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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesArthur Mervyn; Or, Memoirs Of The Year 1793 - Volume 2 - Chapter 34
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Arthur Mervyn; Or, Memoirs Of The Year 1793 - Volume 2 - Chapter 34 Post by :JayBeau Category :Long Stories Author :Charles Brockden Brown Date :May 2012 Read :1379

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Arthur Mervyn; Or, Memoirs Of The Year 1793 - Volume 2 - Chapter 34

VOLUME II CHAPTER XXXIV

This incident necessarily produced a change in my views with regard to my friend. Her fortune consisted of a few hundreds of dollars, which, frugally administered, might procure decent accommodation in the country. When this was consumed, she must find subsistence in tending the big wheel or the milk-pail, unless fortune should enable me to place her in a more favourable situation. This state was, in some respects, but little different from that in which she had spent the former part of her life; but, in her father's house, these employments were dignified by being, in some degree, voluntary, and relieved by frequent intervals of recreation and leisure. Now they were likely to prove irksome and servile, in consequence of being performed for hire and imposed by necessity. Equality, parental solicitudes, and sisterly endearments, would be wanting to lighten the yoke.

These inconveniences, however, were imaginary. This was the school in which fortitude and independence were to be learned. Habit, and the purity of rural manners, would, likewise, create anew those ties which death had dissolved. The affections of parent and sister would be supplied by the fonder and more rational attachments of friendship. These toils were not detrimental to beauty or health. What was to be dreaded from them was their tendency to quench the spirit of liberal curiosity; to habituate the person to bodily, rather than intellectual, exertions; to supersede and create indifference or aversion to the only instruments of rational improvement, the pen and the book.

This evil, however, was at some distance from Eliza. Her present abode was quiet and serene. Here she might enjoy domestic pleasures and opportunities of mental improvement for the coming twelvemonth at least. This period would, perhaps, be sufficient for the formation of studious habits. What schemes should be adopted for this end would be determined by the destiny to which I myself should be reserved.

My path was already chalked out, and my fancy now pursued it with uncommon pleasure. To reside in your family; to study your profession; to pursue some subordinate or casual mode of industry, by which I might purchase leisure for medical pursuits, for social recreations, and for the study of mankind on your busy and thronged stage, was the scope of my wishes. This destiny would not hinder punctual correspondence and occasional visits to Eliza. Her pen might be called into action, and her mind be awakened by books, and every hour be made to add to her stores of knowledge and enlarge the bounds of her capacity.

I was spiritless and gloomy when I left ----; but reflections on my future lot, and just views of the situation of my friend, insensibly restored my cheerfulness. I arrived at Mr. Curling's in the evening, and hastened to impart to Eliza the issue of my commission. It gave her uneasiness, merely as it frustrated the design, on which she had fondly mused, of residing in the city. She was somewhat consoled by my promises of being her constant correspondent and occasional visitor.

Next morning I set out on my journey hither, on foot. The way was not long; the weather, though cold, was wholesome and serene. My spirits were high, and I saw nothing in the world before me but sunshine and prosperity. I was conscious that my happiness depended not on the revolutions of nature or the caprice of man. All without was, indeed, vicissitude and uncertainty; but within my bosom was a centre not to be shaken or removed. My purposes were honest and steadfast. Every sense was the inlet of pleasure, because it was the avenue of knowledge; and my soul brooded over the world to ideas, and glowed with exultation at the grandeur and beauty of its own creations.

This felicity was too rapturous to be of long duration. I gradually descended from these heights; and the remembrance of past incidents, connected with the images of your family, to which I was returning, led my thoughts into a different channel. Welbeck and the unhappy girl whom he had betrayed; Mrs. Villars and Wallace, were recollected anew. The views which I had formed, for determining the fate and affording assistance to Clemenza, were recalled. My former resolutions with regard to her had been suspended by the uncertainty in which the fate of the Hadwins was, at that time, wrapped. Had it not become necessary wholly to lay aside these resolutions?

That, indeed, was an irksome conclusion. No wonder that I struggled to repel it; that I fostered the doubt whether money was the only instrument of benefit; whether caution, and fortitude, and knowledge, were not the genuine preservatives from evil. Had I not the means in my hands of dispelling her fatal ignorance of Welbeck and of those with whom she resided? Was I not authorized, by my previous though slender intercourse, to seek her presence?

