The Naval Officer/Chapter XV
Examine him closely, goodman Dry; spare him not. Ask him
impossible questions. Let us thwart him, let us thwart him.
BEAUMONT AND FLETCHER.
Soon after my arrival at Plymouth, notice was given by a general order, issued from the flag-ship, that a passing-day for the examination of midshipmen, as touching their qualifications for the rank of lieutenant, would be held on board the Salvador del Mundo, in Hamoaze. I lost no time in acquainting my father with this, and telling him that I felt quite prepared, and meant to offer myself. Accordingly, on the day appointed, your humble servant, with some fourteen or fifteen other youthful aspirants, assembled on board the flag-ship. Each was dressed out in our No. I suits, in most exact and unquizzable uniform, with a large bundle of log-books under our arms. We were all huddled together in a small screened canvas cabin, like so many sheep ready for slaughter.
About eleven o'clock, the captains who were to be our Minos and our Rhadamanthus, made their appearance, and we all agreed that we did not much like the "cut of their jibs." At twelve o'clock the first name was called. The "desperate youth" tried to pluck up a little courage—he cleared his throat, pulled up his shirt collar, touched his neck-handkerchief, and seizing his cocked hat and journals, boldly followed the messenger into the captain's cabin, where three grave-looking gentlemen, in undress uniform, awaited him. They were seated at a round table; a clerk was at the elbow of the president; Moore's navigation, that wise redoubtable, lay before them; together with a nautical almanack, a slate and pencil, ink and paper. The trembling middy advanced to the table, and having most respectfully deposited his journals and certificates of sobriety and good conduct, was desired to sit down. The first questions were merely theoretical; and although in the gun-room, or in any other company, he would have acquitted himself with ease, he was so abashed and confounded, that he lost his head entirely, trembled at the first question, stared at the second, and having no answer to make to the third, was dismissed, with directions "to go to sea six months longer."
He returned to us with a most woe-begone countenance. I never saw a poor creature in greater mental torment. I felt for him the more, as I knew not how soon his case might be my own. Another was called, and soon returned with no better success; and the description he gave of the bullying conduct of the youngest passing captain was such as to damp the spirits, and enough to stultify minds so inexperienced as ours, and where so much depended on our success. This hint was, however, of great use to me. Theory, I found, was the rock on which they had split; and in this part of my profession, I knew my powers, and was resolved not to be bowled out by the young captain. But while I thus resolved, a third candidate was returned to us re infecta; and this was a young man on whose talents I could have relied: I began to doubt myself. When the fourth came out with a smiling face, and told us he had passed, I took a little breath; but even this comfort was snatched from me in a moment, by his saying that one of the passing captains was a friend of his father. Here then was solved an enigma; for this fellow, during the short time I was in his company, gave proof of being no better than a simpleton.
On my own name being called, I felt a flutter about the heart which I did not feel in action, or in the hurricane, or when, in a case more desperate than either, I jumped overboard at Spithead, to swim to my dear Eugenia. "Powers of Impudence, as well as Algebra," said I, "lend me your aid, or I am undone." In a moment the cabin door flew open, the sentinel closed it after me, and I found myself in the presence of this most awful triumvirate. I felt very like Daniel in the lions' den. I was desired to take a chair, and a short discussion ensued between the judges, which I neither heard nor wished to hear: but while it lasted, I had time to survey my antagonists from head to foot. I encouraged myself to think that I was equal to one of them; and if I could only neutralise him, I thought I should very easily floor the other two.
One of these officers had a face like a painted pumpkin; and his hand, as it lay on the table, looked more like the fin of a turtle; the nails were bitten so close off, that the very remains of them seemed to have retreated into the flesh, for fear of farther depredation, which the other hand was at the moment suffering. Thinks I to myself, "If ever I saw 'lodgings to let, unfurnished,' it is in that cocoa-nut, or pumpkin, or gourd of yours."
The next captain to him was a little, thin, dark, dried up, shrivelled fellow, with keen eyes, and a sharp nose. The midshipmen called him "Old Chili Vinegar," or, "Old Hot and Sour." He was what we term a martinet. He would keep a man two months on his black list, giving him a breech of a gun to polish and keep bright, never allowing him time to mend his clothes, or keep himself clean, while he was cleaning that which, for all the purposes of war, had better have been black. He seldom flogged a man; but he tormented him into sullen discontent, by what he called "keeping the devil out of his mind." This little night-mare, who looked like a dried eel-skin, I soon found was the leader of the band.
