Part 2 out of 3
While William was cautiously planning how to meet in private, and
accomplish the seduction of the object of his passion, Henry was
endeavouring to fortify the object of HIS choice with every virtue.
He never read a book from which he received improvement that he did
not carry it to Rebecca--never heard a circumstance which might
assist towards her moral instruction that he did not haste to tell
it her; and once when William boasted
"He knew he was beloved by Agnes;"
Henry said, with equal triumph, "he had not dared to take the means
to learn, nor had Rebecca dared to give one instance of her
Rebecca was the youngest, and by far the least handsome daughter of
four, to whom the Reverend Mr. Rymer, a widower, was father. The
other sisters were accounted beauties; and she, from her comparative
want of personal charms, having been less beloved by her parents,
and less caressed by those who visited them, than the rest, had for
some time past sought other resources of happiness than the
affection, praise, and indulgence of her fellow-creatures. The
parsonage house in which this family lived was the forlorn remains
of an ancient abbey: it had in later times been the habitation of a
rich and learned rector, by whom, at his decease, a library was
bequeathed for the use of every succeeding resident. Rebecca, left
alone in this huge ruinous abode, while her sisters were paying
stated visits in search of admiration, passed her solitary hours in
reading. She not merely read--she thought: the choicest English
books from this excellent library taught her to THINK; and
reflection fashioned her mind to bear the slights, the
mortifications of neglect, with a patient dejection, rather than
with an indignant or a peevish spirit.
This resignation to injury and contumely gave to her perfect
symmetry of person, a timid eye, a retiring manner, and spread upon
her face a placid sweetness, a pale serenity indicating sense, which
no wise connoisseur in female charms would have exchanged for all
the sparkling eyes and florid tints of her vain and vulgar sisters.
Henry's soul was so enamoured of her gentle deportment, that in his
sight she appeared beautiful; while she, with an understanding
competent to judge of his worth, was so greatly surprised, so
prodigiously astonished at the distinction, the attention, the many
offices of civility paid her by him, in preference to her idolised
sisters, that her gratitude for such unexpected favours had
sometimes (even in his presence, and in that of her family) nearly
drowned her eyes with tears. Yet they were only trifles, in which
Henry had the opportunity or the power to give her testimony of his
regard--trifles, often more grateful to the sensible mind than
efforts of high importance; and by which the proficient in the human
heart will accurately trace a passion wholly concealed from the dull
eye of the unskilled observer.
The first cause of amazement to Rebecca in the manners of Henry was,
that he talked with HER as well as with her sisters; no visitor else
had done so. In appointing a morning's or an evening's walk, he
proposed HER going with the rest; no one had ever required her
company before. When he called and she was absent, he asked where
she was; no one had ever missed her before. She thanked him most
sincerely, and soon perceived that, at those times when he was
present, company was more pleasing even than books.
Her astonishment, her gratitude, did not stop here. Henry proceeded
in attention; he soon selected her from her sister to tell her the
news of the day, answered her observations the first; once gave her
a sprig of myrtle from his bosom in preference to another who had
praised its beauty; and once--never-to-be-forgotten kindness--
sheltered her from a hasty shower with his parapluie, while he
lamented to her drenched companions,
"That he had but ONE to offer."
From a man whose understanding and person they admire, how dear, how
impressive on the female heart is every trait of tenderness! Till
now, Rebecca had experienced none; not even of the parental kind:
and merely from the overflowings of a kind nature (not in return for
affection) had she ever loved her father and her sisters.
Sometimes, repulsed by their severity, she transferred the fulness
of an affectionate heart upon birds, or the brute creation: but
now, her alienated mind was recalled and softened by a sensation
that made her long to complain of the burthen it imposed. Those
obligations which exact silence are a heavy weight to the grateful;
and Rebecca longed to tell Henry "that even the forfeit of her life
would be too little to express the full sense she had of the respect
he paid to her." But as modesty forbade not only every kind of
declaration, but every insinuation purporting what she felt, she
wept through sleepless nights from a load of suppressed explanation;
yet still she would not have exchanged this trouble for all the
beauty of her sisters.
Old John and Hannah Primrose, a prudent hardy couple, who, by many
years of peculiar labour and peculiar abstinence, were the least
poor of all the neighbouring cottagers, had an only child (who has
been named before) called Agnes: and this cottage girl was
reckoned, in spite of the beauty of the elder Miss Rymers, by far
the prettiest female in the village.
Reader of superior rank, if the passions which rage in the bosom of
the inferior class of human kind are beneath your sympathy, throw
aside this little history, for Rebecca Rymer and Agnes Primrose are
But you, unprejudiced reader, whose liberal observations are not
confined to stations, but who consider all mankind alike deserving
your investigation; who believe that there exists, in some,
knowledge without the advantage of instruction; refinement of
sentiment independent of elegant society; honourable pride of heart
without dignity of blood; and genius destitute of art to render it
conspicuous--you will, perhaps, venture to read on, in hopes that
the remainder of this story may deserve your attention, just as the
wild herb of the forest, equally with the cultivated plant in the
garden, claims the attention of the botanist.
Young William saw in young Agnes even more beauty than was beheld by
others; and on those days when he felt no inclination to ride, to
shoot, or to hunt, he would contrive, by some secret device, the
means to meet with her alone, and give her tokens (if not of his
love) at least of his admiration of her beauty, and of the pleasure
he enjoyed in her company.
Agnes listened, with a kind of delirious enchantment, to all her
elevated and eloquent admirer uttered; and in return for his praises
of her charms, and his equivocal replies in respect to his designs
towards her, she gave to him her most undisguised thoughts, and her
whole enraptured heart.
