The Naval Officer/Chapter XXVII
Fare thee well; and if for ever—
Still for ever fare thee well:
Even though unforgiving, never
'Gainst thee shall my heart rebel.
I was so stunned with this contretemps, that I fell senseless to the ground; and it was long before the kind attentions and assiduity of Eugenia could restore me. When she had succeeded, my first act was one of base ingratitude, cruelty, and injustice: I spurned her from me, and upbraided her as the cause of my unfortunate situation. She only replied with tears. I quitted her and the child without bidding them adieu, little thinking I should never see them again. I ran to the inn, where I had left my horse, mounted, and rode back to —— Hall. Mr Somerville and his daughter had just arrived, and Emily was lifted off her horse, and obliged to be carried up to her room.
Clara and Talbot came to enquire what had happened. I could give no account of it; but earnestly requested to see Emily. The answer returned was that Miss Somerville declined seeing me. In the course of this day, which, in point of mental suffering, exceeded all I had ever endured in the utmost severity of professional hardship, an explanation had taken place between myself, my father, and Mr Somerville. I had done that by the impulse of dire necessity which I ought to have done at first of my own free will. I was caught at last in my own snare. "The trains of the devil are long," said I to myself, "but they are sure to blow up at last."
The consequence of the explanation was my final dismissal, and a return of all the presents which my father and myself had given to Emily. My conduct, though blamable, was not viewed in that heinous light, either by my father or Mr Somerville; and both of them did all that could be done to restore harmony. Clara and Talbot interposed their kind offices, but with no better success. The maiden pride of the inexorable Emily had been alarmed by a beautiful rival, with a young family, in the next village. The impression had taken hold of her spotless mind, and could not be removed. I was false, fickle, and deceitful, and was given to understand that Miss Somerville did not intend to quit her room until she was assured by her father that I was no longer a guest in the house.
Under these painful circumstances, our remaining any longer at the Hall was both useless and irksome—a source of misery to all.
My father ordered his horses the next morning, and I was carried back to London, more dead than alive. A burning fever raged in my blood; and the moment I reached my father's house, I was put to bed, and placed under the care of a physician, with nurses to watch me night and day. For three weeks I was in a state of delirium; and when I regained my senses, it was only to renew the anguish which had caused my disorder, and I felt any sentiment except gratitude for my recovery.
My dear Clara had never quitted me during my confinement. I had taken no medicine but from her hand. I asked her to give me some account of what had happened. She told me that Talbot was gone—that my father had seen Mr Somerville, who had informed him that Emily had received a long letter from Eugenia, narrating every circumstance, exculpating me, and accusing herself. Emily had wept over it, but still remained firm in her resolution never to see me more—"And I am afraid, my dear brother," said Clara, "that her resolution will not be very easily altered. You know her character, and you should know something about our sex; but sailors, they say, go round the world without going into it. This is the only shadow of an excuse I can form for you, much as I love and esteem you. You have hurt Emily in the nicest point, that in which we are all the most susceptible of injury. You have wounded her pride, which our sex rarely, if ever, forgive. At the very moment she supposed you were devoted to her—that you were wrapped up in the anticipation of calling her your own, and counting the minutes with impatience until the happy day arrived; with all this persuasion on her mind, she comes upon you, as the traveller out of the wood suddenly comes upon the poisonous snake in his path, and cannot avoid it. She found you locked hand-in-hand with another, a fortnight before marriage, and with the fruits of unlawful love in your arms. What woman could forgive this? I would not, I assure you. If Tal——, I mean if any man were to serve me so, I would tear him from my heart, even if the dissolution of the whole frame was to be the certain consequence. I consider it a kindness to tell you, Frank, that you have no hope. Much as you have and will suffer, she, poor girl, will suffer more; and, although she will never accept you, she will not let your place be supplied by another, but sink, broken-hearted, into her grave. You, like all other men, will forget this; but what a warning ought it to be to you, that, sooner or later, guilt will be productive of misery! This you have fully proved: your licentious conduct with this woman has ruined her peace for ever, and Divine vengeance has dashed from your lips the cup which contained as much happiness as this world could afford: nor has the penalty fallen on you alone—the innocent, who had no share in the crime, are partakers in the punishment; we are all as miserable as yourself. But God's will be done," continued she, as she kissed my aching forehead, and her tears fell on my face.
How heavenly is the love of a sister towards a brother! Clara was now everything to me. Having said thus much to me on the subject of my fault (and it must be confessed that she had not been niggardly in the article of words), she never named the subject again, but sought by every means in her power to amuse and to comfort me. She listened to my exculpation; she admitted that our meeting at Bordeaux was as unpremeditated as it was unfortunate; she condemned the imprudence of our travelling together, and still more the choice of a residence for Eugenia and her son.
Clara's affectionate attention and kind efforts were unavailing. I told her so, and that all hopes of happiness for me in this world were gone for ever.
"My dear, dear brother," said the affectionate girl, "answer me one question. Did you ever pray?"
