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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesArthur Mervyn; Or, Memoirs Of The Year 1793 - Volume 2 - Chapter 35
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Arthur Mervyn; Or, Memoirs Of The Year 1793 - Volume 2 - Chapter 35 Post by :JayBeau Category :Long Stories Author :Charles Brockden Brown Date :May 2012 Read :1545

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Arthur Mervyn; Or, Memoirs Of The Year 1793 - Volume 2 - Chapter 35

VOLUME II CHAPTER XXXV

To 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 posture in which she sat, was only half seen. Its hues were sickly and pale, and in mournful unison with a feeble and emaciated form. Her eyes were fixed upon a babe that lay stretched upon a pillow at her feet. The child, like its mother, for such she was readily imagined to be, was meagre and cadaverous. Either it was dead, or could not be very distant from death.

The features of Clemenza were easily recognised, though no contrast could be greater, in habit and shape and complexion, than that which her present bore to her former appearance. All her roses had faded, and her brilliancies vanished. Still, however, there was somewhat fitted to awaken the tenderest emotions. There were tokens of inconsolable distress.

Her attention was wholly absorbed by the child. She lifted not her eyes till I came close to her and stood before her. When she discovered me, a faint start was perceived. She looked at me for a moment, then, putting one spread hand before her eyes, she stretched out the other towards the door, and waving it in silence, as if to admonish me to depart.

This motion, however emphatical, I could not obey. I wished to obtain her attention, but knew not in what words to claim it. I was silent. In a moment she removed her hand from her eyes, and looked at me with new eagerness. Her features bespoke emotions which, perhaps, flowed from my likeness to her brother, joined with the memory of my connection with Welbeck.

My situation was full of embarrassment. I was by no means certain that my language would be understood. I knew not in what light the policy and dissimulation of Welbeck might have taught her to regard me. What proposal, conducive to her comfort and her safety, could I make to her?

Once more she covered her eyes, and exclaimed, in a feeble voice, "Go away! begone!"

As if satisfied with this effort, she resumed her attention to her child. She stooped and lifted it in her arms, gazing, meanwhile, on its almost lifeless features with intense anxiety. She crushed it to her bosom, and, again looking at me, repeated, "Go away! go away! begone!"

There was somewhat in the lines of her face, in her tones and gestures, that pierced to my heart. Added to this, was my knowledge of her condition; her friendlessness; her poverty; the pangs of unrequited love; and her expiring infant. I felt my utterance choked, and my tears struggling for passage. I turned to the window, and endeavoured to regain my tranquillity.

"What was it," said I, "that brought me hither? The perfidy of Welbeck must surely have long since been discovered. What can I tell her of the Villars which she does not already know, or of which the knowledge will be useful? If their treatment has been just, why should I detract from their merit? If it has been otherwise, their own conduct will have disclosed their genuine character. Though voluptuous themselves, it does not follow that they have laboured to debase this creature. Though wanton, they may not be inhuman.

"I can propose no change in her condition for the better. Should she be willing to leave this house, whither is it in my power to conduct her? Oh that I were rich enough to provide food for the hungry, shelter for the houseless, and raiment for the naked!"

I was roused from these fruitless reflections by the lady, whom some sudden thought induced to place the child in its bed, and, rising, to come towards me. The utter dejection which her features lately betrayed was now changed for an air of anxious curiosity. "Where," said she, in her broken English,--"where is Signor Welbeck?"

"Alas!" returned I, "I know not. That question might, I thought, with more propriety be put to you than me."

"I know where he be; I fear where he be."

So saying, the deepest sighs burst from her heart. She turned from me, and, going to the child, took it again into her lap. Its pale and sunken cheek was quickly wet with the mother's tears, which, as she silently hung over it, dropped fast from her eyes.

This demeanour could not but awaken curiosity, while it gave a new turn to my thoughts. I began to suspect that in the tokens which I saw there was not only distress for her child, but concern for the fate of Welbeck. "Know you," said I, "where Mr. Welbeck is? Is he alive? Is he near? Is he in calamity?"

