Another escape, more fortunate than the one recorded in the preceding chapter.
From the time that I had passed my examination, and worked as a pilot on my own account, until the period of our escape, which I have narrated in the preceding chapter, I had continued to live in the cottage with Bramble, without contributing any share to the expenses. I had at first proposed it, but Bramble would not listen to any such arrangement; he considered me, he said, as his son, and who knew, he added, but that the cottage would be mine after he was gone. The fact was that Bramble ardently wished that Bessy and I should be united. He continually hinted at it, joked with Bessy about me; and I believe that, in consequence, Bessy's feelings toward me had taken the same bent. She was prepared for the issue; the regard naturally felt for me from her long intimacy, now that the indulgence of it was so openly sanctioned by him whom she considered as her father, was not checked on her part; indeed, there was no doubt but that it had ripened into love. She showed it in every little way that her maiden modesty did not interfere with, and old Bramble would at times throw out such strong hints of our eventual union as to make me feel very uncomfortable. They neither of them had any idea of my heart having been pre-engaged, and the strangeness of my manner was ascribed by Bramble to my feelings toward Bessy. Bessy, however, was not so easily deceived; my conduct toward her appeared, to say the best of it, very inconsistent. So often had I had opportunities, especially when I was at home and Bramble was away, of speaking on the subject, and so often had these opportunities been neglected, that it filled her mind with doubt and anxiety. After having accepted my addresses at first, Janet had once or twice written to me; lately, however, she had not written herself—all her messages were through Virginia's letters, or, perhaps, she would add a little postscript. Had letters arrived for me in any other handwriting than that of Virginia, Bessy, after her suspicions were roused, might have easily guessed the truth; but it was the absence of any clew to guide her as to the state of my feelings which so much puzzled her. She was fully convinced that my heart was not hers, but she had no reason to suppose that it was in the possession of another. Thus did my passion for Janet Wilson in every way prove to me a source of anxiety. I knew that it was my duty to undeceive Bramble and Bessy, yet the task was too painful, and I could not make up my mind to make them unhappy. I felt that I had no right to remain under Bramble's roof and live at his expense, and, at the same time, I could not find an opportunity of telling him what my feelings and wishes were, the very mention of which would at once explain to him that the desire of his old age would never be accomplished. I often accused myself of ingratitude, and felt as if it were my duty to make every sacrifice to one who had been so kind a protector; but I was bound by vows to Janet Wilson, and how was it possible that I could retract?
Virginia's letters were not satisfactory: at first she told me how much she had been annoyed by the attentions of the young nobleman, and how very indelicate my mother had been in her conduct; eventually she informed me that she had been insulted by him, and that, upon complaining to my mother, the latter had, much to her surprise and indignation, not only laughed at his extreme forwardness, but pointed out to Virginia a line of conduct by which he might be entrapped into marriage; that her refusal to accede to such unworthy devices had created a serious breach between her mother and herself. She stated the young man to be extremely silly and weak, and that my mother had gained great influence over him; and were it not that the presence of the tutor, who seldom quitted the house, had proved a check, that there was little doubt but, as far as the young man was concerned, the disproportionate match would be readily acceded to; that the only person she had ventured to consult was her dear friend Mrs. St. Felix, who had promised her, if the persecution did not cease, that she would make Mr. Sommerville the tutor aware of what was going on. Virginia described the latter as an amiable modest young man, who did all in his power to instruct his pupil, but who was treated with anything but deference in return.
Relative to Janet she said little, except that she generally called there every day to make inquiries after me: once or twice she did say that it was a pity that I was not able to come oftener to Greenwich, as Janet was not very steady; indeed, considering how young she was, without a mother, and so little controlled by her father, it was not to be wondered at.
Such was the state of affairs when I made up my mind that I would speak to Bramble about my paying my share of the expenses, which I thought would open his eyes to the real state of my feeling toward Bessy. I did so; I pointed out to him that I was now earning money fast, and that I considered it but fair that I should support myself, and not put him to further expense; that perhaps it would be better that I should take a house for myself, as I must give a great deal of trouble to Bessy and Mrs. Maddox.