Suppose I should enter Mrs. Villars's house, desire to be introduced to the lady, accost her with affectionate simplicity, and tell her the truth? Why be anxious to smooth the way? why deal in apologies, circuities, and innuendoes? All these are feeble and perverse refinements, unworthy of an honest purpose and an erect spirit. To believe her inaccessible to my visit was absurd. To wait for the permission of those whose interest it might be to shut out visitants was cowardice. This was an infringement of her liberty which equity and law equally condemned. By what right could she be restrained from intercourse with others? Doors and passages may be between her and me. With a purpose such as mine, no one had a right to close the one or obstruct the other. Away with cowardly reluctances and clownish scruples, and let me hasten this moment to her dwelling.

Mrs. Villars is the portress of the mansion. She will probably present herself before me, and demand the reason of my visit. What shall I say to her? The truth. To falter, or equivocate, or dissemble to this woman would be wicked. Perhaps her character has been misunderstood and maligned. Can I render her a greater service than to apprize her of the aspersions that have rested on it, and afford her the opportunity of vindication? Perhaps she is indeed selfish and profligate; the betrayer of youth and the agent of lasciviousness. Does she not deserve to know the extent of her errors and the ignominy of her trade? Does she not merit the compassion of the good and the rebukes of the wise? To shrink from the task would prove me cowardly and unfirm. Thus far, at least, let my courage extend.

Alas! Clemenza is unacquainted with my language. My thoughts cannot make themselves apparent but by words, and to my words she will be able to affix no meaning. Yet is not that a hasty decision? The version from the dramas of Zeno which I found in her toilet was probably hers, and proves her to have a speculative knowledge of our tongue. Near half a year has since elapsed, during which she has dwelt with talkers of English, and consequently could not fail to have acquired it. This conclusion is somewhat dubious, but experiment will give it certainty.

Hitherto I had strolled along the path at a lingering pace. Time enough, methought, to reach your threshold between sunrise and moonlight, if my way had been three times longer than it was. You were the pleasing phantom that hovered before me and beckoned me forward. What a total revolution had occurred in the course of a few seconds! for thus long did my reasonings with regard to Clemenza and the Villars require to pass through my understanding, and escape, in half-muttered soliloquy, from my lips. My muscles trembled with eagerness, and I bounded forward with impetuosity. I saw nothing but a vista of catalpas, leafless, loaded with icicles, and terminating in four chimneys and a painted roof. My fancy outstripped my footsteps, and was busy in picturing faces and rehearsing dialogues. Presently I reached this new object of my pursuit, darted through the avenue, noticed that some windows of the house were unclosed, drew thence a hasty inference that the house was not without inhabitants, and knocked, quickly and loudly, for admission.

Some one within crept to the door, opened it with seeming caution, and just far enough to allow the face to be seen. It was the timid, pale, and unwashed face of a girl who was readily supposed to be a servant, taken from a cottage, and turned into a bringer of wood and water and a scourer of tubs and trenches. She waited in timorous silence the delivery of my message. Was Mrs. Villars at home?

"No; she has gone to town."

Were any of her daughters within?

She could not tell; she believed--she thought--which did I want? Miss Hetty or Miss Sally?

"Let me see Miss Hetty." Saying this, I pushed gently against the door. The girl, half reluctant, yielded way; I entered the passage, and, putting my hand on the lock of a door that seemed to lead into a parlour,--"Is Miss Hetty in this room?"

No; there was nobody there.

"Go call her, then. Tell her there is one who wishes to see her on important business. I will wait for her coming in this room." So saying, I opened the door, and entered the apartment, while the girl withdrew to perform my message.

The parlour was spacious and expensively furnished, but an air of negligence and disorder was everywhere visible. The carpet was wrinkled and unswept; a clock on the table, in a glass frame, so streaked and spotted with dust as scarcely to be transparent, and the index motionless, and pointing at four instead of nine; embers scattered on the marble hearth, and tongs lying on the fender with the handle in the ashes; a harpsichord, uncovered, one end loaded with _scores_, tumbled together in a heap, and the other with volumes of novels and plays, some on their edges, some on their backs, gaping open by the scorching of their covers; rent; blurred; stained; blotted; dog-eared; tables awry; chairs crowding each other; in short, no object but indicated the neglect or the ignorance of domestic neatness and economy.