The third captain was a tall, well-looking, pompous man (he was the junior officer of the three), with a commanding and most unbending countenance: "He would not ope his mouth in way of smile, though Nestor swore the jest was laughable."
I had just time to finish my survey, and form a rough estimate of the qualities of my examiners, when I was put upon my trial by the president, who thus addressed me,
"You are perfect in the theory of navigation, I presume, Sir, or you would not come here?"
I replied, that I hoped I should be found so, if they would please to try me.
"Ready enough with his answer," said the tall captain; "I daresay this fellow is jaw-master-general in the cockpit.—Who did you serve your time with, Sir?"
I stated the different captains I had served with, particularly Lord Edward.
"Oh, ay, that's enough; you must be a smart fellow, if you have served with Lord Edward."
I understood the envious and sarcastic manner in which this was uttered, and prepared accordingly for an arduous campaign, quite sure that this man, who was no seaman, would have been too happy in turning back one of Lord Edward's midshipmen. Several problems were given to me, which I readily solved, and returned to them. They examined my logs and certificates with much seeming scrutiny, and then ventured a question in the higher branches of mathematics. This I also solved; but I found talent was not exactly what they wanted. The little skinny captain seemed rather disappointed that he could not find fault with me. A difficult problem in spherical trigonometry lay before them, carefully drawn out, and the result distinctly marked at the bottom; but this I was not, of course, permitted to see. I soon answered the question; they compared my work with that which had been prepared for them; and as they did not exactly agree, I was told that I was wrong. I was not disconcerted, and very deliberately looking over my work, I told them I could not discover any error, and was able to prove it by inspection, by Canon, by Gunter, or by figure.
"You think yourself a very clever fellow, I dare say," said the little fat captain.
"A second Euclid!" said the tall captain. "Pray, Sir, do you know the meaning of 'Pons Asinorum?'"
"Bridge of Asses, Sir," said I, staring him full in the face, with a smile under the skin.
Now it was very clear to me that the little fat captain had never heard of the Asses Bridge before, and therefore supposed I was quizzing the tall captain, who, from having been what we used to term a "harbour-duty man" all his life, had heard of the Pons Asinorum, but did not know which of the problems of Euclid it was, nor how it was applicable to navigation. The fat captain, therefore burst into a horse laugh, saying, "I think he hits you hard; you had better let him alone: he will puzzle you presently."
Nettled at this observation of his brother officer, the tall captain was put upon his metal, and insisted that the question last proposed was not satisfactorily answered, and swore by G—— that he never would sign my certificate until I did it.
I persisted; the two works were compared: I was threatened to be turned back; when, lo, to the dismay of the party, the error was found in their own work. The fat captain, who was a well-meaning man, laughed heartily; the other two looked very silly and very angry.
"Enough of this, Sir," said the martinet: "now stand up, and let us see what you can do with a ship." A ship was supposed to be on the stocks; she was launched; I was appointed to her, and, as first lieutenant, ordered to prepare her for sea. I took her into dock, and saw her coppered; took her along the sheer-hulk, masted her; laid her to the ballast-wharf, took in and stowed her iron ballast and her tanks; moved off to a hulk or receiving ship, rigged her completely, bent her sails, took in guns, stores, and provisions; reported her ready for sea, and made the signal for a pilot; took her out of harbour, and was desired to conduct her into other harbours, pointing out the shoals and dangers of Portsmouth, Plymouth, Falmouth, the Downs, Yarmouth Roads, and even to Shetland.
