It is natural to the unhappy to feel a secret concern in recollecting those periods of their lives which have been most delightful to them. The remembrance of past pleasures affects us with a kind of tender grief, like what we suffer for departed friends; and the ideas of both may be said to haunt our imaginations.
For this reason, I never reflect without sorrow on those days (the happiest far of my life) which we spent together when both were under the care of my aunt Western. Alas! why are Miss Graveairs and Miss Giddy no more? You remember, I am sure, when we knew each other by no other names. Indeed, you gave the latter appellation with too much cause. I have since experienced how much I deserved it. You, my Sophia, was always my superior in everything, and I heartily hope you will be so in your fortune. I shall never forget the wise and matronly advice you once gave me, when I lamented being disappointed of a ball, though you could not be then fourteen years old.O my Sophy, how blest must have been my situation, when I could think such a disappointment a misfortune; and when indeed it was the greatest I had ever known!
And yet, my dear Harriet, answered Sophia, it was then a serious matter with you. Comfort yourself therefore with thinking, that whatever you now lament may hereafter appear as trifling and contemptible as a ball would at this time.
Alas, my Sophia, replied the other lady, you yourself will think otherwise of my present situation; for greatly must that tender heart be altered if my misfortunes do not draw many a sigh, nay, many a tear, from you. The knowledge of this should perhaps deter me from relating what I am convinced will so much affect you. Here Mrs. Fitzpatrick stopt, till, at the repeated entreaties of Sophia, she thus proceeded:
Though you must have heard much of my marriage; yet, as matters may probably have been misrepresented, I will set out from the very commencement of my unfortunate acquaintance with my present husband; which was at Bath, soon after you left my aunt, and returned home to your father.
Among the gay young fellows who were at this season at Bath, Mr. Fitzpatrick was one. He was handsome, dégagé, extremely gallant, and in his dress exceeded most others. In short, my dear, if you was unluckily to see him now, I could describe him no better than by telling you he was the very reverse of everything which he is: for he hath rusticated himself so long, that he is become an absolute wild Irishman. But to proceed in my story: the qualifications which he then possessed so well recommended him, that, though the people of quality at that time lived separate from the rest of the company, and excluded them from all their parties, Mr. Fitzpatrick found means to gain admittance. It was perhaps no easy matter to avoid him; for he required very little or no invitation; and as, being handsome and genteel, he found it no very difficult matter to ingratiate himself with the ladies, so, he having frequently drawn his sword, the men did not care publickly to affront him. Had it not been for some such reason, I believe he would have been soon expelled by his own sex; for surely he had no strict title to be preferred to the English gentry; nor did they seem inclined to show him any extraordinary favour. They all abused him behind his back, which might probably proceed from envy; for by the women he was well received, and very particularly distinguished by them.
My aunt, though no person of quality herself, as she had always lived about the court, was enrolled in that party; for, by whatever means you get into the polite circle, when you are once there, it is sufficient merit for you that you are there. This observation, young as you was, you could scarce avoid making from my aunt, who was free, or reserved, with all people, just as they had more or less of this merit.
And this merit, I believe, it was, which principally recommended Mr. Fitzpatrick to her favour. In which he so well succeeded, that he was always one of her private parties. Nor was he backward in returning such distinction; for he soon grew so very particular in his behaviour to her, that the scandal club first began to take notice of it, and the better-disposed persons made a match between them. For my own part, I confess, I made no doubt but that his designs were strictly honourable, as the phrase is; that is, to rob a lady of her fortune by way of marriage. My aunt was, I conceived, neither young enough nor handsome enough to attract much wicked inclination; but she had matrimonial charms in great abundance.
I was the more confirmed in this opinion from the extraordinary respect which he showed to myself from the first moment of our acquaintance. This I understood as an attempt to lessen, if possible, that disinclination which my interest might be supposed to give me towards the match; and I know not but in some measure it had that effect; for, as I was well contented with my own fortune, and of all people the least a slave to interested views, so I could not be violently the enemy of a man with whose behaviour to me I was greatly pleased; and the more so, as I was the only object of such respect; for he behaved at the same time to many women of quality without any respect at all.
Agreeable as this was to me, he soon changed it into another kind of behaviour, which was perhaps more so. He now put on much softness and tenderness, and languished and sighed abundantly. At times, indeed, whether from art or nature I will not determine, he gave his usual loose to gaiety and mirth; but this was always in general company, and with other women; for even in a country-dance, when he was not my partner, he became grave, and put on the softest look imaginable the moment he approached me. Indeed he was in all things so very particular towards me, that I must have been blind not to have discovered it. And, and, and And you was more pleased still, my dear Harriet, cries Sophia; you need not be ashamed, added she, sighing; for sure there are irresistible charms in tenderness, which too many men are able to affect. True, answered her cousin; men, who in all other instances want common sense, are very Machiavels in the art of loving. I wish I did not know an instance.Well, scandal now began to be as busy with me as it had before been with my aunt; and some good ladies did not scrupled to affirm that Mr. Fitzpatrick had an intrigue with us both.