This harmless intercourse (as she believed it) had not lasted many
weeks before she loved him: she even confessed she did, every time
that any unwonted mark of attention from him struck with unexpected
force her infatuated senses.
It has been said by a celebrated writer, upon the affection
subsisting between the two sexes, "that there are many persons who,
if they had never heard of the passion of love, would never have
felt it." Might it not with equal truth be added, that there are
many more, who, having heard of it, and believing most firmly that
they feel it, are nevertheless mistaken? Neither of these cases was
the lot of Agnes. She experienced the sentiment before she ever
heard it named in the sense with which it had possessed her--joined
with numerous other sentiments; for genuine love, however rated as
the chief passion of the human heart, is but a poor dependent, a
retainer upon other passions; admiration, gratitude, respect,
esteem, pride in the object. Divest the boasted sensation of these,
and it is not more than the impression of a twelve-month, by
courtesy, or vulgar error, termed love.
Agnes was formed by the rarest structure of the human frame, and
destined by the tenderest thrillings of the human soul, to inspire
and to experience real love: but her nice taste, her delicate
thoughts, were so refined beyond the sphere of her own station in
society, that nature would have produced this prodigy of attraction
in vain, had not one of superior education and manners assailed her
affections; and had she been accustomed to the conversation of men
in William's rank of life, she had, perhaps, treated William's
addresses with indifference; but, in comparing him with her familiar
acquaintance, he was a miracle! His unremitting attention seemed
the condescension of an elevated being, to whom she looked up with
reverence, with admiration, with awe, with pride, with sense of
obligation--and all those various passions which constitute true,
and never-to-be-eradicated, love.
But in vain she felt and even avowed with her lips what every look,
every gesture, had long denoted; William, with discontent, sometimes
with anger, upbraided her for her false professions, and vowed,
"that while one tender proof, which he fervently besought, was
wanting, she did but aggravate his misery by less endearments."
Agnes had been taught the full estimation of female virtue; and if
her nature could have detested any one creature in a state of
wretchedness, it would have been the woman who had lost her honour;
yet, for William, what would not Agnes forfeit? The dignity, the
peace, the serenity, the innocence of her own mind, love soon
encouraged her to fancy she could easily forego; and this same
overpowering influence at times so forcibly possessed her, that she
even felt a momentary transport in the contemplation "of so precious
a sacrifice to him." But then she loved her parents, and their
happiness she could not prevail with herself to barter even for HIS.
She wished he would demand some other pledge of her attachment to
him; for there was none but this, her ruin in no other shape, that
she would deny at his request. While thus she deliberated, she
prepared for her fall.
Bred up with strict observance both of his moral and religious
character, William did not dare to tell an unequivocal lie even to
his inferiors; he never promised Agnes he would marry her; nay, even
he paid so much respect to the forms of truth, that no sooner was it
evident that he had obtained her heart, her whole soul entire--so
that loss of innocence would be less terrifying than separation from
him--no sooner did he perceive this, than he candidly told her he
"could never make her his wife." At the same time he lamented "the
difference of their births, and the duty he owed his parents'
hopes," in terms so pathetic to her partial ear, that she thought
him a greater object of compassion in his attachment even than
herself; and was now urged by pity to remove the cause of his
One evening Henry accidentally passed the lonely spot where William
and she constantly met; he observed his cousin's impassioned eye,
and her affectionate yet fearful glance. William, he saw, took
delight in the agitation of mind, in the strong apprehension mixed
with the love of Agnes. This convinced Henry that either he or
himself was not in love; for his heart told him he would not have
beheld such emotions of tenderness, mingled with such marks of
sorrow, upon the countenance of Rebecca, for the wealth of the
The first time he was alone with William after this, he mentioned
his observation on Agnes's apparent affliction, and asked "why her
grief was the result of their stolen meetings."
"Because," replied Williams, "her professions are unlimited, while
her manners are reserved; and I accuse her of loving me with unkind
moderation, while I love her to distraction."
"You design to marry her, then?"
"How can you degrade me by the supposition?"
"Would it degrade you more to marry her than to make her your
companion? To talk with her for hours in preference to all other
company? To wish to be endeared to her by still closer ties?"
"But all this is not raising her to the rank of my wife."
"It is still raising her to that rank for which wives alone were
"You talk wildly! I tell you I love her; but not enough, I hope, to
"But too much, I hope, to undo her?"
"That must be her own free choice--I make use of no unwarrantable
"What are the warrantable ones?"
"I mean, I have made her no false promises; offered no pretended
settlement; vowed no eternal constancy."
"But you have told her you love her; and, from that confession, has
she not reason to expect every protection which even promises could
"I cannot answer for her expectations; but I know if she should make
me as happy as I ask, and I should then forsake her, I shall not
break my word."
"Still she will be deceived, for you will falsify your looks."
"Do you think she depends on my looks?"
"I have read in some book, Looks are the lover's sole dependence."
"I have no objection to her interpreting mine in her favour; but
then for the consequences she will have herself, and only herself,
"What makes you exclaim so vehemently?"
"A forcible idea of the bitterness of that calamity which inflicts
self-reproach! Oh, rather deceive her; leave her the consolation to
reproach YOU rather than HERSELF."
"My honour will not suffer me."
"Exert your honour, and never see her more."
"I cannot live without her."
"Then live with her by the laws of your country, and make her and
yourself both happy."
"Am I to make my father and my mother miserable? They would disown
me for such a step."
"Your mother, perhaps, might be offended, but your father could not.
Remember the sermon he preached but last Sunday, upon--THE SHORTNESS
OF THIS LIFE--CONTEMPT OF ALL RICHES AND WORLDLY HONOURS IN BALANCE
WITH A QUIET CONSCIENCE; and the assurance he gave us, THAT THE
GREATEST HAPPINESS ENJOYED UPON EARTH WAS TO BE FOUND UNDER A HUMBLE
ROOF, WITH HEAVEN IN PROSPECT."