But the little martinet and the tall captain had not forgiven me for being right in the problem, and my examination continued. They put my ship into every possible situation which the numerous casualties of a sea life present in such endless variety. I set and took in every sail, from a sky-sail to try-sail. I had my masts shot away, and I rigged jury-masts: I made sail on them, and was getting fairly into port, when the little martinet very cruelly threw my ship on her beam-ends on a dead lee-shore, a dark night, and blowing a hurricane, and told me to get her out of that scrape if I could. I replied that, if there was anchorage, I should anchor, and take my chance; but if there was no anchorage, neither he nor any one else could save the ship, without a change of wind, or the special interference of Providence. This did not satisfy old Chili Vinegar. I saw that I was persecuted, and that the end would be fatal to my hopes: I therefore became indifferent; was fatigued with the endless questions put to me; and, very fortunately for me, made a mistake, at least in the opinion of the tall captain. The question at that time was one which was much controverted in the service; namely, whether, on being taken flat aback, you should put your helm a turn or two alee, or keep it amidship? I preferred the latter mode; but the tall captain insisted on the former, and gave his reasons. Finding myself on debatable ground, I gave way, and thanked him for his advice, which I said I should certainly follow whenever the case occurred to me; not that I felt convinced then, and have since found that he was wrong; still my apparent tractability pleased his self-love, and he became my advocate. "He grinned horribly a ghastly smile," and, turning to the other captains, asked if they were satisfied.
This question, like the blow of the auctioneer's hammer, ends all discussion; for captains, on these occasions, never gainsay each other; I was told that my passing certificate would be signed. I made my best bow and my exit, reflecting, as I returned to the "sheep pen," that I had nearly lost my promotion by wounding their vanity, and had regained my ground by flattering it. Thus the world goes on; and from my earliest days, my mind was strengthened and confirmed in every vice by the pernicious example of my superiors.
I might have passed much more easily abroad. I remember, one fine day at sea, in the West Indies, a boat was lowered down, and sent with a young midshipman (whose time was not fairly served, and whose age and appearance indicated anything but nautical knowledge) to a ship then in company; in a quarter of an hour he returned, with his passing certificate. We were all astonished, and inquired what questions were put to him; he said, "None at all, except as to the health of my father and mother; and whether I would have port or white wine and water. On coming away," the brat added, "one of the captains desired I would, when I wrote home, give his best respects to Lord and Lady G. He had ordered a turkey to be picked and put in the boat for me, and wished me success."
This boy was soon afterwards made a post-captain; but fortunately for the service, died on his passage to England.
There was certainly some difference between this examination and mine; but when it was over, I rejoiced at the severity of my ordeal. My pride, my darling pride, was tickled at the triumph of my talents; and as I wiped away the perspiration from my forehead, I related my difficulties, my trials, and my success, with a degree of self-complacency that in any other person I should have called egregious vanity. One good effect resulted from my long examination, which continued an hour and a half—this was, that the captains passed all the other midshipmen with very few questions. They were tired of their employment; and thus it was only the poor unlucky devils that took off the fiery edge of their morning zeal, who suffered; and among "the plucked," it was known there were much cleverer fellows than many of those who had come off with flying colours.
There was one circumstance which amused me. When the captains came on deck, the little Chili Vinegar called me to him, and enquired whether I was any relation of Mr ——. I replied that he was my uncle.
"Bless my soul, Sir! why he is my most intimate friend. Why did you not tell me you were his nephew?"
I answered with an affected humility, very nearly allied to impertinence, that I could not see by his face that he knew my uncle; nor, indeed, had I known it, should I have thought it delicate to have mentioned it at such a time; as it might not only have implied a want of confidence in my own abilities, but also a suspicion that he might, by such a communication, have been induced to deviate from the rigid path of his duty, and might therefore have received it as a personal affront.
"All that is very fine, and very true," said the veteran; "but when you have an older head upon your shoulders, and have seen a little more of our service, you will learn to trust at least as much to friends as to merit; and rely on it, that if you could make yourself out cousin-german to the old tom-cat at the Admiralty, you would fare all the better for it. However, it's all over now, and there's an end of it; but make my compliments to your uncle, and tell him that you passed your examination in a manner highly creditable to you."
So saying, he touched his hat to the serjeant's guard, and slipped down the side into his gig. As he descended, I said to myself, "D—n your monkey face, you coffee-coloured little rascal—no thanks to you if I have passed. I suppose your father was breeches-mender to the first lord's butler, or else you shared your mother's milk with a lord in waiting, and that's the way you got the command of the ——."