My answer will pretty well explain to the reader the sort of religion mine was:—
"Why, Clara," said I, "to tell you the truth, though I may not exactly pray, as you call it, yet words are nothing. I feel grateful to the Almighty for his favours when he bestows them on me; and I believe a grateful heart is all he requires."
"Then, brother, how do you feel when he afflicts you?"
"That I have nothing to thank him for," answered I.
"Then, my dear Frank, that is not religion."
"May be so," said I; "but I am in no humour to feel otherwise, at present, so pray drop the subject."
She burst into tears. "This," said she, "is worse than all. Shall we receive good from the hand of the Lord, and shall we not receive evil?"
But seeing that I was in that sullen and untameable state of mind, she did not venture to renew the subject.
As soon as I was able to quit my room, I had a long conversation with my father, who, though deeply concerned for my happiness, said he was quite certain that any attempt at reconciliation would be useless. He therefore proposed two plans, and I might adopt whichever was the most likely to divert my mind from my heavy affliction. The first was, to ask his friends at the Admiralty to give me the command of a sloop of war; the second, that I should go upon the continent, and, having passed a year there, return to England, when there was no knowing what change of sentiment time and absence might not produce in my favour. "For," said he, "there is one very remarkable difference in the heart of a man and of a woman. In the first, absence is very often a cure for love. In the other, it more frequently cements and consolidates it. In your absence, Emily will dwell on the bright parts of your character, and forget its blemishes. The experiment is worth making, and it is the only way which offers a chance of success."
I agreed to this. "But," said I, "as the war with France is now over, and that with America will be terminated no doubt very shortly, I have no wish to put you to the expense, or myself to the trouble, of fitting out a sloop of war in time of peace, to be a pleasure-yacht for great lords and ladies, and myself to be neither more or less than a maître d'hotel: and, after having spent your money and mine, and exhausted all my civilities, to receive no thanks, and hear that I am esteemed at Almack's only 'a tolerable sea brute enough.' A ship, therefore," continued I, "I will not have; and as I think the continent holds out some novelty at least, I will, with your consent, set off."
This point being settled, I told Clara of it. The poor girl's grief was immoderate. "My dearest brother, I shall lose you, and be left alone in the world. Your impetuous and unruly heart is not in a state to be trusted among the gay and frivolous French. You will be at sea without your compass—you have thrown religion overboard—and what is to guide you in the hour of trial?"
"Fear not, dear Clara," said I; "my own energies will always extricate me from the dangers you apprehend."
"Alas! it is these very energies which I dread," said Clara; "but I trust that all will be for the best. Accept," said she, "of this little book from poor broken-hearted Clara; and, if you love her, look at it sometimes."
I took the book, and embracing her affectionately, assured her, that for her sake I would read it.
When I had completed my arrangements for my foreign tour, I determined to take one last look at —— Hall before I left England. I set off unknown to my family; and contrived to be near the boundaries of the park by dusk. I desired the postboy to stop half a mile from the house, and to wait my return. I cleared the paling; and, avoiding the direct road, came up to the house. The room usually occupied by the family was on the ground floor, and I cautiously approached the window. Mr Somerville and Emily were both there. He was reading aloud; she sat at the table with a book before her: but her thoughts, it was evident, were not there; she had inserted her taper fingers into the ringlets of her hair, until the palms of her hand reached her forehead; then, bending her head towards the table, she leaned on her elbows, and seemed absorbed in the most melancholy reflections.
"This, too, is my work," said I; "this fair flower is blighted, and withering by the contagious touch of my baneful hand. Good Heaven! what a wretch am I! whoever loves me is rewarded by misery. And what have I gained by this wide waste and devastation, which my wickedness has spread around me? Happiness? no, no—that I have lost for ever. Would that my loss were all! would that comfort might visit the soul of this fair creature and another. But I dare not—I cannot pray; I am at enmity with God and man. Yet I will make an effort in favour of this victim of my baseness. O God," continued I, "if the prayers of an outcast like me can find acceptance, not for myself, but for her, I ask that peace which the world cannot give; shower down thy blessings upon her, alleviate her sorrows, and erase from her memory the existence of such a being as myself. Let not my hateful image hang as a blight upon her beauteous frame."
Emily resumed her book, when her father had ceased reading aloud; and I saw her wipe a tear from her cheek.
The excitement occasioned by this scene, added to my previous illness, from the effects of which I had not sufficiently recovered, caused a faintness; I sat down under the window, in hopes that it would pass off. It did not, however; for I fell, and lay on the turf in a state of insensibility, which must have lasted nearly half an hour. I afterwards learned from Clara, that Emily had opened the window, it being a French one, to walk out and recover herself. By the bright moon-light, she perceived me lying on the ground. Her first idea was, that I had committed suicide; and, with this impression, she shut the window, and tottering to the back part of the room, fainted. Her father ran to her assistance, and she fell into his arms. She was taken up to her room, and consigned to the care of her woman, who put her to bed; but she was unable to give any account of herself, or the cause of her disorder, until the following day.
