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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesArthur Mervyn; Or, Memoirs Of The Year 1793 - Volume 2 - Chapter 46
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Arthur Mervyn; Or, Memoirs Of The Year 1793 - Volume 2 - Chapter 46 Post by :JayBeau Category :Long Stories Author :Charles Brockden Brown Date :May 2012 Read :815

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Arthur Mervyn; Or, Memoirs Of The Year 1793 - Volume 2 - Chapter 46

VOLUME II CHAPTER XLVI

Move on, my quill! wait not for my guidance. Reanimated with thy master's spirit, all airy light! A heyday rapture! A mounting impulse sways him: lifts him from the earth.

I must, cost what it will, rein in this upward-pulling, forward-going--what shall I call it? But there are times, and now is one of them, when words are poor.

It will not do--down this hill, up that steep; through this thicket, over that hedge--I have _laboured to fatigue myself: to reconcile me to repose; to lolling on a sofa; to poring over a book, to any thing that might win for my heart a respite from these throbs; to deceive me into a few _tolerable moments of forgetfulness.

Let me see; they tell me this is Monday night. Only three days yet to come! If thus restless to-day; if my heart thus bounds till its mansion scarcely can hold it, what must be my state to-morrow! What next day! What as the hour hastens on; as the sun descends; as my hand touches hers in sign of wedded unity, of love without interval; of concord without end!

I must quell these tumults. They will disable me else. They will wear out all my strength. They will drain away life itself. But who could have thought! So soon! Not three months since I first set eyes upon her. Not three weeks since our plighted love, and only three days to terminate suspense and give me _all_.

I must compel myself to quiet; to sleep. I must find some refuge from anticipations so excruciating. All extremes are agonies. A joy like this is too big for this narrow tenement. I must thrust it forth; I must bar and bolt it out for a time, or these frail walls will burst asunder. The pen is a pacifier. It checks the mind's career; it circumscribes her wanderings. It traces out and compels us to adhere to one path. It ever was my friend. Often it has blunted my vexations; hushed my stormy passions; turned my peevishness to soothing; my fierce revenge to heart-dissolving pity.

Perhaps it will befriend me now. It may temper my impetuous wishes; lull my intoxication; and render my happiness supportable; and, indeed, it has produced partly this effect already. My blood, within the few minutes thus employed, flows with less destructive rapidity. My thoughts range themselves in less disorder. And, now that the conquest is effected, what shall I say? I must continue at the pen, or shall immediately relapse.

What shall I say? Let me look back upon the steps that led me hither. Let me recount the preliminaries. I cannot do better.

And first as to Achsa Fielding,--to describe this woman.

To recount, in brief, so much of her history as has come to my knowledge will best account for that zeal, almost to idolatry, with which she has, ever since I thoroughly knew her, been regarded by me.

Never saw I one to whom the term _lovely more truly belonged. And yet in stature she is too low; in complexion dark and almost sallow; and her eyes, though black and of piercing lustre, have a cast which I cannot well explain. It lessens without destroying their lustre and their force to charm; but all personal defects are outweighed by her heart and her intellect. There is the secret of her power to entrance the soul of the listener and beholder. It is not only when she sings that her utterance is musical. It is not only when the occasion is urgent and the topic momentous that her eloquence is rich and flowing. They are always so.

I had vowed to love her and serve her, and been her frequent visitant, long before I was acquainted with her past life. I had casually picked up some intelligence, from others, or from her own remarks. I knew very soon that she was English by birth, and had been only a year and a half in America; that she had scarcely passed her twenty-fifth year, and was still embellished with all the graces of youth; that she had been a wife; but was uninformed whether the knot had been untied by death or divorce; that she possessed considerable, and even splendid, fortune; but the exact amount, and all besides these particulars, were unknown to me till some time after our acquaintance was begun.