My leisure was employed in surveying these objects, and in listening for the approach of Miss Hetty. Some minutes elapsed, and no one came. A reason for delay was easily imagined, and I summoned patience to wait. I opened a book; touched the instrument; surveyed the vases on the mantel-tree; the figures on the hangings, and the print of Apollo and the Sibyl, taken from Salvator, and hung over the chimney. I eyed my own shape and garb in the mirror, and asked how my rustic appearance would be regarded by that supercilious and voluptuous being to whom I was about to present myself.

Presently the latch of the door was softly moved: it opened, and the simpleton, before described, appeared. She spoke, but her voice was so full of hesitation, and so near a whisper, that much attention was needed to make out her words:--Miss Hetty was not at home; she was gone to town with her _mistress_.

This was a tale not to be credited. How was I to act? She persisted in maintaining the truth of it.--"Well, then," said I, at length, "tell Miss Sally that I wish to speak with her. She will answer my purpose just as well."

Miss Sally was not at home neither. She had gone to town too. They would not be back, she did not know when; not till night, she supposed. It was so indeed; none of them wasn't at home; none but she and Nanny in the kitchen: indeed there wasn't.

"Go tell Nanny to come here; I will leave my message with her." She withdrew, but Nanny did not receive the summons, or thought proper not to obey it. All was vacant and still.

My state was singular and critical. It was absurd to prolong it; but to leave the house with my errand unexecuted would argue imbecility and folly. To ascertain Clemenza's presence in this house, and to gain an interview, were yet in my power. Had I not boasted of my intrepidity in braving denials and commands when they endeavoured to obstruct my passage to this woman? But here were no obstacles nor prohibition. Suppose the girl had said truth, that the matron and her daughters were absent, and that Nanny and herself were the only guardians of the mansion. So much the better. My design will not be opposed. I have only to mount the stair, and go from one room to another till I find what I seek.

There was hazard, as well as plausibility, in this scheme. I thought it best once more to endeavour to extort information from the girl, and persuade her to be my guide to whomsoever the house contained. I put my hand to the bell and rung a brisk peal. No one came. I passed into the entry, to the foot of a staircase, and to a back-window. Nobody was within hearing or sight.

Once more I reflected on the rectitude of my intentions, on the possibility that the girl's assertions might be true, on the benefits of expedition, and of gaining access to the object of my visit without interruption or delay. To these considerations was added a sort of charm, not easily explained, and by no means justifiable, produced by the very temerity and hazardness accompanying this attempt. I thought, with scornful emotions, on the bars and hinderances which pride, and caprice, and delusive maxims of decorum, raise in the way of human intercourse. I spurned at these semblances and substitutes of honesty, and delighted to shake such fetters into air and trample such impediments to dust. I wanted to see a human being, in order to promote her happiness. It was doubtful whether she was within twenty paces of the spot where I stood. The doubt was to be solved. How? By examining the space. I forthwith proceeded to examine it. I reached the second story. I approached a door that was closed. I knocked. After a pause, a soft voice said, "Who is there?"

The accents were as musical as those of Clemenza, but were in other respects different. I had no topic to discuss with this person. I answered not, yet hesitated to withdraw. Presently the same voice was again heard:--"What is it you want? Why don't you answer? Come in!" I complied with the command, and entered the room.

It was deliberation and foresight that led me hither, and not chance or caprice. Hence, instead of being disconcerted or vanquished by the objects that I saw, I was tranquil and firm. My curiosity, however, made me a vigilant observer. Two females, arrayed with voluptuous negligence, in a manner adapted to the utmost seclusion, and seated in a careless attitude on a sofa, were now discovered.

Both darted glances at the door. One, who appeared to be the youngest, no sooner saw me, than she shrieked, and, starting from her seat, betrayed in the looks which she successively cast upon me, on herself, and on the chamber, whose apparatus was in no less confusion than that of the apartment below, her consciousness of the unseasonableness of this meeting.

The other shrieked likewise, but in her it seemed to be the token of surprise rather than that of terror. There was, probably, somewhat in my aspect and garb that suggested an apology for this intrusion, as arising from simplicity and mistake. She thought proper, however, to assume the air of one offended, and, looking sternly,--"How now, fellow," said she, "what is this? Why come you hither?"

This questioner was of mature age, but had not passed the period of attractiveness and grace. All the beauty that nature had bestowed was still retained, but the portion had never been great. What she possessed was so modelled and embellished by such a carriage and dress as to give it most power over the senses of the gazer. In proportion, however, as it was intended and adapted to captivate those who know none but physical pleasures, it was qualified to breed distaste and aversion in me.

