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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
New Misfortunes: But Offenses are Easily Pardoned Where There is Love at Bottom
By Oliver Goldsmith (1730?–1774)
From ‘The Vicar of Wakefield’

THE NEXT morning I took my daughter behind me, and set out on my return home. As we traveled along, I strove by every persuasion to calm her sorrows and fears, and to arm her with resolution to bear the presence of her offended mother. I took every opportunity, from the prospect of a fine country through which we passed, to observe how much kinder Heaven was to us than we were to each other, and that the misfortunes of nature’s making were very few. I assured her that she should never perceive any change in my affections, and that during my life, which yet might be long, she might depend upon a guardian and an instructor. I armed her against the censures of the world; showed her that books were sweet, unreproaching companions to the miserable, and that if they could not bring us to enjoy life, they would at least teach us to endure it.  1
  The hired horse that we rode was to be put up that night at an inn by the way, within about five miles from my house; and as I was willing to prepare my family for my daughter’s reception, I determined to leave her that night at the inn, and to return for her accompanied by my daughter Sophia, early the next morning. It was night before we reached our appointed stage; however, after seeing her provided with a decent apartment, and having ordered the hostess to prepare proper refreshments, I kissed her, and proceeded towards home. And now my heart caught new sensations of pleasure, the nearer I approached that peaceful mansion. As a bird that had been frighted from its nest, my affections outwent my haste, and hovered round my little fireside with all the rapture of expectation. I called up the many fond things I had to say, and anticipated the welcome I was to receive. I already felt my wife’s tender embrace, and smiled at the joy of my little ones. As I walked but slowly, the night waned apace. The laborers of the day were all retired to rest; the lights were out in every cottage; no sounds were heard but of the shrilling cock, and the deep-mouthed watch-dog at the hollow distance. I approached my little abode of pleasure, and before I was within a furlong of the place our honest mastiff came running to welcome me.  2
  It was now near midnight that I came to knock at my door; all was still and silent; my heart dilated with unutterable happiness; when to my amazement I saw the house bursting out in a blaze of fire, and every aperture red with conflagration! I gave a loud convulsive outcry, and fell upon the pavement insensible. This alarmed my son, who had till this been asleep, and he perceiving the flames instantly waked my wife and daughter, and all running out naked and wild with apprehension, recalled me to life with their anguish. But it was only to objects of new terror; for the flames had by this time caught the roof of our dwelling, part after part continuing to fall in, while the family stood with silent agony looking on, as if they enjoyed the blaze. I gazed upon them and upon it by turns, and then looked round me for my two little ones: but they were not to be seen. Oh misery! “Where,” cried I, “where are my little ones?” “They are burnt to death in the flames,” said my wife calmly, “and I will die with them.” That moment I heard the cry of the babes within, who were just awaked by the fire; and nothing could have stopped me. “Where, where are my children?” cried I, rushing through the flames, and bursting the door of the chamber in which they were confined; “where are my little ones?” “Here, dear papa, here we are,” cried they together, while the flames were just catching the bed where they lay. I caught them both in my arms, and snatched them through the fire as fast as possible, while just as I was got out, the roof sunk in. “Now,” cried I, holding up my children, “now let the flames burn on, and all my possessions perish. Here they are; I have saved my treasure. Here, my dearest, here are our treasures, and we shall yet be happy.” We kissed our little darlings a thousand times, they clasped us round the neck and seemed to share our transports, while their mother laughed and wept by turns.  3
  I now stood a calm spectator of the flames, and after some time began to perceive that my arm to the shoulder was scorched in a terrible manner. It was therefore out of my power to give my son any assistance, either in attempting to save our goods, or preventing the flames spreading to our corn. By this time the neighbors were alarmed, and came running to our assistance; but all they could do was to stand, like us, spectators of the calamity. My goods, among which were the notes I had reserved for my daughters’ fortunes, were entirely consumed, except a box with some papers that stood in the kitchen, and two or three things more of little consequence which my son brought away in the beginning. The neighbors contributed, however, what they could to lighten our distress. They brought us clothes, and furnished one of our out-houses with kitchen utensils; so that by daylight we had another, though a wretched dwelling, to retire to. My honest next neighbor and his children were not the least assiduous in providing us with everything necessary, and offering whatever consolation untutored benevolence could suggest.  4
  When the fears of my family had subsided, curiosity to know the cause of my long stay began to take place; having therefore informed them of every particular, I proceeded to prepare them for the reception of our lost one, and though we had nothing but wretchedness now to impart, I was willing to procure her a welcome to what we had. This task would have been more difficult but for our recent calamity, which had humbled my wife’s pride and blunted it by more poignant afflictions. Being unable to go for my poor child myself, as my arm grew very painful, I sent my son and daughter, who soon returned, supporting the wretched delinquent, who had not the courage to look up at her mother, whom no instructions of mine could persuade to a perfect reconciliation; for women have a much stronger sense of female error than men. “Ah, madam,” cried her mother, “this is but a poor place you have come to after so much finery. My daughter Sophy and I can afford but little entertainment to persons who have kept company only with people of distinction. Yes, Miss Livy, your poor father and I have suffered very much of late; but I hope Heaven will forgive you.” During this reception the unhappy victim stood pale and trembling, unable to weep or to reply; but I could not continue a silent spectator of her distress; wherefore, assuming a degree of severity in my voice and manner which was ever followed with instant submission:—“I entreat, woman, that my words may be now marked once for all: I have here brought you back a poor deluded wanderer; her return to duty demands the revival of our tenderness. The real hardships of life are now coming fast upon us; let us not therefore increase them by dissension among each other. If we live harmoniously together, we may yet be contented, as there are enough of us to shut out the censuring world and keep each other in countenance. The kindness of Heaven is promised to the penitent, and let ours be directed by the example. Heaven, we are assured, is much more pleased to view a repentant sinner than ninety-nine persons who have supported a course of undeviating rectitude. And this is right; for that single effort by which we stop short in the down-hill path to perdition, is itself a greater exertion of virtue than a hundred acts of justice.”  5
