Amelia by Henry Fielding - HTML preview
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In Which Dr Harrison Visits Colonel James
The doctor, when he left Amelia, intended to go directly to Booth, but he presently changed his mind, and determined first to call on the colonel, as he thought it was proper to put an end to that matter before he gave Booth his liberty.
The doctor found the two colonels, James and Bath, together. They both received him very civilly, for James was a very well-bred man, and Bath always shewed a particular respect to the clergy, he being indeed a perfect good Christian, except in the articles of fighting and swearing.
Our divine sat some time without mentioning the subject of his errand, in hopes that Bath would go away, but when he found no likelihood of that (for indeed Bath was of the two much the most pleased with his company), he told James that he had something to say to him relating to Mr. Booth, which he believed he might speak before his brother.
"Undoubtedly, sir," said James; "for there can be no secrets between us which my brother may not hear."
"I come then to you, sir," said the doctor, "from the most unhappy woman in the world, to whose afflictions you have very greatly and very cruelly added by sending a challenge to her husband, which hath very luckily fallen into her hands; for, had the man for whom you designed it received it, I am afraid you would not have seen me upon this occasion."
"If I writ such a letter to Mr. Booth, sir," said James, "you may be assured I did not expect this visit in answer to it."
"I do not think you did," cries the doctor; "but you have great reason to thank Heaven for ordering this matter contrary to your expectations. I know not what trifle may have drawn this challenge from you, but, after what I have some reason to know of you, sir, I must plainly tell you that, if you had added to your guilt already committed against this man, that of having his blood upon your hands, your soul would have become as black as hell itself."
"Give me leave to say," cries the colonel, "this is a language which I am not used to hear; and if your cloth was not your protection you should not give it me with impunity. After what you know of me, sir! What do you presume to know of me to my disadvantage?"
"You say my cloth is my protection, colonel," answered the doctor; "therefore pray lay aside your anger: I do not come with any design of affronting or offending you."
"Very well," cries Bath; "that declaration is sufficient from a clergyman, let him say what he pleases.”
"Indeed, sir," says the doctor very mildly, "I consult equally the good of you both, and, in a spiritual sense, more especially yours; for you know you have injured this poor man."
"So far on the contrary," cries James, "that I have been his greatest benefactor. I scorn to upbraid him, but you force me to it. Nor have I ever done him the least injury."
"Perhaps not," said the doctor; "I will alter what I have said. But for this I apply to your honour--Have you not intended him an injury, the very intention of which cancels every obligation?"
"How, sir?" answered the colonel; "what do you mean?"
"My meaning," replied the doctor, "is almost too tender to mention. Come, colonel, examine your own heart, and then answer me, on your honour, if you have not intended to do him the highest wrong which one man can do another?"
"I do not know what you mean by the question," answered the colonel.
"D--n me, the question is very transparent! "cries Bath." From any other man it would be an affront with the strongest emphasis, but from one of the doctor's cloth it demands a categorical answer."
"I am not a papist, sir," answered Colonel James, "nor am I obliged to confess to my priest. But if you have anything to say speak openly, for I do not understand your meaning."
"I have explained my meaning to you already," said the doctor, "in a letter I wrote to you on the subject--a subject which I am sorry I should have any occasion to write upon to a Christian."
"I do remember now," cries the colonel, "that I received a very impertinent letter, something like a sermon, against adultery; but I did not expect to hear the author own it to my face.”
"That brave man then, sir," answered the doctor, "stands before you who dares own he wrote that letter, and dares affirm too that it was writ on a just and strong foundation. But if the hardness of your heart could prevail on you to treat my good intention with contempt and scorn, what, pray, could induce you to shew it, nay, to give it Mr. Booth? What motive could you have for that, unless you meant to insult him, and provoke your rival to give you that opportunity of putting him out of the world, which you have since wickedly sought by your challenge?"
"I give him the letter!" said the colonel.