I am sensible how much error may have lurked in this decision. I had brought with me the belief of their being unchaste; and seized, perhaps with too much avidity, any appearance that coincided with my prepossessions. Yet the younger by no means inspired the same disgust; though I had no reason to suppose her more unblemished than the elder. Her modesty seemed unaffected, and was by no means satisfied, like that of the elder, with defeating future curiosity. The consciousness of what had already been exposed filled her with confusion, and she would have flown away, if her companion had not detained her by some degree of force. "What ails the girl? There's nothing to be frightened at. Fellow!" she repeated, "what brings you here?"

I advanced and stood before them. I looked steadfastly, but, I believe, with neither effrontery nor anger, on the one who addressed me. I spoke in a tone serious and emphatical. "I come for the sake of speaking to a woman who formerly resided in this house, and probably resides here still. Her name is Clemenza Lodi. If she be here, I request you to conduct me to her instantly."

Methought I perceived some inquietude, a less imperious and more inquisitive air, in this woman, on hearing the name of Clemenza. It was momentary, and gave way to peremptory looks. "What is your business with her? And why did you adopt this mode of inquiry? A very extraordinary intrusion! Be good enough to leave the chamber. Any questions proper to be answered will be answered below."

"I meant not to intrude or offend. It was not an idle or impertinent motive that led me hither. I waited below for some time after soliciting an audience of you through the servant. She assured me you were absent, and laid me under the necessity of searching for Clemenza Lodi myself, and without a guide. I am anxious to withdraw, and request merely to be directed to the room which she occupies."

"I direct you," replied she, in a more resolute tone, "to quit the room and the house."

"Impossible, madam," I replied, still looking at her earnestly; "leave the house without seeing her! You might as well enjoin me to pull the Andes on my head!--to walk barefoot to Pekin! Impossible!"

Some solicitude was now mingled with her anger. "This is strange insolence! unaccountable behaviour!--begone from my room! will you compel me to call the gentlemen?"

"Be not alarmed," said I, with augmented mildness. There was, indeed, compassion and sorrow at my heart, and these must have somewhat influenced my looks. "Be not alarmed. I came to confer a benefit, not to perpetrate an injury. I came not to censure or expostulate with you, but merely to counsel and aid a being that needs both; all I want is to see her. In this chamber I sought not you, but her. Only lead me to her, or tell me where she is. I will then rid you of my presence."

"Will you compel me to call those who will punish this insolence as it deserves?"

"Dearest madam! I compel you to nothing. I merely supplicate. I would ask you to lead me to these gentlemen, if I did not know that there are none but females in the house. It is you who must receive and comply with my petition. Allow me a moment's interview with Clemenza Lodi. Compliance will harm you not, but will benefit her. What is your objection?"

"This is the strangest proceeding! the most singular conduct! Is this a place fit to parley with you? I warn you of the consequence of staying a moment longer. Depend upon it, you will sorely repent it."

"You are obdurate," said I, and turned towards the younger, who listened to this discourse in tremors and panic. I took her hand with an air of humility and reverence. "Here," said I, "there seems to be purity, innocence, and condescension. I took this house to be the temple of voluptuousness. Females I expected to find in it, but such only as traded in licentious pleasures; specious, perhaps not destitute of talents, beauty, and address, but dissolute and wanton, sensual and avaricious; yet in this countenance and carriage there are tokens of virtue. I am born to be deceived, and the semblance of modesty is readily assumed. Under this veil, perhaps, lurk a tainted heart and depraved appetites. Is it so?"

She made me no answer, but somewhat in her looks seemed to evince that my favourable prepossessions were just. I noticed likewise that the alarm of the elder was greatly increased by this address to her companion. The thought suddenly occurred that this girl might be in circumstances not unlike those of Clemenza Lodi; that she was not apprized of the character of her associates, and might by this meeting be rescued from similar evils.

This suspicion filled me with tumultuous feelings. Clemenza was for a time forgotten. I paid no attention to the looks or demeanour of the elder, but was wholly occupied in gazing on the younger. My anxiety to know the truth gave pathos and energy to my tones while I spoke:--

"Who, where, what are you? Do you reside in this house? Are you a sister or daughter in this family, or merely a visitant? Do you know the character, profession, and views of your companions? Do you deem them virtuous, or know them to be profligate? Speak! tell me, I beseech you!"

