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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesArthur Mervyn; Or, Memoirs Of The Year 1793 - Volume 2 - Chapter 48
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Arthur Mervyn; Or, Memoirs Of The Year 1793 - Volume 2 - Chapter 48 Post by :JayBeau Category :Long Stories Author :Charles Brockden Brown Date :May 2012 Read :2096

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Arthur Mervyn; Or, Memoirs Of The Year 1793 - Volume 2 - Chapter 48

VOLUME II CHAPTER XLVIII

I 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 to? Methinks, that one falling from a tree overhanging a torrent, plunged into the whirling eddy, and gasping and struggling while he sinks to rise no more, would feel just as I did then. Nay, some such image actually possessed me. Such was one of my reveries, in which suddenly I stretched my hand, and caught the arm of a chair. This act called me back to reason, or rather gave my soul opportunity to roam into a new track equally wild.

Was it the abruptness of this vision that thus confounded me? was it a latent error in my moral constitution, which this new conjuncture drew forth into influence? These were all the tokens of a mind lost to itself; bewildered; unhinged; plunged into a drear insanity.

Nothing less could have prompted so fantastically; for, midnight as it was, my chamber's solitude was not to be supported. After a few turns across the floor, I left the room, and the house. I walked without design and in a hurried pace. I posted straight to the house of Mrs. Fielding. I lifted the latch, but the door did not open. It was, no doubt, locked.

"How comes this?" said I, and looked around me. The hour and occasion were unthought of. Habituated to this path, I had taken it spontaneously. "How comes this?" repeated I. "Locked upon _me_! but I will summon them, I warrant me,"--and rung the bell, not timidly or slightly, but with violence. Some one hastened from above. I saw the glimmer of a candle through the keyhole.

"Strange," thought I; "a candle at noonday!"--The door was opened, and my poor Bess, robed in a careless and hasty manner, appeared. She started at sight of me, but merely because she did not, in a moment, recognise me.--"Ah! Arthur, is it you? Come in. My mamma has wanted you these two hours. I was just going to despatch Philip to tell you to come."

"Lead me to her," said I.

She led the way into the parlour.--"Wait a moment here; I will tell her you are come;"--and she tripped away.

Presently a step was heard. The door opened again, and then entered a man. He was tall, elegant, sedate to a degree of sadness; something in his dress and aspect that bespoke the foreigner, the Frenchman.

"What," said he, mildly, "is your business with my wife? She cannot see you instantly, and has sent me to receive your commands."

"Your _wife_! I want Mrs. Fielding."

"True; and Mrs. Fielding is my wife. Thank Heaven, I have come in time to discover her, and claim her as such."

I started back. I shuddered. My joints slackened, and I stretched my hand to catch something by which I might be saved from sinking on the floor. Meanwhile, Fielding changed his countenance into rage and fury. He called me villain! bade me avaunt! and drew a shining steel from his bosom, with which he stabbed me to the heart. I sunk upon the floor, and all, for a time, was darkness and oblivion! At length, I returned as it were to life. I opened my eyes. The mists disappeared, and I found myself stretched upon the bed in my own chamber. I remembered the fatal blow I had received. I put my hand upon my breast; the spot where the dagger entered. There were no traces of a wound. All was perfect and entire. Some miracle had made me whole.

I raised myself up. I re-examined my body. All around me was hushed, till a voice from the pavement below proclaimed that it was "past three o'clock."

"What!" said I; "has all this miserable pageantry, this midnight wandering, and this ominous interview, been no more than--_a dream_?"

It may be proper to mention, in explanation of this scene, and to show the thorough perturbation of my mind during this night, intelligence gained some days after from Eliza. She said, that about two o'clock, on this night, she was roused by a violent ringing of the bell. She was startled by so unseasonable a summons. She slept in a chamber adjoining Mrs. Fielding's, and hesitated whether she should alarm her friend; but, the summons not being repeated, she had determined to forbear.

Added to this, was the report of Mrs. Stevens, who, on the same night, about half an hour after I and her husband had retired, imagined that she heard the street door opened and shut; but, this being followed by no other consequence, she supposed herself mistaken. I have little doubt that, in my feverish and troubled sleep, I actually went forth, posted to the house of Mrs. Fielding, rung for admission, and shortly after returned to my own apartment.