Elated with the result of the day, I threw myself into the mail that evening, and reached my father's house in a short time after. My reception was kind and affectionate; but death had made sad havoc in my family during my late absence. My elder brother and two sisters had been successively called to join my poor mother in heaven, and all that remained now to comfort my father was a younger sister and myself. I must confess that my father received me with great emotion; his own heavy afflictions from the loss of his children, and the dangers I had undergone, as well as the authentic assurances he had received of my good conduct were more than sufficient to bury all my errors in oblivion; and he appeared, and I have no doubt really was, fonder and prouder of me than ever.
As to what my own feelings were on this occasion, I shall not attempt to disguise them. Sorry I certainly was for the death of my nearest relatives; but when the intelligence reached me, I was in the midst of the most active service. Death in all its forms had become familiar to me; and so little impression did the event make on my mind, that I did not interrupt the thread of my history to speak of it when it occurred. I take shame to myself for not feeling more; but I am quite sure, from this one instance in my life, that the feelings are blunted in proportion to the increase of misery around us; that the parent who, in a moment of peace and domestic tranquillity, would be agonized at the loss of one child, would view the death of ten with comparative indifference, when surrounded by war, pestilence, or famine.
My feelings, never very acute in this respect, were completely blunted by my course of life. Those fond recollections which, in a calm scene, would have wrung from me some tears to their memory, were now drowned or absorbed in the waste, the profligacy, and the dissipation of war; and shall I add, that I easily reconciled myself to a loss which was likely so much to increase my worldly gain. For my eldest brother, I own that, even from childhood, I had felt a jealousy and dislike, fostered, as I think, in some measure unwisely, and in part unavoidably, by the conduct of my parents. In all matters of choice or distinction, Tom was to have the preference, because he was the oldest: this I thought hard enough; but when Tom had new clothes at Midsummer and Christmas, and his old ones were converted to my use, I honestly own I wished the devil had Tom. As a point of economy, perhaps, this could not be avoided; but it engendered a hatred towards my brother which often made me, in my own little malignant mind, find excuses for the conduct of Cain.
Tom was, to be sure, what is called a good boy; he never soiled his clothes, as I did. I was always considered as a rantipole, for whom any thing was good enough. But when I saw my brother tricked out in new clothes, and his old duds covering me, like a scarecrow, I appeal to any honourable mind whether it was in human nature to feel otherwise than I did, without possessing an angelic disposition, to which I never pretended; and I fairly own that I did shed not one fiftieth part so many tears over Tom's grave, as I did over his dirty pantaloons, when forced to put them on.
As for my sisters, I knew little about them, and cared less: we met during the holidays, and separated, without regret, after a month's quarrelling. When I went to sea, I ceased to think about them, concluding there was no love lost; but when I found that death had for ever robbed me of two of them, I felt the irretrievable loss. I reproached myself with my coldness and neglect; and the affection I had denied to them, I heaped threefold on my remaining sister: even before I had ever seen her on my return, the tide of fraternal love flowed towards her with an uncontrollable violence. All that I ought to have felt towards the others, was concentrated in her, and displayed itself with a force which surprised even myself.
Perhaps the reader may be astonished that my first inquiry in London, when I had seen my father and my family, should not have been after poor Eugenia, whom I had left, and who also had quitted me, under such very peculiar and interesting circumstances. I cannot, however, claim much credit for having performed this duty. I did go, without loss of time, to her agent; and all that my most urgent entreaty could obtain from him was that she was well; that I still had credit at his house for any sum I chose to draw for in moderation; but that her place of abode must, till farther orders from her, remain a secret.
As my father did not want interest, and my claims were backed by good certificates, I received my commission as a lieutenant in his Majesty's navy about a fortnight after my arrival in London; but not being appointed to any ship, I resolved to enjoy the ".," and endeavour to make myself some amends for the hard campaign I had so lately completed in North America. I felt the transport of being a something: at least, I could live independent of my father, let the worst come to the worst; and I shall ever think this step gave me more real pleasure than either of the two subsequent ones which I have lived to attain. No sooner, therefore, had I taken up my commission, than my thoughts turned on my Emily; and two days after the attainment of my rank, I mentioned to my father my intention of paying a visit to —— Hall.