One evening she had been talking very earnestly on the influence annexed, in Great Britain, to birth, and had given me some examples of this influence. Meanwhile my eyes were fixed steadfastly on hers. The peculiarity in their expression never before affected me so strongly. A vague resemblance to something seen elsewhere, on the same day, occurred, and occasioned me to exclaim, suddenly, in a pause of her discourse,--

"As I live, my good mamma, those eyes of yours have told me a secret. I almost think they spoke to me; and I am not less amazed at the strangeness than at the distinctness of their story."

"And, pr'ythee, what have they said?"

"Perhaps I was mistaken. I might have been deceived by a fancied voice, or have confounded one word with another near akin to it; but let me die if I did not think they said that you were--_a Jew_."

At this sound, her features were instantly veiled with the deepest sorrow and confusion. She put her hand to her eyes, the tears started, and she sobbed. My surprise at this effect of my words was equal to my contrition. I besought her to pardon me for having thus unknowingly alarmed and grieved her.

After she had regained some composure, she said, "You have not offended, Arthur. Your surmise was just and natural, and could not always have escaped you. Connected with that word are many sources of anguish, which time has not, and never will, dry up; and the less I think of past events the less will my peace be disturbed. I was desirous that you should know nothing of me but what you see; nothing but the present and the future, merely that no allusions might occur in our conversation which will call up sorrows and regrets that will avail nothing.

"I now perceive the folly of endeavouring to keep you in ignorance, and shall therefore, once for all, inform you of what has befallen me, that your inquiries and suggestions may be made and fully satisfied at once, and your curiosity have no motive for calling back my thoughts to what I ardently desire to bury in oblivion.

"My father was indeed a _Jew_, and one of the most opulent of his nation in London,--a Portuguese by birth, but came to London when a boy. He had few of the moral or external qualities of Jews; for I suppose there is some justice in the obloquy that follows them so closely. He was frugal without meanness, and cautious in his dealings, without extortion. I need not fear to say this, for it was the general voice.

"Me, an only child, and, of course, the darling of my parents, they trained up in the most liberal manner. My education was purely English. I learned the same things and of the same masters with my neighbours. Except frequenting their church and repeating their creed, and partaking of the same food, I saw no difference between them and me. Hence I grew more indifferent, perhaps, than was proper, to the distinctions of religion. They were never enforced upon me. No pains were taken to fill me with scruples and antipathies. They never stood, as I may say, upon the threshold. They were often thought upon, but were vague and easily eluded or forgotten.

"Hence it was that my heart too readily admitted impressions that more zeal and more parental caution would have saved me from. They could scarcely be avoided, as my society was wholly English, and my youth, my education, and my father's wealth made me an object of much attention. And the same causes that lulled to sleep my own watchfulness had the same effect upon that of others. To regret or to praise this remissness is now too late. Certain it is, that my destiny, and not a happy destiny, was fixed by it.

"The fruit of this remissness was a passion for one who fully returned it. Almost as young as I, who was only sixteen; he knew as little as myself what obstacles the difference of our births was likely to raise between us. His father, Sir Ralph Fielding, a man nobly born, high in office, splendidly allied, could not be expected to consent to the marriage of his eldest son, in such green youth, to the daughter of an alien, a Portuguese, a Jew; but these impediments were not seen by my ignorance, and were overlooked by the youth's passion.

"But, strange to tell, what common prudence would have so confidently predicted did not happen. Sir Ralph had a numerous family, likely to be still more so; had but slender patrimony; the income of his offices nearly made up his all. The young man was headstrong, impetuous, and would probably disregard the inclinations of his family. Yet the father would not consent but on one condition,--that of my admission to the English Church.

"No very strenuous opposition to these terms could be expected from me. At so thoughtless an age, with an education so unfavourable to religious impressions; swayed, likewise, by the strongest of human passions; made somewhat impatient, by the company I kept, of the disrepute and scorn to which the Jewish nation are everywhere condemned, I could not be expected to be very averse to the scheme.

"My fears as to what my father's decision would be were soon at an end. He loved his child too well to thwart her wishes in so essential a point. Finding in me no scruples, no unwillingness, he thought it absurd to be scrupulous for me. My own heart having abjured my religion, it was absurd to make any difficulty about a formal renunciation. These were his avowed reasons for concurrence, but time showed that he had probably other reasons, founded, indeed, in his regard for my happiness, but such as, if they had been known, would probably have strengthened into invincible the reluctance of my lover's family.

