Amelia by Henry Fielding - HTML preview
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Contains A Letter And Other Matter
We will now return to Amelia; to whom, immediately upon her husband's departure to walk with Mr. Trent, a porter brought the following letter, which she immediately opened and read:
"MADAM,--The quick despatch which I have given to your first commands will I hope assure you of the diligence with which I shall always obey every command that you are pleased to honour me with. I have, indeed, in this trifling affair, acted as if my life itself had been at stake; nay, I know not but it may be so; for this insignificant matter, you was pleased to tell me, would oblige the charming person in whose power is not only my happiness, but, as I am well persuaded, my life too. Let me reap therefore some little advantage in your eyes, as you have in mine, from this trifling occasion; for, if anything could add to the charms of which you are mistress, it would be perhaps that amiable zeal with which you maintain the cause of your friend. I hope, indeed, she will be my friend and advocate with the most lovely of her sex, as I think she hath reason, and as you was pleased to insinuate she had been. Let me beseech you, madam, let not that dear heart, whose tenderness is so inclined to compassionate the miseries of others, be hardened only against the sufferings which itself occasions. Let not that man alone have reason to think you cruel, who, of all others, would do the most to procure your kindness. How often have I lived over in my reflections, in my dreams, those two short minutes we were together! But, alas! how faint are these mimicries of the imagination! What would I not give to purchase the reality of such another blessing! This, madam, is in your power to bestow on the man who hath no wish, no will, no fortune, no heart, no life, but what are at your disposal. Grant me only the favour to be at Lady----'s assembly. You can have nothing to fear from indulging me with a moment's sight, a moment's conversation; I will ask no more. I know your delicacy, and had rather die than offend it. Could I have seen you sometimes, I believe the fear of offending you would have kept my love for ever buried in my own bosom; but, to be totally excluded even from the sight of what my soul doats on is what I cannot bear. It is that alone which hath extorted the fatal secret from me. Let that obtain your forgiveness for me. I need not sign this letter otherwise than with that impression of my heart which I hope it bears; and, to conclude it in any form, no language hath words of devotion strong enough to tell you with what truth, what anguish, what zeal, what adoration I love you."
Amelia had just strength to hold out to the end, when her trembling grew so violent that she dropt the letter, and had probably dropt herself, had not Mrs. Atkinson come timely in to support her.
"Good Heavens!" cries Mrs. Atkinson, "what is the matter with you, madam?”
"I know not what is the matter," cries Amelia; "but I have received a letter at last from that infamous colonel."
"You will take my opinion again then, I hope, madam," cries Mrs. Atkinson. "But don't be so affected; the letter cannot eat you or run away with you. Here it lies, I see; will you give me leave to read it?"
"Read it with all my heart," cries Amelia; "and give me your advice how to act, for I am almost distracted."
"Heydey!" says Mrs. Atkinson, "here is a piece of parchment too--what is that?" In truth, this parchment had dropt from the letter when Amelia first opened it; but her attention was so fixed by the contents of the letter itself that she had never read the other. Mrs. Atkinson had now opened the parchment first; and, after a moment's perusal, the fire flashed from her eyes, and the blood flushed into her cheeks, and she cried out, in a rapture, "It is a commission for my husband! upon my soul, it is a commission for my husband:" and, at the same time, began to jump about the room in a kind of frantic fit of joy.
"What can be the meaning of all this?" cries Amelia, under the highest degree of astonishment.
"Do not I tell you, my dear madam," cries she, "that it is a commission for my husband? and can you wonder at my being overjoyed at what I know will make him so happy? And now it is all out. The letter is not from the colonel, but from that noble lord of whom I have told you so much. But, indeed, madam, I have some pardons to ask of you. However, I know your goodness, and I will tell you all.