"My father is a very good man," said William; "and yet, instead of
being satisfied with a humble roof, he looks impatiently forward to
a bishop's palace."
"He is so very good, then," said Henry, "that perhaps, seeing the
dangers to which men in exalted stations are exposed, he has such
extreme philanthropy, and so little self-love, he would rather that
HIMSELF should brave those perils incidental to wealth and grandeur
than any other person."
"You are not yet civilised," said William; "and to argue with you is
but to instruct, without gaining instruction."
"I know, sir," replied Henry, "that you are studying the law most
assiduously, and indulge flattering hopes of rising to eminence in
your profession: but let me hint to you--that though you may be
perfect in the knowledge how to administer the commandments of men,
unless you keep in view the precepts of God, your judgment, like
mine, will be fallible."
The dean's family passed this first summer at the new-purchased
estate so pleasantly, that they left it with regret when winter
called them to their house in town.
But if some felt concern in quitting the village of Anfield, others
who were left behind felt the deepest anguish. Those were not the
poor--for rigid attention to the religion and morals of people in
poverty, and total neglect of their bodily wants, was the dean's
practice. He forced them to attend church every Sabbath; but
whether they had a dinner on their return was too gross and temporal
an inquiry for his spiritual fervour. Good of the soul was all he
aimed at; and this pious undertaking, besides his diligence as a
pastor, required all his exertion as a magistrate--for to be very
poor and very honest, very oppressed yet very thankful, is a degree
of sainted excellence not often to be attained, without the aid of
zealous men to frighten into virtue.
Those, then, who alone felt sorrow at the dean's departure were two
young women, whose parents, exempt from indigence, preserved them
from suffering under his unpitying piety, but whose discretion had
not protected them from the bewitching smiles of his nephew, and the
seducing wiles of his son.
The first morning that Rebecca rose and knew Henry was gone till the
following summer, she wished she could have laid down again and
slept away the whole long interval. Her sisters' peevishness, her
father's austerity, she foresaw, would be insupportable now that she
had experienced Henry's kindness, and he was no longer near to
fortify her patience. She sighed--she wept--she was unhappy.
But if Rebecca awoke with a dejected mind and an aching heart, what
were the sorrows of Agnes? The only child of doating parents, she
never had been taught the necessity of resignation--untutored,
unread, unused to reflect, but knowing how to feel; what were her
sufferings when, on waking, she called to mind that "William was
gone," and with him gone all that excess of happiness which his
presence had bestowed, and for which she had exchanged her future
Loss of tranquillity even Rebecca had to bemoan: Agnes had still
more--the loss of innocence!
Hal William remained in the village, shame, even conscience,
perhaps, might have been silenced; but, separated from her betrayer,
parted from the joys of guilt, and left only to its sorrows, every
sting which quick sensibility could sharpen, to torture her, was
transfixed in her heart. First came the recollection of a cold
farewell from the man whose love she had hoped her yielding passion
had for ever won; next, flashed on her thoughts her violated person;
next, the crime incurred; then her cruelty to her parents; and, last
of all, the horrors of detection.
She knew that as yet, by wariness, care, and contrivance, her
meetings with William had been unsuspected; but, in this agony of
mind, her fears fore-boded an informer who would defy all caution;
who would stigmatise her with a name--dear and desired by every
virtuous female--abhorrent to the blushing harlot--the name of
That Agnes, thus impressed, could rise from her bed, meet her
parents and her neighbours with her usual smile of vivacity, and
voice of mirth, was impossible: to leave her bed at all, to creep
downstairs, and reply in a faint, broken voice to questions asked,
were, in her state of mind, mighty efforts; and they were all to
which her struggles could attain for many weeks.
William had promised to write to her while he was away: he kept his
word; but not till the end of two months did she receive a letter.
Fear for his health, apprehension of his death during this cruel
interim, caused an agony of suspense, which, by representing him to
her distracted fancy in a state of suffering, made him, if possible,
still dearer to her. In the excruciating anguish of uncertainty,
she walked with trembling steps through all weathers (when she could
steal half a day while her parents were employed in labour abroad)
to the post town, at six miles' distance, to inquire for his long-
expected, long-wished-for letter.
When at last it was given to her, that moment of consolation seemed
to repay her for the whole time of agonising terror she had endured.
"He is alive!" she said, "and I have suffered nothing."
She hastily put this token of his health and his remembrance of her
into her bosom, rich as an empress with a new-acquired dominion.
The way from home, which she had trod with heavy pace, in the fear
of renewed disappointment, she skimmed along on her return swift as
a doe: the cold did not pierce, neither did the rain wet her. Many
a time she put her hand upon the prize she possessed, to find if it
were safe: once, on the road, she took it from her bosom, curiously
viewed the seal and the direction, then replacing it, did not move
her fingers from their fast grip till she arrived at her own house.
Her father and her mother were still absent. She drew a chair, and
placing it near to the only window in the room, seated herself with
ceremonious order; then gently drew forth her treasure, laid it on
her knee, and with a smile that almost amounted to a laugh of
gladness, once more inspected the outward part, before she would
trust herself with the excessive joy of looking within.
At length the seal was broken--but the contents still a secret.