"No marriage was ever attended with happier presages. The numerous relations of my husband admitted me with the utmost cordiality among them. My father's tenderness was unabated by this change, and those humiliations to which I had before been exposed were now no more; and every tie was strengthened, at the end of a year, by the feelings of a _mother_. I had need, indeed, to know a season of happiness, that I might be fitted to endure the sad reverses that succeeded. One after the other my disasters came, each one more heavy than the last, and in such swift succession that they hardly left me time to breathe.

"I had scarcely left my chamber, I had scarcely recovered my usual health, and was able to press with true fervour the new and precious gift to my bosom, when melancholy tidings came. I was in the country, at the seat of my father-in-law, when the messenger arrived.

"A shocking tale it was! and told abruptly, with every unpitying aggravation. I hinted to you once my father's death. The _kind of death--oh! my friend! It was horrible. He was then a placid, venerable old man; though many symptoms of disquiet had long before been discovered by my mother's watchful tenderness. Yet none could suspect him capable of such a deed; for none, so carefully had he conducted his affairs, suspected the havoc that mischance had made of his property.

"I, that had so much reason to love my father,--I will leave you to imagine how I was affected by a catastrophe so dreadful, so unlooked-for. Much less could I suspect the cause of his despair; yet he had foreseen his ruin before my marriage; had resolved to defer it, for his daughter's and his wife's sake, as long as possible, but had still determined not to survive the day that should reduce him to indigence. The desperate act was thus preconcerted--thus deliberate.

"The true state of his affairs was laid open by his death. The failure of great mercantile houses at Frankfort and Liege was the cause of his disasters.

"Thus were my prospects shut in. That wealth which, no doubt, furnished the chief inducement with my husband's family to concur in his choice, was now suddenly exchanged for poverty.

"Bred up, as I had been, in pomp and luxury; conscious that my wealth was my chief security from the contempt of the proud and bigoted, and my chief title to the station to which I had been raised, and which I the more delighted in because it enabled me to confer so great obligations on my husband,--what reverse could be harder than this, and how much bitterness was added by it to the grief occasioned by the violent death of my father!

"Yet loss of fortune, though it mortified my pride, did not prove my worst calamity. Perhaps it was scarcely to be ranked with evils, since it furnished a touchstone by which my husband's affections were to be tried; especially as the issue of the trial was auspicious; for my misfortune seemed only to heighten the interest which my character had made for me in the hearts of all that knew me. The paternal regards of Sir Ralph had always been tender, but that tenderness seemed now to be redoubled.

"New events made this consolation still more necessary. My unhappy mother!--She was nearer to the dreadful scene when it happened; had no surviving object to beguile her sorrow; was rendered, by long habit, more dependent upon fortune than her child.

"A melancholy, always mute, was the first effect upon my mother. Nothing could charm her eye, or her ear. Sweet sounds that she once loved, and especially when her darling child was the warbler, were heard no longer. How, with streaming eyes, have I sat and watched the dear lady, and endeavoured to catch her eye, to rouse her attention!--But I must not think of these things.

"But even this distress was little in comparison with what was to come. A frenzy thus mute, motionless, and vacant, was succeeded by fits, talkative, outrageous, requiring incessant superintendence, restraint, and even violence.

"Why led you me thus back to my sad remembrances? Excuse me for the present. I will tell you the rest some other time; to-morrow."

To-morrow, accordingly, my friend resumed her story.

"Let me now make an end," said she, "of my mournful narrative, and never, I charge you, do any thing to revive it again.

"Deep as was my despondency, occasioned by these calamities, I was not destitute of some joy. My husband and my child were lovely and affectionate. In their caresses, in their welfare, I found peace; and might still have found it, had there not been----. But why should I open afresh wounds which time has imperfectly closed? But the story must some time be told to you, and the sooner it is told and dismissed to forgetfulness the better.