"You are to know then, madam, that I had not been in the Opera-house six minutes before a masque came up, and, taking me by the hand, led me aside. I gave the masque my hand; and, seeing a lady at that time lay hold on Captain Booth, I took that opportunity of slipping away from him; for though, by the help of the squeaking voice, and by attempting to mimic yours, I had pretty well disguised my own, I was still afraid, if I had much conversation with your husband, he would discover me. I walked therefore away with this masque to the upper end of the farthest room, where we sat down in a corner together. He presently discovered to me that he took me for you, and I soon after found out who he was; indeed, so far from attempting to disguise himself, he spoke in his own voice and in his own person. He now began to make very violent love to me, but it was rather in the stile of a great man of the present age than of an Arcadian swain. In short, he laid his whole fortune at my feet, and bade me make whatever terms I pleased, either for myself or for others. By others, I suppose he meant your husband. This, however, put a thought into my head of turning the present occasion to advantage. I told him there were two kinds of persons, the fallaciousness of whose promises had become proverbial in the world. These were lovers, and great men. What reliance, then, could I have on the promise of one who united in himself both those characters? That I had seen a melancholy instance, in a very worthy woman of my acquaintance (meaning myself, madam), of his want of generosity. I said I knew the obligations that he had to this woman, and the injuries he had done her, all which I was convinced she forgave, for that she had said the handsomest things in the world of him to me. He answered that he thought he had not been deficient in generosity to this lady (for I explained to him whom I meant); but that indeed, if she had spoke well of him to me (meaning yourself, madam), he would not fail to reward her for such an obligation. I then told him she had married a very deserving man, who had served long in the army abroad as a private man, and who was a serjeant in the guards; that I knew it was so very easy for him to get him a commission, that I should not think he had any honour or goodness in the world if he neglected it. I declared this step must be a preliminary to any good opinion he must ever hope for of mine. I then professed the greatest friendship to that lady (in which I am convinced you will think me serious), and assured him he would give me one of the highest pleasures in letting me be the instrument of doing her such a service. He promised me in a moment to do what you see, madam, he hath since done. And to you I shall always think myself indebted for it."
"I know not how you are indebted to me," cries Amelia. "Indeed, I am very glad of any good fortune that can attend poor Atkinson, but I wish it had been obtained some other way. Good Heavens! what must be the consequence of this? What must this lord think of me for listening to his mention of love? nay, for making any terms with him? for what must he suppose those terms mean? Indeed, Mrs. Atkinson, you carried it a great deal too far. No wonder he had the assurance to write to me in the manner he hath done. It is too plain what he conceives of me, and who knows what he may say to others? You may have blown up my reputation by your behaviour."
"How is that possible?" answered Mrs. Atkinson. "Is it not in my power to clear up all matters? If you will but give me leave to make an appointment in your name I will meet him myself, and declare the whole secret to him."
"I will consent to no such appointment," cries Amelia. "I am heartily sorry I ever consented to practise any deceit. I plainly see the truth of what Dr Harrison hath often told me, that, if one steps ever so little out of the ways of virtue and innocence, we know not how we may slide, for all the ways of vice are a slippery descent."
"That sentiment," cries Mrs. Atkinson, "is much older than Dr Harrison. Omne vitium in proclivi est."
"However new or old it is, I find it is true," cries Amelia--"But, pray, tell me all, though I tremble to hear it.”
"Indeed, my dear friend," said Mrs. Atkinson, "you are terrified at nothing--indeed, indeed, you are too great a prude."
"I do not know what you mean by prudery," answered Amelia. "I shall never be ashamed of the strictest regard to decency, to reputation, and to that honour in which the dearest of all human creatures hath his share. But, pray, give me the letter, there is an expression in it which alarmed me when I read it. Pray, what doth he mean by his two short minutes, and by purchasing the reality of such another blessing?”
"Indeed, I know not what he means by two minutes," cries Mrs. Atkinson, "unless he calls two hours so; for we were not together much less. And as for any blessing he had, I am a stranger to it. Sure, I hope you have a better opinion of me than to think I granted him the last favour."
"I don't know what favours you granted him, madam," answered Amelia peevishly, "but I am sorry you granted him any in my name."
"Upon my word," cries Mrs. Atkinson, "you use me unkindly, and it is an usage I did not expect at your hands, nor do I know that I have deserved it. I am sure I went to the masquerade with no other view than to oblige you, nor did I say or do anything there which any woman who is not the most confounded prude upon earth would have started at on a much less occasion than what induced me. Well, I declare upon my soul then, that, if I was a man, rather than be married to a woman who makes such a fuss with her virtue, I would wish my wife was without such a troublesome companion."
"Very possibly, madam, these may be your sentiments," cries Amelia," and I hope they are the sentiments of your husband."
"I desire, madam," cries Mrs. Atkinson, "you would not reflect on my husband. He is a worthy man and as brave a man as yours; yes, madam, and he is now as much a captain."