This confusion of mind was somewhat allayed by the return of light. It gave way to more uniform but not less rueful and despondent perceptions. The image of Achsa filled my fancy, but it was the harbinger of nothing but humiliation and sorrow. To outroot the conviction of my own unworthiness, to persuade myself that I was regarded with the tenderness that Stevens had ascribed to her, that the discovery of my thoughts would not excite her anger and grief, I felt to be impossible.

In this state of mind, I could not see her. To declare my feelings would produce indignation and anguish; to hide them from her scrutiny was not in my power; yet, what would she think of my estranging myself from her society? What expedient could I honestly adopt to justify my absence, and what employments could I substitute for those precious hours hitherto devoted to her?

"_This afternoon," thought I, "she has been invited to spend at Stedman's country-house on Schuylkill. She consented to go, and I was to accompany her. I am fit only for solitude. My behaviour, in her presence, will be enigmatical, capricious, and morose. I must not go: yet what will she think of my failure? Not to go will be injurious and suspicious."

I was undetermined. The appointed hour arrived. I stood at my chamber-window, torn by a variety of purposes, and swayed alternately by repugnant arguments. I several times went to the door of my apartment, and put my foot upon the first step of the staircase, but as often paused, reconsidered, and returned to my room.

In these fluctuations the hour passed. No messenger arrived from Mrs. Fielding, inquiring into the cause of my delay. Was she offended at my negligence? Was she sick and disabled from going, or had she changed her mind? I now remembered her parting words at our last interview. Were they not susceptible of two constructions? She said my visit was too long, and bade me begone. Did she suspect my presumption, and is she determined thus to punish me?

This terror added anew to all my former anxieties. It was impossible to rest in this suspense. I would go to her; I would lay before her all the anguish of my heart; I would not spare myself. She shall not reproach me more severely than I will reproach myself. I will hear my sentence from her own lips, and promise unlimited submission to the doom of separation and exile which she will pronounce.

I went forth to her house. The drawing-room and summer-house were empty. I summoned Philip the footman: his mistress was gone to Mr. Stedman's.

"How?--To Stedman's?--In whose company?"

"Miss Stedman and her brother called for her in the carriage, and persuaded her to go with them."

Now my heart sunk, indeed! Miss Stedman's _brother_! A youth, forward, gallant, and gay! Flushed with prosperity, and just returned from Europe, with all the confidence of age, and all the ornaments of education! She has gone with him, though pre-engaged to me! Poor Arthur, how art thou despised!

This information only heightened my impatience. I went away, but returned in the evening. I waited till eleven, but she came not back. I cannot justly paint the interval that passed till next morning. It was void of sleep. On leaving her house, I wandered into the fields. Every moment increased my impatience. "She will probably spend the morrow at Stedman's," said I, "and possibly the next day. Why should I wait for her return? Why not seek her there, and rid myself at once of this agonizing suspense? Why not go thither now? This night, wherever I spend it, will be unacquainted with repose. I will go; it is already near twelve, and the distance is more than eight miles. I will hover near the house till morning, and then, as early as possible, demand an interview."

I was well acquainted with Stedman's villa, having formerly been there with Mrs. Fielding. I quickly entered its precincts. I went close to the house; looked mournfully at every window. At one of them a light was to be seen, and I took various stations to discover, if possible, the persons within. Methought once I caught a glimpse of a female, whom my fancy easily imagined to be Achsa. I sat down upon the lawn, some hundred feet from the house, and opposite the window whence the light proceeded. I watched it, till at length some one came to the window, lifted it, and, leaning on her arms, continued to look out.

The preceding day had been a very sultry one: the night, as usual after such a day and the fall of a violent shower, was delightfully serene and pleasant. Where I stood was enlightened by the moon. Whether she saw me or not, I could hardly tell, or whether she distinguished any thing but a human figure.

Without reflecting on what was due to decorum and punctilio, I immediately drew near the house. I quickly perceived that her attention was fixed. Neither of us spoke, till I had placed myself directly under her; I then opened my lips, without knowing in what manner to address her. She spoke first, and in a startled and anxious voice:--

"Who is that?"

"Arthur Mervyn; he that was two days ago your friend."

"Mervyn! What is it that brings you here at this hour? What is the matter? What has happened? Is anybody sick?"

"All is safe; all are in good health."

"What then do you come hither for at such an hour?"

"I meant not to disturb you; I meant not to be seen."

"Good heavens! How you frighten me! What can be the reason of so strange----"

"Be not alarmed. I meant to hover near the house till morning, that I might see you as early as possible."