  SOME assiduity was now required to make our present abode as convenient as possible, and we were soon again qualified to enjoy our former serenity. Being disabled myself from assisting my son in our usual occupations, I read to my family from the few books that were saved, and particularly from such as by amusing the imagination contributed to ease the heart. Our good neighbors, too, came every day with the kindest condolence, and fixed a time in which they were all to assist at repairing my former dwelling. Honest Farmer Williams was not last among these visitors, but heartily offered his friendship. He would even have renewed his addresses to my daughter; but she rejected them in such a manner as totally repressed his future solicitations. Her grief seemed formed for continuing, and she was the only person of our little society that a week did not restore to cheerfulness. She had now lost that unblushing innocence which once taught her to respect herself, and to seek pleasure by pleasing. Anxiety now had taken strong possession of her mind, her beauty began to be impaired with her constitution, and neglect still more contributed to diminish it. Every tender epithet bestowed on her sister brought a pang to her heart and a tear to her eye; and as one vice, though cured, ever plants others where it has been, so her former guilt, though driven out by repentance, left jealousy and envy behind. I strove in a thousand ways to lessen her care, and even forgot my own pain in a concern for hers, collecting such amusing passages of history as a strong memory and some reading could suggest. “Our happiness, my dear,” I would say, “is in the power of One who can bring it about a thousand unforeseen ways that mock our foresight.”  6
  In this manner I would attempt to amuse my daughter; but she listened with divided attention, for her own misfortunes engrossed all the pity she once had for those of another, and nothing gave her ease. In company she dreaded contempt, and in solitude she only found anxiety. Such was the color of her wretchedness, when we received certain information that Mr. Thornhill was going to be married to Miss Wilmot, for whom I always suspected he had a real passion, though he took every opportunity before me to express his contempt both of her person and fortune. This news only served to increase poor Olivia’s affliction; such a flagrant breach of fidelity was more than her courage could support. I was resolved however to get more certain information, and to defeat if possible the completion of his designs, by sending my son to old Mr. Wilmot’s with instructions to know the truth of the report, and to deliver Miss Wilmot a letter intimating Mr. Thornhill’s conduct in my family. My son went in pursuance of my directions, and in three days returned, assuring us of the truth of the account; but that he had found it impossible to deliver the letter, which he was therefore obliged to leave, as Mr. Thornhill and Miss Wilmot were visiting round the country. They were to be married, he said, in a few days, having appeared together at church the Sunday before he was there, in great splendor; the bride attended by six young ladies, and he by as many gentlemen. Their approaching nuptials filled the whole country with rejoicing, and they usually rode out together in the grandest equipage that had been seen in the country for years. All the friends of both families, he said, were there, particularly the Squire’s uncle, Sir William Thornhill, who bore so good a character. He added that nothing but mirth and feasting were going forward; that all the country praised the young bride’s beauty and the bridegroom’s fine person, and that they were immensely fond of each other; concluding that he could not help thinking Mr. Thornhill one of the most happy men in the world.  7
  “Why, let him if he can,” returned I; “but my son, observe this bed of straw and unsheltering roof, those moldering walls and humid floor, my wretched body thus disabled by fire, and my children weeping round me for bread. You have come home, my child, to all this; yet here, even here, you see a man that would not for a thousand worlds exchange situations. O my children, if you could but learn to commune with your own hearts, and know what noble company you can make them, you would little regard the elegance and splendor of the worthless. Almost all men have been taught to call life a passage, and themselves the travelers. The similitude still may be improved, when we observe that the good are joyful and serene, like travelers that are going towards home; the wicked but by intervals happy, like travelers that are going into exile.”  8
  My compassion for my poor daughter, overpowered by this new disaster, interrupted what I had further to observe. I bade her mother support her, and after a short time she recovered. She appeared from that time more calm, and I imagined had gained a new degree of resolution; but appearances deceived me, for her tranquillity was the languor of overwrought resentment. A supply of provisions charitably sent us by my kind parishioners seemed to diffuse new cheerfulness among the rest of the family; nor was I displeased at seeing them once more sprightly and at ease. It would have been unjust to damp their satisfactions merely to condole with resolute melancholy, or to burden them with a sadness they did not feel. Thus once more the tale went round, and the song was demanded, and cheerfulness condescended to hover round our little habitation.  9
  THE NEXT morning the sun arose with peculiar warmth for the season; so that we agreed to breakfast together on the honeysuckle bank; where, while we sat, my youngest daughter, at my request, joined her voice to the concert on the trees about us. It was in this place my poor Olivia first met her seducer, and every object served to recall her sadness. But that melancholy which is excited by objects of pleasure, or inspired by sounds of harmony, soothes the heart instead of corroding it. Her mother, too, upon this occasion felt a pleasing distress, and wept, and loved her daughter as before. “Do, my pretty Olivia,” cried she, “let us have that little melancholy air your papa was so fond of; your sister Sophy has already obliged us. Do, child; it will please your old father.” She complied in a manner so exquisitely pathetic as moved me:

  “When lovely woman stoops to folly,
  And finds too late that men betray,
What charm can soothe her melancholy?