Poor Agnes had learned to write as some youths learn Latin: so
short a time had been allowed for the acquirement, and so little
expert had been her master, that it took her generally a week to
write a letter of ten lines, and a month to read one of twenty. But
this being a letter on which her mind was deeply engaged, her whole
imagination aided her slender literature, and at the end of a
fortnight she had made out every word. They were these -
"Dr. Agnes,--I hope you have been well since we parted--I have been
very well myself; but I have been teased with a great deal of
business, which has not given me time to write to you before. I
have been called to the bar, which engages every spare moment; but I
hope it will not prevent my coming down to Anfield with my father in
"I am, Dr. Agnes,
"With gratitude for all the favours you have conferred on me,
To have beheld the illiterate Agnes trying for two weeks, day and
night, to find out the exact words of this letter, would have struck
the spectator with amazement, had he also understood the right, the
delicate, the nicely proper sensations with which she was affected
by every sentence it contained.
She wished it had been kinder, even for his sake who wrote it;
because she thought so well of him, and desired still to think so
well, that she was sorry at any faults which rendered him less
worthy of her good opinion. The cold civility of his letter had
this effect--her clear, her acute judgment felt it a kind of
prevarication to PROMISE TO WRITE AND THEN WRITE NOTHING THAT WAS
HOPED FOR. But, enthralled by the magic of her passion, she shortly
found excuses for the man she loved, at the expense of her own
"He has only the fault of inconstancy," she cried; "and that has
been caused by MY change of conduct. Had I been virtuous still, he
had still been affectionate." Bitter reflection!
Yet there was a sentence in the letter, that, worse than all the
tenderness left out, wounded her sensibility; and she could not read
the line, GRATITUDE FOR ALL THE FAVOURS CONFERRED ON ME, without
turning pale with horror, then kindling with indignation at the
commonplace thanks, which insultingly reminded her of her innocence
given in exchange for unmeaning acknowledgments.
Absence is said to increase strong and virtuous love, but to destroy
that which is weak and sensual. In the parallel between young
William and young Henry, this was the case; for Henry's real love
increased, while William's turbulent passion declined in separation:
yet had the latter not so much abated that he did not perceive a
sensation, like a sudden shock of sorrow, on a proposal made him by
his father, of entering the marriage state with a young woman, the
dependent niece of Lady Bendham; who, as the dean informed him, had
signified her lord's and her own approbation of his becoming their
At the first moment William received this intimation from his
father, his heart revolted with disgust from the object, and he
instantly thought upon Agnes with more affection than he had done
for many weeks before. This was from the comparison between her and
his proposed wife; for he had frequently seen Miss Sedgeley at Lord
Bendham's, but had never seen in her whole person or manners the
least attraction to excite his love. He pictured to himself an
unpleasant home, with a companion so little suited to his taste, and
felt a pang of conscience, as well as of attachment, in the thought
of giving up for ever his poor Agnes.
But these reflections, these feelings, lasted only for the moment.
No sooner had the dean explained why the marriage was desirable,
recited what great connections and what great patronage it would
confer upon their family, than William listened with eagerness, and
both his love and his conscience were, if not wholly quieted, at
least for the present hushed.
Immediately after the dean had expressed to Lord and Lady Bendham
his son's "sense of the honour and the happiness conferred on him,
by their condescension in admitting him a member of their noble
family," Miss Sedgeley received from her aunt nearly the same shock
as William had done from his father. FOR SHE (placed in the exact
circumstance of her intended husband) HAD FREQUENTLY SEEN THE DEAN'S
SON AT LORD BENDHAM'S, BUT HAD NEVER SEE IN HIS WHOLE PERSON OR
MANNERS THE LEAST ATTRACTION TO EXCITE HER LOVE. SHE PICTURED TO
HERSELF AN UNPLEASANT HOME, WITH A COMPANION SO LITTLE SUITED TO HER
TASTE; and at this moment she felt a more than usual partiality to
the dean's nephew, finding the secret hope she had long indulged of
winning his affections so near being thwarted.
But Miss Sedgeley was too much subjected to the power of her uncle
and aunt to have a will of her own, at least, to dare to utter it.
She received the commands of Lady Bendham with her accustomed
submission, while all the consolation for the grief they gave her
was, "that she resolved to make a very bad wife."
"I shall not care a pin for my husband," said she to herself; "and
so I will dress and visit, and do just as I like; he dare not be
unkind because of my aunt. Besides, now I think again, it is not so
disagreeable to marry HIM as if I were obliged to marry into any
other family, because I shall see his cousin Henry as often, if not
oftener than ever."
For Miss Sedgeley--whose person he did not like, and with her mind
thus disposed--William began to force himself to shake off every
little remaining affection, even all pity, for the unfortunate, the
beautiful, the sensible, the doating Agnes; and determined to place
in a situation to look down with scorn upon her sorrows, this weak,
this unprincipled woman.
Connections, interest, honours, were powerful advocates. His
private happiness William deemed trivial compared to public opinion;
and to be under obligations to a peer, his wife's relation, gave
greater renown in his servile mind than all the advantages which
might accrue from his own intrinsic independent worth.
In the usual routine of pretended regard and real indifference--
sometimes disgust--between parties allied by what is falsely termed
PRUDENCE, the intended union of Mr. Norwynne with Miss Sedgeley
proceeded in all due form; and at their country seats at Anfield,
during the summer, their nuptials were appointed to be celebrated.
William was now introduced into all Lord Bendham's courtly circles.
His worldly soul was entranced in glare and show; he thought of
nothing but places, pensions, titles, retinues; and steadfast,
alert, unshaken in the pursuit of honours, neglected not the lesser
means of rising to preferment--his own endowments. But in this
round of attention to pleasures and to study, he no more complained
to Agnes of "excess of business." Cruel as she had once thought
that letter in which he thus apologised for slighting her, she at
last began to think it was wondrous kind, for he never found time to
send her another. Yet she had studied with all her most anxious
care to write him an answer; such a one as might not lessen her
understanding, which he had often praised, in his esteem.
