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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesArthur Mervyn; Or, Memoirs Of The Year 1793 - Volume 2 - Chapter 47
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Arthur Mervyn; Or, Memoirs Of The Year 1793 - Volume 2 - Chapter 47 Post by :JayBeau Category :Long Stories Author :Charles Brockden Brown Date :May 2012 Read :1118

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Arthur Mervyn; Or, Memoirs Of The Year 1793 - Volume 2 - Chapter 47

VOLUME II CHAPTER XLVII

None 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 been so much larger than mine, and so wholly different, and she possessed such unbounded facility of recounting all she had seen and felt, and absolute sincerity and unreserve in this respect were so fully established between us, that I can imagine nothing equally instructive and delightful with her conversation.

Books are cold, jejune, vexatious in their sparingness of information at one time and their impertinent loquacity at another. Besides, all they choose to give they give at once; they allow no questions, offer no further explanations, and bend not to the caprices of our curiosity. They talk to us behind a screen. Their tone is lifeless and monotonous. They charm not our attention by mute significances of gesture and looks. They spread no light upon their meaning by cadences and emphasis and pause.

How different was Mrs. Fielding's discourse! So versatile; so bending to the changes of the occasion; so obsequious to my curiosity, and so abundant in that very knowledge in which I was most deficient, and on which I set the most value, the knowledge of the human heart; of society as it existed in another world, more abundant in the varieties of customs and characters, than I had ever had the power to witness.

Partly selfish I have said my motives were, but not so, as long as I saw that my friend derived pleasure, in her turn, from my company. Not that I could add directly to her knowledge or pleasure, but that expansion of heart, that ease of utterance and flow of ideas which always were occasioned by my approach, were sources of true pleasure of which she had been long deprived, and for which her privation had given her a higher relish than ever.

She lived in great affluence and independence, but made use of her privileges of fortune chiefly to secure to herself the command of her own time. She had been long ago tired and disgusted with the dull and fulsome uniformity and parade of the play-house and ballroom. Formal visits were endured as mortifications and penances, by which the delights of privacy and friendly intercourse were by contrast increased. Music she loved, but never sought it in places of public resort, or from the skill of mercenary performers; and books were not the least of her pleasures.

As to me, I was wax in her hand. Without design and without effort, I was always of that form she wished me to assume. My own happiness became a secondary passion, and her gratification the great end of my being. When with her, I thought not of myself. I had scarcely a separate or independent existence, since my senses were occupied by her, and my mind was full of those ideas which her discourse communicated. To meditate on her looks and words, and to pursue the means suggested by my own thoughts, or by her, conducive, in any way, to her good, was all my business.

"What a fate," said I, at the conclusion of one of our interviews, "has been yours! But, thank Heaven, the storm has disappeared before the age of sensibility has gone past, and without drying up every source of happiness. You are still young; all your powers unimpaired; rich in the compassion and esteem of the world; wholly independent of the claims and caprices of others; amply supplied with that means of usefulness, called money; wise in that experience which only adversity can give. Past evils and sufferings, if incurred and endured without guilt, if called to view without remorse, make up the materials of present joy. They cheer our most dreary hours with the widespread accents of 'well done,' and they heighten our pleasures into somewhat of celestial brilliancy, by furnishing a deep, a ruefully-deep, contrast.

"From this moment, I will cease to weep for you. I will call you the happiest of women. I will share with you your happiness by witnessing it; but that shall not content me. I must some way contribute to it. Tell me how I shall serve you. What can I do to make you happier? Poor am I in every thing but zeal, but still I may do something. What--pray tell me, what can I do?"

She looked at me with sweet and solemn significance. What it was exactly I could not divine, yet I was strangely affected by it. It was but a glance, instantly withdrawn. She made me no answer.

"You must not be silent; you _must tell me what I can do for you. Hitherto I have done nothing. All the service is on your side. Your conversation has been my study, a delightful study, but the profit has only been mine. Tell me how I can be grateful: my voice and manner, I believe, seldom belie my feelings." At this time, I had almost done what a second thought made me suspect to be unauthorized. Yet I cannot tell why. My heart had nothing in it but reverence and admiration. Was she not the substitute of my lost mamma? Would I not have clasped that beloved shade? Yet the two beings were not just the same, or I should not, as now, have checked myself, and only pressed her hand to my lips.

"Tell me," repeated I, "what can I do to serve you? I read to you a little now, and you are pleased with my reading. I copy for you when you want the time. I guide the reins for you when you choose to ride. Humble offices, indeed, though, perhaps, all that a raw youth like me can do for you; but I can be still more assiduous. I can read several hours in the day, instead of one. I can write ten times as much as now.

"Are you not my lost mamma come back again? And yet, not _exactly her, I think. Something different; something better, I believe, if that be possible. At any rate, methinks I would be wholly yours. I shall be impatient and uneasy till every act, every thought, every minute, someway does you good.