"I do not know if he be alive. He be sick. He be in prison. They will not let me go to him. And"--here her attention and mine was attracted by the infant, whose frame, till now motionless, began to be tremulous. Its features sunk into a more ghastly expression. Its breathings were difficult, and every effort to respire produced a convulsion harder than the last.

The mother easily interpreted these tokens. The same mortal struggle seemed to take place in her features as in those of her child. At length her agony found way in a piercing shriek. The struggle in the infant was past. Hope looked in vain for a new motion in its heart or its eyelids. The lips were closed, and its breath was gone forever!

The grief which overwhelmed the unhappy parent was of that outrageous and desperate kind which is wholly incompatible with thinking. A few incoherent motions and screams, that rent the soul, were followed by a deep swoon. She sunk upon the floor, pale and lifeless as her babe.

I need not describe the pangs which such a scene was adapted to produce in me. These were rendered more acute by the helpless and ambiguous situation in which I was placed. I was eager to bestow consolation and succour, but was destitute of all means. I was plunged into uncertainties and doubts. I gazed alternately at the infant and its mother. I sighed. I wept. I even sobbed. I stooped down and took the lifeless hand of the sufferer. I bathed it with my tears, and exclaimed, "Ill-fated woman! unhappy mother! what shall I do for thy relief? How shall I blunt the edge of this calamity, and rescue thee from new evils?"

At this moment the door of the apartment was opened, and the younger of the women whom I had seen below entered. Her looks betrayed the deepest consternation and anxiety. Her eyes in a moment were fixed by the decayed form and the sad features of Clemenza. She shuddered at this spectacle, but was silent. She stood in the midst of the floor, fluctuating and bewildered. I dropped the hand that I was holding, and approached her.

"You have come," said I, "in good season. I know you not, but will believe you to be good. You have a heart, it may be, not free from corruption, but it is still capable of pity for the miseries of others. You have a hand that refuses not its aid to the unhappy. See; there is an infant dead. There is a mother whom grief has, for a time, deprived of life. She has been oppressed and betrayed; been robbed of property and reputation--but not of innocence. She is worthy of relief. Have you arms to receive her? Have you sympathy, protection, and a home to bestow upon a forlorn, betrayed, and unhappy stranger? I know not what this house is; I suspect it to be no better than a brothel. I know not what treatment this woman has received. When her situation and wants are ascertained, will you supply her wants? Will you rescue her from evils that may attend her continuance here?"

She was disconcerted and bewildered by this address. At length she said, "All that has happened, all that I have heard and seen, is so unexpected, so strange, that I am amazed and distracted. Your behaviour I cannot comprehend, nor your motive for making this address to me. I cannot answer you, except in one respect. If this woman has suffered injury, I have had no part in it. I knew not of her existence nor her situation till this moment; and whatever protection or assistance she may justly claim, I am both able and willing to bestow. I do not live here, but in the city. I am only an occasional visitant in this house."

"What, then!" I exclaimed, with sparkling eyes and a rapturous accent, "you are not profligate; are a stranger to the manners of this house, and a detester of these manners? Be not a deceiver, I entreat you. I depend only on your looks and professions, and these may be dissembled."

These questions, which indeed argued a childish simplicity, excited her surprise. She looked at me, uncertain whether I was in earnest or in jest. At length she said, "Your language is so singular, that I am at a loss how to answer it. I shall take no pains to find out its meaning, but leave you to form conjectures at leisure. Who is this woman, and how can I serve her?" After a pause, she continued:--"I cannot afford her any immediate assistance, and shall not stay a moment longer in this house. There" (putting a card in my hand) "is my name and place of abode. If you shall have any proposals to make, respecting this woman, I shall be ready to receive them in my own house." So saying, she withdrew.

I looked wistfully after her, but could not but assent to her assertion, that her presence here would be more injurious to her than beneficial to Clemenza. She had scarcely gone, when the elder woman entered. There was rage, sullenness, and disappointment in her aspect. These, however, were suspended by the situation in which she discovered the mother and child. It was plain that all the sentiments of woman were not extinguished in her heart. She summoned the servants and seemed preparing to take such measures as the occasion prescribed. I now saw the folly of supposing that these measures would be neglected, and that my presence could not essentially contribute to the benefit of the sufferer. Still, however, I lingered in the room, till the infant was covered with a cloth, and the still senseless parent was conveyed into an adjoining chamber. The woman then, as if she had not seen me before, fixed scowling eyes upon me, and exclaimed, "Thief! villain! why do you stay here?"

