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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
A Scene of the Tender Kind
By Henry Fielding (1707–1754)
 
From ‘Amelia’

“THE DOCTOR, madam,” continued Booth, “spent his evening at Mrs. Harris’s house, where I sat with him whilst he smoked his pillow-pipe, as the phrase is. Amelia was retired above half an hour to her chamber before I went to see her. At my entrance I found her on her knees, a posture in which I never disturbed her. In a few minutes she arose, came to me, and embracing me, said she had been praying for resolution to support the crudest moments she had ever undergone, or could possibly undergo. I reminded her how much more bitter a farewell would be on a death-bed, when we never could meet, in this world at least, again. I then endeavored to lessen all those objects which alarmed her most, and particularly the danger I was to encounter, upon which head I seemed a little to comfort her; but the probable length of my absence, and the certain length of my voyage, were circumstances which no oratory of mine could even palliate. ‘Oh heavens!’ said she, bursting into tears; ‘can I bear to think that hundreds, thousands, for aught I know, of miles or leagues—that lands and seas are between us? What is the prospect from that mount in our garden, where I have sat so many happy hours with my Billy? what is the distance between that and the farthest hill which we see from thence, compared to the distance which will be between us? You cannot wonder at this idea: you must remember, my Billy, at this place this very thought came formerly into my foreboding mind. I then begged you to leave the army—why would you not comply? Did I not tell you then, that the smallest cottage we could survey from the mount would be with you a paradise to me? It would be so still. Why can’t my Billy think so? Am I so much his superior in love? Where is the dishonor, Billy? or, if there be any, will it reach our ears in our little hut? Are glory and fame, and not his Amelia, the happiness of my husband? Go, then, purchase them at my expense! You will pay a few sighs, perhaps a few tears, at parting, and then new scenes will drive away the thoughts of poor Amelia from your bosom; but what assistance shall I have in my affliction? Not that any change of scene could drive you one moment from my remembrance; yet here every object I behold will place your loved idea in the liveliest manner before my eyes. This is the bed in which you have reposed; that is the chair in which you sat; upon these boards you have stood; these books you have read to me. Can I walk among our beds of flowers without viewing your favorites, nay, those which you have planted with your own hands? Can I see one beauty from our beloved mount which you have not pointed out to me?’ Thus she went on; the woman, madam, you see, still prevailing.”—“Since you mention it,” says Miss Matthews, with a smile, “I own the same observation occurred to me. It is too natural to us to consider ourselves only, Mr. Booth.”—“You shall hear,” he cried: “at last, the thoughts of her present condition suggested themselves. ‘But if,’ said she, ‘my situation even in health will be so intolerable, how shall I, in the danger and agonies of childbirth, support your absence!’ Here she stopped, and looking on me with all the tenderness imaginable, cried out:—‘And am I then such a wretch as to wish for your presence at such a season? Ought I not to rejoice that you are out of the hearing of my cries or the knowledge of my pains? If I die, will you not have escaped the horrors of a parting ten thousand times more dreadful than this? Go, go, my Billy; the very circumstance which made me most dread your departure has perfectly reconciled me to it. I perceive clearly now that I was only wishing to support my own weakness with your strength, and to relieve my own pains at the price of yours. Believe me, my love, I am ashamed of myself.’ I caught her in my arms with raptures not to be expressed in words, calling her my heroine (sure none ever better deserved that name); after which we remained some time speechless, and locked in each other’s embraces.”  1
  “I am convinced,” said Miss Matthews with a sigh, “there are moments in life worth purchasing with worlds.”  2
  “At length the fatal morning came. I endeavored to hide every pang in my heart, and to wear the utmost gayety in my countenance. Amelia acted the same part. In these assumed characters we met the family at breakfast; at their breakfast, I mean,—for we were both full already. The doctor had spent above an hour that morning in discourse with Mrs. Harris, and had in some measure reconciled her to my departure. He now made use of every art to relieve the poor distressed Amelia; not by inveighing against the folly of grief, or by seriously advising her not to grieve; both which were sufficiently performed by Miss Betty. The doctor, on the contrary, had recourse to every means which might cast a veil over the idea of grief and raise comfortable images in my angel’s mind. He endeavored to lessen the supposed length of my absence, by discoursing on matters which were more distant in time. He said he intended next year to rebuild a part of his parsonage house; ‘and you, captain,’ says he, ‘shall lay the corner-stone, I promise you;’ with many other instances of the like nature, which produced, I believe, some good effect on us both.  3
  “Amelia spoke but little; indeed, more tears than words dropped from her; however, she seemed resolved to bear her affliction with resignation: but when the dreadful news arrived that the horses were ready, and I, having taken my leave of all the rest, at last approached her, she was unable to support the conflict with nature any longer; and clinging round my neck, she cried, ‘Farewell—farewell forever! for I shall never, never see you more!’ At which words the blood entirely forsook her lovely cheeks, and she became a lifeless corpse in my arms.  4