"How!" said I, (her eye, still averted, seemed to hold back the tear with difficulty, and she made a motion as if to rise,) "have I grieved you? Have I been importunate? Forgive me if I have offended you."

Her eyes now overflowed without restraint. She articulated, with difficulty, "Tears are too prompt with me of late; but they did not upbraid you. Pain has often caused them to flow, but now it--is--_pleasure_."

"What a heart must yours be!" I resumed. "When susceptible of such pleasures, what pangs must formerly have rent it!--But you are not displeased, you say, with my importunate zeal. You will accept me as your own in every thing. Direct me; prescribe to me. There must be _something in which I can be of still more use to you; some way in which I can be wholly yours----"

"_Wholly mine!_" she repeated, in a smothered voice, and rising. "Leave me, Arthur. It is too late for you to be here. It was wrong to stay so late."

"I have been wrong; but how too late? I entered but this moment. It is twilight still; is it not?"

"No: it is almost twelve. You have been here a long four hours; short ones I would rather say,--but indeed you must go."

"What made me so thoughtless of the time? But I will go, yet not till you forgive me." I approached her with a confidence and for a purpose at which, upon reflection, I am not a little surprised; but the being called Mervyn is not the same in her company and in that of another. What is the difference, and whence comes it? Her words and looks engross me. My mind wants room for any other object. But why inquire whence the difference? The superiority of her merits and attractions to all those whom I knew would surely account for my fervour. Indifference, if I felt it, would be the only just occasion of wonder.

The hour was, indeed, too late, and I hastened home. Stevens was waiting my return with some anxiety. I apologized for my delay, and recounted to him what had just passed. He listened with more than usual interest. When I had finished,--

"Mervyn," said he, "you seem not be aware of your present situation. From what you now tell me, and from what you have formerly told me, one thing seems very plain to me."

"Pr'ythee, what is it?"

"Eliza Hadwin:--do you wish--could you bear--to see her the wife of another?"

"Five years hence I will answer you. Then my answer may be, 'No; I wish her only to be mine.' Till then, I wish her only to be my pupil, my ward, my sister."

"But these are remote considerations; they are bars to marriage, but not to love. Would it not molest and disquiet you to observe in her a passion for another?"

"It would, but only on her own account; not on mine. At a suitable age it is very likely I may love her, because it is likely, if she holds on in her present career, she will then be worthy; but at present, though I would die to insure her happiness, I have no wish to insure it by marriage with her."

"Is there no other whom you love?"

"No. There is one worthier than all others; one whom I wish the woman who shall be my wife to resemble in all things."

"And who is this model?"

"You know I can only mean Achsa Fielding."

"If you love her likeness, why not love herself?"

I felt my heart leap.--"What a thought is that! Love her I _do as I love my God; as I love virtue. To love her in another sense would brand me for a lunatic."

"To love her as a woman, then, appears to you an act of folly."

"In me it would be worse than folly. 'Twould be frenzy."

"And why?"

"Why? Really, my friend, you astonish me. Nay, you startle me--for a question like that implies a doubt in you whether I have not actually harboured the thought."

"No," said he, smiling, "presumptuous though you be, you have not, to-be-sure, reached so high a pitch. But still, though I think you innocent of so heinous an offence, there is no harm in asking why you might not love her, and even seek her for a wife."

Achsa Fielding _my wife_! Good Heaven!--The very sound threw my soul into unconquerable tumults. "Take care, my friend," continued I, in beseeching accents, "you may do me more injury than you conceive, by even starting such a thought."

"True," said he, "as long as such obstacles exist to your success; so many incurable objections: for instance, she is six years older than you."

"That is an advantage. Her age is what it ought to be."

"But she has been a wife and mother already."

"That is likewise an advantage. She has wisdom, because she has experience. Her sensibilities are stronger, because they have been exercised and chastened. Her first marriage was unfortunate. The purer is the felicity she will taste in a second! If her second choice be propitious, the greater her tenderness and gratitude."

"But she is a foreigner; independent of control, and rich."

"All which are blessings to herself, and to him for whom her hand is reserved; especially if, like me, he is indigent."

"But then she is unsightly as a _night-hag_, tawny as a Moor, the eye of a gipsy, low in stature, contemptibly diminutive, scarcely bulk enough to cast a shadow as she walks, less luxuriance than a charred log, fewer elasticities than a sheet pebble."

"Hush! hush! blasphemer!"--(and I put my hand before his mouth)--"have I not told you that in mind, person, and condition, she is the type after which my enamoured fancy has modelled my wife?"

"Oh ho! Then the objection does not lie with you. It lies with her, it seems. She can find nothing in you to esteem! And, pray, for what faults do you think she would reject you?"

"I cannot tell. That she can ever balance for a moment, on such a question, is incredible. _Me! me! That Achsa Fielding should think of me!"

"Incredible, indeed! You, who are loathsome in your person, an idiot in your understanding, a villain in your morals! deformed! withered! vain, stupid, and malignant. That such a one should choose _you for an idol!"

