Amelia by Henry Fielding - HTML preview
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A Curious Chapter, From Which A Curious Reader May Draw Sundry Observations
The serjeant retired from the colonel in a very dejected state of mind: in which, however, we must leave him awhile and return to Amelia; who, as soon as she was up, had despatched Mrs. Atkinson to pay off her former lodgings, and to bring off all cloaths and other moveables.
The trusty messenger returned without performing her errand, for Mrs. Ellison had locked up all her rooms, and was gone out very early that morning, and the servant knew not whither she was gone.
The two ladies now sat down to breakfast, together with Amelia's two children; after which, Amelia declared she would take a coach and visit her husband. To this motion Mrs. Atkinson soon agreed, and offered to be her companion. To say truth, I think it was reasonable enough; and the great abhorrence which Booth had of seeing his wife in a bailiff's house was, perhaps, rather too nice and delicate.
When the ladies were both drest, and just going to send for their vehicle, a great knocking was heard at the door, and presently Mrs. James was ushered into the room.
This visit was disagreeable enough to Amelia, as it detained her from the sight of her husband, for which she so eagerly longed. However, as she had no doubt but that the visit would be reasonably short, she resolved to receive the lady with all the complaisance in her power.
Mrs. James now behaved herself so very unlike the person that she lately appeared, that it might have surprized any one who doth not know that besides that of a fine lady, which is all mere art and mummery, every such woman hath some real character at the bottom, in which, whenever nature gets the better of her, she acts. Thus the finest ladies in the world will sometimes love, and sometimes scratch, according to their different natural dispositions, with great fury and violence, though both of these are equally inconsistent with a fine lady's artificial character.
Mrs. James then was at the bottom a very good-natured woman, and the moment she heard of Amelia's misfortune was sincerely grieved at it. She had acquiesced on the very first motion with the colonel's design of inviting her to her house; and this morning at breakfast, when he had acquainted her that Amelia made some difficulty in accepting the offer, very readily undertook to go herself and persuade her friend to accept the invitation.
She now pressed this matter with such earnestness, that Amelia, who was not extremely versed in the art of denying, was hardly able to refuse her importunity; nothing, indeed, but her affection to Mrs. Atkinson could have prevailed on her to refuse; that point, however, she would not give up, and Mrs. James, at last, was contented with a promise that, as soon as their affairs were settled, Amelia, with her husband and family, would make her a visit, and stay some time with her in the country, whither she was soon to retire.
Having obtained this promise, Mrs. James, after many very friendly professions, took her leave, and, stepping into her coach, reassumed the fine lady, and drove away to join her company at an auction.
The moment she was gone Mrs. Atkinson, who had left the room upon the approach of Mrs. James, returned into it, and was informed by Amelia of all that had past.
"Pray, madam," said Mrs. Atkinson, "do this colonel and his lady live, as it is called, well together?"
"If you mean to ask," cries Amelia, "whether they are a very fond couple, I must answer that I believe they are not."
"I have been told," says Mrs. Atkinson, "that there have been instances of women who have become bawds to their own husbands, and the husbands pimps for them."
"Fie upon it!" cries Amelia. "I hope there are no such people. Indeed, my dear, this is being a little too censorious."
"Call it what you please," answered Mrs. Atkinson; "it arises from my love to you and my fears for your danger. You know the proverb of a burnt child; and, if such a one hath any good-nature, it will dread the fire on the account of others as well as on its own. And, if I may speak my sentiments freely, I cannot think you will be in safety at this colonel's house."
"I cannot but believe your apprehensions to be sincere," replied Amelia; "and I must think myself obliged to you for them; but I am convinced you are entirely in an error. I look on Colonel James as the most generous and best of men. He was a friend, and an excellent friend too, to my husband, long before I was acquainted with him, and he hath done him a thousand good offices. What do you say of his behaviour yesterday?”