"Well, Tom," said Bramble, "you've been at me about this before, and I believe it's a proper feeling, after all. It certainly does seem to me to be a matter of little consequence, as things stand; however, I can't consent to your leaving us. You have been with me ever since you were a lad, and I should feel like a fish out of water if I were to be without you or Bessy; so pay just what you please—I'll take it since you wish it—and there's an end of the matter."
This was not the end to which I was driving; but Bramble's eyes would not be opened, and I could not help it. He had never directly spoken to me about a union with Bessy, and therefore it was impossible for me to say any more. Bramble, however, did not fail to communicate what I had said to her; and one evening when we were standing on the shingle beach, she said to me, "So Emerson has been convicted for smuggling, and sentenced beyond the seas."
"I am sorry for it," replied I.
"His house is to be let now, Tom; would it not suit you? for my father told me that you wished to leave us."
"Why should I live upon you when I am able to support myself?"
"Certainly not. If it were not that I could not bear to see father miserable, I think it would be better if you did take Emerson's house; but it would vex him, poor good man."
"But not you, Bessy; is it that you mean?"
"Perhaps it is. Tell me yourself, Tom, would it not be better?"
I made no reply.
"Well," replied Bessy, "think of me as you please; I will speak now, Tom. I am not considering you, Tom, nor am I thinking of myself; I am only induced so to do on account of my father. We have been brought up together as children, Tom, and, as children, we were great friends, and, I believe, sincerely attached to each other. I believe it to be very true that those who are brought up together as brothers and sisters do not change that affection for any other more serious in after life. It is therefore not our faults if we cannot feel as, you must know, Tom, my father wishes we should. Am I not right?"
"You are, I believe, Bessy," replied I.
"My father, therefore, is deceiving himself with the hopes of what never can take place, but I know him even better than you do, Tom; it is the object of his daily thoughts—his only wish before he sinks into his grave. I cannot bear to undeceive him; no more can you, if I have truly judged your feelings."
"You have judged right, Bessy."
"The very circumstance of our knowing his wishes, the hints which he throws out, his joking on the subject, have been a source of annoyance to both of us; and not only a source of annoyance, Tom, it has estranged us—we no longer feel that affection which we should feel for each other, that kindness as between brother and sister which might exist; on the contrary, not being exactly aware of each other's feelings, we avoid each other, and fearful that the least kindness might be misconstrued, we do not really treat each as we otherwise would; in fact, it has destroyed our mutual confidence. Is it not so?"
"It is, I acknowledge, but too true, Bessy, and I thank you for having entered into this explanation—"
"Which, as I said before," continued Bessy, "I should not have done except for the sake of my father; but now that I have done so" (and here Bessy's voice became tremulous), "let us consult at once how we shall act so as to secure his happiness, and that in future we may return to the former confidence and regard which should exist between us as brother and sister."
"Point out how this is to be done, Bessy, and I will cheerfully enter into your wishes."
"We must laugh when he laughs, Tom, even if not inclined; we must gain time—that is very easy. I may refuse as long as he lives—you may put it off; and then, Tom, circumstances may help us—who knows what even a day may bring forth?"
"Very true," replied I, "there's only one thing—"
"What is that?"
"Suppose I was to marry?"
"Then," replied Bessy, in a voice half choked, as she turned away, "my father would be very unhappy."
I looked round to reply, but she had gone into the cottage. This conversation gave me great satisfaction. I felt convinced that if I had at one time formed the idea that Bessy was attached to me, I had been mistaken, and I was as indifferent to her as she was to me. I was just as anxious as she was not to vex Bramble, and equally glad that confidence was restored between us. Alas! I must have been very blind not to have perceived what was the true state of her feelings, but I did not, and after some reflection I determined that I would make her a confidante of my passion for Janet Wilson; and then I walked to the post-office to see if there were any letters from Virginia. There was a letter for me—a double one. As soon as I had paid the money, I opened it; it was very closely written, and evidently Virginia had much to communicate to me. I forgot for the moment Bessy and Bramble, thought only of Janet, and put the letter to my lips as I walked away, that I might go home and read it. I hurried past Bessy, who was in the parlor, and went up the stairs into my bedroom, where I took my letter out of my pocket and commenced it.
