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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesArthur Mervyn; Or, Memoirs Of The Year 1793 - Volume 2 - Chapter 45
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Arthur Mervyn; Or, Memoirs Of The Year 1793 - Volume 2 - Chapter 45 Post by :JayBeau Category :Long Stories Author :Charles Brockden Brown Date :May 2012 Read :3516

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Arthur Mervyn; Or, Memoirs Of The Year 1793 - Volume 2 - Chapter 45

VOLUME II CHAPTER XLV

The 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,
Till the telltale sun descry
Our conceal'd solemnity."


Her music, though blithsome and aerial, was not sufficient for the end. My cheerfulness would not return even at her bidding. She again noticed my sedateness, and inquired into the cause.

"This girl of mine," said I, "has infected me with her own sadness. There is a letter I have just received." She took it and began to read.

Meanwhile, I placed myself before her, and fixed my eyes steadfastly upon her features. There is no book in which I read with more pleasure than the face of woman. _That is generally more full of meaning, and of better meaning too, than the hard and inflexible lineaments of man; and _this woman's face has no parallel.

She read it with visible emotion. Having gone through it, she did not lift her eye from the paper, but continued silent, as if buried in thought. After some time, (for I would not interrupt the pause,) she addressed me thus:--

"This girl seems to be very anxious to be with you."

"As much as I am that she should be so." My friend's countenance betrayed some perplexity. As soon as I perceived it, I said, "Why are you thus grave?" Some little confusion appeared, as if she would not have her gravity discovered. "There again," said I, "new tokens in your face, my good mamma, of something which you will not mention. Yet, sooth to say, this is not your first perplexity. I have noticed it before, and wondered. It happens only when my _Bess is introduced. Something in relation to her it must be, but what I cannot imagine. Why does _her name, particularly, make you thoughtful, disturbed, dejected? There now--but I must know the reason. You don't agree with me in my notions of this girl, I fear, and you will not disclose your thoughts."

By this time, she had gained her usual composure, and, without noticing my comments on her looks, said, "Since you are both of one mind, why does she not leave the country?"

"That cannot be, I believe. Mrs. Stevens says it would be disreputable. I am no proficient in etiquette, and must, therefore, in affairs of this kind, be guided by those who are. But would to heaven I were truly her father or brother! Then all difficulties would be done away."

"Can you seriously wish that?"

"Why, no. I believe it would be more rational to wish that the world would suffer me to act the fatherly or brotherly part, without the relationship."

"And is that the only part you wish to act towards this girl?"

"Certainly, the only part."

"You surprise me. Have you not confessed your love for her?"

"I _do love her. There is nothing upon earth more dear to me than my _Bess_."

"But love is of different kinds. She was loved by her father----"

"Less than by me. He was a good man, but not of lively feelings. Besides, he had another daughter, and they shared his love between them; but she has no sister to share _my love. Calamity, too, has endeared her to me; I am all her consolation, dependence, and hope, and nothing, surely, can induce me to abandon her."

"Her reliance upon you for happiness," replied my friend, with a sigh, "is plain enough."

"It is; but why that sigh? And yet I understand it. It remonstrates with me on my incapacity for her support. I know it well, but it is wrong to be cast down. I have youth, health, and spirits, and ought not to despair of living for my own benefit and hers; but you sigh again, and it is impossible to keep my courage when _you sigh. Do tell me what you mean by it."

"You partly guessed the cause. She trusts to you for happiness, but I somewhat suspect she trusts in vain."

"In vain! I beseech you, tell me why you think so."

"You say you love her: why then not make her your wife?"

"My wife! Surely her extreme youth, and my destitute condition, will account for that."

"She is fifteen; the age of delicate fervour, of inartificial love, and suitable enough for marriage. As to your condition, you may live more easily together than apart. She has no false taste or perverse desires to gratify. She has been trained in simple modes and habits. Besides, that objection can be removed another way. But are these all your objections?"

"Her youth I object to, merely in connection with her mind. She is too little improved to be my wife. She wants that solidity of mind, that maturity of intelligence which ten years more may possibly give her, but which she cannot have at this age."

"You are a very prudential youth: then you are willing to wait ten years for a wife?"