He was at the time in high good humour; we were sitting over our bottle of claret, after an excellent tête-à-tête dinner, during which I contributed very much to his amusement by the recital of some of my late adventures. He shuddered at my danger in the hurricane, and his good-humoured sides had well nigh cracked with laughter when I recounted my pranks at Quebec and Prince Edward's Island. When I spoke of Miss Somerville, my father said he had no doubt she would be happy to see me—that she was now grown a very beautiful girl, and was the toast of the county.
I received this information with an apparent cool indifference which I was far from feeling inwardly, for my heart beat at the intelligence. "Perhaps," said I, picking my teeth, and looking at my mouth in a little ivory etui—"perhaps she may be grown a fine girl: she bade fair to be so when I saw her; but fine girls are very plenty now-a-days, since the Vaccine has turned out the small-pox. Besides, the girls have now another chance of a good shape; they are allowed to take the air, instead of sitting all day, with their feet in the stocks and their dear sweet noses bent over a French grammar, under the rod of a French governess."
Why I took so much pains to conceal from the best of parents the real state of my heart, I know not, except that, from habit, deceit was to me more readily at hand than candour; certainly my attachment to this fair and virtuous creature could not cause me to blush, except at my own unworthiness of so much excellence. My father looked disappointed; I know not why; but I afterwards learned that the subject of our union had, since my brother's death, been discussed and agreed to between him and Mr Somerville; and that our marriage was only to be deferred until I should have attained the rank of captain, provided always that the parties were agreed.
"I thought," said my father, "that you were rather smitten in that quarter?"
"Me smitten, Sir?" said I, with a look of astonishment. "I have, it is true, a very high respect for Miss Somerville; but as for being in love with her, I trust no little attentions on my part have been so construed. I have paid her no more attention than I may have done to any pretty girl I meet with." (This was, indeed, true, too true.)
"Well, well," said my father, "it is a mistake on my part."
And here the conversation on that subject was dropped.
It appeared that after the little arrangement between Mr Somerville and my father, and when I had gone to join my ship in America, they had had some communication together, in which Mr Somerville disclosed, that having questioned his daughter, she had ingenuously confessed that I was not indifferent to her. She acknowledged, with crimson blushes, that I had requested and obtained a lock of her hair. This Mr Somerville told my father in confidence. He was not, therefore, at liberty to mention it to me; but it sufficiently accounts for his astonishment at my seeming indifference; for the two worthy parents had naturally concluded that it was a match.
Confounded and bewildered by my asseveration, my father knew not whose veracity to impeach; but, charitably concluding there was some mistake, or that I was, as heretofore, a fickle, thoughtless being, considered himself bound in honour to communicate the substance of our conversation to Mr Somerville; and the latter no sooner received it, than he placed the letter in Emily's hands—a very comfortable kind of avant-courier for a lover, after an absence from his mistress of full three years.
I arrived at the hall, bursting with impatience to see the lovely girl, whose hold on my heart and affection was infinitely stronger than I had ever supposed. Darting from the chaise, I flew into the sitting-room, where she usually passed her morning. I was now in my twenty-second year; my figure was decidedly of a handsome cast; my face, what I knew most women admired. My personal advantages were heightened by the utmost attention to dress; the society of the fair Acadians had very much polished my manners, and I had no more of the professional roughness of the sea than what, like the crust on the port-wine, gave an agreeable flavour; my countenance was as open and as ingenuous as my heart was deceitful and desperately wicked.
Emily rose with much agitation, and in an instant was clasped in my arms: not that the movement was voluntary on her part; it was wholly on mine. She rather recoiled; but for an instant seemed to have forgotten the fatal communication which her father had made to her not two hours before. She allowed me—perhaps she could not prevent it—to press her to my heart. She soon, however, regained her presence of mind, and, gently disengaging herself, gave vent to her feelings in a violent flood of tears.
Not at the time recollecting the conversation with my father, much less suspecting that Emily had been made acquainted with it, I cannot but confess that this reception surprised me. My caresses were repulsed, as coming from one totally disqualified to take such freedom. She even addressed me as Mr Mildmay, instead of "Frank."
"What may all this mean, my dearest Emily," said I, "after so long an absence? What can I have done to make so great an alteration in your sentiments? Is this the reward of affection and constancy? Have I so long worn this dear emblem of your affection next my heart, in battle and in tempest, to be spurned from you like a cur on my return?"
