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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesArthur Mervyn; Or, Memoirs Of The Year 1793 - Volume 2 - Chapter 44
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Arthur Mervyn; Or, Memoirs Of The Year 1793 - Volume 2 - Chapter 44 Post by :JayBeau Category :Long Stories Author :Charles Brockden Brown Date :May 2012 Read :1058

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Arthur Mervyn; Or, Memoirs Of The Year 1793 - Volume 2 - Chapter 44

VOLUME II CHAPTER XLIV

I now set about carrying my plan of life into effect. I began with ardent zeal and unwearied diligence the career of medical study. I bespoke the counsels and instructions of my friend; attended him on his professional visits, and acted, in all practicable cases, as his substitute. I found this application of time more pleasurable than I had imagined. My mind gladly expanded itself, as it were, for the reception of new ideas. My curiosity grew more eager in proportion as it was supplied with food, and every day added strength to the assurance that I was no insignificant and worthless being; that I was destined to be _something in this scene of existence, and might some time lay claim to the gratitude and homage of my fellow men.

I was far from being, however, monopolized by these pursuits. I was formed on purpose for the gratification of social intercourse. To love and to be loved; to exchange hearts and mingle sentiments with all the virtuous and amiable whom my good fortune had placed within the circuit of my knowledge, I always esteemed my highest enjoyment and my chief duty.

Carlton and his sister, Mrs. Wentworth, and Achsa Fielding, were my most valuable associates beyond my own family. With all these my correspondence was frequent and unreserved, but chiefly with the latter. This lady had dignity and independence, a generous and enlightened spirit, beyond what her education had taught me to expect. She was circumspect and cautious in her deportment, and was not prompt to make advances, or accept them. She withheld her esteem and confidence until she had full proof of their being deserved.

I am not sure that her treatment of me was fully conformable to her rules. My manners, indeed, as she once told me, she had never met with in another. Ordinary rules were so totally overlooked in my behaviour, that it seemed impossible for any one who knew me to adhere to them. No option was left but to admit my claims to friendship and confidence instantly, or to reject them altogether.

I was not conscious of this singularity. The internal and undiscovered character of another weighed nothing with me in the question whether they should be treated with frankness or reserve. I felt no scruple on any occasion to disclose every feeling and every event. Any one who could listen found me willing to talk. Every talker found me willing to listen. Every one had my sympathy and kindness, _without claiming it; but I _claimed the kindness and sympathy of every one.

Achsa Fielding's countenance bespoke, I thought, a mind worthy to be known and to be loved. The first moment I engaged her attention, I told her so. I related the little story of my family, spread out before her all my reasonings and determinations, my notions of right and wrong, my fears and wishes. All this was done with sincerity and fervour, with gestures, actions, and looks, in which I felt as if my whole soul was visible. Her superior age, sedateness, and prudence, gave my deportment a filial freedom and affection, and I was fond of calling her "_mamma_."

I particularly dwelt upon the history of my dear country-girl; painted her form and countenance; recounted our dialogues, and related all my schemes for making her wise, and good, and happy. On these occasions my friend would listen to me with the mutest attention. I showed her the letters I received, and offered her for her perusal those which I wrote in answer, before they were sealed and sent.

On these occasions she would look by turns on my face and away from me. A varying hue would play upon her cheek, and her eyes were fuller than was common, of meaning.

"Such-and-such," I once said, "are my notions; now, what do _you think?"

"_Think_!" emphatically, and turning somewhat aside, she answered; "that you are the most--_strange of human creatures."

"But tell me," I resumed, following and searching her averted eyes; "am I right? would you do thus? Can you help me to improve my girl? I wish you knew the bewitching little creature. How would that heart overflow with affection and with gratitude towards you! She should be your daughter. No--you are too nearly of an age for that. A sister; her _elder sister, you should be. _That_, when there is no other relation, includes them all. Fond sisters you would be, and I the fond brother of you both."