  What art can wash her guilt away?
“The only art her guilt to cover,
  “To hide her shame from every eye,
To give repentance to her lover,
  And wring his bosom, is—to die.”
  As she was concluding the last stanza, to which an interruption in her voice from sorrow gave peculiar softness, the appearance of Mr. Thornhill’s equipage at a distance alarmed us all, but particularly increased the uneasiness of my eldest daughter, who, desirous of shunning her betrayer, returned to the house with her sister. In a few minutes he was alighted from his chariot, and making up to the place where I was still sitting, inquired after my health with his usual air of familiarity. “Sir,” replied I, “your present assurance only serves to aggravate the baseness of your character; and there was a time when I would have chastised your insolence for presuming thus to appear before me. But now you are safe; for age has cooled my passions, and my calling restrains me.”  11
  “I vow, my dear sir,” returned he, “I am amazed at all this, nor can I understand what it means. I hope you don’t think your daughter’s late excursion with me had anything criminal in it.”  12
  “Go,” cried I; “thou art a wretch, a poor pitiful wretch, and every way a liar; but your meanness secures you from my anger. Yet, sir, I am descended from a family that would not have borne this! And so, thou vile thing! to gratify a momentary passion, thou hast made one poor creature wretched for life, and polluted a family that had nothing but honor for their portion.”  13
  “If she or you,” returned he, “are resolved to be miserable, I cannot help it. But you may still be happy; and whatever opinion you may have formed of me, you shall ever find me ready to contribute to it. We can marry her to another in a short time, and what is more, she may keep her lover beside; for I protest I shall ever continue to have a true regard for her.”  14
  I found all my passions alarmed at this new degrading proposal; for although the mind may often be calm under great injuries, little villainy can at any time get within the soul and sting it into rage. “Avoid my sight, thou reptile,” cried I, “nor continue to insult me with thy presence. Were my brave son at home he would not suffer this; but I am old and disabled, and every way undone.”  15
  “I find,” cried he, “you are bent upon obliging me to talk in a harsher manner than I intended. But as I have shown you what may be hoped from my friendship, it may not be improper to represent what may be the consequences of my resentment. My attorney, to whom your late bond has been transferred, threatens hard; nor do I know how to prevent the course of justice except by paying the money myself, which, as I have been at some expenses lately previous to my intended marriage, is not so easy to be done. And then my steward talks of driving for the rent: it is certain he knows his duty, for I never trouble myself with affairs of that nature. Yet still I could wish to serve you, and even to have you and your daughter present at my marriage, which is shortly to be solemnized with Miss Wilmot; it is even the request of my charming Arabella herself, whom I hope you will not refuse.”  16
  “Mr. Thornhill,” replied I, “hear me once for all: as to your marriage with any but my daughter, that I never will consent to; and though your friendship could raise me to a throne, or your resentment sink me to the grave, yet would I despise both. Thou hast once woefully, irreparably deceived me. I reposed my heart upon thine honor, and have found its baseness. Never more, therefore, expect friendship from me. Go, and possess what fortune has given thee—beauty, riches, health, and pleasure. Go and leave me to want, infamy, disease, and sorrow. Yet humbled as I am, shall my heart still vindicate its dignity, and though thou hast my forgiveness, thou shalt ever have my contempt.”  17
  “If so,” returned he, “depend upon it you shall feel the effects of this insolence; and we shall shortly see which is the fittest object of scorn, you or me.” Upon which he departed abruptly.  18

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