Henry Fielding. (17071754). The History of Tom Jones.
The Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction. 1917.
Book XV. In Which the History Advances about Two Days
II. In Which Is Opened a Very Black Design Against Sophia
I REMEMBER a wise old gentleman who used to say, When children are doing nothing, they are doing mischief. I will not enlarge this quaint saying to the most beautiful part of the creation in general; but so far I may be allowed, that when the effects of female jealousy do not appear openly in their proper colours of rage and fury, we may suspect that mischievous passion to be at work privately, and attempting to undermine, what it doth not attack above-ground.
This was exemplified in the conduct of Lady Bellaston, who, under all the smiles which she wore in her countenance, concealed much indignation against Sophia; and as she plainly saw that this young lady stood between her and the full indulgence of her desires, she resolved to get rid of her by some means or other; nor was it long before a very favourable opportunity of accomplishing this presented itself to her.
The reader may be pleased to remember, that when Sophia was thrown into that consternation at the playhouse, by the wit and humour of a set of young gentlemen who call themselves the town, we informed him, that she had put herself under the protection of a young nobleman, who had very safely conducted her to her chair.
This nobleman, who frequently visited Lady Bellaston, had more than once seen Sophia there, since her arrival in town, and had conceived a very great liking to her; which liking, as beauty never looks more amiable than in distress, Sophia had in this fright so encreased, that he might now, without any great impropriety, be said to be actually in love with her.
It may easily be believed, that he would not suffer so hand-some an occasion of improving his acquaintance with the beloved object as now offered itself to elapse, when even good breeding alone might have prompted him to pay her a visit.
As love, like fire, when once thoroughly kindled, is soon blown into a flame, Sophia in a very short time compleated her conquest. Time now flew away unperceived, and the noble lord had been two hours in company with the lady, before it entered into his head that he had made too long a visit. Though this circumstance alone would have alarmed Sophia, who was somewhat more a mistress of computation at present; she had indeed much more pregnant evidence from the eyes of her lover of what past within his bosom; nay, though he did not make any open declaration of his passion, yet many of his expressions were rather too warm, and too tender, to have been imputed to complacence, even in the age when such complacence was in fashion; the very reverse of which is well known to be the reigning mode at present.
Lady Bellaston had been apprized of his lordships visit at his first arrival; and the length of it very well satisfied her, that things went as she wished, and as indeed she had suspected the second time she saw this young couple together. This business, she rightly I think concluded, that she should by no means forward by mixing in the company while they were together; she therefore ordered her servants, that when my lord was going, they should tell him she desired to speak with him; and employed the intermediate time in meditating how best to accomplish a scheme, which she made no doubt but his lordship would very readily embrace the execution of.
Lord Fellamar (for that was the title of this young noble-man) was no sooner introduced to her ladyship, than she attacked him in the following strain: Bless me, my lord, are you here yet? I thought my servants had made a mistake, and let you go away; and I wanted to see you about an affair of some importance.Indeed, Lady Bellaston, said he, I dont wonder you are astonished at the length of my visit; for I have staid above two hours, and I did not think I had staid above half-a-one.What am I to conclude from thence, my lord? said she. The company must be very agreeable which can make time slide away so very deceitfully.Upon my honour, said he, the most agreeable I ever saw. Pray tell me, Lady Bellaston, who is this blazing star which you have produced among us all of a sudden?What blazing star, my lord? said she, affecting a surprize. I mean, said he, the lady I saw here the other day, whom I had last night in my arms at the play-house, and to whom I have been making that unreasonable visit.O, my cousin Western! said she; why, that blazing star, my lord, is the daughter of a country boody squire, and hath been in town about a fortnight, for the first time.Upon my soul, said he, I should swear she had been bred up in a court; for besides her beauty, I never saw anything so genteel, so sensible, so polite.O brave! cries the lady, my cousin hath you, I find.Upon my honour, answered he, I wish she had; for I am in love with her to distraction.Nay, my lord, said she, it is not wishing yourself very ill neither, for she is a very great fortune: I assure you she is an only child, and her fathers estate is a good £3000 a-year. Then I can assure you, madam, answered the lord, I