CHAP. VII. AN IMPORTANT SECRET BETRAYED BY MARY: TRANSPORTING INTELLIGENCE: THE REVERSE, OR RAIN AFTER SUNSHINE: THE READER ENTRUSTED WITH A SECRET: STRANGE BE|HAVIOUR OF A FALSE FRIEND: LOVER'S VOWS.
I DID not suffer a day to pass without either seeing or sending to inquire after Miss Wilmot; so that our intercourse was continual. One afternoon, being in my own room, after hearing as I thought footsteps and female voices on the stairs, Mary knocked at my door, and, enter|ing Page 115 as desired, shewed marks of eager|ness on her countenance, the meaning of which a question from me immediately caused her to explain. 'Lord! Sir,' said she, 'you cannot think what a hurry and flurry I be in! And all about you!
'You shall hear, Sir. My mistress is gone out to take a walk in the park, as I avised her to divart her mellicholy; and so the dear young lady has bin here; Miss—! I had forgotten! I munna tell her name. But if ever there wur an angel upon arth she is one; she says such kind things to my dear mistress, and does not blame her for her fault; for, thof she be as innocent herself as the child unborn, she can pity the misfortins of her own sect, when they a bin betrayed by false hearted men; and all that she says is that we mun take care to be more be-cautioned for the time to come: and then she says it in so sweet, and yet so serus a manner, that I am sure no Page 116 christian soul if they'd a heard her would dare do other than as she says. And as for a doing a good turn, I do verily believe she would give the morsel out of her mouth afore a poor creature should be driven to sin and shame for want—'
I interrupted her: she had raised some strong surmises, and I was impatient— 'But you forget, Mary; you mentioned something concerning me?'
'Oh lord! yea; a mort o' questions a bin asked; for she talks as familiarity to me as if she wur a poor body herself; which gives me heart, so that I be not afeard to speak. Whereof I could not help telling her a great many things about you; as how, when little more but a child, you saved my life; and consarning your goodness and kind offers to my dear mistress; and how soft heart|ed and well spoken you wur even to poor me; just for all the world as I said, like her own dear good self. Where|upon it gladdened her heart to hear there Page 117wur another good creature, as good as herself. And so she asked ater your name; which, you know that being no secret, I told her, and then it wur, if you had but a seen her! Her face wur as pale as my kerchief! and I asked what ailed her ladyship? And she re|plied in a faint voice, Nothing. So that I thought there must for sartinly be a summut between you! for she sat down, and seemed to do so! as if a strug|gling for breath. And I ran for a smell|ing bottle; whereupon she wur better, and said she did not need it. And so she asked how long you had lived in the house, and whether you looked happy? And I answered and said there wur not a kinder happier creature breathing. So she asked again if I wur quite sure that you wur happy? And I said I wur mortally sartin of it. So then she fetched a deep sigh from the very bottom of her heart, and said she wur glad of it, very glad of it indeed. For, said she, my Page 118 good Mary, for she often calls me good, which I be very sure is her kindness and not my desarts, my good Mary, said she I don't wonder that you do love Mr. Trevor for having a saved your life. He once saved my life; which, says she, I shall remember the longest day I have to breathe: and—'
'It is she!' exclaimed I; for I could hold no longer. 'It is Olivia! Benevo|lent angel! And does she deign to think of me? Does she inquire after me? Am I still in her thoughts?'
'Anan!' said Mary. 'I hope I a betrayed no secrets? For surely, I ha' not mentioned a word of her name.'
Just as I was continuing to question Mary farther, Miss Wilmot returned. I earnestly requested she would come into my apartment, related the discovery I had made, and spoke with all that en|thusiasm which the revival of hope and the ardour of passion could inspire. Miss Wilmot sympathized with my feelings; Page 119 and, with a fervour that spoke the kind|ness of her heart, hoped she should one day see a pair so worthy of each other blessed to the full accomplishment of their wishes; but she confessed she had her fears, for she thought that the remark, that lovers best calculated to make each other happy were seldom united, was but too true.
