Book VI - Chapter V
In which is related what passed between Sophia and her aunt.
Sophia was in her chamber, reading, when her aunt came in. The moment she saw Mrs Western, she shut the book with so much eagerness, that the good lady could not forbear asking her, What book that was which she seemed so much afraid of showing? "Upon my word, madam," answered Sophia, "it is a book which I am neither ashamed nor afraid to own I have read. It is the production of a young lady of fashion, whose good understanding, I think, doth honour to her sex, and whose good heart is an honour to human nature." Mrs Western then took up the book, and immediately after threw it down, saying--"Yes, the author is of a very good family; but she is not much among people one knows. I have never read it; for the best judges say, there is not much in it."--"I dare not, madam, set up my own opinion," says Sophia, "against the best judges, but there appears to me a great deal of human nature in it; and in many parts so much true tenderness and delicacy, that it hath cost me many a tear."--"Ay, and do you love to cry then?" says the aunt. "I love a tender sensation," answered the niece, "and would pay the price of a tear for it at any time."--"Well, but show me," said the aunt, "what was you reading when I came in; there was something very tender in that, I believe, and very loving too. You blush, my dear Sophia. Ah! child, you should read books which would teach you a little hypocrisy, which would instruct you how to hide your thoughts a little better."--"I hope, madam," answered Sophia, "I have no thoughts which I ought to be ashamed of discovering."--"Ashamed! no," cries the aunt, "I don't think you have any thoughts which you ought to be ashamed of; and yet, child, you blushed just now when I mentioned the word loving. Dear Sophy, be assured you have not one thought which I am not well acquainted with; as well, child, as the French are with our motions, long before we put them in execution. Did you think, child, because you have been able to impose upon your father, that you could impose upon me? Do you imagine I did not know the reason of your overacting all that friendship for Mr Blifil yesterday? I have seen a little too much of the world, to be so deceived. Nay, nay, do not blush again. I tell you it is a passion you need not be ashamed of. It is a passion I myself approve, and have already brought your father into the approbation of it. Indeed, I solely consider your inclination; for I would always have that gratified, if possible, though one may sacrifice higher prospects. Come, I have news which will delight your very soul. Make me your confident, and I will undertake you shall be happy to the very extent of your wishes." "La, madam," says Sophia, looking more foolishly than ever she did in her life, "I know not what to say--why, madam, should you suspect?"--"Nay, no dishonesty," returned Mrs Western. "Consider, you are speaking to one of your own sex, to an aunt, and I hope you are convinced you speak to a friend. Consider, you are only revealing to me what I know already, and what I plainly saw yesterday, through that most artful of all disguises, which you had put on, and which must have deceived any one who had not perfectly known the world. Lastly, consider it is a passion which I highly approve." "La, madam," says Sophia, "you come upon one so unawares, and on a sudden. To be sure, madam, I am not blind--and certainly, if it be a fault to see all human perfections assembled together--but is it possible my father and you, madam, can see with my eyes?" "I tell you," answered the aunt, "we do entirely approve; and this very afternoon your father hath appointed for you to receive your lover." "My father, this afternoon!" cries Sophia, with the blood starting from her face.--"Yes, child," said the aunt, "this afternoon. You know the impetuosity of my brother's temper. I acquainted him with the passion which I first discovered in you that evening when you fainted away in the field. I saw it in your fainting. I saw it immediately upon your recovery. I saw it that evening at supper, and the next morning at breakfast (you know, child, I have seen the world). Well, I no sooner acquainted my brother, but he immediately wanted to propose it to Allworthy. He proposed it yesterday, Allworthy consented (as to be sure he must with joy), and this afternoon, I tell you, you are to put on all your best airs." "This afternoon!" cries Sophia. "Dear aunt, you frighten me out of my senses." "O, my dear," said the aunt, "you will soon come to yourself again; for he is a charming young fellow, that's the truth on't." "Nay, I will own," says Sophia, "I know none with such perfections. So brave, and yet so gentle; so witty, yet so inoffensive; so humane, so civil, so genteel, so handsome! What signifies his being base born, when compared with such qualifications as these?" "Base born? What do you mean?" said the aunt, "Mr Blifil base born!" Sophia turned instantly pale at this name, and faintly repeated it. Upon which the aunt cried, "Mr Blifil--ay, Mr Blifil, of whom else have we been talking?" "Good heavens," answered Sophia, ready to sink, "of Mr Jones, I thought; I am sure I know no other who deserves--" "I protest," cries the aunt, "you frighten me in your turn. Is it Mr Jones, and not Mr Blifil, who is the object of your affection?" "Mr Blifil!" repeated Sophia. "Sure it is impossible you can be in earnest; if you are, I am the most miserable woman alive." Mrs Western now stood a few moments silent, while sparks of fiery rage flashed from her eyes. At length, collecting all her force of voice, she thundered forth in the following articulate sounds:
"And is it possible you can think of disgracing your family by allying yourself to a bastard? Can the blood of the Westerns submit to such contamination? If you have not sense sufficient to restrain such monstrous inclinations, I thought the pride of our family would have prevented you from giving the least encouragement to so base an affection; much less did I imagine you would ever have had the assurance to own it to my face."