"Does that follow? Because my Bess will not be qualified for wedlock in less time, does it follow that I must wait for her?"

"I spoke on the supposition that you loved her."

"And that is true; but love is satisfied with studying her happiness as her father or brother. Some years hence, perhaps in half a year, (for this passion, called wedded or _marriage-wishing love, is of sudden growth,) my mind may change and nothing may content me but to have Bess for my wife. Yet I do not expect it."

"Then you are determined against marriage with this girl?"

"Of course; until that love comes which I feel not now; but which, no doubt, will come, when Bess has had the benefit of five or eight years more, unless previously excited by another."

"All this is strange, Arthur. I have heretofore supposed that you actually loved (I mean with the _marriage-seeking passion) your _Bess_."

"I believe I once did; but it happened at a time when marriage was improper; in the life of her father and sister, and when I had never known in what female excellence consisted. Since that time my happier lot has cast me among women so far above Eliza Hadwin,--so far above, and so widely different from any thing which time is likely to make her,--that, I own, nothing appears more unlikely than that I shall ever love her."

"Are you not a little capricious in that respect, my good friend? You have praised your _Bess as rich in natural endowments; as having an artless purity and rectitude of mind, which somewhat supersedes the use of formal education; as being full of sweetness and tenderness, and in her person a very angel of loveliness."

"All that is true. I never saw features and shape so delicately beautiful; I never knew so young a mind so quick-sighted and so firm; but, nevertheless, she is not the creature whom I would call my _wife_. My bosom-slave; counsellor; friend; the mother; the pattern; the tutoress of my children, must be a different creature."

"But what are the attributes of this _desirable which Bess wants?"

"Every thing she wants. Age, capacity, acquirements, person, features, hair, complexion, all, all are different from this girl's."

"And pray of what kind may they be?"

"I cannot portray them in words--but yes, I can:--The creature whom I shall worship:--it sounds oddly, but, I verily believe, the sentiment which I shall feel for my wife will be more akin to worship than any thing else. I shall never love but such a creature as I now image to myself, and _such a creature will deserve, or almost deserve, worship. But this creature, I was going to say, must be the exact counterpart, my good mamma--of _yourself_."

This was said very earnestly, and with eyes and manner that fully expressed my earnestness; perhaps my expressions were unwittingly strong and emphatic, for she started and blushed, but the cause of her discomposure, whatever it was, was quickly removed, and she said,--

"Poor Bess! This will be sad news to thee!"

"Heaven forbid!" said I; "of what moment can my opinions be to her?"

"Strange questioner that thou art. Thou knowest that her gentle heart is touched with love. See how it shows itself in the tender and inimitable strain of this epistle. Does not this sweet ingenuousness bewitch you?"

"It does so, and I love, beyond expression, the sweet girl; but my love is, in some inconceivable way, different from the passion which that _other creature will produce. She is no stranger to my thoughts. I will impart every thought over and over to her. I question not but I shall make her happy without forfeiting my own."

"Would marriage with her be a forfeiture of your happiness?"

"Not absolutely or forever, I believe. I love her company. Her absence for a long time is irksome. I cannot express the delight with which I see and hear her. To mark her features, beaming with vivacity; playful in her pleasures; to hold her in my arms, and listen to her prattle, always musically voluble, always sweetly tender, or artlessly intelligent--and this you will say is the dearest privilege of marriage; and so it is; and dearly should I prize it; and yet, I fear my heart would droop as often as that _other image should occur to my fancy. For then, you know, it would occur as something never to be possessed by me.

"Now, this image might, indeed, seldom occur. The intervals, at least, would be serene. It would be my interest to prolong these intervals as much as possible, and my endeavours to this end would, no doubt, have some effect. Besides, the bitterness of this reflection would be lessened by contemplating, at the same time, the happiness of my beloved girl.

"I should likewise have to remember, that to continue unmarried would not necessarily secure me the possession of the _other good----"

"But these reflections, my friend," (broke she in upon me,) "are of as much force to induce you to marry, as to reconcile you to a marriage already contracted."

"Perhaps they are. Assuredly, I have not a hope that the _fancied excellence will ever be mine. Such happiness is not the lot of humanity, and is, least of all, within my reach."