"MY DEAR TOM—I shall begin a letter to you now, and fill it up as a sort of a diary; as it is the best plan, I think, to narrate circumstances as they actually take place. It is unpleasant to say anything against my mother, the more so as I believe that she thinks she has been doing right, and has my interest sincerely at heart: she appears to consider that an alliance with people of rank cannot be purchased too dear, and that every attempt is justifiable to secure for me such an advantage. Little does she know me. If she forgets, I never shall, that I am the daughter of a Greenwich pensioner, and never would ally myself with those whose relations would look upon me as a disgrace to their family. No, Tom; even if I were so heedless as to allow my affections to be enthralled, I would at any sacrifice refuse to enter into a family much beyond my condition. I have thought of this often, and I confess that I am sometimes unhappy. I have been brought up and educated above my situation in life, and I do not think I ever could marry a person who was not more refined and educated than those who are really and truly my equals, But as, at the same time, I never will enter into a family who might look down upon my parentage, I presume your little Virginia must remain unmarried. If so, I am content—I have no wish to alter my present condition. I am happy and respected; and with the exception of the trifling annoyances which we all must expect and must submit to, I have no reason to be dissatisfied; on the contrary, I have to be grateful for many blessings, and I trust that I am so. My poor mother is the cause of all my present vexations. She tells me that my beauty, as she is partially pleased to call it, is sufficient for my aspiring to the hand of a duke, and that it will be my own fault if I do not make a high connection. Every night she has been overwhelming me with alternate reproaches and entreaties to permit the attentions of the gay gentleman who is now lodging at our house, stating that it was on my account only that he took the apartments, and that, if I play my cards well, he will be caught in his own trap, which, I presume, is as much as to say that he came here with different intentions, and finding that he cannot succeed, will secure his intended prize or victim by marriage rather than not obtain her at all. Very flattering, truly! and this is the man to whom my mother would induce me to confide my future happiness—a man who, independent of his want of probity, is a fool into the bargain. But the persecution on his part and on that of my mother now becomes so annoying that I have requested Mrs. St. Felix to speak to Mr. Sommerville the tutor, who, if he does his duty—and I have every reason to believe that he will do so—will take some measures to remove his pupil from our house.
"17th. Mrs. St. Felix and Mr. Sommerville have had a meeting. He generally walks out every afternoon in the park; and Mrs. St. Felix and he have already been introduced. She therefore went out and met him, and after exchanging a few words she introduced the subject, stating that she did so at my request. Mr. Sommerville, although he had not been blind, had had no idea that things had proceeded so far; and he promised Mrs. St. Felix that he would soon put an end to the persecution, or remove him from our house. Janet has been here to-day, and I told her what had passed; she very much approved of the steps which I had taken. I must, however, say that latterly she has not appeared to take that interest about you that she used to do, and I fear that your continual absence is injurious to your prospects. She is very young and very giddy, Tom. I wish she had been older, as, even when she is your wife, she will require much looking after, and a firm hand to settle her down into what a married woman in my opinion ought to be. Mr. Sommerville has requested me to favor him with a few minutes' conversation; and as I cannot do it in our house, for my mother never leaves me a minute to myself, I told him that I should be at Mrs. St. Felix's this afternoon, and he could speak to me then. He knows that I have no secrets from Mrs. St. Felix; and although it is not pleasant to resort to such means, still there can be no impropriety in my hearing what he has to tell me in her presence.