My eyes glistened as I spoke. In truth, I am in that respect a mere woman. My friend was more powerfully moved. After a momentary struggle she burst into tears.

"Good heaven!" said I, "what ails you? Are you not well?"

Her looks betrayed an unaccountable confusion, from which she quickly recovered:--"It was folly to be thus affected. Something ailed me, I believe, but it is past. But, come, you want some lines of finishing the description of the _Boa in La Cepide."

"True. And I have twenty minutes to spare. Poor Franks is very ill indeed, but he cannot be seen till nine. We'll read till then."

Thus on the wings of pleasure and improvement passed my time; not without some hues, occasionally, of a darker tint. My heart was now and then detected in sighing. This occurred when my thoughts glanced at the poor Eliza, and measured, as it were, the interval between us. "We are too--_too far apart," thought I.

The best solace on these occasions was the company of Mrs. Fielding; her music, her discourse, or some book which she set me to rehearsing to her. One evening, when preparing to pay her a visit, I received the following letter from my Bess:--

To A. Mervyn.

CURLING'S, May 6, 1794.

Where does this letter you promised me stay all this while? Indeed, Arthur, you torment me more than I deserve, and more than I could ever find it in my heart to do you. You treat me cruelly. I must say so, though I offend you. I must write, though you do not deserve that I should, and though I fear I am in a humour not very fit for writing. I had better go to my chamber and weep; weep at your--_unkindness_, I was going to say; but, perhaps, it is only forgetfulness; and yet what can be more unkind than forgetfulness? I am sure I have never forgotten you. Sleep itself, which wraps all other images in forgetfulness, only brings you nearer, and makes me see you more distinctly.

But where can this letter stay?--Oh! that--hush! foolish girl! If a word of that kind escape thy lips, Arthur will be angry with thee; and then, indeed, thou mightest weep in earnest. _Then thou wouldst have some cause for thy tears. More than once already has he almost broken thy heart with his reproaches. Sore and weak as it now is, any new reproaches would assuredly break it quite.

I _will be content. I will be as good a housewife and dairywoman, stir about as briskly, and sing as merrily, as Peggy Curling. Why not? I am as young, as innocent, and enjoy as good health. Alas! she has reason to be merry. She has father, mother, brothers; but I have none. And he that was all these, and more than all these, to me, has--_forgotten me.

But, perhaps, it is some accident that hinders. Perhaps Oliver left the market earlier than he used to do; or you mistook the house; or perhaps some poor creature was sick, was taken suddenly ill, and you were busy in chafing his clay-cold limbs; it fell to you to wipe the clammy drops from his brow. Such things often happen (don't they, Arthur?) to people of your trade, and some such thing has happened now; and that was the reason you did not write.

And if so, shall I repine at your silence? Oh no! At such a time the poor Bess might easily be, and ought to be, forgotten. She would not deserve your love if she could repine at a silence brought about this way.

And oh! may it be so! May there be nothing worse than this! If the sick man--see, Arthur, how my hand trembles. Can you read this scrawl? What is always bad, my fears make worse than ever.

I must not think that. And yet, if it be so, if my friend himself be sick, what will become of me? Of me, that ought to cherish you and comfort you; that ought to be your nurse. Endure for you your sickness, when she cannot remove it.

Oh! that----I _will speak out--Oh that this strange scruple had never possessed you! Why should I _not be with you? Who can love you and serve you as well as I? In sickness and health, I will console and assist you. Why will you deprive yourself of such a comforter and such an aid as I would be to you?

Dear Arthur, think better of it. Let me leave this dreary spot, where, indeed, as long as I am thus alone, I can enjoy no comfort. Let me come to you. I will put up with any thing for the sake of seeing you, though it be but once a day. Any garret or cellar in the dirtiest lane or darkest alley will be good enough for me. I will think it a palace, so that I can _but see you now and then.

Do not refuse--do not argue with me, so fond you always are of arguing! My heart is set upon your compliance. And yet, dearly as I prize your company, I would not ask it, if I thought there was any thing improper. You say there is, and you talk about it in a way that I do not understand. For my sake, you tell me, you refuse; but let me entreat you to comply for my sake.