I prevailed on her to take tea with me; Mary waited, and I put a thousand questions to her; for my conversation was all on this subject. I could think of nothing else. O how pure was the de|light of this discovery! That Olivia should quit the scenes of tumultuous joy, and seek the forlorn and unfortunate, purposely to mitigate their wants, and administer consolation to their woes, was knowledge inexpressibly sweet to the soul! And that she should still remem|ber me! that my very name should raise such commotions in her bosom! that she should delight to hear my praise, and Page 120 recollect the fortunate moment when I bore her from death with such affection! —It was rapture unspeakable!
I learned from Mary that she lived with her aunt, a few streets distant; and Miss Wilmot informed me that she con|stantly visited her twice, and sometimes oftener, each week. How did my bosom burn with the wish that she might re|turn that very evening, or at least the next day! In the impatience and ecsta|cy of hope, I forgot all impediments. Let me but see her; let me but know that she was in the house, and I suppos|ed the moment of perfect bliss would then be come. Happy evening! Never did seductive fancy paint more delicious dreams, or raise up phantoms more flattering to the heart.
Pains and pleasures dance an eternal round. The very next day brought sensations of an opposite kind. My mo|ther had found no person of whom to purchase an annuity in the country; for, Page 121 the money being her own by my free gift, she had not thought proper to venture it with Thornby; lest under the pretext of monies advanced, he should make she knew not what deduction. She had therefore written to me, soon after I came to London, to find her a purcha|ser; and after some delay, which the necessity of consulting persons better in|formed than myself had occasioned, I had advertised the week before and had entered into a negotiation.
Terms were agreed upon, and the rough copy of a deed for that purpose was brought me the same morning that the following letter arrived.
'In spite of my caution, your mother has played the fool once more. She was too suspicious to trust the money in my hands, though I warned her to beware of accidents. I must say she is a very weak woman. Her husband, Mr. Wake|field, Page 122 has made his appearance, and has trumped up some tale or another to im|pose upon her, which I am sorry to find is no difficult thing. He has got the money you gave her; so what is to be|come of her I do not know. She ex|pects he will fetch her away within a month, and keep her like a lady, on the profits of some place at court, which, according to his account, a friend was to procure for him if he could but raise five hundred pounds. You may think how likely he is to keep his promise. I told her my mind in plain terms, and I believe she begins to be in a panic. She dare not write to you, on which I thought it best to let you know the truth at once; for, as I said before, what is to become of her I do not know.
I am, &c. 'NABAL THORNBY.'
The train of ideas which the strange contents of this epistle excited was pain|ful Page 123 in the extreme. The idiot conduct of my mother tempted me to curse, not her indeed, but, according to the narrow limits of prejudice, God and her except|ed, all things else! Yet, who but she was the chief actor in this scene of luna|tic folly? Was there a woman on earth beside herself that would have been so grossly gulled?
As for her husband, the bitterness of gall was not so choaking as the recol|lection of him. The sight or sound of his name excited disgust too intense to be dwelt upon! To suffocate him as a monster, or a sooterkin, seemed the only punishment of which he was worthy.
And here it is necessary I should in|form the reader of a secret, of which I was myself at that time and long conti|nued to remain utterly ignorant. Bel|mont, the man who had purposely thrown himself in my way, industriously made himself my intimate, informed me as I supposed of his private affairs and mo|tives Page 124 of action, inquired minutely into mine, wormed every intelligence I could give that related to myself out of me, designedly attached me to him by intel|lectual efforts of no mean or common kind (for he saw they delighted me, and they were familiar to him) Belmont, I say, possessed of a pleasing person, a winning aspect, and an address that, though studied with the deepest art, ap|peared to be open, unpremeditated, and too daring for disguise, this Belmont was no other than the hated Wakefield! Yes, it was Wakefield himself, that by a stra|tagem which drove me half mad, while it made every drop of blood in his body tingle with triumph, had thus circum|vented me! He it was who borrowed the ten guineas from me, by the aid of which he robbed me of five hundred; and then returned to observe how I en|dured the goad, laugh at my restive an|tics, and revel in the plunder which he had purloined with so much facility from Page 125 foolish Trevor, and his still more foolish mother!