"For what purpose?"

"I will tell you when we meet, and let that be at five o'clock; the sun will then be risen; in the cedar-grove under the bank; till when, farewell."

Having said this, I prevented all expostulation, by turning the angle of the house, and hastening towards the shore of the river. I roved about the grove that I have mentioned. In one part of it is a rustic seat and table, shrouded by trees and shrubs, and an intervening eminence, from the view of those in the house. This I designed to be the closing scene of my destiny.

Presently I left this spot, and wandered upward through embarrassed and obscure paths, starting forward or checking my pace, according as my wayward meditations governed me. Shall I describe my thoughts? Impossible! It was certainly a temporary loss of reason; nothing less than madness could lead into such devious tracks, drag me down to so hopeless, helpless, panicful a depth, and drag me down so suddenly; lay waste, as at a signal, all my flourishing structures, and reduce them in a moment to a scene of confusion and horror.

What did I fear? What did I hope? What did I design? I cannot tell; my glooms were to retire with the night. The point to which every tumultuous feeling was linked was the coming interview with Achsa. That was the boundary of fluctuation and suspense. Here was the sealing and ratification of my doom.

I rent a passage through the thicket, and struggled upward till I reached the edge of a considerable precipice; I laid me down at my length upon the rock, whose cold and hard surface I pressed with my bared and throbbing breast. I leaned over the edge; fixed my eyes upon the water and wept--plentifully; but why?

May _this be my heart's last beat, if I can tell why?

I had wandered so far from Stedman's, that, when roused by the light, I had some miles to walk before I could reach the place of meeting. Achsa was already there. I slid down the rock above, and appeared before her. Well might she be startled at my wild and abrupt appearance.

I placed myself, without uttering a word, upon a seat opposite to her, the table between, and, crossing my arms upon the table, leaned my head upon them, while my face was turned towards and my eyes fixed upon hers. I seemed to have lost the power and the inclination to speak.

She regarded me, at first, with anxious curiosity; after examining my looks, every emotion was swallowed up in terrified sorrow. "For God's sake!--what does all this mean? Why am I called to this place? What tidings, what fearful tidings, do you bring?"

I did not change my posture or speak. "What," she resumed, "could inspire all this woe? Keep me not in this suspense, Arthur; these looks and this silence shock and afflict me too much."

"Afflict you?" said I, at last; "I come to tell you what, now that I am here, I cannot tell----" There I stopped.

"Say what, I entreat you. You seem to be very unhappy--such a change--from yesterday!"

"Yes! From yesterday; all then was a joyous calm, and now all is--but then I knew not my infamy, my guilt----"

"What words are these, and from you, Arthur? Guilt is to you impossible. If purity is to be found on earth, it is lodged in your heart. What have you done?"

"I have dared--how little you expect the extent of my daring! That such as I should look upwards with this ambition."

I stood up, and taking her hands in mine, as she sat, looked earnestly in her face:--"I come only to beseech your pardon. To tell you my crime, and then disappear forever; but first let me see if there be any omen of forgiveness. Your looks--they are kind; heavenly; compassionate still. I will trust them, I believe; and yet" (letting go her hands, and turning away) "this offence is beyond the reach even of _your mercy."

"How beyond measure these words and this deportment distress me! Let me know the worst; I cannot bear to be thus perplexed."

"Why," said I, turning quickly round and again taking her hands, "that Mervyn, whom you have honoured and confided in, and blessed with your sweet regards, has been----"

"What has he been? Divinely amiable, heroic in his virtue, I am sure. What else has he been?"

"This Mervyn has imagined, has dared--will you forgive him?"

"Forgive you what? Why don't you speak? Keep not my soul in this suspense."

"He has dared--But do not think that I am he. Continue to look as now, and reserve your killing glances, the vengeance of those eyes, as for one that is absent.----Why, what--you weep, then, at last. That is a propitious sign. When pity drops from the eyes of our judge, then should the suppliant approach. Now, in confidence of pardon, I will tell you; this Mervyn, not content with all you have hitherto granted him, has dared--to _love you; nay, to think of you as of _his wife_!"

Her eye sunk beneath mine, and, disengaging her hands, she covered her face with them.

"I see my fate," said I, in a tone of despair. "Too well did I predict the effect of this confession; but I will go--_and unforgiven_."