  “Amelia continued so long motionless, that the doctor, as well as Mrs. Harris, began to be under the most terrible apprehensions, so they informed me afterwards; for at that time I was incapable of making any observation. I had indeed very little more use of my senses than the dear creature whom I supported. At length, however, we were all delivered from our fears, and life again visited the loveliest mansion that human nature ever afforded it.  5
  “I had been, and yet was, so terrified with what had happened, and Amelia continued yet so weak and ill, that I determined, whatever might be the consequence, not to leave her that day; which resolution she was no sooner acquainted with than she fell on her knees, crying, ‘Good Heaven! I thank thee for this reprieve at least. Oh that every hour of my future life could be crammed into this dear day!’  6
  “Our good friend the doctor remained with us; he said he had intended to visit a family in some affliction; ‘but I don’t know,’ says he, ‘why I should ride a dozen miles after affliction, when we have enough here.’ Of all mankind the doctor is the best of comforters. As his excessive good-nature makes him take vast delight in the office, so his great penetration into the human mind, joined to his great experience, renders him the most wonderful proficient in it; and he so well knows when to soothe, when to reason, and when to ridicule, that he never applies any of those arts improperly, which is almost universally the case with the physicians of the mind, and which it requires very great judgment and dexterity to avoid.  7
  “The doctor principally applied himself to ridiculing the dangers of the siege, in which he succeeded so well that he sometimes forced a smile even into the face of Amelia. But what most comforted her were the arguments he used to convince her of the probability of my speedy, if not immediate, return. He said the general opinion was that the place would be taken before our arrival there; in which case we should have nothing more to do than to make the best of our way home again.  8
  “Amelia was so lulled by these arts that she passed the day much better than I expected. Though the doctor could not make pride strong enough to conquer love, yet he exalted the former to make some stand against the latter; insomuch that my poor Amelia, I believe, more than once flattered herself, to speak the language of the world, that her reason had gained an entire victory over her passion; till love brought up a reinforcement, if I may use that term, of tender ideas, and bore down all before him.  9
  “In the evening the doctor and I passed another half-hour together, when he proposed to me to endeavor to leave Amelia asleep in the morning, and promised me to be at hand when she awaked, and to support her with all the assistance in his power; he added that nothing was more foolish than for friends to take leave of each other. ‘It is true indeed,’ says he, ‘in the common acquaintance and friendship of the world, this is a very harmless ceremony; but between two persons who really love each other, the Church of Rome never invented a penance half so severe as this which we absurdly impose on ourselves.’  10
  “I greatly approved the doctor’s proposal, thanked him, and promised if possible to put it in execution. He then shook me by the hand and heartily wished me well, saying in his blunt way, ‘Well, boy, I hope to see thee crowned with laurels at thy return: one comfort I have at least, that stone walls and a sea will prevent thee from running away.’  11
  “When I had left the doctor I repaired to my Amelia, whom I found in her chamber, employed in a very different manner from what she had been the preceding night: she was busy in packing up some trinkets in a casket, which she desired me to carry with me. This casket was her own work, and she had just fastened it as I came to her.  12
  “Her eyes very plainly discovered what had passed while she was engaged in her work; however, her countenance was now serene, and she spoke at least with some cheerfulness; but after some time, ‘You must take care of this casket, Billy,’ said she; ‘you must, indeed, Billy, for’—her passion almost choked her till a flood of tears gave her relief, and then she proceeded—‘for I shall be the happiest woman that ever was born when I see it again.’ I told her, with the blessing of God, that day would soon come. ‘Soon?’ answered she, ‘no, Billy, not soon; a week is an age; but yet the happy day may come. It shall, it must, it will! Yes, Billy, we shall meet never to part again—even in this world, I hope.’ Pardon my weakness, Miss Matthews, but upon my soul I cannot help it,” cried he, wiping his eyes.  13
  “Well, I wonder at your patience, and I will try it no longer. Amelia, tired out with so long a struggle between a variety of passions, and having not closed her eyes during three successive nights, towards the morning fell into a profound sleep, in which sleep I left her; and having dressed myself with all the expedition imaginable, singing, whistling, hurrying, attempting by every method to banish thought, I mounted my horse, which I had over-night ordered to be ready, and galloped away from that house where all my treasure was deposited.  14
  “Thus, madam, I have in obedience to your commands run through a scene, which if it has been tiresome to you, you must yet acquit me of having obtruded upon you. This I am convinced of, that no one is capable of tasting such a scene who has not a heart full of tenderness, and perhaps not even then, unless he has been in the same situation.”  15
 
 
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