless character, who betrayed her purposes on all occasions, from a natural incapacity to keep a secret. And yet had not this person succeeded in keeping her attachment to Mr. Talbot from the knowledge, and even the suspicion, of his wife? Their intercourse had been very frequent since her marriage, and all her sentiments appeared to be expressed with a rash and fearless confidence. Yet, if Hannah Secker's story deserved credit, she had exerted a wonderful degree of circumspection, and had placed on her lips a guard that had never once slept.
I determined to stop at Wilmington next day, on my journey to you, and glean what further information Hannah could give. I ran to her lodgings as soon as I alighted at the inn.
I inquired how long and in what years she lived with Miss Jessup; what reason she had for suspecting her mistress of an attachment to Talbot; what proofs Talbot gave of aversion to her wishes.
On each of these heads her story was tediously minute and circumstantial. She lived with Miss Jessup and her mother before Talbot's marriage with my friend, after the marriage, and during his absence on the voyage which occasioned his death.
The proofs of Miss Jessup's passion were continually occurring in her own family, where she suffered the ill-humour occasioned by her disappointment to display itself without control. Hannah's curiosity was not chastened by much reflection, and some things were overheard which verified the old maxim that "walls have ears." In short, it appears that this poor lady doted on Talbot; that she reversed the usual methods of proceeding, and submitted to his mercy; that she met with nothing but scorn and neglect; that even after his marriage with Jane she sought his society, pestered him with invitations and letters, and directed her walks in such a way as to make their meeting in the street occur as if by accident.
While Talbot was absent, she visited his wife very frequently, but the subjects of their conversation and the degree of intimacy between the two ladies were better known to me than to Hannah.
You may think it strange that my friend never suspected or discovered the state of Miss Jessup's feelings. But, in truth, Jane is the least suspicious or inquisitive of mortals. Her neighbour was regarded with no particular affection; her conversation is usually a vein of impertinence or levity; her visits were always unsought, and eluded as often as decorum would permit; her talk was seldom listened to, and she and all belonging to her were dismissed from recollection as soon as politeness gave leave. Miss Jessup's deficiencies in personal and mental graces, and Talbot's undisguised contempt for her, precluded every sentiment like jealousy.
Jane's life since the commencement of her acquaintance with Miss Jessup was lonely and secluded. Her friends were not of her neighbour's cast, and those tattlers who knew any thing of Miss Jessup's follies were quite unknown to her. No wonder, then, that the troublesome impertinence of this poor woman had never betrayed her to so inattentive an observer as Jane.
After many vague and fruitless inquiries, I asked Hannah if Miss Jessup was much addicted to the pen.
Very much. Was always scribbling. Was never by herself three minutes but the pen was taken up; would write on any pieces of paper that offered; was frequently rebuked by her mother for wasting so much time in this way; the cause of a great many quarrels between them; the old lady spent the whole day knitting; supplied herself in this way with all the stockings she herself used; knit nothing but worsted, which she wore all the year round; all the surplus beyond what she needed for her own use she sold at a good price to a Market Street shopkeeper; Hannah used to be charged with the commission; always executed it grumblingly; the old lady had stipulated with a Mr. H—— to take, at a certain price, all she made; Hannah was despatched with the stockings, but was charged to go beforehand to twenty other dealers and try to get more; used to go directly to Mr. H——, and call on her friends by the way, persuading the old lady that her detention was occasioned by the number and perseverance of her applications to the dealers in hose, till at last she fell under suspicion, was once followed by the old lady, detected in her fraud, and dismissed from the house with ignominy. The quondam mistress endeavoured to injure Hannah's character by reporting that her agent had actually got a higher price for the stockings than she thought proper to account for to her employer; had gained, by this artifice, not less than three farthings a pair on twenty-three pairs; all a base lie as ever was told——
"You say that Miss Jessup was a great scribbler. Did she write well; fast; neatly?"
"They say she did,—very well." For her part, she could not write, and was therefore no judge; but Tom, the waiter and coachman, was very fond of reading and writing, and used to say that Miss Polly would make a good clerk. Tom used to carry all her messages and letters; was a cunning and insinuating fellow; cajoled his mistress by flatteries and assiduities; got many a smile, many a bounty and gratuity, for which the fellow only laughed at her behind her back.
"What has become of this Tom?"
He lived with her still, and was in as high favour as ever. Tom had paid her a visit the day before, being in attendance on his mistress on her late journey. From him she supposed that Miss Polly had gained intelligence of Hannah's situation, and of her being succoured, in her distress, by me.
"Tom, you say, was her letter-carrier. Did you ever hear from him with whom she corresponded? Did she eyer write to Talbot?"
"Oh, yes. Just before Talbot's marriage, she often wrote to him. Tom used to talk very freely in the kitchen about his mistress's attachment, and always told us what reception he met with. Mr. Talbot seldom condescended to write any answer."
"I suppose, Hannah, I need hardly ask whether you have any specimen of Miss Jessup's writing in your possession?"
This question considerably disconcerted the poor woman. She did not answer me till I had repeated the question.
Why—yes; she had—something—she believed.
"I presume it is nothing improper to be disclosed: if so, I should be glad to have a sight of it."
She hesitated; was very much perplexed; denied and confessed alternately that she possessed some of Miss Jessup's writing; at length began to weep very bitterly.
After some solicitation, on my part, to be explicit, she consented to disclose what she acknowledged to be a great fault. The substance of her story was this:—
Miss Jessup, on a certain occasion, locked herself up for several hours in her chamber. At length she came out, and went to the street-door, apparently with an intention of going abroad. Just then a heavy rain began to fall. This incident produced a great deal of impatience, and after waiting some time, in hopes of the shower's ceasing, and frequently looking at her watch, she called for an umbrella. Unhappily, as poor Hannah afterwards thought, no umbrella could be found. Her own had been lent to a friend the preceding evening, and the mother would have held herself most culpably extravagant to uncase hers without a most palpable necessity. Miss Polly was preparing to go out unsheltered, when the officious Tom interfered, and asked her if he could do what she wanted. At first she refused his offer, but, the mother's importunities to stay at home becoming more clamorous, she consented to commission Tom to drop a letter at the post-office. This he was to do with the utmost despatch, and promised that not a moment should be lost. He received the letter, but, instead of running off with it immediately, he slipped into the kitchen, just to arm himself against the storm by a hearty draught of strong beer.
While quaffing his nectar, and chattering with his usual gayety, Hannah, who had long owed a grudge both to mistress and man, was tempted to convey the letter from Tom's pocket, where it was but half deposited, into her own. Her only motive was to vex and disappoint those whose chief pleasure it had always been to vex and disappoint her. The tankard being hastily emptied, he hastened away to the post-office. When he arrived there, he felt for the letter. It was gone; dropped, as he supposed, in the street. In great confusion he returned, examining very carefully the gutters and porches by the way. He entered the kitchen in great perplexity, and inquired of Hannah if a letter had not fallen from his pocket before he went out.