"Yes, sir," answered the doctor, "he shewed me the letter, and affirmed that you gave it him at the masquerade."
"He is a lying rascal, then!" said the colonel very passionately. "I scarce took the trouble of reading the letter, and lost it out of my pocket."
Here Bath interfered, and explained this affair in the manner in which it happened, and with which the reader is already acquainted. He concluded by great eulogiums on the performance, and declared it was one of the most enthusiastic (meaning, perhaps, ecclesiastic) letters that ever was written. "And d--n me," says he, "if I do not respect the author with the utmost emphasis of thinking."
The doctor now recollected what had passed with Booth, and perceived he had made a mistake of one colonel for another. This he presently acknowledged to Colonel James, and said that the mistake had been his, and not Booth's.
Bath now collected all his gravity and dignity, as he called it, into his countenance, and, addressing himself to James, said, "And was that letter writ to you, brother?--I hope you never deserved any suspicion of this kind."
"Brother," cries James, "I am accountable to myself for my actions, and shall not render an account either to you or to that gentleman."
"As to me, brother," answered Bath, "you say right; but I think this gentleman may call you to an account; nay, I think it is his duty so to do. And let me tell you, brother, there is one much greater than he to whom you must give an account. Mrs. Booth is really a fine woman, a lady of most imperious and majestic presence. I have heard you often say that you liked her; and, if you have quarrelled with her husband upon this account, by all the dignity of man I think you ought to ask his pardon."
"Indeed, brother," cries James, "I can bear this no longer--you will make me angry presently.”
"Angry! brother James," cries Bath; "angry!--I love you, brother, and have obligations to you. I will say no more, but I hope you know I do not fear making any man angry."
James answered he knew it well; and then the doctor, apprehending that while he was stopping up one breach he should make another, presently interfered, and turned the discourse back to Booth. "You tell me, sir," said he to James, "that my gown is my protection; let it then at least protect me where I have had no design in offending--where I have consulted your highest welfare, as in truth I did in writing this letter. And if you did not in the least deserve any such suspicion, still you have no cause for resentment. Caution against sin, even to the innocent, can never be unwholesome. But this I assure you, whatever anger you have to me, you can have none to poor Booth, who was entirely ignorant of my writing to you, and who, I am certain, never entertained the least suspicion of you; on the contrary, reveres you with the highest esteem, and love, and gratitude. Let me therefore reconcile all matters between you, and bring you together before he hath even heard of this challenge."
"Brother," cries Bath, "I hope I shall not make you angry--I lie when I say so; for I am indifferent to any man's anger. Let me be an accessory to what the doctor hath said. I think I may be trusted with matters of this nature, and it is a little unkind that, if you intended to send a challenge, you did not make me the bearer. But, indeed, as to what appears to me, this matter may be very well made up; and, as Mr. Booth doth not know of the challenge, I don't see why he ever should, any more than your giving him the lie just now; but that he shall never have from me, nor, I believe, from this gentleman; for, indeed, if he should, it would be incumbent upon him to cut your throat."
"Lookee, doctor," said James, "I do not deserve the unkind suspicion you just now threw out against me. I never thirsted after any man's blood; and, as for what hath passed, since this discovery hath happened, I may, perhaps, not think it worth my while to trouble myself any more about it."
The doctor was not contented with perhaps, he insisted on a firm promise, to be bound with the colonel's honour. This at length he obtained, and then departed well satisfied.
In fact, the colonel was ashamed to avow the real cause of the quarrel to this good man, or, indeed, to his brother Bath, who would not only have condemned him equally with the doctor, but would possibly have quarrelled with him on his sister's account, whom, as the reader must have observed, he loved above all things; and, in plain truth, though the colonel was a brave man, and dared to fight, yet he was altogether as willing to let it alone; and this made him now and then give a little way to the wrongheadedness of Colonel Bath, who, with all the other principles of honour and humanity, made no more of cutting the throat of a man upon any of his punctilios than a butcher doth of killing sheep.