"Your diffidence," replied my friend, in a timorous accent, "has not many examples; but your character, without doubt, is all your own, possessing all and disclaiming all,--is, in few words, your picture."

"I scarcely understand you. Do you think I ever shall be happy to that degree which I have imagined? Think you I shall ever meet with an exact copy of _yourself_?"

"Unfortunate you will be, if you do not meet with many better. Your Bess, in personals, is, beyond measure, _my superior, and in mind, allowing for difference in years, quite as much so."

"But that," returned I, with quickness and fervour, "is not the object. The very counterpart of _you I want; neither worse nor better, nor different in any thing. Just such form, such features, such hues. Just that melting voice, and, above all, the same habits of thinking and conversing. In thought, word, and deed; gesture, look, and form, that rare and precious creature whom I shall love must be your resemblance. Your----"

"Have done with these comparisons," interrupted she, in some hurry, "and let us return to the country-girl, thy Bess.

"You once, my friend, wished me to treat this girl of yours as my sister. Do you know what the duties of a sister are?"

"They imply no more kindness or affection than you already feel towards my Bess. Are you not her sister?"

"I ought to have been so. I ought to have been proud of the relation you ascribe to me, but I have not performed any of its duties. I blush to think upon the coldness and perverseness of my heart. With such means as I possess, of giving happiness to others, I have been thoughtless and inactive to a strange degree; perhaps, however, it is not yet too late. Are you still willing to invest me with all the rights of an elder sister over this girl? And will she consent, think you?"

"Certainly she will; she has."

"Then the first act of sistership will be to take her from the country; from persons on whose kindness she has no natural claim, whose manners and characters are unlike her own, and with whom no improvement can be expected, and bring her back to her sister's house and bosom, to provide for her subsistence and education, and watch over her happiness.

"I will not be a nominal sister. I will not be a sister by halves. _All the rights of that relation I will have, or none. As for you, you have claims upon her on which I must be permitted to judge, as becomes the elder sister, who, by the loss of all other relations, must occupy the place, possess the rights, and fulfil the duties, of father, mother, and brother.

"She has now arrived at an age when longer to remain in a cold and churlish soil will stunt her growth and wither her blossoms. We must hasten to transplant her to a genial element and a garden well enclosed. Having so long neglected this charming plant, it becomes me henceforth to take her wholly to myself.

"And now, for it is no longer in her or your power to take back the gift, since she is fully mine, I will charge you with the office of conducting her hither. I grant it you as a favour. Will you go?"

"Go! I will fly!" I exclaimed, in an ecstasy of joy, "on pinions swifter than the wind. Not the lingering of an instant will I bear. Look! one, two, three--thirty minutes after nine. I will reach Curling's gate by the morn's dawn. I will put my girl into a chaise, and by noon she shall throw herself into the arms of her sister. But first, shall I not, in some way, manifest my gratitude?"

My senses were bewildered, and I knew not what I did. I intended to kneel, as to my mother or my deity; but, instead of that, I clasped her in my arms, and kissed her lips fervently. I stayed not to discover the effects of this insanity, but left the room and the house, and, calling for a moment at Stevens's, left word with the servant, my friend being gone abroad, that I should not return till the morrow.

Never was a lighter heart, a gayety more overflowing and more buoyant, than mine. All cold from a boisterous night, at a chilly season, all weariness from a rugged and miry road, were charmed away. I might have ridden; but I could not brook delay, even the delay of inquiring for and equipping a horse. I might thus have saved myself fatigue, and have lost no time; but my mind was in too great a tumult for deliberation and forecast. I saw nothing but the image of my girl, whom my tidings would render happy.

The way was longer than my fond imagination had foreseen. I did not reach Curling's till an hour after sunrise. The distance was full thirty-five miles. As I hastened up the green lane leading to the house, I spied my Bess passing through a covered way, between the dwelling and kitchen. I caught her eye. She stopped and held up her hands, and then ran into my arms.

"What means my girl? Why this catching of the breath? Why this sobbing? Look at me, my love. It is Arthur,--he who has treated you with forgetfulness, neglect, and cruelty."

"Oh, do not," she replied, hiding her face with her hand. "One single reproach, added to my own, will kill me. That foolish, wicked letter--I could tear my fingers for writing it."