think her the best match in England. Indeed, my lord, replied she, if you like her, I heartily wish you had her. If you think so kindly of me, madam, said he, as she is a relation of yours, will you do me the honour to propose it to her father? And are you really then in earnest? cries the lady, with an affected gravity. I hope, madam, answered he, you have a better opinion of me, than to imagine I would jest with your ladyship in an affair of this kind. Indeed, then, said the lady, I will most readily propose your lordship to her father; and I can, I believe, assure you of his joyful acceptance of the proposal; but there is a bar, which I am almost ashamed to mention; and yet it is one you will never be able to conquer. You have a rival, my lord, and a rival who, though I blush to name him, neither you, nor all the world, will ever be able to conquer. Upon my word, Lady Bellaston, cries he, you have struck a damp to my heart, which hath almost deprived me of being. Fie, my lord, said she, I should rather hope I had struck fire into you. A lover, and talk of damps in your heart! I rather imagined you would have asked your rivals name, that you might have immediately entered the lists with him. I promise you, madam, answered he, there are very few things I would not undertake for your charming cousin; but pray, who is this happy man?Why, he is, said she, what I am sorry to say most happy men with us are, one of the lowest fellows in the world. He is a beggar, a bastard, a foundling, a fellow in meaner circumstances than one of your lordships footmen. And is it possible, cried he, that a young creature with such perfections should think of bestowing herself so unworthily? Alas! my lord, answered she, consider the countrythe bane of all young women is the country. There they learn a set of romantic notions of love, and I know not what folly, which this town and good company can scarce eradicate in a whole winter. Indeed, madam, replied my lord, your cousin is of too immense a value to be thrown away; such ruin as this must be prevented. Alas! cries she, my lord, how can it be prevented? The family have already done all in their power; but the girl is, I think, intoxicated, and nothing less than ruin will content her. And to deal more openly with you, I expect every day to hear she is run away with him. What you tell me, Lady Bellaston, answered his lordship, affects me most tenderly, and only raises my compassion, instead of lessening my adoration of your cousin. Some means must be found to preserve so inestimable a jewel. Hath your ladyship endeavoured to reason with her? Here the lady affected a laugh, and cried, My dear lord, sure you know us better than to talk of reasoning a young woman out of her inclinations? These inestimable jewels are as deaf as the jewels they wear: time, my lord, time is the only medicine to cure their folly; but this is a medicine which I am certain she will not take; nay, I live in hourly horrors on her account. In short, nothing but violent methods will do. What is to be done? cries my lord; what methods are to be taken?Is there any method upon earth?Oh! Lady Bellaston! there is nothing which I would not undertake for such a reward.I really know not, answered the lady, after a pause; and then pausing again, she cried outUpon my soul, I am at my wits end on this girls account.If she can be preserved, something must be done immediately; and, as I say, nothing but violent methods will do.If your lordship hath really this attachment to my cousin (and to do her justice, except in this silly inclination, of which she will soon see her folly, she is every way deserving), I think there may be one way, indeed, it is a very disagreeable one, and what I am almost afraid to think of.It requires a great spirit, I promise you. I am not conscious, madam, said he, of any defect there; nor am I, I hope, suspected of any such. It must be an egregious defect indeed, which could make me backward on this occasion. Nay, my lord, answered she, I am so far from doubting you, I am much more inclined to doubt my own courage; for I must run a monstrous risque. In short, I must place such a confidence in your honour as a wise woman will scarce ever place in a man on any consideration. In this point likewise my lord very well satisfied her; for his reputation was extremely clear, and common fame did him no more than justice, in speaking well of him. Well, then, said she, my lord,II vow, I cant bear the apprehension of it.No, it must not be.At least every other method shall be tried.Can you get rid of your engagements and dine here to-day? Your lordship will have an opportunity of seeing a little more of Miss Western.I promise you we have no time to lose. Here will be nobody but Lady Betty and Miss Eagle, and Colonel Hampsted, and Tom Edwards; they will all go soonand I shall be at home to nobody. Then your lordship may be a little more explicit. Nay, I will contrive some method to convince you of her attachment to this fellow. My lord made proper compliments, accepted the invitation, and then they parted to dress, it being now past three in the morning, or to reckon by the old style, in the afternoon.