I felt that I had a clear right to boast of constancy; nor were the flirtations of Halifax and Quebec at all incompatible with such a declaration. The fair sex will start at this proposition; but it is nevertheless true. Emily was to me what the Dutchman's best anchor was to him—he kept it at home, for fear of losing it. He used other anchors in different ports, that answered the purpose tolerably well; but this best bower he always intended to ride by in the Nieu deep, when he had escaped all the dangers and quicksands of foreign shores: such was Emily to me. I thought of her when in the very jaws of the shark; I thought of her when I mounted the rigging in the hurricane; I thought of her when bored and tormented to madness by the old passing captains; all, all I might gain in renown was for her. Why, then, traitor like, did I deny her? For no other reason that I can devise than that endless love of plot and deceit which had "grown with my growth."
Madame de Stael has pronounced love to be an episode in a man's life; and so far it is true. There are as many episodes in life as there are in novels and romances; but in neither case do they destroy the general plot of the history, although they may, for the time, distract or divert our attention. Here, then, is the distinction between passion and love. I felt a passion for Eugenia, love for Emily. And why? Because although it was through my own persuasions and entreaties that her scruples had been overcome; although it was through her affection for me which would not allow her to refuse me any demand, even to the sacrifice of herself, that Eugenia had fallen, still, in the eyes of society, she had fallen; and I did not offer up a pure and holy love to that which was not accounted pure. In this I gave way, ungratefully, to the heartless casuistry of the world. But Emily, enshrined in modesty, with every talent, equal, if not superior charms, defended by rank and connection, was a flower perpetually blooming on the stem of virtue, that it would have amounted to sacrilege to attempt to have plucked; and the attempt itself would have savoured of insanity, from the utter hopelessness of success. Every sentiment connected with her was pure, from mere selfishness. Not for worlds would I have injured her; because in destroying her peace of mind, my own would have fled for ever. When I contemplated our final union, I blushed for my own unworthiness; and looked forward to the day when, by repentance and amendment, I might be deemed worthy to lead her to the altar.
I had not time to pursue these reflections any farther. Emily heard my appeal, and rising from her seat in the most dignified manner, addressed me in the commanding language of conscious virtue and injured innocence.
"Sir," said she, "I trust I am too honest to deceive you, or any one; nor have I done that of which I need be ashamed. Whatever reasons I may have to repent of my misplaced confidence, I will make no secret of that which now compels me to change my opinion of you; you will find them amply detailed in this paper," at the same time putting into my hand a letter from my father to Mr Somerville.
In a moment the mystery was unravelled, and conviction flashed in my face like the priming of a musket. Guilty, and convicted on the clearest evidence, I had nothing left for it, but to throw myself on her mercy; but while I stood undecided, and unknowing what to do, Mr Somerville entered, and welcomed me with kind, but cool hospitality. Seeing Emily in tears, and my father's letter in her hand, he knew that an éclaircissement had taken place, or was in progress. In this situation, candour, and an honest confession that I felt a mauvaise honte in disclosing my passion to my father would undoubtedly have been my safest course; but my right trusty friend, the devil, stepped in to my assistance, and suggested deceit, or a continuation of that chain by which he had long since bound me, and not one link of which he took care should ever be broken; and fortunately for me, this plan answered, at the time, better than candour.