Hannah, according to her own statements, was incapable of inveterate malice. She was preparing to rid Tom of his uneasiness, when he was summoned to the presence of his lady. He thought proper to extricate himself from all difficulties by boldly affirming that the letter had been left according to direction, and he afterwards endeavoured to persuade Hannah that it had been found in the bottom of his pocket.
Every day increased the difficulty of disclosing the truth. Tom and Miss Jessup talked no more on the subject, and time, and new provocations from her mistress, confirmed Hannah in her resolution of retaining the paper.
She could not read, and was afraid of trusting anybody else with the contents of this epistle. Several times she was about to burn it, but forbore from the persuasion that a day might arrive when the possession would be of some importance to her. It had lain, till almost forgotten, in the bottom of her crazy chest.
I rebuked her, with great severity, for her conduct, and insisted on her making all the atonement in her power, by delivering up the letter to the writer. I consented to take charge of it for that purpose.
You will judge my surprise, when I received a letter, with the seal unbroken, directed to Mrs. Fielder, of New York. Jane and I had often been astonished at the minute intelligence which her mother received of our proceedings; at the dexterity this secret informant had displayed in misrepresenting and falsely construing our actions. The informer was anonymous, and one of the letters had been extorted from her mother by Jane's urgent solicitations. This I had frequently perused, and the penmanship was still familiar to my recollection. It bore a striking resemblance to the superscription of this letter, and was equally remote from Miss Jessup's ordinary handwriting. Was it rash to infer from these circumstances that the secret enemy, whose malice had been so active and successful, was at length discovered?
What was I to do? Should I present myself before Miss Jessup with this letter in my hand, and lay before her my suspicions, or should I carry it to Mrs. Fielder, to whom it was directed? My curiosity was defeated by the careful manner in which it was folded; and this was not a case in which I deemed myself authorized to break a seal.
After much reflection, I determined to call upon Miss Jessup. I meant not to restore her the letter, unless the course our conversation should take made it proper. I have already been at her house. She was not at home. I am to call again at eight o'clock in the evening.
In my way thither I passed Mrs. Talbot's house. There were scarcely any tokens of its being inhabited. No doubt the mother and child have returned together to New York. On approaching the house, my heart, too heavy before, became a burden almost insupportable. I hastened my pace, and averted my eyes.
I am now shut up in my chamber at an inn. I feel as if in a wilderness of savages, where all my safety consisted in solitude. I was glad not to meet with a human being whom I knew.
What I shall say to Miss Jessup when I see her, I know not. I have reason to believe her the author of many slanders, but look for no relief from the mischiefs they have occasioned, in accusing or upbraiding the slanderer. She has likewise disclosed many instances of guilty conduct, which I supposed impossible to be discovered. I never concealed them from Mrs. Talbot, to whom a thorough knowledge of my character was indispensable; but I was unwilling to make any other my confessor. In this I cannot suppose her motives to have been very benevolent; but, since she adhered to the truth, it is not for me to arraign her motives.
May I not suspect that she had some hand in the forgery lately come to light? A mind like hers must hate a successful rival. To persuade Talbot of his wife's perfidy was at least to dissolve his alliance with another; and since she took so much pains to gain his favour, even after his marriage, is it not allowable to question the delicacy and punctiliousness, at least, of her virtue?
Mrs. Fielder's aversion to me is chiefly founded on a knowledge of my past errors. She thinks them too flagrant to be atoned for, and too inveterate to be cured. I can never hope to subdue perfectly that aversion, and, though Jane can never be happy without me, I alone cannot make her happy. On my own account, therefore, it is of little moment what she believes. But her own happiness is deeply concerned in clearing her daughter's character of this blackest of all stains.
Here is some one coming up the stairs towards my apartment. Surely it cannot be to me that this visit is intended.
* * * * *
Good Heaven! What shall I do?
It was Molly that has just left me.
My heart sunk at her appearance. I had made up my mind to separate my evil destiny from that of Jane, and could only portend new trials and difficulties from the appearance of one whom I supposed her messenger.
The poor girl, as soon as she saw me, began to sob bitterly, and could only exclaim, "Oh, sir! Oh, Mr. Colden!"
This behaviour was enough to terrify me. I trembled in every joint while I faltered out, "I hope your mistress is well?"
After many efforts, I prevailed in gaining a distinct account of my friend's situation. This good girl, by the sympathy she always expressed in her mistress's fortunes, by her silent assiduities and constant proofs of discretion and affection, had gained Mrs. Talbot's confidence; yet no further than to indulge her feelings with less restraint in Molly's presence than in that of any other person.
I learned that the night after Mrs. Fielder's arrival was spent by my friend in sighs and restlessness. Molly lay in the same chamber, and her affectionate heart was as much a stranger to repose as that of her mistress. She frequently endeavoured to comfort Mrs. Talbot, but in vain.
Next day she did not rise as early as usual. Her mother came to her bedside, and inquired affectionately after her health. The visit was received with smiling and affectionate complacency. Her indisposition was disguised, and she studied to persuade Mrs. Fielder that she enjoyed her usual tranquillity. She rose, and attempted to eat, but quickly desisted, and after a little while retired and locked herself up in her chamber. Even Molly was not allowed to follow her.
In this way that and the ensuing day passed. She wore an air of constrained cheerfulness in her mother's presence; affected interest in common topics; and retired at every convenient interval to her chamber, where she wept incessantly.
Mrs. Fielder's eye was watchful and anxious. She addressed Mrs. Talbot in a tender and maternal accent; seemed solicitous to divert her attention by anecdotes of New York friends; and carefully eluded every subject likely to recall images which were already too intimately present. The daughter seemed grateful for these solicitudes, and appeared to fight with her feelings the more resolutely because they gave pain to her mother.
All this was I compelled to hear from the communicative Molly.
My heart bled at this recital. Too well did I predict what effect her compliance would have on her peace.
I asked if Jane had not received a letter from me.
Yes; two letters had come to the door at once, this morning,—one for Mrs. Fielder and the other for her daughter. Jane expected its arrival, and showed the utmost impatience when the hour approached. She walked about her chamber, listened, with a start, to every sound, continually glanced from her window at the passengers.
She did not conceal from Molly the object of her solicitude. The good girl endeavoured to soothe her, but she checked her with vehemence:—"Talk not to me, Molly. On this hour depends my happiness,—my life. The sacrifice my mother asks is too much or too little. In bereaving me of my love, she must be content to take my existence also. They never shall be separated."
The weeping girl timorously suggested that she had already given me up.
"True, Molly, in a rash moment I told him that we meet no more; but two days of misery have convinced me that it cannot be. His answer will decide my fate as to this world. If he accept my dismissal, I am thenceforth undone. I will die. Blessing my mother, and wishing her a less stubborn child, I will die."
