Book XI - Chapter VII
In which Mrs Fitzpatrick concludes her history.
While Mrs Honour, in pursuance of the commands of her mistress, ordered a bowl of punch, and invited my landlord and landlady to partake of it, Mrs Fitzpatrick thus went on with her relation.
"Most of the officers who were quartered at a town in our neighbourhood were of my husband's acquaintance. Among these there was a lieutenant, a very pretty sort of man, and who was married to a woman, so agreeable both in her temper and conversation, that from our first knowing each other, which was soon after my lying-in, we were almost inseparable companions; for I had the good fortune to make myself equally agreeable to her.
"The lieutenant, who was neither a sot nor a sportsman, was frequently of our parties; indeed he was very little with my husband, and no more than good breeding constrained him to be, as he lived almost constantly at our house. My husband often expressed much dissatisfaction at the lieutenant's preferring my company to his; he was very angry with me on that account, and gave me many a hearty curse for drawing away his companions; saying, `I ought to be d--n'd for having spoiled one of the prettiest fellows in the world, by making a milksop of him.'
"You will be mistaken, my dear Sophia, if you imagine that the anger of my husband arose from my depriving him of a companion; for the lieutenant was not a person with whose society a fool could be pleased; and, if I should admit the possibility of this, so little right had my husband to place the loss of his companion to me, that I am convinced it was my conversation alone which induced him ever to come to the house. No, child, it was envy, the worst and most rancorous kind of envy, the envy of superiority of understanding. The wretch could not bear to see my conversation preferred to his, by a man of whom he could not entertain the least jealousy. O my dear Sophy, you are a woman of sense; if you marry a man, as is most probable you will, of less capacity than yourself, make frequent trials of his temper before marriage, and see whether he can bear to submit to such a superiority.--Promise me, Sophy, you will take this advice; for you will hereafter find its importance." "It is very likely I shall never marry at all," answered Sophia; "I think, at least, I shall never marry a man in whose understanding I see any defects before marriage; and I promise you I would rather give up my own than see any such afterwards." "Give up your understanding!" replied Mrs Fitzpatrick; "oh, fie, child! I will not believe so meanly of you. Everything else I might myself be brought to give up; but never this. Nature would not have allotted this superiority to the wife in so many instances, if she had intended we should all of us have surrendered it to the husband. This, indeed, men of sense never expect of us; of which the lieutenant I have just mentioned was one notable example; for though he had a very good understanding, he always acknowledged (as was really true) that his wife had a better. And this, perhaps, was one reason of the hatred my tyrant bore her.
"Before he would be so governed by a wife, he said, especially such an ugly b-- (for, indeed, she was not a regular beauty, but very agreeable and extremely genteel), he would see all the women upon earth at the devil, which was a very usual phrase with him. He said, he wondered what I could see in her to be so charmed with her company: since this woman, says he, hath come among us, there is an end of your beloved reading, which you pretended to like so much, that you could not afford time to return the visits of the ladies in this country; and I must confess I had been guilty of a little rudeness this way; for the ladies there are at least no better than the mere country ladies here; and I think I need make no other excuse to you for declining any intimacy with them.
"This correspondence, however, continued a whole year, even all the while the lieutenant was quartered in that town; for which I was contented to pay the tax of being constantly abused in the manner above mentioned by my husband; I mean when he was at home; for he was frequently absent a month at a time at Dublin, and once made a journey of two months to London: in all which journeys I thought it a very singular happiness that he never once desired my company; nay, by his frequent censures on men who could not travel, as he phrased it, without a wife tied up to their tail, he sufficiently intimated that, had I been never so desirous of accompanying him, my wishes would have been in vain; but, Heaven knows, such wishes were very far from my thoughts.
"At length my friend was removed from me, and I was again left to my solitude, to the tormenting conversation with my own reflections, and to apply to books for my only comfort. I now read almost all day long. How many books do you think I read in three months?" "I can't guess, indeed, cousin," answered Sophia. "Perhaps half a score." "Half a score! half a thousand, child!" answered the other. "I read a good deal in Daniel's English History of France; a great deal in Plutarch's Lives, the Atalantis, Pope's Homer, Dryden's Plays, Chillingworth, the Countess D'Aulnois, and Locke's Human Understanding.