"I must acknowledge, sir," said I, "that appearances are against me. I can only trust to your patient hearing, while I state the real facts. Allow me first to say, that my father's observations are hardly warranted by the conversation which took place; and if you will please, in the first place, to consider that that very conversation originated in my expressing a wish and intention of coming down to see you, and to produce to your daughter the memento so carefully guarded during my long absence, you must perceive that there is an incongruity in my conduct, difficult to explain; but still, through all these mazes and windings, I trust that truth and constancy will be found at the bottom. You may probably laugh at the idea, but I really felt jealous of my father's praises so lavishly bestowed on Miss Somerville; and not supposing he was aware of my attachment, I began to fear he had pretensions of his own. He is a widower, healthy, and not old; and it appeared to me that he only wanted my admiration to justify his choice of a step-mother for myself and sister. Thus, between love for Miss Somerville, and respect for my father, I scarcely knew how to act. That I should for one moment have felt jealous of my father, I now acknowledge with shame: yet labouring under the erroneous supposition of his attachment to an object which had been the only one of my adoration, I could not make up my mind to a disclosure, which I feared would have renewed our differences, and produced the most insuperable bars to our future reconciliation. This thought burned in my brain, and urged the speed of the jaded post-horses. If you will examine the drivers, they will tell you, that the whole way from town, they have been stimulated by the rapping of a Spanish dollar on the glass of the chaise. I dreaded my father getting the start of me; and busy fancy painted him, to my heated imagination, kneeling at the feet of my beloved Emily. Condemn me not, therefore, too harshly; only allow me the same lenient judgment which you exercised when I first had the pleasure of making your acquaintance."
This last sentence delicately recalled the scene at the inn, and the circumstances of my first introduction. The defence was not bad; it wanted but one simple ingredient to have made it excellent—I mean truth; but the court being strongly biassed in favour of the prisoner, I was acquitted, and at the same time, "admonished to be more careful in future." The reconciliation produced a few more tears from my beloved Emily, who soon after slipped out of the room to recover her flurry.
When Mr Somerville and myself were left together, he explained to me the harmless plot which had been laid for the union between his daughter and myself. How true it is, that the falling out of lovers is the renewal of love! The fair, white hand extended to me, was kissed with the more rapture, as I had feared the losing of it for ever. None enjoy the pleasures of a secure port, but he who has been tempest tossed, and in danger of shipwreck.
The dinner and the evening were among the happiest I can remember. We sat but a short time over our wine, as I preferred following my mistress to the little drawing-room, where tea and coffee were prepared, and where the musical instruments were kept. Emily sang and played to me, and I sang and accompanied her; and I thought all the clocks and watches in the house were at least three hours too fast, when, as it struck twelve, the signal was made to retire.
I had no sooner laid my head on my pillow than I began to call myself to a severe account for my duplicity; for, somehow or other, I don't know how it is, conscience is a very difficult sort of gentleman to deal with. A tailor's bill you may avoid by crossing the channel; but the duns of conscience follow you to the antipodes, and will be satisfied. I ran over the events of the day; I reflected that I had been on the brink of losing my Emily by an act of needless and unjustifiable deceit and double-dealing. Sooner or later I was convinced that this part of my character would be made manifest, and that shame and punishment would overwhelm me in utter ruin. The success which had hitherto attended me was no set-off against the risk I ran of losing for ever this lovely girl, and the respect and esteem of her father. For her sake, therefore, I made a vow for ever to abandon this infernal system. I mention this more particularly as it was the first healthy symptom of amendment I had discovered, and one to which I long and tenaciously adhered, as far, at least, as my habits and pursuits in life would allow me. I forgot, at that time, that to be ingenuous it was necessary to be virtuous. There is no cause for concealment when we do not act wrong.
A letter from Mr Somerville to my father explained my conduct; and my father, in reply, said I certainly must have been mad. To this I assented, quoting Shakspeare—"the lunatic, the lover, and the poet, &c.!" So long as I was out of the scrape, I cared little about the impeachment of my rationality.
The days at the Hall flew, just like all the days of happy lovers, confoundedly fast. The more I saw of Emily, the firmer and faster did she rivet my chains. I was her slave: but what was best, I became a convert to virtue, because she was virtuous; and to possess her, I knew I must become as like her as my corrupt mind and unruly habits would permit. I viewed my past life with shame and contrition. When I attended this amiable, lovely creature to church on a Sunday, and saw her in the posture of devotion before her Maker, I thought her an angel, and I thought it heaven to be near her. All my thoughts and sentiments seemed changed and refined by her example and her company. The sparks of religion, so long buried in the ashes of worldly corruption and infidelity, began to revive. I recalled my beloved mother and the Bible to my recollection; and could I have been permitted to have remained longer with my "governess," I have no doubt that I should have regained both purity of mind and manner. I should have bidden adieu to vice and folly, because they could not have dwelt under the same roof with Emily; and I should have loved the Bible and religion, because they were beloved by her: but my untoward destiny led me a different way.