These last words were uttered with an air the most desperate, and an emphasis the most solemn. They chilled me to the heart, and I was unable longer to keep my seat. Molly, unbidden, went on.
"Your letter at last came. I ran down to receive it. Mrs. Fielder was at the street-door before me, but she suffered me to carry my mistress's letter to her. Poor lady! She met me at the stair-head, snatched the paper eagerly, but trembled so she could not open it. At last she threw herself on the bed, and ordered me to read it to her. I did so. At every sentence she poured forth fresh tears, and exclaimed, wringing her hands, 'Oh, what—what a heart have I madly cast away!'"
The girl told me much more, which I am unable to repeat. Her visit was self-prompted. She had caught a glimpse of me as I passed the door, and, without mentioning her purpose to her mistress, set out as soon as it was dusk.
"Cannot you do something, Mr. Colden, for my mistress?" continued the girl. "She will surely die if she has not her own way; and, to judge from your appearance, it is as great a cross to you as to her."
Heaven knows, that, with me, it is nothing but the choice of dreadful evils. Jane is the mistress of her own destiny. It is not I that have renounced her, but she that has banished me. She has only to recall the sentence, which she confesses to have been hastily and thoughtlessly pronounced, and no power on earth shall sever me from her side.
Molly asked my permission to inform her mistress of my being in the city, and conjured me not to leave it, during the next day at least. I readily consented, and requested her to bring me word in the morning in what state things were.
She offered to conduct me to her then. It was easy to effect an interview without Mrs. Fielder's knowledge; but I was sick of all clandestine proceedings, and had promised Mrs. Fielder not to seek another meeting with her daughter. I was likewise anxious to visit Miss Jessup, and ascertain what was to be done by means of the letter in my pocket.
Can I, my friend,—can I, without unappeasable remorse, pursue this scheme of a distant voyage? Suppose some fatal despair should seize my friend. Suppose—it is impossible. I will not stir till she has had time to deliberate; till resignation to her mother's will shall prove a task that is practicable.
Should I not be the most fragrant of villains if I deserted one that loved me? My own happiness is not a question. I cannot be a selfish being and a true lover. Happiness, without her, is indeed a chimerical thought; but my exile would be far from miserable, while assured of her tranquillity, and possession would confer no peace, if she whom I possessed were not happier than a different destiny would make her.
Why have all these thoughts been suspended for the last two days? I had wrought myself up to a firm persuasion that marriage was the only remedy for all evils; that our efforts to regain the favour of her mother would be most likely to succeed when that which she endeavoured to prevent was irretrievable. Yet that persuasion was dissipated by her last letter. That convinced me that her lot would only be made miserable by being united to mine. Yet now, is it not evident that our fates must be inseparable?
What a fantastic impediment is this aversion of her mother! And yet, can I safely and deliberately call it fantastic? Let me sever myself from myself, and judge impartially. Be my heart called upon to urge its claims to such affluence, such love, such treasures of personal and mental excellence, as Jane has to bestow. Would it not be dumb? It is not so absurd as to plead its devotion to her as an atonement for every past guilt, and as affording security for future uprightness.
On my own merit I am, and ever have been, mute. I have plead with Mrs. Fielder, not for myself, but for Jane. It is her happiness that forms the object of my supreme regard. I am eager to become hers, because her, not because my happiness, though my happiness certainly does, demand it.
I am then resolved. Jane's decision shall be deliberate. I will not bias her by prayers or blandishments. Her resolution shall spring from her own judgment, and shall absolutely govern me. I will rivet myself to her side, or vanish forever, according to her pleasure.
I wish I had written a few words to her by Molly, assuring her of my devotion to her will. And yet, stands she in need of any new assurances? She has banished me. I am preparing to fly. She recalls me, and it is impossible to depart.
I must go to Miss Jessup's. I will take up the pen ('tis my sole amusement) when I return.
* * * * *
I went to Miss Jessup's; her still sealed letter in my pocket; my mind confused, perplexed, sorrowful; wholly undetermined as to the manner of addressing her, or the use to be made of this important paper. I designedly prolonged my walk, in hopes of forming some distinct conception of the purpose for which I was going, but only found myself each moment sinking into new perplexities. Once I had taken the resolution of opening her letter, and turned my steps towards the fields, that I might examine it at leisure; but there was something disgraceful in the violation of a seal, which scared me away from this scheme.
At length, reproaching myself for this indecision, and leaving my conduct to be determined by circumstances, I went directly to her house.
Miss Jessup was unwell; was unfit to see company; desired me to send up my name. I did not mention my name to the servant, but replied I had urgent business, which a few minutes' conversation would despatch. I was admitted.
I found the lady in a careless garb, reclining on a sofa, wan, pale, and of a sickly aspect On recognising me, she assumed a languidly-smiling air, and received me with much civility. I took my seat near her. She began to talk:—
"I am very unwell; got a terrible cold, coming from Dover; been laid up ever since; a teasing cough, no appetite, and worse spirits than I ever suffered. Glad you've come to relieve my solitude; not a single soul to see me; Mrs. Talbot never favours a body with a visit. Pray, how's the dear girl? Hear her mother's come; heard, it seems, of your intimacy with Miss Secker; determined to revenge your treason to her goddess; vows she shall henceforth have no more to say to you."
While waiting for admission, I formed hastily the resolution in what manner to conduct this interview. My deportment was so solemn, that the chatterer, glancing at my face in the course of her introductory harangue, felt herself suddenly chilled and restrained:—
"Why, what now, Colden? You are mighty grave, methinks. Do you repent already of your new attachment? Has the atmosphere of Philadelphia reinstated Jane in all her original rights?"
"Proceed, madam. When you are tired of raillery, I shall beg your attention to a subject in which your honour is deeply concerned; to a subject which allows not of a jest."
"Nay," said she, in some little trepidation, "if you have any thing to communicate, I am already prepared to receive it."
"Indeed, Miss Jessup, I have something to communicate. A man of more refinement and address than I can pretend to would make this communication in a more circuitous and artful manner; and a man less deeply interested in the establishment of truth would act with more caution and forbearance. I have no excuse to plead, no forgiveness to ask, for what I am now going to disclose. I demand nothing from you but your patient attention while I lay before you the motives of my present visit.
"You are no stranger to my attachment to Mrs. Talbot. That my passion is requited is likewise known to you. That her mother objects to her union with me, and raises her objections on certain improprieties in my character and conduct, I suppose, has already come to your knowledge.
"You may naturally suppose that I am desirous of gaming her favour; but it is not by the practice of fraud and iniquity, and therefore I have not begun with denying or concealing my faults. Very faulty, very criminal, have I been; to deny that would be adding to the number of my transgressions: but I assure you, Miss Jessup, there have been limits to my follies; there is a boundary beyond which I have never gone. Mrs. Fielder imagines me much more criminal than I really am, and her opinion of me—which, if limited in the strictest manner by my merits, would amply justify her aversion to my marriage with her daughter—is, however, carried further than justice allows.