"Madam," answered Sophia, trembling, "what I have said you have extorted from me. I do not remember to have ever mentioned the name of Mr Jones with approbation to any one before; nor should I now had I not conceived he had your approbation. Whatever were my thoughts of that poor, unhappy young man, I intended to have carried them with me to my grave--to that grave where only now, I find, I am to seek repose." Here she sunk down in her chair, drowned in her tears, and, in all the moving silence of unutterable grief, presented a spectacle which must have affected almost the hardest heart.
All this tender sorrow, however, raised no compassion in her aunt. On the contrary, she now fell into the most violent rage.--"And I would rather," she cried, in a most vehement voice, "follow you to your grave, than I would see you disgrace yourself and your family by such a match. O Heavens! could I have ever suspected that I should live to hear a niece of mine declare a passion for such a fellow? You are the first--yes, Miss Western, you are the first of your name who ever entertained so grovelling a thought. A family so noted for the prudence of its women"--here she ran on a full quarter of an hour, till, having exhausted her breath rather than her rage, she concluded with threatening to go immediately and acquaint her brother.
Sophia then threw herself at her feet, and laying hold of her hands, begged her with tears to conceal what she had drawn from her; urging the violence of her father's temper, and protesting that no inclinations of hers should ever prevail with her to do anything which might offend him.
Mrs Western stood a moment looking at her, and then, having recollected herself, said, "That on one consideration only she would keep the secret from her brother; and this was, that Sophia should promise to entertain Mr Blifil that very afternoon as her lover, and to regard him as the person who was to be her husband."
Poor Sophia was too much in her aunt's power to deny her anything positively; she was obliged to promise that she would see Mr Blifil, and be as civil to him as possible; but begged her aunt that the match might not be hurried on. She said, "Mr Blifil was by no means agreeable to her, and she hoped her father would be prevailed on not to make her the most wretched of women."
Mrs Western assured her, "That the match was entirely agreed upon, and that nothing could or should prevent it. I must own," said she, "I looked on it as on a matter of indifference; nay, perhaps, had some scruples about it before, which were actually got over by my thinking it highly agreeable to your own inclinations; but now I regard it as the most eligible thing in the world: nor shall there be, if I can prevent it, a moment of time lost on the occasion."
Sophia replied, "Delay at least, madam, I may expect from both your goodness and my father's. Surely you will give me time to endeavour to get the better of so strong a disinclination as I have at present to this person."
The aunt answered, "She knew too much of the world to be so deceived; that as she was sensible another man had her affections, she should persuade Mr Western to hasten the match as much as possible. It would be bad politics, indeed," added she, "to protract a siege when the enemy's army is at hand, and in danger of relieving it. No, no, Sophy," said she, "as I am convinced you have a violent passion which you can never satisfy with honour, I will do all I can to put your honour out of the care of your family: for when you are married those matters will belong only to the consideration of your husband. I hope, child, you will always have prudence enough to act as becomes you; but if you should not, marriage hath saved many a woman from ruin."
Sophia well understood what her aunt meant; but did not think proper to make her an answer. However, she took a resolution to see Mr Blifil, and to behave to him as civilly as she could, for on that condition only she obtained a promise from her aunt to keep secret the liking which her ill fortune, rather than any scheme of Mrs Western, had unhappily drawn from her.Next