Ah, William! even with less anxiety your beating, ambitious heart
panted for the admiration of an attentive auditory, when you first
ventured to harangue in public! With far less hope and fear (great
as yours were) did you first address a crowded court, and thirst for
its approbation on your efforts, than Agnes sighed for your
approbation when she took a pen and awkwardly scrawled over a sheet
of paper. Near twenty times she began, but to a gentleman--and one
she loved like William--what could she dare to say? Yet she had
enough to tell, if shame had not interposed, or if remaining
confidence in his affection had but encouraged her.
Overwhelmed by the first, and deprived of the last, her hand shook,
her head drooped, and she dared not communicate what she knew must
inevitably render her letter unpleasing, and still more depreciate
her in his regard, as the occasion of encumbrance, and of injury to
his moral reputation.
Her free, her liberal, her venturous spirit subdued, intimidated by
the force of affection, she only wrote -
"Sir,--I am sorry you have so much to do, and should be ashamed if
you put it off to write to me. I have not been at all well this
winter. I never before passed such a one in all my life, and I hope
you will never know such a one yourself in regard to not being
happy. I should be sorry if you did--think I would rather go
through it again myself than you should. I long for the summer, the
fields are so green, and everything so pleasant at that time of the
year. I always do long for the summer, but I think never so much in
my life as for this that is coming; though sometimes I wish that
last summer had never come. Perhaps you wish so too; and that this
summer would not come either.
"Hope you will excuse all faults, as I never learnt but one month.
"Your obedient humble servant,
Summer arrived, and lords and ladies, who had partaken of all the
dissipation of the town, whom opera-houses, gaming-houses, and
various other houses had detained whole nights from their peaceful
home, were now poured forth from the metropolis, to imbibe the
wholesome air of the farmer and peasant, and disseminate, in return,
moral and religious principles.
Among the rest, Lord and Lady Bendham, strenuous opposers of vice in
the poor, and gentle supporters of it in the rich, never played at
cards, or had concerts on a Sunday, in the village, where the poor
were spies--HE, there, never gamed, nor drank, except in private,
and SHE banished from her doors every woman of sullied character.
Yet poverty and idiotism are not the same. The poor can hear, can
talk, sometimes can reflect; servants will tell their equals how
they live in town; listeners will smile and shake their heads; and
thus hypocrisy, instead of cultivating, destroys every seed of moral
The arrival of Lord Bendham's family at Anfield announced to the
village that the dean's would quickly follow. Rebecca's heart
bounded with joy at the prospect. Poor Agnes felt a sinking, a
foreboding tremor, that wholly interrupted the joy of HER
expectations. She had not heard from William for five tedious
months. She did not know whether he loved or despised, whether he
thought of or had forgotten her. Her reason argued against the hope
that he loved her; yet hope still subsisted. She would not abandon
herself to despair while there was doubt. She "had frequently been
deceived by the appearance of circumstances; and perhaps he might
come all kindness--perhaps, even not like her the less for that
indisposition which had changed her bloom to paleness, and the
sparkling of her eyes to a pensive languor."
Henry's sensations, on his return to Anfield, were the self-same as
Rebecca's were; sympathy in thought, sympathy in affection, sympathy
in virtue made them so. As he approached near the little village,
he felt more light than usual. He had committed no trespass there,
dreaded no person's reproach or inquiries; but his arrival might
prove, at least to one object, the cause of rejoicing.
William's sensations were the reverse of these. In spite of his
ambition, and the flattering view of one day accomplishing all to
which it aspired, he often, as they proceeded on their journey,
envied the gaiety of Henry, and felt an inward monitor that told him
"he must first act like Henry, to be as happy."
His intended marriage was still, to the families of both parties
(except to the heads of the houses), a profound secret. Neither the
servants, nor even Henry, had received the slightest intimation of
the designed alliance; and this to William was matter of some
When men submit to act in contradiction to their principles, nothing
is so precious as a secret. In their estimation, to have their
conduct KNOWN is the essential mischief. While it is hid, they
fancy the sin but half committed; and to the moiety of a crime they
reconcile their feelings, till, in progression, the whole, when
disclosed, appears trivial. He designed that Agnes should receive
the news from himself by degrees, and in such a manner as to console
her, or at least to silence her complaints; and with the wish to
soften the regret which he still felt on the prudent necessity of
yielding her wholly up when his marriage should take place, he
promised to himself some intervening hours of private meetings,
which he hoped would produce satiety.
While Henry flew to Mr. Rymer's house with a conscience clear, and a
face enlightened with gladness--while he met Rebecca with open-
hearted friendship and frankness, which charmed her soul to peaceful
happiness--William skulked around the cottage of Agnes, dreading
detection; and when, towards midnight, he found the means to obtain
the company of the sad inhabitant, he grew so impatient at her tears
and sobs, at the delicacy with which she withheld her caresses, that
he burst into bitter upbraidings at her coyness, and at length
(without discovering the cause of her peculiar agitation and
reserve) abruptly left her vowing "never to see her more."
As he turned away, his heart even congratulated him "that he had
made so discreet a use of his momentary disappointment, as thus to
shake her off at once without further explanation or excuse."
She, ignorant and illiterate as she was, knew enough of her own
heart to judge of his, and to know that such violent affections and
expressions, above all, such a sudden, heart-breaking manner of
departure, were not the effects of love, nor even of humanity. She
felt herself debased by a ruffian--yet still, having loved him when
she thought him a far different character, the blackest proof of the
deception could not cause a sentiment formed whilst she was
She passed the remainder of the night in anguish: but with the
cheerful morning some cheery thoughts consoled her. She thought
"perhaps William by this time had found himself to blame; had
conceived the cause of her grief and her distant behaviour, and had
The next evening she waited, with anxious heart, for the signal that
had called her out the foregoing night. In vain she watched,
counted the hours, and the stars, and listened to the nightly
stillness of the fields around: they were not disturbed by the
tread of her lover. Daylight came; the sun rose in its splendour:
William had not been near her, and it shone upon none so miserable
She now considered his word, "never to see her more," as solemnly
passed: she heard anew the impressive, the implacable tone in which
the sentence was pronounced; and could look back on no late token of
affection on which to found the slightest hope that he would recall
Still, reluctant to despair--in the extremity of grief, in the
extremity of fear for an approaching crisis which must speedily
arrive, she (after a few days had elapsed) trusted a neighbouring
peasant with a letter to deliver to Mr. Norwynne in private.