"Mrs. Fielder has been somewhat deceived with regard to me. She thinks me capable of a guilt of which, vicious as I am, I am yet incapable. Nay, she imagines I have actually committed a crime of which I am wholly innocent.
"What think you, madam," (taking her hand, and eyeing her with steadfastness;) "she thinks me at once so artful and so wicked that I have made the wife unfaithful to the husband; that I have persuaded Mrs. Talbot to forget what was due to herself, her fame, and to trample on her marriage-vow.
"This opinion is not a vague conjecture on suspicion. It is founded in what seems to be the most infallible of all evidence; the written confession of her daughter. The paper appears to be a letter which was addressed to the seducer soon after the guilty interview. This paper came indirectly into Mrs. Fielder's hands. To justify her charge against us, she has shown it to, us. Now, madam, the guilt imputed to us is a stranger to our hearts. The crime which this letter confesses never was committed, and the letter which contains the confession never was written by Jane. It is a forgery.
"Mrs. Fielder's misapprehension, so far as it relates to me, is of very little moment. I can hope for nothing from the removal of this error while so many instances of real misconduct continue to plead against me, but her daughter's happiness is materially affected by it, and for her sake I am anxious to vindicate her fame from this reproach.
"No doubt, Miss Jessup, you have often asked me in your heart, since I began to speak, why I have stated this transaction to you. What interest have you in our concerns? What proofs of affection or esteem have you received from us, that should make you zealous in our behalf? Or what relation has your interest in any respect to our weal or woe? Why should you be called upon as a counsellor or umpire in the little family dissensions of Mrs. Talbot and her mother?
"And do indeed these questions rise in your heart, Miss Jessup? Does not memory enable you to account for conduct which, to the distant and casual observer, to those who know not what you know, would appear strange and absurd?
"Recollect yourself. I will give you a moment to recall the past. Think over all that has occurred since your original acquaintance with Mrs. Talbot or her husband, and tell me, solemnly and truly, whether you discern not the cause of his mistake. Tell me whether you know not the unhappy person whom some delusive prospect of advantage, some fatal passion, has tempted to belie the innocent."
I am no reader of faces, my friend. I drew no inferences from the confusion sufficiently visible in Miss Jessup. She made no attempt to interrupt me, but quickly withdrew her eye from my gaze; hung her head upon her bosom; a hectic flush now and then shot across her check. But these would have been produced by a similar address, delivered with much solemnity and emphasis, in any one, however innocent.
I believe there was no anger in my looks. Supposing her to have been the author of this stratagem, it awakened in me not resentment, but pity. I paused; but she made no answer to my expostulation. At length I resumed, with augmented earnestness, grasping her hand:—
"Tell me, I conjure you, what you know. Be not deterred by any self- regard; but, indeed, how can your interest be affected by clearing up a mistake so fatal to the happiness of one for whom you have always professed a friendly regard?
"Will your own integrity or reputation be brought into question? In order to exculpate your friend, will it be necessary to accuse yourself? Have you been guilty in withholding the discovery? Have you been guilty in contriving the fraud? Did your own hand pen the fatal letter which is now brought in evidence against my friend? Were you yourself guilty of counterfeiting hands, in order to drive the husband into a belief of his wife's perfidy?"
A deadly paleness overspread her countenance at these words. I pitied her distress and confusion, and waited not for an answer which she was unable to give.
"Yes, Miss Jessup, I well know your concern in this transaction. I mean not to distress you; I mean not to put you to unnecessary shame; I have no indignation or enmity against you. I came hither not to injure or disgrace you, but to confer on you a great and real benefit; to enable you to repair the evil which your infatuation has occasioned. I want to relieve your conscience from the sense of having wronged one that never wronged you.
"Do not imagine that in all this I am aiming at my own selfish advantage. This is not the mother's only objection to me, or only proof of that frailty she justly ascribes to me. To prove me innocent of this charge will not reconcile her to her daughter's marriage. It will only remove one insuperable impediment to her reconciliation with her daughter.
"Mrs. Fielder is, at this moment, not many steps from this spot. Permit me to attend you to her. I will introduce the subject. I will tell her that you come to clear her daughter from an unmerited charge, to confess that the unfinished letter was taken by you, and that, by additions in a feigned hand, you succeeded in making that an avowal of abandoned wickedness, which was originally innocent, at least, though perhaps indiscreet."
All this was uttered in a very rapid but solemn accent. I gave her no time to recollect herself; no leisure for denial or evasion. I talked as if her agency was already ascertained; and the feelings she betrayed at this abrupt and unaware attack confirmed my suspicions.
After a long pause, and a struggle, as it were, for utterance, she faltered out, "Mr. Colden, you see I am very sick: this conduct has been very strange. Nothing,—I know nothing of what you have been saying. I wonder at your talking to me in this manner: you might as well address yourself in this style to one you never saw. What grounds can you have for suspecting me of any concern in this transaction?"
"Ah, madam," replied I, "I see you have not strength of mind to confess a fault. Why will you compel me to produce the proof that you have taken an unauthorized part in Mrs. Talbot's concerns? Do you imagine that the love you bore her husband, even after his marriage, the efforts you used to gain his favour, his contemptuous rejection of your advances,—can you imagine that these things are not known?
"Why you should endeavour to defraud the wife of her husband's esteem, is a question which your own heart only can answer. Why you should watch Mrs. Talbot's conduct, and communicate your discoveries, in anonymous letters and a hand disguised, to her mother, I pretend not to say. I came not to inveigh against the folly or malignity of such conduct. I came not even to censure it. I am not entitled to sit in judgment over you. My regard for mother and daughter makes me anxious to rectify an error fatal to their peace. There is but one way of doing this effectually, with the least injury to your character. I would not be driven to the necessity of employing public means to convince the mother that the charge is false, and that you were the calumniator; means that will humble and disgrace you infinitely more than a secret interview and frank confession from your own lips.
"To deny and to prevaricate in a case like this is to be expected from one capable of acting as you have acted; but it will avail you nothing. It will merely compel me to have recourse to means less favourable to you. My reluctance to employ them arises from regard to you, for I repeat that I have no enmity for you, and propose, in reality, not only Mrs. Talbot's advantage, but your own."
I cannot paint the alarm and embarrassment which these words occasioned. Tears afforded her some relief, but shame had deprived her of all utterance.
"Let me conjure you," resumed I, "to go with me this moment to Mrs. Fielder. In ten minutes all may be over. I will save you the pain of speaking. Only be present while I explain the matter. Your silent acquiescence will be all that I shall demand."
"Impossible!" she exclaimed, in a kind of agony; "I am already sick to death! I cannot move a step on such a purpose. I don't know Mrs. Fielder, and can never look her in the face."
