CHAP. XII. DESPERATE MEASURES: OLIVIA AND HER AUNT: A RASH ACCUSATION; AND ITS STRANGE CONSEQUENCES: AFFAIRS BROUGHT TO A CRISIS.
BEFORE I proceed to the history of my Bath adventures, it is necessary to take a brief retrospect of the state of my affairs. The total of my expences, from the time that I received the four hun|dred and fifty pounds of Thornby, to my arrival at Bath, was about two hundred and forty pounds, including the sum I had lost at billiards, the money I had paid for printing my pamphlet (the last sheet of which I corrected before I left town) thirty pounds that in consequence of a letter from my mother I remitted to her, and twenty for the purchase of a lottery ticket; for, among other ab|surd Page 235 and vicious ways of becoming rich, that suggested itself to my eager fancy.
The quick decay of my very small in|heritance lay corroding at my heart, and prompted me to a thousand different schemes, without the power of determin|ing me to any. My general propensity however was more to the desperate, which should at once be decisive, than to the slow and lingering plans of timid prudence. In reality both seemed hopeless, and therefore the briefest suffering was the best. At some short intervals the glow of hope, which had lately been so fervid, would return, and those powers of thought that seemed to be struggling within me would promise great and glorious success; but these were only flashes of lightening darting through a midnight sky, the texture of which was deep obscurity; "darkness visible."
To one point however I was fixed, that of using every endeavour to learn Page 236 the true sentiments of Olivia respecting me; and, if any possible opportunity offered, of declaring my own. To effect this I resolved, since I knew not what better method to take, that I would watch the few public places to which all the visitors at Bath resort. I therefore immediately subscribed to the upper and lower rooms, and traversed the city in every direction.
People, not confined to their chamber, are here sure to be soon met with; and, on the second morning after my arrival, I discovered Olivia, seated at the farther end of the Pump-room. She had an old lady, who proved to be her aunt, by her side; and a circle round her, in which were several handsome fellows, who my jealous eye instantly discovered were all ambitious of her regard.
The moment I had a glimpse of her, I was seized with a trembling that shook my whole frame, and a sickness that I with difficulty subdued. I approached, Page 237 stopped, turned aside, again advanced, again hesitated, and was once more al|most overcome by a rising of the heart that was suffocating, and a swimming of the brain that made my limbs stagger, my eyes roll, and deprived me of sight.
It was sometime before I could make another attempt. At length I caught her eye. With the rapidity of lighten|ing her cheek was suffused with blushes, and as instantaneously changed to a death-like pale. It was my habitual er|ror to interpret every thing in my own favour; and the conviction that she was suffering emotions similar to my own was transport to me.
For some minutes I mingled with the croud, fearful of a relapse on my own part and on hers, but keeping her in sight, and presenting myself to her view, till I was rouzed by an apparent motion of the aunt to rise. I then advanced, but still in an ague fit of apprehension. I attempted to bow, and in a faltering Page 238 and feeble voice pronounced her name, 'hoped she was well, and'—I could pro|ceed no farther.
My disease was infectious. She sat a moment, severely struggling with her feelings, and then returned a kind of in|articulate complimentary answer.
'What is the matter Olivia?' said the aunt. 'How strangely you look child? Who is the gentleman?'
Olivia made another effort.—'It is Mr. Trevor, Madam; the grandson of the rector of * * *.'
'Oh ho! The young Oxonian that my nephew Hector tells the comical story about; of the methodist preacher, and of his throwing you into the water, and then taking you out again.'
The tone, form, and features of the old lady, with this short introductory dialogue, gave me a strong, but no en|couraging picture, of her character. Her voice was masculine, her nose short, her mouth wide, her brow bent and bushy, Page 239 and the corners of her eyes and cheeks deeply wrinkled. I attempted to enter into conversation, but my efforts were aukward; the answers of the aunt were broad, coarse, and discouraging; and Olivia, though embarrassed, I accused of being cold. The manner of the old lady clearly indicated, that she suspected my design; and an endeavour in me to prolong the conversation, by turning it on my native county, drew from her the following animadversions.
'I have heard a great deal about your family, Mr. Trevor; and of the ridicu|lous opposition which your grandfather pretended to make to my late brother, Mowbray. Your mother, I think, was twice married, and, as I have been told, both times very imprudently; so that the proud hopes which the rector en|tertained of raising a family were all overthrown. But that is always the case with clandestine matches. Many fami|lies, of much greater consequence than Page 240 ever yours was, Mr. Trevor, have been brought low by such foolish and wicked doings. Young girls that have indulged improper connections, and secret lovers, have involved themselves, and all their relations, in ruin by their guilty proceed|ings. You are but a petty instance of the base and bad consequences of the crimes of such foolish young hussies. Come, niece!'
They both rose to go. The dialogue that had just passed had no listeners, though of that circumstance the aunt was evidently regardless. The circle round Olivia had presently dispersed, as good manners required, when I a stranger came up. The repugnant and ominous behaviour of the aunt did but increase the impetuous haste that I felt to know the worst, and addressing myself to Oli|via, I asked with some eagerness, 'If I might be permitted to pay her my re|spects while she continued at Bath?'