This letter, unlike the last, was dictated without the hope to
please: no pains were taken with the style, no care in the
formation of the letters: the words flowed from necessity; strong
necessity guided her hand.
"Sir,--I beg your pardon--pray don't forsake me all at once--see me
one time more--I have something to tell you--it is what I dare tell
nobody else--and what I am ashamed to tell you--yet pray give me a
word of advice--what to do I don't know--I then will part, if you
please, never to trouble you, never any more--but hope to part
friends--pray do, if you please--and see me one time more.
These incorrect, inelegant lines produced this immediate reply
"TO AGNES PRIMROSE.
"I have often told you, that my honour is as dear to me as my life:
my word is a part of that honour--you heard me say I WOULD NEVER SEE
YOU AGAIN. I shall keep my word."
When the dean's family had been at Anfield about a month--one misty
morning, such as portends a sultry day, as Henry was walking swiftly
through a thick wood, on the skirts of the parish, he suddenly
started on hearing a distant groan, expressive, as he thought, both
of bodily and mental pain. He stopped to hear it repeated, that he
might pursue the sound. He heard it again; and though now but in
murmurs, yet, as the tone implied excessive grief, he directed his
course to that part of the wood from which it came.
As he advanced, in spite of the thick fog, he discerned the
appearance of a female stealing away on his approach. His eye was
fixed on this object; and regardless where he placed his feet, he
soon shrunk back with horror, on perceiving they had nearly trod
upon a new-born infant, lying on the ground!--a lovely male child,
entered on a world where not one preparation had been made to
"Ah!" cried Henry, forgetting the person who had fled, and with a
smile of compassion on the helpless infant, "I am glad I have found
you--you give more joy to me than you have done to your hapless
parents. Poor dear," continued he, while he took off his coat to
wrap it in, "I will take care of you while I live--I will beg for
you, rather than you shall want; but first, I will carry you to
those who can, at present, do more for you than myself."
Thus Henry said and thought, while he enclosed the child carefully
in his coat, and took it in his arms. But proceeding to walk his
way with it, an unlucky query struck him, WHERE HE SHOULD GO.
"I must not take it to the dean's," he cried, "because Lady
Clementina will suspect it is not nobly, and my uncle will suspect
it is not lawfully, born. Nor must I take it to Lord Bendham's for
the self-same reason, though, could it call Lady Bendham mother,
this whole village, nay, the whole country round, would ring with
rejoicings for its birth. How strange!" continued he, "that we
should make so little of human creatures, that one sent among us,
wholly independent of his own high value, becomes a curse instead of
a blessing by the mere accident of circumstances."
He now, after walking out of the wood, peeped through the folds of
his coat to look again at his charge. He started, turned pale, and
trembled to behold what, in the surprise of first seeing the child,
had escaped his observation. Around its little throat was a cord
entwined by a slipping noose, and drawn half way--as if the
trembling hand of the murderer had revolted from its dreadful
office, and he or she had heft the infant to pine away in nakedness
and hunger, rather than see it die.
Again Henry wished himself joy of the treasure he had found; and
more fervently than before; for he had not only preserved one
fellow-creature from death, but another from murder.
Once more he looked at his charge, and was transported to observe,
upon its serene brow and sleepy eye, no traces of the dangers it had
passed--no trait of shame either for itself or its parents--no
discomposure at the unwelcome reception it was likely to encounter
from a proud world! He now slipped the fatal string from its neck;
and by this affectionate disturbance causing the child to cry, he
ran (but he scarcely knew whither) to convey it to a better nurse.
He at length found himself at the door of his dear Rebecca--for so
very happy Henry felt at the good luck which had befallen him, that
he longed to bestow a part of the blessing upon her he loved.
He sent for her privately out of the house to speak to him. When
she came, "Rebecca," said he (looking around that no one observed
him), "Rebecca, I have brought you something you will like."
"What is it?" she asked.
"You know, Rebecca, that you love deserted birds, strayed kittens,
and motherless lambs. I have brought something more pitiable than
any of these. Go, get a cap and a little gown, and then I will give
"A gown!" exclaimed Rebecca. "If you have brought me a monkey, much
as I should esteem any present from YOU, indeed I cannot touch it."
"A monkey!" repeated Henry, almost in anger: then changing the tone
of his voice, exclaimed in triumph,
"It is a child!"
On this he gave it a gentle pinch, that its cry might confirm the
pleasing truth he spoke.
"A child!" repeated Rebecca in amaze.
"Yes, and indeed I found it."
"Indeed I did. The mother, I fear, had just forsaken it."
"Nay, hold, Rebecca! I am sure you will pity her when you see her
child--you then will know she must have loved it--and you will
consider how much she certainly had suffered before she left it to
perish in a wood."
"Cruel!" once more exclaimed Rebecca.
"Oh! Rebecca, perhaps, had she possessed a home of her own she
would have given it the best place in it; had she possessed money,
she would have dressed it with the nicest care; or had she been
accustomed to disgrace, she would have gloried in calling it hers!