"But," said I, "I will kiss them;" and put them to my lips. "They have told me the wishes of my girl. They have enabled me to gratify her wishes. I have come to carry thee this very moment to town."

"Lord bless me, Arthur," said she, lost in a sweet confusion, and her cheeks, always glowing, glowing still more deeply, "indeed, I did not mean----I meant only----I will stay here----I would rather stay----"

"It grieves me to hear that," said I, with earnestness; "I thought I was studying our mutual happiness."

"It grieves you? Don't say so. I would not grieve you for the world; but, indeed, indeed, it is too soon. Such a girl as I am not yet fit to--live in your city." Again she hid her glowing face in my bosom.

"Sweet consciousness! Heavenly innocence!" thought I; "may Achsa's conjectures prove false!--You have mistaken my design, for I do not intend to carry you to town with such a view as you have hinted; but merely to place you with a beloved friend, with Achsa Fielding, of whom already you know so much, where we shall enjoy each other's company without restraint or intermission."

I then proceeded to disclose to her the plan suggested by my friend, and to explain all the consequences that would flow from it. I need not say that she assented to the scheme. She was all rapture and gratitude. Preparations for departure were easily and speedily made. I hired a chaise of a neighbouring farmer, and, according to my promise, by noon the same day, delivered the timid and bashful girl into the arms of her new sister.

She was received with the utmost tenderness, not only by Mrs. Fielding, but by all my friends. Her affectionate heart was encouraged to pour forth all its feeling as into the bosom of a mother. She was reinspired with confidence. Her want of experience was supplied by the gentlest admonitions and instructions. In every plan for her improvement suggested by her new _mamma_, (for she never called her by any other name,) she engaged with docility and eagerness; and her behaviour and her progress exceeded the most sanguine hopes that I had formed as to the softness of her temper and the acuteness of her genius.

Those graces which a polished education, and intercourse with the better classes of society, are adapted to give, my girl possessed, in some degree, by a native and intuitive refinement and sagacity of mind. All that was to be obtained from actual observation and instruction was obtained without difficulty; and in a short time nothing but the affectionate simplicity and unperverted feelings of the country-girl bespoke the original condition.

"What art so busy about, Arthur? Always at thy pen of late. Come, I must know the fruit of all this toil and all this meditation. I am determined to scrape acquaintance with Haller and Linnaeus. I will begin this very day. All one's friends, you know, should be ours. Love has made many a patient, and let me see if it cannot, in my case, make a physician. But, first, what is all this writing about?"

"Mrs. Wentworth has put me upon a strange task,--not disagreeable, however, but such as I should, perhaps, have declined, had not the absence of my Bess, and her mamma, made the time hang somewhat heavy. I have, oftener than once, and far more circumstantially than now, told her my adventures, but she is not satisfied. She wants a written narrative, for some purpose which she tells me she will disclose to me hereafter.

"Luckily, my friend Stevens has saved me more than half the trouble. He has done me the favour to compile much of my history with his own hand. I cannot imagine what could prompt him to so wearisome an undertaking; but he says that adventures and a destiny so singular as mine ought not to be abandoned to forgetfulness like any vulgar and _every-day existence. Besides, when he wrote it, he suspected that it might be necessary to the safety of my reputation and my life, from the consequences of my connection with Welbeck. Time has annihilated that danger. All enmities and all suspicions are buried with that ill-fated wretch. Wortley has been won by my behaviour, and confides in my integrity now as much as he formerly suspected it. I am glad, however, that the task was performed. It has saved me a world of writing. I had only to take up the broken thread, and bring it down to the period of my present happiness; and this was done, just as you tripped along the entry this morning.

"To bed, my friend; it is late, and this delicate frame is not half so able to encounter fatigue as a youth spent in the hay-field and the dairy might have been expected to be."

"I will, but let me take these sheets along with me. I will read them, that I am determined, before I sleep, and watch if you have told the whole truth."

"Do so, if you please; but remember one thing. Mrs. Wentworth requested me to write not as if it were designed for her perusal, but for those who have no previous knowledge of her or of me. 'Twas an odd request. I cannot imagine what she means by it; but she never acts without good reason, and I have done so. And now, withdraw, my dear, and farewell."

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VOLUME II CHAPTER XLIVI 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
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