She now partly uncovered her face. The hand was withdrawn from her cheek, and stretched towards me. She looked at me.

"Arthur! I _do forgive thee."--With what accents was this uttered! With what looks! The cheek that was before pale with terror was now crimsoned over by a different emotion, and delight swam in her eye.

Could I mistake? My doubts, my new-born fears, made me tremble while I took the offered hand.

"Surely," faltered I, "I am not--I cannot be--so blessed."

There was no need of words. The hand that I held was sufficiently eloquent. She was still silent.

"Surely," said I, "my senses deceive me. A bliss like this cannot be reserved for me. Tell me once more--set my doubting heart at rest."

She now gave herself to my arms:--"I have not words--Let your own heart tell you, you have made your Achsa----"

At this moment, a voice from without (it was Miss Stedman's) called, "Mrs. Fielding! where are you?"

My friend started up, and, in a hasty voice, bade me begone. "You must not be seen by this giddy girl. Come hither this evening, as if by my appointment, and I will return with you."--She left me in a kind of trance. I was immovable. My reverie was too delicious;--but let me not attempt the picture. If I can convey no image of my state previous to this interview, my subsequent feelings are still more beyond the reach of my powers to describe.

Agreeably to the commands of my mistress, I hastened away, evading paths which might expose me to observation. I speedily made my friends partake of my joy, and passed the day in a state of solemn but confused rapture. I did not accurately portray the various parts of my felicity. The whole rushed upon my soul at once. My conceptions were too rapid and too comprehensive to be distinct.

I went to Stedman's in the evening. I found in the accents and looks of my Achsa new assurances that all which had lately passed was more than a dream. She made excuses for leaving the Stedmans sooner than ordinary, and was accompanied to the city by her friend. We dropped Mrs. Fielding at her own house, and thither, after accompanying Miss Stedman to her own home, I returned upon the wings of tremulous impatience.

Now could I repeat every word of every conversation that has since taken place between us; but why should I do that on paper? Indeed, it could not be done. All is of equal value, and all could not be comprised but in many volumes. There needs nothing more deeply to imprint it on my memory; and, while thus reviewing the past, I should be iniquitously neglecting the present. What is given to the pen would be taken from her; and that, indeed, would be--but no need of saying what it would be, since it is impossible.

I merely write to allay these tumults which our necessary separation produces; to aid me in calling up a little patience till the time arrives when our persons, like our minds, shall be united forever. That time--may nothing happen to prevent--but nothing can happen. But why this ominous misgiving just now? My love has infected me with these unworthy terrors, for she has them too.

This morning I was relating my dream to her. She started, and grew pale. A sad silence ensued the cheerfulness that had reigned before:--"Why thus dejected, my friend?"

"I hate your dream. It is a horrid thought. Would to God it had never occurred to you!"

"Why, surely, you place no confidence in dreams?"

"I know not where to place confidence; not in my present promises of joy,"--and she wept. I endeavoured to soothe or console her. Why, I asked, did she weep?

"My heart is sore. Former disappointments were so heavy; the hopes which were blasted were so like my present ones, that the dread of a like result will intrude upon my thoughts. And now your dream! Indeed, I know not what to do. I believe I ought still to retract--ought, at least, to postpone an act so irrevocable."

Now was I obliged again to go over my catalogue of arguments to induce her to confirm her propitious resolution to be mine within the week. I, at last, succeeded, even in restoring her serenity, and beguiling her fears by dwelling on our future happiness.

Our household, while we stayed in America,--in a year or two we hie to Europe,--should be _thus composed. Fidelity, and skill, and pure morals, should be sought out, and enticed, by generous recompenses, into our domestic service. Duties which should be light and regular.--Such and such should be our amusements and employments abroad and at home: and would not this be true happiness?

"Oh yes--if it may be so."

"It shall be so; but this is but the humble outline of the scene; something is still to be added to complete our felicity."

"What more can be added?"

"What more? Can Achsa ask what more? She who has not been _only a wife----"

But why am I indulging this pen-prattle? The hour she fixed for my return to her is come, and now take thyself away, quill. Lie there, snug in thy leathern case, till I call for thee, and that will not be very soon. I believe I will abjure thy company till all is settled with my love. Yes; I _will abjure thee; so let _this be thy last office, till Mervyn has been made the happiest of men.

 

(THE END)
(Charles Brockden Brown's Novel: Arthur Mervyn)

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