"I wish," cries Mrs. Atkinson, "that this behaviour to-day had been equal. What I am now going to undertake is the most disagreeable office of friendship, but it is a necessary one. I must tell you, therefore, what past this morning between the colonel and Mr. Atkinson; for, though it will hurt you, you ought, on many accounts, to know it." Here she related the whole, which we have recorded in the preceding chapter, and with which the serjeant had acquainted her while Mrs. James was paying her visit to Amelia. And, as the serjeant had painted the matter rather in stronger colours than the colonel, so Mrs. Atkinson again a little improved on the serjeant. Neither of these good people, perhaps, intended to aggravate any circumstance; but such is, I believe, the unavoidable consequence of all reports. Mrs. Atkinson, indeed, may be supposed not to see what related to James in the most favourable light, as the serjeant, with more honesty than prudence, had suggested to his wife that the colonel had not the kindest opinion of her, and had called her a sly and demure---: it is true he omitted ill-looking b---; two words which are, perhaps, superior to the patience of any Job in petticoats that ever lived. He made amends, however, by substituting some other phrases in their stead, not extremely agreeable to a female ear.
It appeared to Amelia, from Mrs. Atkinson's relation, that the colonel had grossly abused Booth to the serjeant, and had absolutely refused to become his bail. Poor Amelia became a pale and motionless statue at this account. At length she cried, "If this be true, I and mine are all, indeed, undone. We have no comfort, no hope, no friend left. I cannot disbelieve you. I know you would not deceive me. Why should you, indeed, deceive me? But what can have caused this alteration since last night? Did I say or do anything to offend him?"
"You said and did rather, I believe, a great deal too much to please him," answered Mrs. Atkinson. "Besides, he is not in the least offended with you. On the contrary, he said many kind things."
"What can my poor love have done?" said Amelia. "He hath not seen the colonel since last night. Some villain hath set him against my husband; he was once before suspicious of such a person. Some cruel monster hath belied his innocence!"
"Pardon me, dear madam," said Mrs. Atkinson; "I believe the person who hath injured the captain with this friend of his is one of the worthiest and best of creatures--nay, do not be surprized; the person I mean is even your fair self: sure you would not be so dull in any other case; but in this, gratitude, humility, modesty, every virtue, shuts your eyes.
Mortales hebetant visus,
as Virgil says. What in the world can be more consistent than his desire to have you at his own house and to keep your husband confined in another? All that he said and all that he did yesterday, and, what is more convincing to me than both, all that he looked last night, are very consistent with both these designs."
"O Heavens!" cries Amelia, "you chill my blood with horror! the idea freezes me to death; I cannot, must not, will not think it. Nothing but conviction! Heaven forbid I should ever have more conviction! And did he abuse my husband? what? did he abuse a poor, unhappy, distrest creature, opprest, ruined, torn from his children, torn away from his wretched wife; the honestest, worthiest, noblest, tenderest, fondest, best--" Here she burst into an agony of grief, which exceeds the power of description.
In this situation Mrs. Atkinson was doing her utmost to support her when a most violent knocking was heard at the door, and immediately the serjeant ran hastily into the room, bringing with him a cordial which presently relieved Amelia. What this cordial was, we shall inform the reader in due time. In the mean while he must suspend his curiosity; and the gentlemen at White's may lay wagers whether it was Ward's pill or Dr James's powder.
But before we close this chapter, and return back to the bailiff's house, we must do our best to rescue the character of our heroine from the dulness of apprehension, which several of our quick-sighted readers may lay more heavily to her charge than was done by her friend Mrs. Atkinson.
I must inform, therefore, all such readers, that it is not because innocence is more blind than guilt that the former often overlooks and tumbles into the pit which the latter foresees and avoids. The truth is, that it is almost impossible guilt should miss the discovering of all the snares in its way, as it is constantly prying closely into every corner in order to lay snares for others. Whereas innocence, having no such purpose, walks fearlessly and carelessly through life, and is consequently liable to tread on the gins which cunning hath laid to entrap it. To speak plainly and without allegory or figure, it is not want of sense, but want of suspicion, by which innocence is often betrayed. Again, we often admire at the folly of the dupe, when we should transfer our whole surprize to the astonishing guilt of the betrayer. In a word, many an innocent person hath owed his ruin to this circumstance alone, that the degree of villany was such as must have exceeded the faith of every man who was not himself a villain.