"I mean to go," said I, "but not till I express my gratitude and pleasure at the sight of your attention to this sufferer. You deem me insolent and perverse, but I am not such; and hope that the day will come when I shall convince you of my good intentions."

"Begone!" interrupted she, in a more angry tone. "Begone this moment, or I will treat you as a thief." She now drew forth her hand from under her gown, and showed a pistol. "You shall see," she continued, "that I will not be insulted with impunity. If you do not vanish, I will shoot you as a robber."

This woman was far from wanting a force and intrepidity worthy of a different sex. Her gestures and tones were full of energy. They denoted a haughty and indignant spirit. It was plain that she conceived herself deeply injured by my conduct; and was it absolutely certain that her anger was without reason? I had loaded her house with atrocious imputations, and these imputations might be false. I had conceived them upon such evidence as chance had provided; but this evidence, intricate and dubious as human actions and motives are, might be void of truth.

"Perhaps," said I, in a sedate tone, "I have injured you; I have mistaken your character. You shall not find me less ready to repair, than to perpetrate, this injury. My error was without malice, and----"

I had not time to finish the sentence, when this rash and enraged woman thrust the pistol close to my head and fired it. I was wholly unaware that her fury would lead her to this excess. It was a sort of mechanical impulse that made me raise my hand and attempt to turn aside the weapon. I did this deliberately and tranquilly, and without conceiving that any thing more was intended by her movement than to intimidate me. To this precaution, however, I was indebted for life. The bullet was diverted from my forehead to my left ear, and made a slight wound upon the surface, from which the blood gushed in a stream.

The loudness of this explosion, and the shock which the ball produced in my brain, sunk me into a momentary stupor. I reeled backward, and should have fallen, had not I supported myself against the wall. The sight of my blood instantly restored her reason. Her rage disappeared, and was succeeded by terror and remorse. She clasped her hands, and exclaimed, "Oh! what! what have I done? My frantic passion has destroyed me."

I needed no long time to show me the full extent of the injury which I had suffered and the conduct which it became me to adopt. For a moment I was bewildered and alarmed, but presently perceived that this was an incident more productive of good than of evil. It would teach me caution in contending with the passions of another, and showed me that there is a limit which the impetuosities of anger will sometimes overstep. Instead of reviling my companion, I addressed myself to her thus:--

"Be not frighted. You have done me no injury, and, I hope, will derive instruction from this event. Your rashness had like to have sacrificed the life of one who is your friend, and to have exposed yourself to infamy and death, or, at least, to the pangs of eternal remorse. Learn from hence to curb your passions, and especially to keep at a distance from every murderous weapon, on occasions when rage is likely to take place of reason.

"I repeat that my motives in entering this house were connected with your happiness as well as that of Clemenza Lodi. If I have erred in supposing you the member of a vile and pernicious trade, that error was worthy of being rectified, but violence and invective tend only to confirm it. I am incapable of any purpose that is not beneficent; but, in the means that I use and in the evidence on which I proceed, I am liable to a thousand mistakes. Point out to me the road by which I can do you good, and I will cheerfully pursue it."

Finding that her fears had been groundless as to the consequences of her rashness, she renewed, though with less vehemence than before, her imprecations on my intermeddling and audacious folly. I listened till the storm was nearly exhausted, and then, declaring my intention to revisit the house if the interest of Clemenza should require it, I resumed my way to the city.

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VOLUME II CHAPTER XXXVI"Why," said I, as I hasted forward, "is my fortune so abundant in unforeseen occurrences? Is every man who leaves his cottage and the impressions of his infancy behind him ushered into such a world of revolutions and perils as have trammelled my steps? or is my scene indebted for variety and change to my propensity to look into other people's concerns, and to make their sorrows and their joys mine? "To indulge an adventurous spirit, I left the precincts of the barn-door, enlisted in the service of a stranger, and encountered a thousand dangers to my virtue
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VOLUME II CHAPTER XXXIVThis 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,
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