"A letter, then," replied I, "will do, perhaps, as well. Here are pen and paper. Send to her, by me, a few lines. Defer all circumstance and comment, and merely inform her who the author of this forgery was. Here," continued I, producing the letter which Talbot had shown to Mrs. Fielder,—"here is the letter in which my friend's hand is counterfeited, and she is made to confess a guilt to the very thought of which she has ever been a stranger. Enclose it in a paper, acknowledging the stratagem to be yours. It is done in a few words, and in half a minute."
My impetuosity overpowered all opposition and remonstrance. The paper was before her, the pen in her reluctant fingers; but that was all.
"There may never be a future opportunity of repairing your misconduct. You are sick, you say; and, indeed, your countenance bespeaks some deeply- rooted malady. You cannot be certain but that this is the last opportunity you may ever enjoy. When sunk upon the bed of death, and unable to articulate your sentiments, you may unavailingly regret the delay of this confession. You may die with the excruciating thought of having blasted the fame of an innocent woman, and of having sown eternal discord between mother and child."
I said a good deal more in this strain, by which she was deeply affected; but she demanded time to reflect. She would do nothing then; she would do all I wished to-morrow. She was too unwell to see anybody, to hold a pen, at present.
"All I want," said I, "are but few words. You cannot be at a loss for these. I will hold, I will guide your hand; I will write what you dictate. Will you put your hand to something which I will write this moment in your presence and subject to your revision?"
I did not stay for her consent, but, seizing the pen, put down hastily these words:—
"Madam: the enclosed letter has led you into mistake. It has persuaded you that your daughter was unfaithful to her vows; but know, madam, that the concluding paragraph was written by me. I found the letter unfinished on Mrs. Talbot's desk. I took it thence without her knowledge, and added the concluding paragraph, in a hand as much resembling hers as possible, and conveyed it to the hands of her husband."
This hasty scribble I read to her, and urged her, by every consideration my invention could suggest, to sign it. But no; she did not deny the truth of the statement it contained, but she must have time to recollect herself. Her head was rent to pieces by pain. She was in too much confusion to allow her to do any thing just now deliberately.
I now produced the letter I received from Hannah Seeker, and said, "I see, madam, you will compel me to preserve no measures with you. There is a letter which you wrote to Mrs. Fielder. Its contents were so important that you would not at first trust a servant with the delivery of it at the office. This, however, you were finally compelled to do. A fellow-servant, however, stole it from your messenger, and, instead of being delivered according to its address, it has lately come into my hands.
"No doubt," (showing the superscription, but not permitting her to see that the seal was unbroken,) "no doubt you recognise the hand; the hand of that anonymous detractor who had previously taken so much pains to convince the husband that his wife was an adulteress and a prostitute."
Had I foreseen the effect which this disclosure would have had, I should have hesitated. After a few convulsive breathings, she fainted. I was greatly alarmed, and, calling in a female servant, I stayed till she revived. I thought it but mercy to leave her alone, and, giving directions to the servant where I might be found, and requesting her to tell her mistress that I would call again early in the morning, I left the house.
I returned hither, and am once more shut up in my solitary chamber. I am in want of sleep, but my thoughts must be less tumultuous before that blessing can be hoped for. All is still in the house and in the city, and the "cloudy morning" of the watchman tells me that midnight is past. I have already written much, but must write on.
What, my friend, can this letter contain? The belief that the contents are known and the true writer discovered produced strange effects. I am afraid there was some duplicity in my conduct. But the concealment of the unbroken seal was little more than chance. Had she inquired whether the letter was opened, I should not have deceived her.
Perhaps, however, I ascribe too much to this discovery. Miss Jessup was evidently very ill. The previous conversation had put her fortitude to a severe test. The tide was already so high, that the smallest increase sufficed to overwhelm her. Methinks I might have gained my purpose with less injury to her.
But what purpose have I gained? I have effected nothing; I am as far, perhaps further than ever from vanquishing her reluctance. A night's reflection may fortify her pride, may furnish some expedient for eluding my request. Nay, she may refuse to see me when I call on the morrow, arid I cannot force myself into her presence.
If all this should happen, what will be left for me to do? That deserves some consideration. This letter of Miss Jessup's may possibly contain the remedy for many evils. What use shall I make of it? How shall I get at its contents?
There is but one way. I must carry it to Mrs. Fielder, and deliver it to her, to whom it is addressed. Carry it myself? Venture into her presence by whom I am so much detested? She will tremble with mingled indignation and terror at the sight of me. I cannot hope a patient audience. And can I, in such circumstances, rely on my own equanimity? How can I endure the looks of one to whom I am a viper, a demon; who, not content with hating me for that which really merits hatred, imputes to me a thousand imaginary crimes?
Such is the lot of one that has forfeited his reputation. Having once been guilty, the returning path to rectitude is forever barred against him. His conduct will almost always be liable to a double construction; and who will suppose the influence of good motives, when experience has proved the influence, in former cases, of evil ones?
Jane Talbot is young, lovely, and the heiress, provided she retain the favour of her adopted mother, of a splendid fortune. I am poor, indolent, devoted, not to sensual, but to visionary and to costly, luxuries. How shall such a man escape the imputation of sordid and selfish motives?
How shall he prove that he counterfeits no passion, employs no clandestine or illicit means, to retain the affections of such a woman. Will his averments of disinterested motives be believed? Why should they be believed? How easily are assertions made, and how silly to credit declarations contradicted by the tenor of a man's whole conduct!
But I can truly aver that my motives are disinterested. Does not my character make a plentiful and independent provision, of more value to me, more necessary to my happiness than to that of most other men? Can I place my hand upon my heart, and affirm that her fortune has no part in the zeal with which I have cultivated Jane's affections? There are few tenants of this globe to whom wealth is wholly undesirable, and very few whose actual poverty, whose indolent habits, and whose relish for expensive pleasure, make it more desirable than to me.
Mrs. Fielder is averse to her daughter's wishes. While this aversion endures, marriage, instead of enriching me, will merely reduce my wife to my own destitute condition. How are impartial observers, how is Mrs. Fielder, to construe my endeavours to subdue this aversion, and my declining marriage till this obstacle is overcome? Will they ascribe it merely to reluctance to bereave the object of my love of that affluence and those comforts without which, in my opinion, she would not be happy? Yet this is true. My own experience has taught me in what degree a luxurious education endears to us the means of an easy and elegant subsistence. Shall I be deaf to this lesson? Shall I rather listen to the splendid visions of my friend, who thinks my love will sufficiently compensate her for every suffering,—who seems to hold these enjoyments in contempt, and describes an humble and industrious life as teeming with happiness and dignity?
These are charming visions. My heart is frequently credulous, and is almost raised, by her bewitching eloquence, to the belief that, by bereaving her of friends and property, I confer on her a benefit. I place her in a sphere where all the resources of her fortitude and ingenuity will be brought into use.