"During this interval I wrote three very supplicating, and, I thought, moving letters to my aunt; but, as I received no answer to any of them, my disdain would not suffer me to continue my application." Here she stopt, and, looking earnestly at Sophia, said, "Methinks, my dear, I read something in your eyes which reproaches me of a neglect in another place, where I should have met with a kinder return." "Indeed, dear Harriet," answered Sophia, "your story is an apology for any neglect; but, indeed, I feel that I have been guilty of a remissness, without so good an excuse.--Yet pray proceed; for I long, though I tremble, to hear the end."
Thus, then, Mrs Fitzpatrick resumed her narrative:--"My husband now took a second journey to England, where he continued upwards of three months; during the greater part of this time I led a life which nothing but having led a worse could make me think tolerable; for perfect solitude can never be reconciled to a social mind, like mine, but when it relieves you from the company of those you hate. What added to my wretchedness was the loss of my little infant: not that I pretend to have had for it that extravagant tenderness of which I believe I might have been capable under other circumstances; but I resolved, in every instance, to discharge the duty of the tenderest mother; and this care prevented me from feeling the weight of that heaviest of all things, when it can be at all said to lie heavy on our hands.
"I had spent full ten weeks almost entirely by myself, having seen nobody all that time, except my servants and a very few visitors, when a young lady, a relation to my husband, came from a distant part of Ireland to visit me. She had staid once before a week at my house, and then I gave her a pressing invitation to return; for she was a very agreeable woman, and had improved good natural parts by a proper education. Indeed, she was to me a welcome guest.
"A few days after her arrival, perceiving me in very low spirits, without enquiring the cause, which, indeed, she very well knew, the young lady fell to compassionating my case. She said, `Though politeness had prevented me from complaining to my husband's relations of his behaviour, yet they all were very sensible of it, and felt great concern upon that account; but none more than herself.' And after some more general discourse on this head, which I own I could not forbear countenancing, at last, after much previous precaution and enjoined concealment, she communicated to me, as a profound secret--that my husband kept a mistress.
"You will certainly imagine I heard this news with the utmost insensibility--Upon my word, if you do, your imagination will mislead you. Contempt had not so kept down my anger to my husband, but that hatred rose again on this occasion. What can be the reason of this? Are we so abominably selfish, that we can be concerned at others having possession even of what we despise? Or are we not rather abominably vain, and is not this the greatest injury done to our vanity? What think you, Sophia?"
"I don't know, indeed," answered Sophia; "I have never troubled myself with any of these deep contemplations; but I think the lady did very ill in communicating to you such a secret."
"And yet, my dear, this conduct is natural," replied Mrs Fitzpatrick; "and, when you have seen and read as much as myself, you will acknowledge it to be so."
"I am sorry to hear it is natural," returned Sophia; "for I want neither reading nor experience to convince me that it is very dishonourable and very ill-natured: nay, it is surely as ill-bred to tell a husband or wife of the faults of each other as to tell them of their own."
"Well," continued Mrs Fitzpatrick, "my husband at last returned; and, if I am thoroughly acquainted with my own thoughts, I hated him now more than ever; but I despised him rather less: for certainly nothing so much weakens our contempt, as an injury done to our pride or our vanity.
"He now assumed a carriage to me so very different from what he had lately worn, and so nearly resembling his behaviour the first week of our marriage, that, had I now had any spark of love remaining, he might, possibly, have rekindled my fondness for him. But, though hatred may succeed to contempt, and may perhaps get the better of it, love, I believe, cannot. The truth is, the passion of love is too restless to remain contented without the gratification which it receives from its object; and one can no more be inclined to love without loving than we can have eyes without seeing. When a husband, therefore, ceases to be the object of this passion, it is most probable some other man--I say, my dear, if your husband grows indifferent to you--if you once come to despise him--I say--that is--if you have the passion of love in you--Lud! I have bewildered myself so--but one is apt, in these abstracted considerations, to lose the concatenation of ideas, as Mr Locke says:--in short, the truth is--in short, I scarce know what it is; but, as I was saying, my husband returned, and his behaviour, at first, greatly surprized me; but he soon acquainted me with the motive, and taught me to account for it. In a word, then, he had spent and lost all the ready money of my fortune; and, as he could mortgage his own estate no deeper, he was now desirous to supply himself with cash for his extravagance, by selling a little estate of mine, which he could not do without my assistance; and to obtain this favour was the whole and sole motive of all the fondness which he now put on.
"With this I peremptorily refused to comply. I told him, and I told him truly, that, had I been possessed of the Indies at our first marriage, he might have commanded it all; for it had been a constant maxim with me, that where a woman disposes of her heart, she should always deposit her fortune; but, as he had been so kind, long ago, to restore the former into my possession, I was resolved likewise to retain what little remained of the latter.