"Pray, my friend," said I, anxiously, "jest not. What mean you by a hint of this kind?"

"I will not jest, then, but will soberly inquire, what faults are they which make this lady's choice of you so incredible? You are younger than she, though no one, who merely observed your manners and heard you talk, would take you to be under thirty. You are poor: are these impediments?"

"I should think not. I have heard her reason with admirable eloquence against the vain distinctions of property and nation and rank. They were once of moment in her eyes; but the sufferings, humiliations, and reflections of years have cured her of the folly. Her nation has suffered too much by the inhuman antipathies of religious and political faction; she, herself, has felt so often the contumelies of the rich, the high-born, and the bigoted, that----"

"Pr'ythee, then, what dost imagine her objections to be?"

"Why--I don't know. The thought was so aspiring; to call her _my wife was a height of bliss the very far-off view of which made my head dizzy."

"A height, however, to attain which you suppose only her consent, her love, to be necessary?"

"Without doubt, her love is indispensable."

"Sit down, Arthur, and let us no longer treat this matter lightly. I clearly see the importance of this moment to this lady's happiness and yours. It is plain that you love this woman. How could you help it? A brilliant skin is not hers; nor elegant proportions; nor majestic stature: yet no creature had ever more power to bewitch. Her manners have grace and dignity that flow from exquisite feelings, delicate taste, and the quickest and keenest penetration. She has the wisdom of men and of books. Her sympathies are enforced by reason, and her charities regulated by knowledge. She has a woman's age, fortune more than you wish, and a spotless fame. How could you fail to love her?

"_You_, who are her chosen friend, who partake her pleasures and share her employments, on whom she almost exclusively bestows her society and confidence, and to whom she thus affords the strongest of all indirect proofs of impassioned esteem,--how could you, with all that firmness of love, joined with all that discernment of her excellence, how could you escape the enchantment?

"You have not thought of marriage. You have not suspected your love. From the purity of your mind, from the idolatry with which this woman has inspired you, you have imagined no delight beyond that of enjoying her society as you now do, and have never fostered a hope beyond this privilege.

"How quickly would this tranquillity vanish, and the true state of your heart be evinced, if a rival should enter the scene and be entertained with preference! then would the seal be removed, the spell be broken, and you would awaken to terror and to anguish.

"Of this, however, there is no danger. Your passion is not felt by you alone. From her treatment of you, your diffidence disables you from seeing, but nothing can be clearer to me than that she loves you."

I started on my feet. A flush of scorching heat flowed to every part of my frame. My temples began to throb like my heart. I was half delirious, and my delirium was strangely compounded of fear and hope, of delight and of terror.

"What have you done, my friend? You have overturned my peace of mind. Till now the image of this woman has been followed by complacency and sober rapture; but your words have dashed the scene with dismay and confusion. You have raised up wishes, and dreams, and doubts, which possess me in spite of my reason, in spite of a thousand proofs.

"Good God! You say she loves,--loves _me_!--me, a boy in age; bred in clownish ignorance; scarcely ushered into the world; more than childishly unlearned and raw; a barn-door simpleton; a plough-tail, kitchen-hearth, turnip-hoeing novice! She, thus splendidly endowed; thus allied to nobles; thus gifted with arts, and adorned with graces; that she should choose me, me for the partner of her fortune; her affections; and her life! It cannot be. Yet, if it were; if your guesses should--prove--Oaf! madman! To indulge so fatal a chimera! So rash a dream!

"My friend! my friend! I feel that you have done me an irreparable injury. I can never more look her in the face. I can never more frequent her society. These new thoughts will beset and torment me. My disquiet will chain up my tongue. That overflowing gratitude; that innocent joy, unconscious of offence, and knowing no restraint, which have hitherto been my titles to her favour, will fly from my features and manners. I shall be anxious, vacant, and unhappy in her presence. I shall dread to look at her, or to open my lips, lest my mad and unhallowed ambition should betray itself."

"Well," replied Stevens, "this scene is quite new. I could almost find it in my heart to pity you. I did not expect this; and yet, from my knowledge of your character, I ought, perhaps, to have foreseen it. This is a necessary part of the drama. A joyous certainty, on these occasions, must always be preceded by suspenses and doubts, and the close will be joyous in proportion as the preludes are excruciating. Go to bed, my good friend, and think of this. Time and a few more interviews with Mrs. Fielding will, I doubt not, set all to rights."

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VOLUME II CHAPTER XLVIIII went to my chamber, but what different sensations did I carry into it from those with which I had left it a few hours before! I stretched myself on the mattress and put out the light; but the swarm of new images that rushed on my mind set me again instantly in motion. All was rapid, vague, and undefined, wearying and distracting my attention. I was roused as by a divine voice, that said, "Sleep no more! Mervyn shall sleep no more." What chiefly occupied me was a nameless sort of terror. What shall I compare it
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VOLUME II CHAPTER XLVIMove 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
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