But now, as it is, it is sent to us--to you and me, Rebecca--to take
Rebecca, soothed by Henry's compassionate eloquence, held out her
arms and received the important parcel; and, as she kindly looked in
upon the little stranger,
"Now, are not you much obliged to me," said Henry, "for having
brought it to you? I know no one but yourself to whom I would have
trusted it with pleasure."
"Much obliged to you," repeated Rebecca, with a very serious face,
"if I did but know what to do with it--where to put it--where to
hide it from my father and sisters."
"Oh! anywhere," returned Henry. "It is very good--it will not cry.
Besides, in one of the distant, unfrequented rooms of your old
abbey, through the thick walls and long gallery, an infant's cry
cannot pass. Yet, pray be cautious how you conceal it; for if it
should be discovered by your father or sisters, they will take it
from you, prosecute the wretched mother, and send the child to the
"I will do all I can to prevent them," said Rebecca; "and I think I
call to mind a part of the house where it MUST be safe. I know,
too, I can take milk from the dairy, and bread from the pantry,
without their being missed, or my father much the poorer. But if--"
That instant they were interrupted by the appearance of the stern
curate at a little distance. Henry was obliged to run swiftly away,
while Rebecca returned by stealth into the house with her innocent
There is a word in the vocabulary more bitter, more direful in its
import, than all the rest. Reader, if poverty, if disgrace, if
bodily pain, even if slighted love be your unhappy fate, kneel and
bless Heaven for its beneficent influence, so that you are not
tortured with the anguish of--REMORSE.
Deep contrition for past offences had long been the punishment of
unhappy Agnes; but, till the day she brought her child into the
world, REMORSE had been averted. From that day, life became an
insupportable load, for all reflection was torture! To think,
merely to think, was to suffer excruciating agony; yet, never before
was THOUGHT so intrusive--it haunted her in every spot, in all
discourse or company: sleep was no shelter--she never slept but her
racking dreams told her--"she had slain her infant."
They presented to her view the naked innocent whom she had longed to
press to her bosom, while she lifted up her hand against its life.
They laid before her the piteous babe whom her eyeballs strained to
behold once more, while her feet hurried her away for ever.
Often had Agnes, by the winter's fire, listened to tales of ghosts--
of the unceasing sting of a guilty conscience; often had she
shuddered at the recital of murders; often had she wept over the
story of the innocent put to death, and stood aghast that the human
mind could premeditate the heinous crime of assassination.
From the tenderest passion the most savage impulse may arise: in
the deep recesses of fondness, sometimes is implanted the root of
cruelty; and from loving William with unbounded lawless affection,
she found herself depraved so as to become the very object which
could most of all excite her own horror!
Still, at delirious intervals, that passion, which, like a fatal
talisman, had enchanted her whole soul, held out the delusive
prospect that "William might yet relent;" for, though she had for
ever discarded the hope of peace, she could not force herself to
think but that, again blest with his society, she should, at least
for the time that he was present with her, taste the sweet cup of
"forgetfulness of the past," for which she so ardently thirsted.
"Should he return to me," she thought in those paroxysms of
delusion, "I would to HIM unbosom all my guilt; and as a remote, a
kind of unwary accomplice in my crime, his sense, his arguments,
ever ready in making light of my sins, might afford a respite to my
While thus she unwittingly thought, and sometimes watched through
the night, starting with convulsed rapture at every sound, because
it might possibly be the harbinger of him, HE was busied in
carefully looking over marriage articles, fixing the place of
residence with his destined bride, or making love to her in formal
process. Yet, Agnes, vaunt!--he sometimes thought on thee--he could
not witness the folly, the weakness, the vanity, the selfishness of
his future wife, without frequently comparing her with thee. When
equivocal words and prevaricating sentences fell from her lips, he
remembered with a sigh thy candour--that open sincerity which dwelt
upon thy tongue, and seemed to vie with thy undisguised features, to
charm the listener even beyond the spectator. While Miss Sedgeley
eagerly grasped at all the gifts he offered, he could not but call
to mind "that Agnes's declining hand was always closed, and her
looks forbidding, every time he proffered such disrespectful tokens
of his love." He recollected the softness which beamed from her
eyes, the blush on her face at his approach, while he could never
discern one glance of tenderness from the niece of Lord Bendham:
and the artificial bloom on her cheeks was nearly as disgusting as
the ill-conducted artifice with which she attempted gentleness and
But all these impediments were only observed as trials of his
fortitude--his prudence could overcome his aversion, and thus he
valued himself upon his manly firmness.
'Twas now, that William being rid, by the peevishness of Agnes, most
honourably of all future ties to her, and the day of his marriage
with Miss Sedgeley being fixed, that Henry, with the rest of the
house, learnt what to them was news. The first dart of Henry's eye
upon his cousin, when, in his presence, he was told of the intended
union, caused a reddening on the face of the latter: he always
fancied Henry saw his thoughts; and he knew that Henry in return
would give him HIS. On the present occasion, no sooner were they
alone, and Henry began to utter them, than William charged him--"Not
to dare to proceed; for that, too long accustomed to trifle, the
time was come when serious matters could alone employ his time; and
when men of approved sense must take place of friends and confidants
Henry replied, "The love, the sincerity of friends, I thought, were
their best qualities: these I possess."
"But you do not possess knowledge."
"If that be knowledge which has of late estranged you from all who
bear you a sincere affection; which imprints every day more and more
upon your features the marks of gloomy inquietude; am I not happier
in my ignorance?"
"Do not torment me with your ineffectual reasoning."
"I called at the cottage of poor Agnes the other day," returned
Henry: "her father and mother were taking their homely meal alone;
and when I asked for their daughter, they wept and said--Agnes was
not the girl she had been."
William cast his eyes on the floor.
Henry proceeded--"They said a sickness, which they feared would
bring her to the grave, had preyed upon her for some time past.