"My ill fate led me into company with a woman too well known in the idle and dissipated circles. Her character was not unknown to me. There was nothing in her features or air to obviate disadvantageous prepossessions. I sought not her intercourse; I rather shunned it, as unpleasing and discreditable, but she would not be repulsed. Self-invited, she made herself my frequent guest; took unsolicited part in my concerns; did me many kind offices; and, at length, in spite of my counter-inclination, won upon my sympathy and gratitude.

"No one in the world, did I fondly think, had I less reason to fear than Mrs. Waring. Her character excited not the slightest apprehension for my own safety. She was upwards of forty, nowise remarkable for grace or beauty; tawdry in her dress; accustomed to render more conspicuous the traces of age by her attempts to hide them; the mother of a numerous family, with a mind but slenderly cultivated; always careful to save appearances; studiously preserving distance with my husband, and he, like myself, enduring rather than wishing her society. What could I fear from the arts of such a one?

"But alas! the woman had consummate address. Patience, too, that nothing could tire. Watchfulness that none could detect. Insinuation the wiliest and most subtle. Thus wound she herself into my affections, by an unexampled perseverance in seeming kindness; by tender confidence; by artful glosses of past misconduct; by self-rebukes and feigned contritions.

"Never were stratagems so intricate, dissimulation so profound! But still, that such a one should seduce my husband; young, generous, ambitious, impatient of contumely and reproach, and surely not indifferent; before this fatal intercourse, not indifferent to his wife and child!--Yet so it was!

"I saw his discontents; his struggles; I heard him curse this woman, and the more deeply for my attempts, unconscious as I was of her machinations, to reconcile them to each other, to do away what seemed a causeless indignation, or antipathy against her. How little I suspected the nature of the conflict in his heart, between a new passion and the claims of pride; of conscience and of humanity; the claims of a child and a wife; a wife, already in affliction, and placing all that yet remained of happiness, in the firmness of his virtue; in the continuance of his love; a wife, at the very hour of his meditated flight, full of terrors at the near approach of an event whose agonies demand a double share of a husband's supporting, encouraging love----

"Good Heaven! For what evils are some of thy creatures reserved! Resignation to thy decree, in the last and most cruel distress, was, indeed, a hard task.

"He was gone. Some unavoidable engagement calling him to Hamburg was pleaded. Yet to leave me at such an hour! I dared not upbraid, nor object. The tale was so specious! The fortunes of a friend depended on his punctual journey. The falsehood of his story too soon made itself known. He was gone, in company with his detested paramour!

"Yet, though my vigilance was easily deceived, it was not so with others. A creditor, who had his bond for three thousand pounds, pursued and arrested him at Harwich. He was thrown into prison, but his companion--let me, at least, say that in her praise--would not desert him. She took lodging near the place of his confinement, and saw him daily. That, had she not done it, and had my personal condition allowed, should have been my province.

"Indignation and grief hastened the painful crisis with me. I did not weep that the second fruit of this unhappy union saw not the light. I wept only that this hour of agony was not, to its unfortunate mother, the last.

"I felt not anger; I had nothing but compassion for Fielding. Gladly would I have recalled him to my arms and to virtue; I wrote, adjuring him, by all our past joys, to return; vowing only gratitude for his new affection, and claiming only the recompense of seeing him restored to his family; to liberty; to reputation.

"But, alas! Fielding had a good but a proud heart. He looked upon his error with remorse, with self-detestation, and with the fatal belief that it could not be retrieved; shame made him withstand all my reasonings and persuasions, and, in the hurry of his feelings, he made solemn vows that he would, in the moment of restored liberty, abjure his country and his family forever. He bore indignantly the yoke of his new attachment, but he strove in vain to shake it off. Her behaviour, always yielding, doting, supplicative, preserved him in her fetters. Though upbraided, spurned, and banished from his presence, she would not leave him, but, by new efforts and new artifices, soothed, appeased, and won again and kept his tenderness.