But, what may seem astonishing, my aunt never saw, nor in the least seemed to suspect, that which was visible enough, I believe, from both our behaviours. One would indeed think that love quite puts out the eyes of an old woman. In fact, they so greedily swallow the addresses which are made to them, that like an outrageous glutton, they are not at leisure to observe what passes amongst others at the same table. This I have observed in more cases than my own; and this was so strongly verified by my aunt, that, though she often found us together at her return from the pump, the least canting word of his, pretending impatience at her absence, effectually smothered all suspicion. One artifice succeeded with her to admiration. This was his treating me like a little child, and never calling me by any other name in her presence but that of pretty miss. This indeed did him some disservice with your humble servant; but I soon saw through it, especially as in her absence he behaved to me, as I have said, in a different manner. However, if I was not greatly disobliged by a conduct of which I had discovered the design, I smarted very severely for it; for my aunt really conceived me to be what her lover (as she thought him) called me, and treated me in all respects as a perfect infant. To say the truth, I wonder she had not insisted on my again wearing leading-strings.
At last, my lover (for so he was) thought proper, in a most solemn manner, to disclose a secret which I had known long before. He now placed all the love which he had pretended to my aunt to my account. He lamented, in very pathetic terms, the encouragement she had given him, and made a high merit of the tedious hours in which he had undergone her conversation.What shall I tell you, my dear Sophia?Then I will confess the truth. I was pleased with my man. I was pleased with my conquest. To rival my aunt delighted me; to rival so many other women charmed me. In short, I am afraid I did not behave as I should do, even upon the very first declarationI wish I did not almost give him positive encouragement before we parted.
The Bath now talked loudlyI might almost say, roared against me. Several young women affected to shun my acquaintance, not so much, perhaps, from any real suspicion, as from a desire of banishing me from a company in which I too much engrossed their favourite man. And here I cannot omit expressing my gratitude to the kindness intended me by Mr. Nash, who took me one day aside, and gave me advice, which if I had followed, I had been a happy woman. Child, says he, I am sorry to see the familiarity which subsists between you and a fellow who is altogether unworthy of you, and I am afraid will prove your ruin. As for your old stinking aunt, if it was to be no injury to you and my pretty Sophy Western (I assure you I repeat his words), I should be heartily glad that the fellow was in possession of all that belongs to her. I never advise old women: for, if they take it into their heads to go the devil, it is no more possible than worth while to keep them from him. Innocence and youth and beauty are worthy a better fate, and I would save them from his clutches. Let me advise you therefore, dear child, never suffer this fellow to be particular with you again. Many more things he said to me, which I have now forgotten, and indeed I attended very little to them at that time; for inclination contradicted all he said; and, besides, I could not be persuaded that women of quality would condescend to familiarity with such a person as he described.
But I am afraid, my dear, I shall tire you with a detail of so many minute circumstances. To be concise, therefore, imagine me married; imagine me with my husband, at the feet of my aunt; and then imagine the maddest woman in Bedlam, in a raving fit, and your imagination will suggest to you no more than what really happened.
The very next day my aunt left the place, partly to avoid seeing Mr. Fitzpatrick or myself, and as much perhaps to avoid seeing any one else; for, though I am told she hath since denied everything stoutly, I believe she was then a little confounded at her disappointment. Since that time, I have written to her many letters, but never could obtain an answer, which I must own sits somewhat the heavier, as she herself was, though undesignedly, the occasion of all my sufferings: for, had it not been under the colour of paying his addresses to her, Mr. Fitzpatrick would never have found sufficient opportunities to have engaged my heart, which, in other circumstances, I still flatter myself would not have been an easy conquest to such a person. Indeed, I believe I should not have erred so grossly in my choice if I had relied on my own judgment; but I trusted totally to the opinion of others, and very foolishly took the merit of a man for granted whom I saw so universally well received by the women. What is the reason, my dear, that we, who have understandings equal to the wisest and greatest of the other sex, so often make choice of the silliest fellows for companions and favourites? It raises my indignation to the highest pitch to reflect on the numbers of women of sense who have been undone by fools. Here she paused a moment; but, Sophia making no answer, she proceeded as in the next chapter.