But this was not the only trick he had to play me. Secure in the resources of an invention that might have been occu|pied in pursuits worthy of his powers, his perverted philosophy taught him to employ these resources only for the gra|tification of passions which he thought it folly to control, and to exult over men whose sordid selfishness he despised, and whose limited cunning was the subject of his derision. He professed himself the disciple of La Rochefoucault and Mandeville, and his practice did not belie his principles.
From the tenor of his discourse, I am persuaded that, had he found me apt at adopting his maxims, he would have un|bosomed himself freely, have initiated me in his own arts, and, by making me the associate of his projects, have indu|ced me to look back on the past rather with merriment than anger. As it was, Page 126 he reserved himself to act with me as with the rest of mankind; to watch cir|cumstances, and turn them to his own purposes whenever opportunity should offer.
This was the man who was the hero of the letter I had just received! A let|ter that I could neither read nor recollect without being stung almost to frenzy; yet that I could neither forget nor forbear to peruse!
During two hours I traversed my room, and chafed with something like bursting anguish. A few weeks ago, when I had received my legacy of the lawyer, I seemed to be encumbered with wealth. Reflection and the expence at which I now lived, to the visible and quick consumption of a sum I then thought so ample, had since taught me that I was in imminent danger of being reduced to beggary. I had no profession, nor any means of subsistence till a pro|fession could be secured; at least no Page 127 adequate means, unless by retiring to some humble garret, and confining my|self to the society of the illiterate, the boorish, and the brutal, between whose habits and mine there was no congeniali|ty. The very day before, Olivia, ecsta|tic vision, had risen in full view of my delighted hopes, and, forgetting the tor|menting distance which malignant fate had placed between us, I almost thought her mine. The recollection of her now was misery.
Restless, desponding, agonizing, when this thought occurred, I was hastening to go and communicate the accursed news to Miss Wilmot; but an idea started which, after a moment's reflection, in|duced me to desist. If I told her, the story of Wakefield must again be reviv|ed. Olivia too might be informed of circumstances concerning my silly mother, which, selfishness out of the question, mo|tives of delicacy ought to conceal. Such were my arguments at that time: I had Page 128 not then the same moral aversion to se|crecy that I now possess.
I could not however any longer endure the present scene, and to get rid of it hurried away to the billiard table, where, as usual, I found the then supposed Bel|mont. He was not himself at play, but was engaged in betting. Impatient to unburthen my heart, for as far as my own affairs were concerned I had now no secrets for him, I hurried him out of the room immediately that the game was ended.
The moment we came into the park, I shewed him my letter, and desired him to read. While he perused it, I saw he was more than once violently tempted to laugh.
'Well!' said he, returning it and re|straining his titillation, 'Is this all?'
'All!' answered I. 'What more would you have? Could the maleficent devil himself do more to drive a man mad?'
He looked in my face! I returned the Page 129 inquisitive gaze! I saw emotions the very reverse of mine struggling to get vent. His opposing efforts were inef|fectual; he could contain himself no longer, and burst into a violent fit of laughter!
Astonished at mirth so ill placed and offensive, I asked what it meant? The tone of my interrogatory was rouzing and recalled his attention. 'Pshaw! Trevor,' replied he, with a glance of half contemptuous pity, 'you are yet young: you are but at the beginning of your troubles. Your over weening fondness for the musty morality of dreaming do|tards, or artful knaves who only made rules that they might profit by breaking them, will be your ruin. I tell you again and again, if you do not prey upon the world, the world will prey upon you. There is no alternative. What! be bubbled out of your fortune by a whin|ing old woman? I am ashamed of you!'