"What my entreaties were unable to effect, his father could not hope to accomplish. He offered to take him from prison; the creditor offered to cancel the bond, if he would return to me; but this condition he refused. All his kindred, and one who had been his bosom-friend from childhood, joined in beseeching his compliance with these conditions; but his pride, his dread of my merited reproaches, the merits and dissuasions of his new companion, whose sacrifices for his sake had not been small, were obstacles which nothing could subdue.

"Far, indeed, was I from imposing these conditions. I waited only till, by certain arrangements, I could gather enough to pay his debts, to enable him to execute his vow: empty would have been my claims to his affection, if I could have suffered, with the means of his deliverance in my hands, my husband to remain a moment in prison.

"The remains of my father's vast fortune was a jointure of a thousand pounds a year, settled on my mother, and, after her death, on me. My mother's helpless condition put this revenue into my disposal. By this means was I enabled, without the knowledge of my father-in-law or my husband, to purchase the debt, and dismiss him from prison. He set out instantly, in company with his paramour, to France.

"When somewhat recovered from the shock of this calamity, I took up my abode with my mother. What she had was enough, as you perhaps will think, for plentiful subsistence; but to us, with habits of a different kind, it was little better than poverty. That reflection, my father's memory, my mother's deplorable state, which every year grew worse, and the late misfortune, were the chief companions of my thoughts.

"The dear child, whose smiles were uninterrupted by his mother's afflictions, was some consolation in my solitude. To his instruction and to my mother's wants all my hours were devoted. I was sometimes not without the hope of better days. Full as my mind was of Fielding's merits, convinced by former proofs of his ardent and generous spirit, I trusted that time and reflection would destroy that spell by which he was now bound.

"For some time, the progress of these reflections was not known. In leaving England, Fielding dropped all correspondence and connection with his native country. He parted with the woman at Rouen, leaving no trace behind him by which she might follow him, as she wished to do. She never returned to England, but died a twelvemonth afterwards in Switzerland.

"As to me, I had only to muse day and night upon the possible destiny of this beloved fugitive. His incensed father cared not for him. He had cast him out of his paternal affections, ceased to make inquiries respecting him, and even wished never to hear of him again. My boy succeeded to my husband's place in his grandfather's affections, and in the hopes and views of the family; and his mother wanted nothing which their compassionate and respectful love could bestow.

"Three long and tedious years passed away, and no tidings were received. Whether he were living or dead, nobody could tell. At length, an English traveller, going out of the customary road from Italy, met with Fielding, in a town in the Venaissin. His manners, habits, and language, had become French. He seemed unwilling to be recognised by an old acquaintance, but, not being able to avoid this, and becoming gradually familiar, he informed the traveller of many particulars in his present situation. It appeared that he had made himself useful to a neighbouring _seigneur_, in whose _chateau he had long lived on the footing of a brother. France he had resolved to make his future country, and, among other changes for that end, he had laid aside his English name, and taken that of his patron, which was _Perrin_. He had endeavoured to compensate himself for all other privations, by devoting himself to rural amusements and to study.

"He carefully shunned all inquiries respecting me; but, when my name was mentioned by his friend, who knew well all that had happened, and my general welfare, together with that of his son, asserted, he showed deep sensibility, and even consented that I should be made acquainted with his situation.

"I cannot describe the effect of this intelligence on me. My hopes of bringing him back to me were suddenly revived. I wrote him a letter, in which I poured forth my whole heart; but his answer contained avowals of all his former resolutions, to which time had only made his adherence more easy. A second and third letter were written, and an offer made to follow him to his retreat and share his exile; but all my efforts availed nothing. He solemnly and repeatedly renounced all the claims of a husband over me, and absolved me from every obligation as a wife.

"His part in this correspondence was performed without harshness or contempt. A strange mixture there was of pathos and indifference; of tenderness and resolution. Hence I continually derived hope, which time, however, brought no nearer to certainty.

"At the opening of the Revolution, the name of Perrin appeared among the deputies to the constituent assembly for the district in which he resided. He had thus succeeded in gaining all the rights of a French citizen; and the hopes of his return became almost extinct; but that, and every other hope respecting him, has since been totally extinguished by his marriage with Marguerite d'Almont, a young lady of great merit and fortune, and a native of Avignon.

