Book XI - Chapter X
Containing a hint or two concerning virtue, and a few more concerning suspicion.
Our company, being arrived at London, were set down at his lordship's house, where, while they refreshed themselves after the fatigue of their journey, servants were despatched to provide a lodging for the two ladies; for, as her ladyship was not then in town, Mrs Fitzpatrick would by no means consent to accept a bed in the mansion of the peer.
Some readers will, perhaps, condemn this extraordinary delicacy, as I may call it, of virtue, as too nice and scrupulous; but we must make allowances for her situation, which must be owned to have been very ticklish; and, when we consider the malice of censorious tongues, we must allow, if it was a fault, the fault was an excess on the right side, and which every woman who is in the self-same situation will do well to imitate. The most formal appearance of virtue, when it is only an appearance, may, perhaps, in very abstracted considerations, seem to be rather less commendable than virtue itself without this formality; but it will, however, be always more commended; and this, I believe, will be granted by all, that it is necessary, unless in some very particular cases, for every woman to support either the one or the other.
A lodging being prepared, Sophia accompanied her cousin for that evening; but resolved early in the morning to enquire after the lady into whose protection, as we have formerly mentioned, she had determined to throw herself when she quitted her father's house. And this she was the more eager in doing from some observations she had made during her journey in the coach.
Now, as we would by no means fix the odious character of suspicion on Sophia, we are almost afraid to open to our reader the conceits which filled her mind concerning Mrs Fitzpatrick; of whom she certainly entertained at present some doubts; which, as they are very apt to enter into the bosoms of the worst of people, we think proper not to mention more plainly till we have first suggested a word or two to our reader touching suspicion in general.
Of this there have always appeared to me to be two degrees. The first of these I chuse to derive from the heart, as the extreme velocity of its discernment seems to denote some previous inward impulse, and the rather as this superlative degree often forms its own objects; sees what is not, and always more than really exists. This is that quick-sighted penetration whose hawk's eyes no symptom of evil can escape; which observes not only upon the actions, but upon the words and looks, of men; and, as it proceeds from the heart of the observer, so it dives into the heart of the observed, and there espies evil, as it were, in the first embryo; nay, sometimes before it can be said to be conceived. An admirable faculty, if it were infallible; but, as this degree of perfection is not even claimed by more than one mortal being; so from the fallibility of such acute discernment have arisen many sad mischiefs and most grievous heart-aches to innocence and virtue. I cannot help, therefore, regarding this vast quick-sightedness into evil as a vicious excess, and as a very pernicious evil in itself. And I am the more inclined to this opinion, as I am afraid it always proceeds from a bad heart, for the reasons I have above mentioned, and for one more, namely, because I never knew it the property of a good one. Now, from this degree of suspicion I entirely and absolutely acquit Sophia.
A second degree of this quality seems to arise from the head. This is, indeed, no other than the faculty of seeing what is before your eyes, and of drawing conclusions from what you see. The former of these is unavoidable by those who have any eyes, and the latter is perhaps no less certain and necessary a consequence of our having any brains. This is altogether as bitter an enemy to guilt as the former is to innocence: nor can I see it in an unamiable light, even though, through human fallibility, it should be sometimes mistaken. For instance, if a husband should accidentally surprize his wife in the lap or in the embraces of some of those pretty young gentlemen who profess the art of cuckold-making, I should not highly, I think, blame him for concluding something more than what he saw, from the familiarities which he really had seen, and which we are at least favourable enough to when we call them innocent freedoms. The reader will easily suggest great plenty of instances to himself; I shall add but one more, which, however unchristian it may be thought by some, I cannot help esteeming to be strictly justifiable; and this is a suspicion that a man is capable of doing what he hath done already, and that it is possible for one who hath been a villain once to act the same part again. And, to confess the truth, of this degree of suspicion I believe Sophia was guilty. From this degree of suspicion she had, in fact, conceived an opinion that her cousin was really not better than she should be.
The case, it seems, was this: Mrs Fitzpatrick wisely considered that the virtue of a young lady is, in the world, in the same situation with a poor hare, which is certain, whenever it ventures abroad, to meet its enemies; for it can hardly meet any other. No sooner therefore was she determined to take the first opportunity of quitting the protection of her husband, than she resolved to cast herself under the protection of some other man; and whom could she so properly choose to be her guardian as a person of quality, of fortune, of honour; and who, besides a gallant disposition which inclines men to knight-errantry, that is, to be the champions of ladies in distress, had often declared a violent attachment to herself, and had already given her all the instances of it in his power?
But, as the law hath foolishly omitted this office of vice-husband, or guardian to an eloped lady, and as malice is apt to denominate him by a more disagreeable appellation, it was concluded that his lordship should perform all such kind offices to the lady in secret, and without publickly assuming the character of her protector. Nay, to prevent any other person from seeing him in this light, it was agreed that the lady should proceed directly to Bath, and that his lordship should first go to London, and thence should go down to that place by the advice of his physicians.
Now all this Sophia very plainly understood, not from the lips or behaviour of Mrs Fitzpatrick, but from the peer, who was infinitely less expert at retaining a secret than was the good lady; and perhaps the exact secrecy which Mrs Fitzpatrick had observed on this head in her narrative served not a little to heighten those suspicions which were now risen in the mind of her cousin.
Sophia very easily found out the lady she sought; for indeed there was not a chairman in town to whom her house was not perfectly well known; and, as she received, in return of her first message, a most pressing invitation, she immediately accepted it. Mrs Fitzpatrick, indeed, did not desire her cousin to stay with her with more earnestness than civility required. Whether she had discerned and resented the suspicion above-mentioned, or from what other motive it arose, I cannot say; but certain it is, she was full as desirous of parting with Sophia as Sophia herself could be of going.
The young lady, when she came to take leave of her cousin, could not avoid giving her a short hint of advice. She begged her, for heaven's sake, to take care of herself, and to consider in how dangerous a situation she stood; adding, she hoped some method would be found of reconciling her to her husband. "You must remember, my dear," says she, "the maxim which my aunt Western hath so often repeated to us both; That whenever the matrimonial alliance is broke, and war declared between husband and wife, she can hardly make a disadvantageous peace for herself on any conditions. These are my aunt's very words, and she hath had a great deal of experience in the world." Mrs Fitzpatrick answered, with a contemptuous smile, "Never fear me, child, take care of yourself; for you are younger than I. I will come and visit you in a few days; but, dear Sophy, let me give you one piece of advice: leave the character of Graveairs in the country, for, believe me, it will sit very awkwardly upon you in this town."
Thus the two cousins parted, and Sophia repaired directly to Lady Bellaston, where she found a most hearty, as well as a most polite, welcome. The lady had taken a great fancy to her when she had seen her formerly with her aunt Western. She was indeed extremely glad to see her, and was no sooner acquainted with the reasons which induced her to leave the squire and to fly to London than she highly applauded her sense and resolution; and after expressing the highest satisfaction in the opinion which Sophia had declared she entertained of her ladyship, by chusing her house for an asylum, she promised her all the protection which it was in her power to give.
As we have now brought Sophia into safe hands, the reader will, I apprehend, be contented to deposit her there a while, and to look a little after other personages, and particularly poor Jones, whom we have left long enough to do penance for his past offences, which, as is the nature of vice, brought sufficient punishment upon him themselves.Next