The maiden confusion which had just appeared in the countenance of this person now somewhat abated. She lifted her eyes, and glanced by turns at me and at her who sat by her side. An air of serious astonishment overspread her features, and she seemed anxious for me to proceed. The elder, meanwhile, betrayed the utmost alarm, again upbraided my audacity, commanded me to withdraw, and admonished me of the danger I incurred by lingering.

I noticed not her interference, but again entreated to know of the younger her true state. She had no time to answer me, supposing her not to want the inclination, for every pause was filled by the clamorous importunities and menaces of the other. I began to perceive that my attempts were useless to this end, but the chief and most estimable purpose was attainable. It was in my power to state the knowledge I possessed, through your means, of Mrs. Villars and her daughters. This information might be superfluous, since she to whom it was given might be one of this licentious family. The contrary, however, was not improbable, and my tidings, therefore, might be of the utmost moment to her safety.

A resolute and even impetuous manner reduced my incessant interrupter to silence. What I had to say, I compressed in a few words, and adhered to perspicuity and candour with the utmost care. I still held the hand that I had taken, and fixed my eyes upon her countenance with a steadfastness that hindered her from lifting her eyes.

"I know you not; whether you be dissolute or chaste, I cannot tell. In either case, however, what I am going to say will be useful. Let me faithfully repeat what I have heard. It is mere rumour, and I vouch not for its truth. Rumour as it is, I submit it to your judgment, and hope that it may guide you into paths of innocence and honour.

"Mrs. Villars and her three daughters are Englishwomen, who supported for a time an unblemished reputation, but who, at length, were suspected of carrying on the trade of prostitution. This secret could not be concealed forever. The profligates who frequented their house betrayed them. One of them, who died under their roof, after they had withdrawn from it into the country, disclosed to his kinsman, who attended his death-bed, their genuine character.

"The dying man likewise related incidents in which I am deeply concerned. I have been connected with one by name Welbeck. In his house I met an unfortunate girl, who was afterwards removed to Mrs. Villars's. Her name was Clemenza Lodi. Residence in this house, under the control of a woman like Mrs. Villars and her daughters, must be injurious to her innocence, and from this control I now come to rescue her."

I turned to the elder, and continued,--"By all that is sacred, I adjure you to tell me whether Clemenza Lodi be under this roof! If she be not, whither has she gone? To know this I came hither, and any difficulty or reluctance in answering will be useless; till an answer be obtained, I will not go hence."

During this speech, anger had been kindling in the bosom of this woman. It now burst upon me in a torrent of opprobrious epithets. I was a villain, a calumniator, a thief. I had lurked about the house, till those whose sex and strength enabled them to cope with me had gone. I had entered these doors by fraud. I was a wretch, guilty of the last excesses of insolence and insult.

To repel these reproaches, or endure them, was equally useless. The satisfaction that I sought was only to be gained by searching the house. I left the room without speaking. Did I act illegally in passing from one story and one room to another? Did I really deserve the imputations of rashness and insolence? My behaviour, I well know, was ambiguous and hazardous, and perhaps wanting in discretion, but my motives were unquestionably pure. I aimed at nothing but the rescue of a human creature from distress and dishonour.

I pretend not to the wisdom of experience and age; to the praise of forethought or subtlety. I choose the obvious path, and pursue it with headlong expedition. Good intentions, unaided by knowledge, will, perhaps, produce more injury than benefit, and therefore knowledge must be gained, but the acquisition is not momentary; is not bestowed unasked and untoiled for. Meanwhile, we must not be inactive because we are ignorant. Our good purposes must hurry to performance, whether our knowledge be greater or less.

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VOLUME II CHAPTER XXXVTo explore the house in this manner was so contrary to ordinary rules, that the design was probably wholly unsuspected by the women whom I had just left. My silence, at parting, might have been ascribed by them to the intimidating influence of invectives and threats. Hence I proceeded in my search without interruption. Presently I reached a front chamber in the third story. The door was ajar. I entered it on tiptoe. Sitting on a low chair by the fire, I beheld a female figure, dressed in a negligent but not indecent manner. Her face, in the
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VOLUME II CHAPTER XXXIn a short time this gentle girl recovered her senses. She did not withdraw herself from my sustaining arm, but, leaning on my bosom, she resigned herself to passionate weeping. I did not endeavour to check this effusion, believing that its influence would be salutary. I had not forgotten the thrilling sensibility and artless graces of this girl. I had not forgotten the scruples which had formerly made me check a passion whose tendency was easily discovered. These new proofs of her affection were, at once, mournful and delightful. The untimely fate of her father and my friend
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