The aunt fixed her eye on me, 'Look Page 241 you,' said she, 'Mr. Trevor, you are a handsome young fellow, and I do not want handsome young fellows about my niece. I see too many of them: they have little fortune, and less shame; they give me a deal of trouble; no good can come of their smirking and smiling, their foppery and their forward prate. My niece I believe has much more prudence than is usual with the young minxes of the present day. But no matter for that: I am sure there is no prudence in setting gunpowder too near the fire. I have heard her talk of your taking her out of the water in a manner that, if I did not know her, I should not quite like. So I must plainly tell you, Sir, as I can see no good that can come of your ac|quaintance, I shall take care to prevent all harm. Not that there is much fear, for she knows her duty, and has always done it. Neither can you have enter|tained any impertinent notions: it would be too ridiculous! Though what my ne|phew Page 242 and Mr. Andrew told me, I own, did seem as if you could strangely forget yourself. But at once to cut matters short, I now tell you plainly, and down right, her choice is made. Yes, Sir, her choice is positively made; and so, though I do not suppose you have taken any foolish crotchets, and improper whims into your head, for that would be too impertinent, yet as you knew one ano|ther when children, and so forth, it was best to be plain with you at once, be|cause, though such ridiculous nonsense was quite impossible, I hear on all hands you are a bold and flighty young gentle|man, and that you have no little opinion of yourself.'
Dumb founded as I was by this un|disguised refusal, this hard, unfeeling re|primand, I made no attempt to reply or follow. The flushings of Olivia's face indeed were continual; but what were they more than indignant repellings of her aunt's broad surmises? Had they Page 243 been favourable to me why did she not declare them with the openness of which she had so striking an example? She curtsied as she went; but it was a half-souled compliment, that while I attempt|ed to return my heart resented.
They disappeared, and I remained, feeling as if now first made sensible of the extreme folly, the lunacy of all my actions! The dialogue I had just heard vibrated in my brain, burning and wast|ing it with the frenzy of agonizing recol|lection. "I was a forward prating fop, of little fortune, and less shame! Bold and flighty, with no little opinion of myself; again and again I was ridiculous, and impertinent! My crotchets whims and nonsense were impossible!"
Nor was this all! There was another piece of intelligence; an additional and dreadful feature of despair; the name of Andrews! Detested sound! Racking idea! "Her choice is made; positively made!" Excruciating thought! Why Page 244 then, welcome ruin! sudden and irrevo|cable ruin!
As soon as I could recover sufficient recollection, I hurried home; where I remained in a trance of torment, and disposed to a thousand acts of madness that were conceived and dismissed with a rapidity of pain that rendered my mind impotent to all, except the inflicting torture on itself.
At last, the agony in which I sat was interrupted by the appearance of Bel|mont. We had agreed to go to Lans|down races, he told me it was now time, took me by the arm, and hurried me away.
Reckless of where I went, or what I did, I obeyed. The course was at no great distance, a carriage was not to be procured, and we walked. The steep|ness of the hill, the heat of the day, and above all the anguish of my heart, threw me into a violent heat. The drops roll|ed down my cheeks, and I put my hand|kerchief Page 245 lightly into my hat, to prevent its pressure. Lost in a revery of misery, I acted instinctively, and breathed the dust, heard the hubbub, and saw the confusion around me without perceiving them.
After the first heat there was a battle, toward which I was dragged by Belmont. In the tumult and distraction of my thoughts, I scarcely knew what happen|ed; and feeling in my pocket for my handkerchief I missed it. A croud and a pick-pocket was an immediate sugges|tion. Neither coolness nor recollection were present to me. I saw a man put|ting up a red and white handkerchief, Which I supposed to be mine, and spring|ing forward, I caught him by the collar, and exclaimed, 'Rascal, you have rob|bed me!' In an instant the mob flocked round us, and the supposed pick-pocket was seized. 'Duck him! Duck him!' was the general cry; and away the poor fellow was immediately hurried. Half Page 246 awakened by the unpremeditated danger into which I had brought him, I began to repent. Belmont, who had lost sight of me, came up, and asked what was the matter.
'A fellow has picked my pocket,' said I.
'Of my handkerchief.'
'Your handkerchief? Is it not under your hat?'
I snatched it off, examined, and there the handkerchief was!—I was struck speechless!
The man whom I had falsely accused made a violent resistance; the mob was dragging him along, rending his clothes off his back, and half-tearing him in pieces. The state of my mind was little short of frenzy. In a tone of com|mand, I bade Belmont follow, made my way into the thickest of the croud, and furio sly began to beat the people who were ill using the prisoner; calling till I Page 247 was hoarse, 'Let him alone! He is in|nocent! I am to blame!'
My efforts were vain. A mob has many hands but no ears. My blows were returned fifty fold. I was inveloped by one mob myself, while the poor wretch was hauled along by another. Not all my struggles could save him. I could not get free; and the man, as Belmont afterward informed me, was half drown|ed; after which he escaped, and nobody knew what was become of him.
These were but a part of the accidents of the day. My mind was maddening, and I was ripe for mischief. Belmont in the evening went to the hazard table, and I determined to accompany him, to which he encouraged me. The impetus was given, and, as if resolved on destruc|tion, I put all my money, except a ten pound note to pay my Bath debts, in my pocket. Though ignorant of the cause of them, Belmont discovered my incli|nations. Page 248 He took care to be at the place before the company assembled.
An accomplice (as I afterward learned) was present, who displayed guineas and bank notes sufficient to convince me that he was my man, if I could but win them. I was as eager as they could de•ire, and to increase my ardour was occasionally suffered to win a rich stake. My suc|cess was of short duration; I soon be|gan to 〈◊〉 and foam with rage. In the midst of this scene, Hector Mowbray and tall Andrews came in; who un|known to me were at Bath. They saw me close my accounts, and by their looks enjoyed my fury. The whole company, wh•c• now began to be numerous, un|derstood that I left off play because I had no more money to lose. The pigeon was completely plucked.
This was the climax of misery, at which I seemed ambitious to arrive. During six hours, I sat in a state of ab|solute Page 249 stupor; and echoed the uproar and blasphemy that surrounded me with deep but unconscious groans. I do not know that I so much as moved, till the company was entirely dispersed, and I was awakened from my torpor by the groom porter. I then languidly returned to my lodging, exhausted and unable longer to support the conflicting torture.