Your pen cannot teach me like your tongue. You write me long letters, and tell me a great deal in them; but my soul droops when I call to mind your voice and your looks, and think how long a time must pass before I see you and hear you again. I have no spirit to think upon the words and paper before me. My eye and my thought wander far away.

I bethink me how many questions I might ask you; how many doubts you might clear up if you were but within hearing. If you were but close to me; but I cannot ask them here. I am too poor a creature at the pen, and, somehow or another, it always happens, I can only write about myself or about you. By the time I have said all this, I have tired my fingers, and when I set about telling you how this poem and that story have affected me, I am at a loss for words; I am bewildered and bemazed, as it were.

It is not so when we talk to one another. With your arm about me, and your sweet face close to mine, I can prattle forever. Then my heart overflows at my lips. After hours thus spent, it seems as if there were a thousand things still to be said. Then I can tell you what the book has told me. I can repeat scores of verses by heart, though I heard them only once read; but it is because _you have read them to me.

Then there is nobody here to answer my questions. They never look into books. They hate books. They think it waste of time to read. Even Peggy, who you say has naturally a strong mind, wonders what I can find to amuse myself in a book. In her playful mood, she is always teasing me to lay it aside.

I do not mind her, for I like to read; but, if I did not like it before, I could not help doing so ever since you told me that nobody could gain your love who was not fond of books. And yet, though I like it on that account more than I did, I don't read somehow so earnestly and understand so well as I used to do when my mind was all at ease, always frolicsome, and ever upon _tiptoe_, as I may say.

How strangely (have you not observed it?) I am altered of late!--I, that was ever light of heart, the very soul of gayety, brimfull of glee, am now demure as our old _tabby_--and not half as wise. Tabby had wit enough to keep her paws out of the coals, whereas poor I have--but no matter what. It will never come to pass, I see that. So many reasons for every thing! Such looking forward! Arthur, are not men sometimes too _wise to be happy?

I am now _so grave. Not one smile can Peggy sometimes get from me, though she tries for it the whole day. But I know how it comes. Strange, indeed, if, losing father and sister, and thrown upon the wide world, penniless and _friendless too, now that _you forget me, I should continue to smile. No. I never shall smile again. At least, while I stay here, I never shall, I believe.

If a certain somebody suffer me to live with him,--_near him, I mean,--perhaps the sight of him as he enters the door, perhaps the sound of his voice, asking, "Where is my Bess?" might produce a smile. Such a one as the very thought produces now,--yet not, I hope, so transient, and so quickly followed by a tear. Women are born, they say, to trouble, and tears are given them for their relief. 'Tis all very true.

Let it be as I wish, will you? If Oliver bring not back good tidings, if he bring not a letter from thee, or thy letter still refuses my request,--I don't know what may happen. Consent, if you love your poor girl.

E.H.

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VOLUME II CHAPTER XLVThe reading of this letter, though it made me mournful, did not hinder me from paying the visit I intended. My friend noticed my discomposure. "What, Arthur! thou art quite the 'penseroso' to-night. Come, let me cheer thee with a song. Thou shalt have thy favourite ditty." She stepped to the instrument, and, with more than airy lightness, touched and sung:-- "Now knit hands and beat the ground In a light, fantastic round,
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VOLUME II CHAPTER XLI mounted the stage-coach at daybreak the next day, in company with a sallow Frenchman from St. Domingo, his fiddle-case, an ape, and two female blacks. The Frenchman, after passing the suburbs, took out his violin and amused himself with humming to his own _tweedle-tweedle_. The monkey now and then munched an apple, which was given to him from a basket by the blacks, who gazed with stupid wonder, and an exclamatory _La! La! upon the passing scenery, or chattered to each other in a sort of open-mouthed, half-articulate, monotonous, singsong jargon. The man looked seldom either on
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