She spoke those words with so loud a voice, that Atkinson, who was accidentally going up-stairs, heard them; and, being surprized at the angry tone of his wife's voice, he entered the room, and, with a look of much astonishment, begged to know what was the matter.
"The matter, my dear," cries Mrs. Atkinson, "is that I have got a commission for you, and your good old friend here is angry with me for getting it."
"I have not spirits enow," cries Amelia, "to answer you as you deserve; and, if I had, you are below my anger.”
"I do not know, Mrs. Booth," answered the other, "whence this great superiority over me is derived; but, if your virtue gives it you, I would have you to know, madam, that I despise a prude as much as you can do a----."
"Though you have several times," cries Amelia, "insulted me with that word, I scorn to give you any ill language in return. If you deserve any bad appellation, you know it, without my telling it you."
Poor Atkinson, who was more frightened than he had ever been in his life, did all he could to procure peace. He fell upon his knees to his wife, and begged her to compose herself; for indeed she seemed to be in a most furious rage.
While he was in this posture Booth, who had knocked so gently at the door, for fear of disturbing his wife, that he had not been heard in the tempest, came into the room. The moment Amelia saw him, the tears which had been gathering for some time, burst in a torrent from her eyes, which, however, she endeavoured to conceal with her handkerchief. The entry of Booth turned all in an instant into a silent picture, in which the first figure which struck the eyes of the captain was the serjeant on his knees to his wife.
Booth immediately cried, "What's the meaning of this?" but received no answer. He then cast his eyes towards Amelia, and, plainly discerning her condition, he ran to her, and in a very tender phrase begged to know what was the matter. To which she answered, "Nothing, my dear, nothing of any consequence." He replied that he would know, and then turned to Atkinson, and asked the same question.
Atkinson answered, "Upon my honour, sir, I know nothing of it. Something hath passed between madam and my wife; but what it is I know no more than your honour."
"Your wife," said Mrs. Atkinson, "hath used me cruelly ill, Mr. Booth. If you must be satisfied, that is the whole matter."
Booth rapt out a great oath, and cried, "It is impossible; my wife is not capable of using any one ill."
Amelia then cast herself upon her knees to her husband, and cried, "For Heaven's sake do not throw yourself into a passion--some few words have past-- perhaps I may be in the wrong."
"Damnation seize me if I think so!" cries Booth. "And I wish whoever hath drawn these tears from your eyes may pay it with as many drops of their heart's blood."
"You see, madam," cries Mrs. Atkinson, "you have your bully to take your part; so I suppose you will use your triumph.”
Amelia made no answer, but still kept hold of Booth, who, in a violent rage, cried out, "My Amelia triumph over such a wretch as thee!--What can lead thy insolence to such presumption! Serjeant, I desire you'll take that monster out of the room, or I cannot answer for myself."
The serjeant was beginning to beg his wife to retire (for he perceived very plainly that she had, as the phrase is, taken a sip too much that evening) when, with a rage little short of madness, she cried out, "And do you tamely see me insulted in such a manner, now that you are a gentleman, and upon a footing with him?"
"It is lucky for us all, perhaps," answered Booth, "that he is not my equal."
"You lie, sirrah," said Mrs. Atkinson; "he is every way your equal; he is as good a gentleman as yourself, and as much an officer. No, I retract what I say; he hath not the spirit of a gentleman, nor of a man neither, or he would not bear to see his wife insulted.”
"Let me beg of you, my dear," cries the serjeant, "to go with me and compose yourself."
"Go with thee, thou wretch!" cries she, looking with the utmost disdain upon him; "no, nor ever speak to thee more." At which words she burst out of the room, and the serjeant, without saying a word, followed her.
A very tender and pathetic scene now passed between Booth and his wife, in which, when she was a little composed, she related to him the whole story. For, besides that it was not possible for her otherwise to account for the quarrel which he had seen, Booth was now possessed of the letter that lay on the floor.
Amelia, having emptied her mind to her husband, and obtained his faithful promise that he would not resent the affair to my lord, was pretty well composed, and began to relent a little towards Mrs. Atkinson; but Booth was so highly incensed with her, that he declared he would leave her house the next morning; which they both accordingly did, and immediately accommodated themselves with convenient apartments within a few doors of their friend the doctor.