"I will not describe to you the passion into which these words, and the resolute air in which they were spoken, threw him: nor will I trouble you with the whole scene which succeeded between us. Out came, you may be well assured, the story of the mistress; and out it did come, with all the embellishments which anger and disdain could bestow upon it.
"Mr Fitzpatrick seemed a little thunderstruck with this, and more confused than I had seen him, though his ideas are always confused enough, heaven knows. He did not, however, endeavour to exculpate himself; but took a method which almost equally confounded me. What was this but recrimination? He affected to be jealous:--he may, for aught I know, be inclined enough to jealousy in his natural temper; nay, he must have had it from nature, or the devil must have put it into his head; for I defy all the world to cast a just aspersion on my character: nay, the most scandalous tongues have never dared censure my reputation. My fame, I thank heaven, hath been always as spotless as my life; and let falsehood itself accuse that if it dare. No, my dear Graveairs, however provoked, however ill-treated, however injured in my love, I have firmly resolved never to give the least room for censure on this account.--And yet, my dear, there are some people so malicious, some tongues so venomous, that no innocence can escape them. The most undesigned word, the most accidental look, the least familiarity, the most innocent freedom, will be misconstrued, and magnified into I know not what, by some people. But I despise, my dear Graveairs, I despise all such slander. No such malice, I assure you, ever gave me an uneasy moment. No, no, I promise you I am above all that.--But where was I? O let me see, I told you my husband was jealous--And of whom, I pray?--Why, of whom but the lieutenant I mentioned to you before! He was obliged to resort above a year and more back to find any object for this unaccountable passion, if, indeed, he really felt any such, and was not an arrant counterfeit in order to abuse me.
"But I have tired you already with too many particulars. I will now bring my story to a very speedy conclusion. In short, then, after many scenes very unworthy to be repeated, in which my cousin engaged so heartily on my side, that Mr Fitzpatrick at last turned her out of doors; when he found I was neither to be soothed nor bullied into compliance, he took a very violent method indeed. Perhaps you will conclude he beat me; but this, though he hath approached very near to it, he never actually did. He confined me to my room, without suffering me to have either pen, ink, paper, or book: and a servant every day made my bed, and brought me my food.
"When I had remained a week under this imprisonment, he made me a visit, and, with the voice of a schoolmaster, or, what is often much the same, of a tyrant, asked me, `If I would yet comply?' I answered, very stoutly, `That I would die first.' `Then so you shall, and be d--nd!' cries he; `for you shall never go alive out of this room.'
"Here I remained a fortnight longer; and, to say the truth, my constancy was almost subdued, and I began to think of submission; when, one day, in the absence of my husband, who was gone abroad for some short time, by the greatest good fortune in the world, an accident happened.--I--at a time when I began to give way to the utmost despair----everything would be excusable at such a time--at that very time I received----But it would take up an hour to tell you all particulars.--In one word, then (for I will not tire you with circumstances), gold, the common key to all padlocks, opened my door, and set me at liberty.
"I now made haste to Dublin, where I immediately procured a passage to England; and was proceeding to Bath, in order to throw myself into the protection of my aunt, or of your father, or of any relation who would afford it me. My husband overtook me last night at the inn where I lay, and which you left a few minutes before me; but I had the good luck to escape him, and to follow you.
"And thus, my dear, ends my history: a tragical one, I am sure, it is to myself; but, perhaps, I ought rather to apologize to you for its dullness."
Sophia heaved a deep sigh, and answered, "Indeed, Harriet, I pity you from my soul!----But what could you expect? Why, why, would you marry an Irishman?"
"Upon my word," replied her cousin, "your censure is unjust. There are, among the Irish, men of as much worth and honour as any among the English: nay, to speak the truth, generosity of spirit is rather more common among them. I have known some examples there, too, of good husbands; and I believe these are not very plenty in England. Ask me, rather, what I could expect when I married a fool; and I will tell you a solemn truth; I did not know him to be so."--"Can no man," said Sophia, in a very low and altered voice, "do you think, make a bad husband, who is not a fool?" "That," answered the other, "is too general a negative; but none, I believe, is so likely as a fool to prove so. Among my acquaintance, the silliest fellows are the worst husbands; and I will venture to assert, as a fact, that a man of sense rarely behaves very ill to a wife who deserves very well."Next