But this, with me, is only a momentary elevation. More sober views are sure to succeed. Yet why have I deliberately exhorted Jane to become mine? Because I trust to the tenderness of her mother. That tenderness will not allow her wholly to abandon her beloved child, who has hitherto had no rival, and is likely to have no successor in her love. The evil, she will think, cannot be repaired; but some of its consequences may be obviated or lightened. Intercession and submission shall not be wanting. Jane will never suffer her heart to be estranged from her mother. Reverence and gratitude will always maintain their place. And yet, confidence is sometimes shaken; doubts insinuate themselves. Is not Mrs. Fielder's temper ardent and inflexible? Will her anger be so easily appeased? In a contest like this, will she allow herself to be vanquished? And shall I, indeed, sever hearts so excellent? Shall I be the author of such exquisite and lasting misery to a woman like Mrs. Fielder? and shall I find that misery compensated by the happiness of her daughter? What pure and unmingled joy will the daughter taste, while conscious of having destroyed the peace, and perhaps hastened the end, of one who, with regard to her, has always deserved and always possessed a gratitude and veneration without bounds? And for whom is the tranquillity and affection of the mother to be sacrificed? For me,—a poor, unworthy wretch; deservedly despised by every strenuous and upright mind; a fickle, inconsiderate, frail mortal, whose perverse habits no magic can dissolve.
No. My whole heart implores Jane to forget and abandon me; to adhere to her mother; since no earthly power and no length of time will change Mrs. Fielder's feelings with regard to me; since I shall never obtain, as I shall never deserve, her regard, and since her mother's happiness is, and ought to be, dearer to Jane than her own personal and exclusive gratification. God grant that she may be able to perform, and cheerfully perform, her duty!
But how often, my friend, have I harped on this string! Yet I must write, and I must put down my present thoughts, and these are the sentiments eternally present.
To Henry Colden
Philadelphia, December 1.
I said I would not write to you again; I would encourage, I would allow of, no intercourse between us. This was my solemn resolution and my voluntary and no less solemn promise; yet I sit down to abjure this vow, to break this promise.
What a wretch am I! Feeble and selfish beyond all example among women! Why, why was I born, or why received I breath in a world and at a period, with whose inhabitants I can have no sympathy, whose notions of rectitude and decency find no answering chord in my heart?
Never was a creature so bereft of all dignity, all steadfastness. The slave of every impulse; blown about by the predominant gale; a scene of eternal fluctuation.
Yesterday my mother pleaded. Her tears dropped fast into my bosom, and I vowed to be all she wished; not merely to discard you from my presence, but to banish even your image from my thoughts. To act agreeably to her wishes was not sufficient. I must feel as she would have me feel. My actions must flow, not merely from a sense of duty, but from fervent inclination.
I promised every thing. My whole soul was in the promise. I retired to pen a last letter to you, and to say something to your father. My heart was firm; my hand steady. My mother read and approved:—"Dearest Jane! Now, indeed, are you my child. After this I will not doubt your constancy. Make me happy, by finding happiness in this resolution."
"Oh," thought I, as I paced my chamber alone, "what an ample recompense for every self-denial, for every sacrifice, are thy smiles, my maternal friend! I will live smilingly for thy sake, while thou livest. I will live only to close thy eyes, and then, as every earthly good has been sacrificed at thy bidding, will I take the pillow that sustained thee when dead, and quickly breathe out upon it my last sigh."
My thoughts were all lightsome and serene. I had laid down, methought, no life, no joy, but my own. My mother's peace, and your peace, for the safety of either of whom I would cheerfully die, had been purchased by the same act.
How did I delight to view you restored to your father's house! I was still your friend, though invisible. I watched over you, in quality of guardian angel. I etherealized myself from all corporeal passions. I even set spiritual ministers to work to find one worthy of succeeding me in the sacred task of making you happy. I was determined to raise you to affluence, by employing, in a way unseen and unsuspected by you, those superfluities which a blind and erring destiny had heaped upon me.
And whither have these visions flown? Am I once more sunk to a level with my former self? Once I thought that religion was a substance with me,—not a shadow, to flit, to mock, and to vanish when its succour was most needed; yet now does my heart sink.
Oh, comfort me, my friend! plead against yourself; against me. Be my mother's advocate. Fly away from these arms that clasp you, and escape from me, even if your flight be my death. Think not of me, but of my mother, and secure to her the consolation of following my unwedded corpse to the grave, by disclaiming, by hating, by forgetting, the unfortunate
To Henry Colden
Ah, my friend! in what school have you acquired such fatal skill in tearing the heart of an offender? Why, under an appearance of self- reproach, do you convey the bitterest maledictions? Why, with looks of idolatry and accents of compassion, do you aim the deadliest contempts and hurl the keenest censures against me?
"You acquit me of all shadow of blame." What! in proving me fickle, inconsistent, insensible to all your merit, ungrateful for your generosity, your love? How have I rewarded your reluctance to give me pain, your readiness to sacrifice every personal good for my sake? By reproaching you with dissimulation. By violating all those vows, which no legal ceremony could make more solemn or binding, and which the highest, earliest, and most sacred voice of Heaven has ordained shall supersede all other bonds. By dooming you to feel "an anguish next to despair." Thus have I requited your unsullied truth, your unlimited devotion to me!
By what degrading standard do you measure my enjoyments! "In my mother's tenderness and gratitude; in the affluence and honour which her regard will secure to me," am I to find consolation for unfaithfulness to my engagements; for every evil that may befall you. You, whom every hallowed obligation, every principle of human nature, has placed next to myself; whom it has become not a fickle inclination, but a sacred duty, to prefer to all others; whose happiness ought to be my first and chief care, and from whose side I cannot sever myself without a guilt inexpiable!
Ah, cruel friend! You ascribe my resolution to a disinterested regard to your good. You wish me to find happiness in that persuasion. Yet you leave me not that phantom for a comforter. You convict me, in every line of your letter, of selfishness and folly. The only consideration that has irresistible weight with me—the restoration of your father's kindness— you prove to be a mere delusion, and destroy it without mercy!
Can you forgive me, Henry? Best of men! Will you be soothed by my penitence for one more rash and inconsiderate act? But, alas! my penitence is rapid and sincere; but where is the merit of compunction that affords no security against the repetition of the fault? And where is my safety?
Fly to me. Save me from my mother's irresistible expostulations. I cannot—cannot withstand her tears. Let me find in your arms a refuge from them. Let me no more trust a resolution which is sure to fail. By making the tie between us such as even she will allow to be irrevocable, by depriving me of the power of compliance, only can I be safe.
Fly to me, therefore. Be at the front-door at ten this night. My Molly will be my only companion. Be the necessary measures previously taken, that no delay or disappointment may occur. One half-hour and the solemn rite may be performed. My absence will not be missed, as I return immediately. Then will there be an end to, fluctuation, for repentance cannot undo. Already in the sight of Heaven, at the tribunal of my own conscience, am I thy wife; but somewhat more is requisite to make the compact universally acknowledged. This is now my resolve. I shall keep it secret from the rest of the world. Nothing but the compulsion of persuasion can make me waver, and concealment will save me from that, and to-morrow remonstrance and entreaty will avail nothing.