"A long period of suspense was now at an end, and left me in a state almost as full of anguish as that which our first separation produced. My sorrows were increased by my mother's death, and, this incident freeing me from those restraints upon my motions which before existed, I determined to come to America.

"My son was now eight years old, and, his grandfather claiming the province of his instruction, I was persuaded to part with him, that he might be sent to a distant school. Thus was another tie removed, and, in spite of the well-meant importunities of my friends, I persisted in my scheme of crossing the ocean."

I could not help, at this part of her narration, expressing my surprise that any motives were strong enough to recommend this scheme.

"It was certainly a freak of despair. A few months would, perhaps, have allayed the fresh grief, and reconciled me to my situation; but I would not pause or deliberate. My scheme was opposed by my friends with great earnestness. During my voyage, affrighted by the dangers which surrounded me, and to which I was wholly unused, I heartily repented of my resolution; but now, methinks, I have reason to rejoice at my perseverance. I have come into a scene and society so new, I have had so many claims made upon my ingenuity and fortitude, that my mind has been diverted in some degree from former sorrows. There are even times when I wholly forget them, and catch myself indulging in cheerful reveries.

"I have often reflected with surprise on the nature of my own mind. It is eight years since my father's violent death. How few of my hours since that period have been blessed with serenity! How many nights and days, in hateful and lingering succession, have been bathed in tears and tormented with regrets! That I am still alive, with so many causes of death, and with such a slow-consuming malady, is surely to be wondered at.

"I believe the worst foes of man, at least of men in grief, are solitude and idleness. The same eternally-occurring round of objects feeds his disease, and the effects of mere vacancy and uniformity are sometimes mistaken for those of grief. Yes, I am glad I came to America. My relations are importunate for my return, and till lately I had some thoughts of it; but I think now I shall stay where I am for the rest of my days.

"Since I arrived, I am become more of a student than I used to be. I always loved literature, but never, till of late, had I a mind enough at ease to read with advantage. I now find pleasure in the occupation which I never expected to find.

"You see in what manner I live. The letters which I brought secured me a flattering reception from the best people in your country; but scenes of gay resort had nothing to attract me, and I quickly withdrew to that seclusion in which you now find me. Here, always at leisure, and mistress of every laudable means of gratification, I am not without the belief of serene days yet to come."

I now ventured to inquire what were her latest tidings of her husband.

"At the opening of the Revolution, I told you, he became a champion of the people. By his zeal and his efforts he acquired such importance as to be deputed to the National Assembly. In this post he was the adherent of violent measures, till the subversion of monarchy; and then, when too late for his safety, he checked his career."

"And what has since become of him?"

She sighed deeply. "You were yesterday reading a list of the proscribed under Robespierre. I checked you. I had good reason. But this subject grows too painful; let us change it."

Some time after, I ventured to renew this topic; and discovered that Fielding, under his new name of Perrin d'Almont, was among the outlawed deputies of last year,(1) and had been slain in resisting the officers sent to arrest him. My friend had been informed that his _wife_, Marguerite d'Almont, whom she had reason to believe a woman of great merit, had eluded persecution, and taken refuge in some part of America. She had made various attempts, but in vain, to find out her retreat. "Ah!" said I, "you must commission me to find her. I will hunt her through the continent from Penobscot to Savannah. I will not leave a nook unsearched."

(Footnote 1: 1793.)

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VOLUME II CHAPTER XLVIINone will be surprised that, to a woman thus unfortunate and thus deserving, my heart willingly rendered up all its sympathies; that, as I partook of all her grief, I hailed, with equal delight, those omens of felicity which now, at length, seemed to play in her fancy. I saw her often,--as often as my engagements would permit, and oftener than I allowed myself to visit any other. In this I was partly selfish. So much entertainment, so much of the best instruction, did her conversation afford me, that I never had enough of it. Her experience had
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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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