For my own part, I gradually came to my senses, and with difficulty regained my chaise, the driver of which told me I had been gone about an hour. I drove off to town, wholly unaware that I had been observed by any one, much less by Emily. When she related to her father what she had seen, he either disbelieved or affected to disbelieve it, and treated it as the effects of a distempered mind, the phantoms of a disordered imagination; and she at length began to coincide with him.
I started for the continent a few days afterwards. Talbot, who had seen little of Clara since my rejection by Emily, and subsequent illness, offered my father to accompany me; and Clara was anxious that he should go, as she was determined not to listen to any thing he could say during my affliction; she could not, she said, be happy while I was miserable, and gave him no opportunity of conversing with her on the subject of their union.
We arrived at Paris; but so abstracted was I in thought, that I neither saw nor heard any thing. Every attention of Talbot was lost upon me. I continued in my sullen stupor, and forgot to read the little book which dear Clara had given, and which, for her sake, I had promised to read. I wrote to Eugenia on my arrival; and disburthened my mind in some measure, by acknowledging my shameful treatment of her. I implored her pardon; and, by return of post, received it. Her answer was affectionate and consoling; but she stated that her spirits, of course, were low, and her health but indifferent.
For many days my mind remained in a state, of listless inanity; and Talbot applied, or suffered others to apply, the most pernicious stimulant that could be thought of to rouse me to action. Taking a quiet walk with him, we met some friends of his; and, at their request, we agreed to go to the saloons of the Palais Royal. This was a desperate remedy, and by a miracle only was I saved from utter and irretrievable ruin. How many of my countrymen have fallen victims to the arts practised in that horrible school of vice, I dare not say! Happy should I be to think that the infection had not reached our own shores, and found patrons among the great men of the land. They have, however, both felt the consequences, and been forewarned of the danger. They have no excuse: mine was, that I had been excluded from the society of those I loved. Always living by excitement, was it surprising that, when a gaming-table displayed its hoards before me, I should have fallen at once into the snare?
For the first time since my illness, I became interested, and laid down my money on those abhorred tables. My success was variable; but I congratulated myself that at length I had found a stimulus; and I anxiously awaited the return of the hour when the doors would again be opened, and the rooms lighted up for the reception of company. I won considerably; and night after night found me at the table—for avarice is insatiable; but my good luck left me: and then the same motive induced me to return, with the hope of winning back what I had lost.
Still fortune was unpropitious, and I lost very considerable sums. I became desperate; and drew largely on my father. He wrote to beg that I would be more moderate; as twice his income would not support such an expenditure. He wrote also to Talbot, who informed him in what manner the money had been expended; and that he had in vain endeavoured to divert me from the fatal practice. Finding that no limits were likely to be put to my folly, my father very properly refused to honour any more of my bills.
Maddened with this intimation, for which I secretly blamed Talbot, I drew upon Eugenia's banker bill after bill, until the sum amounted to more than what my father had paid. At length a letter came from Eugenia. It was but a few lines.
"I know too well, my dearest friend," said she, "what becomes of the money you have received. If you want it all, I cannot refuse you; but remember that you are throwing away the property of your child."
This letter did more to rouse me to a sense of my infamous conduct than the advice of Talbot, or the admonitions of my father. I felt I was acting like a scoundrel; and I resolved to leave off gaming. "One night more," said I, "and then, if I lose, there is an end of it; I go no more." Talbot attended me: he felt he was in some measure the cause of my being first initiated in this pernicious amusement: and he watched my motions with unceasing anxiety.
The game was rouge et noir. I threw a large sum on the red. I won, left the stake, doubled, and won again. The heap of gold had increased to a large size, and still remained to abide the chance of the card. Again, again, and again, it was doubled. Seven times had the red card been turned up; and seven times had my gold been doubled. Talbot, who stood behind me, implored and begged me earnestly to leave off.
"What may be the consequence of one card against you? Trust no more to fortune; be content with what you have got."
"That," muttered I, "Talbot, is of no use; I must have more."
Again came up the red, to the astonishment of the bystanders; and to their still greater astonishment, my gold, which had increased to an enormous heap, still remained on the table. Talbot again entreated me not to tempt fortune foolishly.
"Folly," said I, "Talbot, has already been committed; and one more card will do the business. It must be done."
The bankers knowing, after eight red cards had been turned up, how great the chance was of regaining all their losses by a double or quits, agreed to the ninth card. Talbot trembled like a leaf. The card was turned; it came up red, and the bank was broke.
Here all play ceased for that night. The losers, of course, vented their feelings in the most blasphemous execrations; while I quietly collected all my winnings, and returned home in a fiacre, with Talbot, who took the precaution of requesting the attendance of two gens d'armes. These were each rewarded with a Napoleon.
"Now, Talbot," said I, "I solemnly swear, as I hope to go to heaven, never to play again." And this promise I have most religiously kept. My good fortune was one instance in ten thousand, among those who have been ruined in that house. The next morning I refunded all I had drawn upon Eugenia, and all my father had supplied me with, and there still remained a considerable residue.
Determined not to continue in this vortex of dissipation any longer, where my resolution was hourly put to the test, Talbot and myself agreed to travel down to Brest, an arsenal we were both desirous of seeing.