My girl has told me of her interview with you, and where you are to be found. The dawn is not far distant, and at sunrise she carries you this. I shall expect an immediate and (need I add, when I recollect the invariable counsel you have given me?) a compliant answer.
And shall I—Let me, while the sun lingers, still pour out my soul on this paper; let me indulge a pleasing, dreadful thought—Shall I, ere circling time bring back this hour, become thy——
And shall my heart, after its dreadful languors, its excruciating agonies, know once more a rapturous emotion? So lately sunk into despondency; so lately pondering on obstacles that rose before me like Alps and menaced eternal opposition to my darling projects; so lately the prey of the deepest anguish: what spell diffuses through my frame this ravishing tranquillity?
Tranquillity, said I? That my throbbing heart gainsays. You cannot see me just now, but the palpitating heart infects my fingers, and the unsteady pen will speak to you eloquently.
I wonder how far sympathy possesses you. No doubt—let me see: ten minutes after four,—no doubt you are sound asleep. Care has fled away to some other head. Those invisible communicants, those aerial heralds whose existence, benignity, and seasonable succour are parts, thou knowest, of my creed, are busy in the weaving of some beatific dream. At their bidding the world of thy fancy is circumscribed by four white walls, a Turkey-carpeted floor, and a stuccoed ceiling. Didst ever see such before? Was't ever, in thy wakeful season, in the same apartment? Never! And, what is more, and which I desire thee to note well, thou art not hereafter to enter it except in dreams.
A poor taper burns upon the toilet,—just bright enough to give the cognizance of something in woman's shape and in negligent attire scribbling near it. Thou needst not tap her on the shoulder; she need not look up and smile a welcome to the friendly vision. She knows that thou art here; for is not thy hand already in hers, and is not thy cheek already wet with her tears? for thy poor girl's eyes are as sure to overflow with joy as with sorrow.
And will it be always thus, my dear friend? Will thy love screen me forever from remorse? will my mother's reproaches never intrude amidst the raptures of fondness and poison my tranquillity?
What will she say when she discovers the truth? My conscience will not allow me to dissemble. It will not disavow the name or withhold the duties of a wife. Too well do I conceive what she will say,—how she will act.
I need not apprehend expulsion from her house. Exile will be a voluntary act:—"You shall eat, drink, lodge, and dress as well as ever. I will not sever husband from wife, and I find no pleasure in seeing those whom I most hate perishing with want. I threatened to abandon you, merely because I would employ every means of preventing your destruction; but my revenge is not so sordid as to multiply unnecessary evils on your head. I shall take from you nothing but my esteem,—my affection,—my society. I shall never see you but with agony; I shall never think of you without pain. I part with you forever, and prepare myself for that grave which your folly and ingratitude have dug for me.
"You have said, Jane, that, having lost my favour, you will never live upon my bounty. That will be an act of needless and perverse cruelty in you. It will be wantonly adding to that weight with which you have already sunk me to the grave. Besides, I will not leave you an option. While I live, my watchful care shall screen you from penury in spite of yourself. When I die, my testament shall make you my sole successor. What I have shall be yours,—at least, while you live.
"I have deeply regretted the folly of threatening you with loss of property. I should have known you better than to think that a romantic head like yours would find any thing formidable in such deprivations. If other considerations were feeble, this would be chimerical.
"Fare you well, Jane, and, when you become a mother, may your tenderness never be requited by the folly and ingratitude which it has been my lot to meet with in the child of my affections!"
Something like this has my mother already said to me, in the course of an affecting conversation, in which I ventured to plead for you. And have I, then, resolved to trample on such goodness?
Whither, my friend, shall I fly from a scene like this? Into thy arms? And shall I find comfort there? can I endure life, with the burden of remorse which generosity like this will lay upon me?
But I tell you, Henry, I am resolved. I have nothing but evil to choose. There is but one calamity greater than my mother's anger. I cannot mangle my own vitals. I cannot put an impious and violent end to my own life. Will it be mercy to make her witness my death? and can I live without you? If I must be an ingrate, be her and not you the victim. If I must requite benevolence with malice and tenderness with hatred, be it her benevolence and tenderness, and not yours, that are thus requited.
Once more, then, note well. The hour of ten; the station near the door; a duly-qualified officiator previously engaged; and my destiny in this life fixed beyond the power of recall. The bearer of this will bring back your answer. Farewell. Remember.
To James Montford
Once more, after a night of painful musing or troubled repose, I am at the pen. I am plunged into greater difficulties and embarrassments than ever.
It was scarcely daylight, when a slumber into which I had just fallen was interrupted by a servant of the inn. A girl was below, who wanted to see me. The description quickly proved it to be Molly. I rose and directed her to be admitted.
She brought two letters from her mistress, and was told to wait for an answer. Jane traversed her room, half distracted and sleepless during most of the night. Towards morning she sat down to her desk, and finished a letter, which, together with one written a couple of days before, was despatched to me.
My heart throbbed—I was going to say with transport; but I am at a loss to say whether anguish or delight was uppermost on reading these letters. She recalls every promise of eternal separation; she consents to immediate marriage as the only wise expedient; proposes ten o'clock this night to join our hands; will conceal her purpose from her mother, and resigns to me the providing of suitable means.
I was overwhelmed with surprise and—shall I not say?—delight at this unexpected concession. An immediate and consenting answer was required. I hurried to give this answer, but my tumultuous feelings would not let me write coherently. I was obliged to lay down the pen, and take a turn across the room to calm my tremors. This gave me time to reflect.
"What," thought I, "am I going to do? To take advantage of a momentary impulse in my favour. To violate my promises to Mrs. Fielder: my letter to her may be construed into promises not to seek another interview with Jane, and to leave the country forever. And shall I betray this impetuous woman into an irrevocable act, which her whole future life may be unavailingly consumed in repenting? Some delay, some deliberation, cannot be injurious.
"And yet this has always been my advice. Shall I reject the hand that is now offered me? How will she regard these new-born scruples, this drawing back when the door spontaneously opens and solicits my entrance?
"Is it in my power to make Jane Talbot mine? my wife? And shall I hesitate? Ah! would to Heaven it were a destiny as fortunate for her as for me!—that no tears, no repinings, no compunctions, would follow! Should I not curse the hour of our union when I heard her sighs? and, instead of affording consolation under the distress produced by her mother's displeasure, should I not need that consolation as much as she?"
These reflections had no other effect than to make me irresolute. I could not return my assent to her scheme, I could not reject so bewitching an offer. This offer was the child of a passionate, a desperate moment. Whither, indeed, should she fly for refuge from a scene like that which she describes?