'But that woman is my mother!'
Page 130'Yes! and a set of very pretty mo|therly tricks she has played you! Not that in the first instance it was so much your fault, who were but a boy, as that of your old fool of a grandfather. It is now high time however that you should become a man.'
'My grandfather? Say rather it was the scoundrel Wakefield!
'You seem very angry with this Wake|field! And why? He appears to me to be a fellow of plot, wit, and spirit. In|stead of resentment, were I you, I should be glad to become acquainted with the man who so well perceives the stupidity and folly of the animals around him, laughs at their apish antics, and with so much facility turns their absurd whims to his own advantage.'
'Acquainted! Intuitive rascal! I would cut off his ears! Drag him to the pillory with my own hands! He is un|worthy a nobler revenge.'
'Pshaw! Ridiculous! What did Page 131 your mother want but the gratification of her paltry passions? which were but the dregs and lees of goatish inclination; for with her the pervading headlong torrent of desire was passed. Did she think of morality? She would have sacrificed the youth and high spirits of Wakefield to her own salacious doating. Why should not he too have his wishes? Were his the most criminal; or the least fitted for the faculties of enjoyment?'
'You have not heard me defend my mother's conduct: but his villany to the young lady I formerly mentioned [meaning Miss Wilmot] deserves the execration of every man!'
'That is, as she tells the story. Wo|men; poor simple creatures, are always to be pitied, never blamed! But a little more experience, Trevor, will tell you the devil himself is not half so cunning! Men are universally their dupes; nay their slaves, though called their tyrants. Do not men consume their lives in toils Page 132 to please them? Who are the chief in|stigators to what you call vice and folly? Who are the mischief makers of the world? Who incite us to plunder, rob, and cut each other's throats? Who but woman? And is not a little retaliation to be expected? Poor dear souls! Cun|ning as serpents, Trevor; but, though fond of cooing, not harmless as doves. Crocodiles; that only weep to catch their prey. I once was told of one that died broken hearted; a great beauty, and much bewept by all the maudlin moralizers that knew her. The cause of her grief was a handsome fellow, who of course was a cruel perjured villain. The tale had great pathos, and would have been very tragical, had it but been true. Ages before that in which Jove laughed at them, lover's perjuries were the common topic of scandal, and so con|tinue to be. I have often been reproach|ed in the same way myself, and I once took the trouble to write an apology; Page 133 for which, as it will suit all true lovers, all true lovers are bound to thank me. Here it is▪'
Page 134'What think you; was not this a va|lid plea? Are not women apt to take the advice here given them? Lovely hypo|crites! They delight in being forced to follow their own inclinations!'
There was no resisting the playfulness of his wit, and the exhilarating whim of his manner. My ill humour soon eva|porated; and yielding to the sympathe|tic gaiety he had inspired, I said to him—
'You are a wicked wit, Belmont. But, though I laugh, do not imagine I am a convert to your mandevilian system: it is false, pernicious, and destructive of the end which it pretends to secure.'
'Do not abuse my system, or me either', replied he. 'I tell you I am the only honest man of my acquaintance; and the first effort of my honesty is, as it ought to be, that of being honest to myself.'
'I hear many men profess the same opinions, but I find them acting on dif|ferent principles.'
Page 135'You mistake. You are young, I tell you. Every man's actions are strong|ly tinged by the principles he professes.'
My countenance became a little more serious—'Surely you do not avow your|self a rascal?'
'Pshaw! Epithets are odious. I do not know the meaning of the word; nor do you.'
Our conversation continued; it reliev|ed me from a bitterness of chagrin from which I was happy to escape. We dined together. His slow of spirits and rail|lery were unabating; I combated his opinions, he laughed at my arguments, rather than answered them, and, though I even then conceived him to be a very bad moralist, I thought him a delightful companion.