"I have seen Mr. Sommerville—he thanked me very much for having communicated, through Mrs. St. Felix, my mother's plot against his protege, and paid me many compliments upon my behavior, which were quite unnecessary. He told me that he had spoken to his pupil, who had most positively denied his having any such intention, and stated that he was merely amusing himself, and he had pledged himself not to take the least notice of me for the future. 'I am well aware,' said he, 'that what he has stated is not correct; he has not deceived me by his assertions; and were it not that I feel confidence in you, Miss Virginia,' continued he, 'I would write to his father that he might be immediately removed. I hardly need say that should anything of this kind take place, I should be most severely blamed. It is not the first time that I have been compelled to interfere, for my pupil is of a very susceptible disposition, and has fancied himself in love with at least five young people since he has been under my charge. In this instance,' continued he, making me a bow, 'he has some extenuation to offer. Will you oblige me by informing me if he adheres to his promise? or do you wish that I should speak to your mother?'
"Mrs. St. Felix replied that it would be unnecessary; indeed, that if Lord —— left the house I should only be subject to fresh persecution. Mr. Sommerville, at her request, stayed to drink tea, and is certainly a very pleasant, well-informed, amiable young man.
"23d. I have received no molestation since the explanation with Mr. Sommerville, except from my mother, who accuses me of having affronted Lord ——; and although I deny it, she asserts that he never could have so changed his conduct toward both of us if I had not so done. I have not seen Janet this week—I cannot imagine what has become of her.
"24th. You may imagine my joy, my dear Tom. Mr. Sommerville has received a letter, stating that his lordship is to go down to his father's seat in the country, as he will be of age in a month, and he is to make acquaintance with the tenants; there are to be great rejoicings there upon his coming of age. I am sure no one can rejoice more than I shall when he leaves, which is to be next Saturday. I am also very glad to say that the Marquess has presented Mr. Sommerville with a valuable living, now that he gives up his tutorship. I really think he will do justice to his profession, for I have seen more of him lately, and esteem him very much.
"27th. They are gone, much to my mother's mortification and to my delight; and now, as I have written so much about myself, I shall leave this letter open till I see Janet, that I may tell you something about her, otherwise I know my letter will not be interesting to you.
"31st. My dear Tom, you must prepare yourself for painful intelligence.
"Janet has disappeared. She left her father's house last night after the family had retired, but no one knows where. She left a few lines on her table, stating that they would hear from her soon. Poor Mr. Wilson was here to-day—he is half distracted—and the whole town is full of the scandal. Mrs. St. Felix told me this morning that she has discovered that within the last week she has been seen walking on the London Road with Lord ——. Is it possible?
"May 2d. It is all true—Mrs. St. Felix has a letter from Mr. Sommerville, stating that Janet was brought up to town and married to Lord —— two days ago. It appears that from the time that I repulsed his attentions he fixed them upon Janet; that she encouraged him, and used to meet him every night, as Mrs. St. Felix was informed. Mr. Sommerville has seen his father, and fully exculpated himself; but the Marquess declares, as his son is a minor, that the marriage shall not be binding. How it will end Heaven only knows; but she is much to be pitied. This will account for her not coming to me as usual. Now, Tom, I do not suppose you will pay attention to me at present, but from what I knew of Janet, and which her conduct has fully proved, she was not worthy to be your wife, and could not have contributed to your happiness. I pity you from my heart, as I know what you will feel; but still I congratulate you, and eventually you will congratulate yourself at your fortunate escape.
"I will say no more at present, except that I am, and ever will be,
"Your truly attached sister,
I had courage to finish the letter, and then it dropped from my hands. I was bewildered, stupefied, maddened. As my sister said, I did indeed feel. Was it possible? Janet, who had—mercy on me! I threw myself on the bed, and there I remained till the next morning in a state most pitiable.
It is only those who have been deceived in their first attachment who can appreciate my agony of feeling. For the first few hours I hated the whole world, and, had then the means been at hand, should in all probability have hastened into another; but gradually my excitement abated; I found relief in tears of sorrow and indignation. I arose at daylight the next morning, worn out with contending feelings, heavy and prostrated in mind. I went out—stood on the beach, the keen breeze cooled my fevered cheek. For hours I leaned motionless upon an anchor, all hope of future happiness abandoned forever.