Molly urged me to come to some determination, as her mistress would impatiently wait her return. Finding it indispensable to say something, I at length wrote:—
"I have detected the author of the forgery which has given us so much disquiet. I propose to visit your mother this morning, when I shall claim admission to you. In that interview may our future destiny be discussed and settled. Meanwhile, still regard me as ever ready to purchase your true happiness by every sacrifice."
With this billet Molly hastened away. What cold, repulsive terms were these! My conscience smote me as she shut the door. But what could I do?
I had but half determined to seek an interview with Mrs. Fielder. What purpose would it answer while the truth respecting the counterfeit letter still remained imperfectly discovered? And why should I seek an interview with Jane? Would her mother permit it? and should I employ my influence to win her from her mother's side or rivet her more closely to it?
What, my friend, shall I do? You are too far off to answer me, and you leave me to my own destiny. You hear not, and will not seasonably hear what I say. Today will surely settle all difficulties, one way or another. This night, if I will, I may be the husband of this angel, or I may raise obstacles insuperable between us. Our interests and persons may be united forever, or we may start out into separate paths and never meet again.
Another messenger! with a letter for me! Miss Jessup's servant it is, perhaps. But let me read it.
To Henry Colden
Enclosed is a letter, which you may, if you think proper, deliver to Mrs. Fielder. I am very ill. Don't attempt to see me again. I cannot be seen. Let the enclosed satisfy you. It is enough. Never should I have said so much, if I thought I were long for this world.
Let me not have a useless enemy in you. I hope the fatal effects of my rashness have not gone further than Mrs. Talbot's family. Let the mischief be repaired as far as it can be; but do not injure me unnecessarily. I hope I am understood.
Let me know what use you have made of the letter you showed me, and, I beseech you, return it to me by the bearer.
To Mrs. Fielder
This comes from a very unfortunate and culpable hand,—a hand that hardly knows how to sign its own condemnation, and which sickness, no less than irresolution, almost deprives of the power to hold the pen.
Yet I call Heaven to witness that I expected not the evil from my infatuation which, it seems, has followed it. I meant to influence none but Mr. Talbot's belief. I had the misfortune to see and to love him long before his engagement with your daughter. I overstepped the limits of my sex, and met with no return to my generous offers and my weak entreaties but sternness and contempt.
You, madam, are perhaps raised above the weakness of a heart like mine. You will not comprehend how an unrequited passion can ever give place to rage and revenge and how the merits of the object preferred to me should only embitter that revenge.
Jane Talbot never loved the man whom I would have made happy. Her ingenuous temper easily disclosed her indifference, and she married not to please herself, but to please others. Her husband's infatuation in marrying on such terms could be exceeded by nothing but his folly in refusing one who would have lived for no other end than to please him.
I observed the progress of the intimacy between Mr. Colden and her, in Talbot's absence; and can you not conceive, madam, that my heart was disposed to exult in every event that verified my own predictions and would convince Talbot of the folly of his choice? Hence I was a jealous observer. The worst construction was put upon your daughter's conduct. That open, impetuous temper of hers, confident of innocence, and fearless of ungenerous or malignant constructions, easily put her into my power. Unrequited love made me her enemy as well as that of her husband, and I even saw, in her unguarded deportment, and in the reputed licentiousness of Mr. Colden's principles, some reason, some probability, in my surmises.
Several anonymous letters were written to you. I thank Heaven that I was seldom guilty of direct falsehoods in these letters. I told you little more than what a jealous eye and a prying disposition easily discovered; and I never saw any thing in their intercourse that argued more than a temper thoughtless and indiscreet. To distinguish minutely between truths and exaggerations, in the letters which I sent you, would be a painful and, I trust, a needless task, since I now solemnly declare that, on an impartial review of all that I ever witnessed in the conduct of your daughter, I remember nothing that can justify the imputation of guilt. I believe her conduct to Colden was not always limited by a due regard to appearances; that she trusted her fame too much to her consciousness of innocence, and set too lightly by the malignity of those who would be glad to find her in fault, and the ignorance of others, who naturally judged of her by themselves. And this, I now solemnly take Heaven to witness, is the only charge that can truly be brought against her.
There is still another confession to make. If suffering and penitence can atone for any offence, surely mine has been atoned for! But it still remains that I should, as far as my power goes, repair the mischief.
It is no adequate apology, I well know, that the consequences of my crime were more extensive and durable than I expected; but is it not justice to myself to say that this confession would have been made earlier if I had earlier known the extent of the evil? I never suspected but that the belief of his wife's infidelity was buried with Talbot.
Alas! wicked and malignant as I was, I meant not to persuade the mother of her child's profligacy. Why should I have aimed at this? I had no reason to disesteem or hate you. I was always impressed with reverence for your character. In the letters sent directly to you, I aimed at nothing but to procure your interference, and make maternal authority declare itself against that intercourse which was essential to your daughter's happiness. It was not you, but her, that I wished to vex and distress.
I called at Mrs. Talbot's at a time when visitants are least expected. Nobody saw me enter. Her parlour was deserted; her writing-desk was open; an unfinished letter caught my eye. A sentiment half inquisitive and half mischievous made me snatch it up and withdraw as abruptly as I entered.
On reading this billet, it was easy to guess for whom it was designed. It was frank and affectionate; consistent with her conjugal duty, but not such as a very circumspect and wary temper would have allowed itself to write.
How shall I describe the suggestions that led me to make a most nefarious use of this paper? Circumstances most unhappily concurred to make my artifice easy and plausible. I discovered that Colden had spent most of the preceding night with your daughter. It is true a most heavy storm had raged during the evening, and the moment it remitted (which was not till three o'clock) he was seen to come out. His detention, therefore, candour would ascribe to the storm; but this letter, with such a conclusion as was too easily made, might fix a construction on it that no time could remove and innocence could never confute.
I had not resolved in what way I should employ this letter, as I had eked it out, before Mr. Talbot's return. When that event took place, my old infatuation revived. I again sought his company, and the indifference, and even contempt, with which I was treated, filled me anew with resentment. To persuade him of his wife's guilt was, I thought, an effectual way of destroying whatever remained of matrimonial happiness; and the means were fully in my power.
Here I was again favoured by accident. Fortune seemed determined to accomplish my ruin. My own ingenuity in vain attempted to fall on a safe mode of putting this letter in Talbot's way, and this had never been done if chance had not surprisingly befriended my purpose.
One evening I dropped familiarly in upon your daughter. Nobody was there but Mr. Talbot and she. She was writing at her desk as usual, for she seemed never at ease but with a pen in her fingers; and Mr. Talbot seemed thoughtful and uneasy. At my entrance the desk was hastily closed and locked. But first she took out some papers, and, mentioning her design of going up-stairs to put them away, she tripped to the door. Looking back, however, she perceived she had dropped one. This she took up, in some hurry, and withdrew.