They had procured a doctor: but no remedy was found, and they
feared the worst."
"What worst!" cried William (now recovered from the effect of the
sudden intelligence, and attempting a smile). "Do they think she
will die? And do you think it will be for love? We do not hear of
these deaths often, Henry."
"And if SHE die, who will hear of THAT? No one but those interested
to conceal the cause: and thus it is, that dying for love becomes a
Henry would have pursued the discourse farther; but William,
impatient on all disputes, except where his argument was the better
one, retired from the controversy, crying out, "I know my duty, and
want no instructor."
It would be unjust to William to say he did not feel for this
reported illness of Agnes--he felt, during that whole evening, and
part of the next morning--but business, pleasures, new occupations,
and new schemes of future success, crowded to dissipate all
unwelcome reflections; and he trusted to her youth, her health, her
animal spirits, and, above all, to the folly of the gossips' story
of DYING FOR LOVE, as a surety for her life, and a safeguard for his
The child of William and Agnes was secreted, by Rebecca, in a
distant chamber belonging to the dreary parsonage, near to which
scarcely any part of the family ever went. There she administered
to all its wants, visited it every hour of the day, and at intervals
during the night viewed almost with the joy of a mother its health,
its promised life--and in a short the found she loved her little
gift better than anything on earth, except the giver.
Henry called the next morning, and the next, and many succeeding
times, in hopes of an opportunity to speak alone with Rebecca, to
inquire concerning her charge, and consult when and how he could
privately relieve her from her trust; as he now meant to procure a
nurse for wages. In vain he called or lurked around the house; for
near five weeks all the conversation he could obtain with her was in
the company of her sisters, who, beginning to observe his
preference, his marked attention to her, and the languid, half-
smothered transport with which she received it, indulged their envy
and resentment at the contempt shown to their charms, by watching
her steps when he was away, and her every look and whisper while he
For five weeks, then, he was continually thwarted in his expectation
of meeting her alone: and at the end of that period the whole
design he had to accomplish by such a meeting was rendered abortive.
Though Rebecca had with strictest caution locked the door of the
room in which the child was hid, and covered each crevice, and every
aperture through which sound might more easily proceed; though she
had surrounded the infant's head with pillows, to obstruct all noise
from his crying; yet one unlucky night, the strength of his voice
increasing with his age, he was heard by the maid, who slept the
nearest to that part of the house.
Not meaning to injure her young mistress, the servant next morning
simply related to the family what sounds had struck her ear during
the night, and whence they proceeded. At first she was ridiculed
"for supposing herself awake when in reality she must be dreaming."
But steadfastly persisting in what she had said, and Rebecca's
blushes, confusion, and eagerness to prove the maid mistaken, giving
suspicion to her charitable sisters, they watched her the very next
time she went by stealth to supply the office of a mother; and
breaking abruptly on her while feeding and caressing the infant,
they instantly concluded it was her OWN; seized it, and, in spite of
her entreaties, carried it down to their father.
That account which Henry had given Rebecca "of his having found the
child," and which her own sincerity, joined to the faith she had in
his word, made her receive as truth, she now felt would be heard by
the present auditors with contempt, even with indignation, as a
falsehood. Her affright is easier conceived than described.
Accused, and forced by her sisters along with the child before the
curate, his attention to their representation, his crimson face,
knit brow, and thundering voice, struck with terror her very soul:
innocence is not always a protection against fear--sometimes less
bold than guilt.
In her father and sisters she saw, she knew the suspicions, partial,
cruel, boisterous natures by whom she was to be judged; and timid,
gentle, oppressed, she fell trembling on her knees, and could only
The curate would not listen to this supplication till she had
replied to this question, "Whose child is this?"
She replied, "I do not know."
Questioned louder, and with more violence still, "how the child came
there, wherefore her affection for it, and whose it was," she felt
the improbability of the truth still more forcibly than before, and
dreaded some immediate peril from her father's rage, should she dare
to relate an apparent lie. She paused to think upon a more probable
tale than the real one; and as she hesitated, shook in every limb--
while her father exclaimed,
"I understand the cause of this terror; it confirms your sisters'
fears, and your own shame. From your infancy I have predicted that
some fatal catastrophe would befall you. I never loved you like my
other children--I never had the cause: you were always unlike the
rest--and I knew your fate would be calamitous; but the very worst
of my forebodings did not come to this--so young, so guilty, and so
artful! Tell me this instant, are you married?"
Rebecca answered, "No."
The sisters lifted up their hands!
The father continued--"Vile creature, I thought as much. Still I
will know the father of this child."
She cast up her eyes to Heaven, and firmly vowed she "did not know
herself--nor who the mother was."
"This is not to be borne!" exclaimed the curate in fury. "Persist
in this, and you shall never see my face again. Both your child and
you I'll turn out of my house instantly, unless you confess your
crime, and own the father."
Curious to know this secret, the sisters went up to Rebecca with
seeming kindness, and "conjured her to spare her father still
greater grief, and her own and her child's public infamy, by
acknowledging herself its mother, and naming the man who had undone
Emboldened by this insult from her own sex, Rebecca now began to
declare the simple truth. But no sooner had she said that "the
child was presented to her care by a young man who had found it,"
than her sisters burst into laughter, and her father into redoubled
Once more the women offered their advice--"to confess and be
Once more the father raved.
Beguiled by solicitations, and terrified by threats, like women
formerly accused of witchcraft, and other wretches put to the
torture, she thought her present sufferings worse than any that
could possibly succeed; and felt inclined to confess a falsehood, at
which her virtue shrunk, to obtain a momentary respite from
reproach; she felt inclined to take the mother's share of the
infant, but was at a loss to whom to give the father's. She thought
that Henry had entailed on himself the best right to the charge; but
she loved him, and could not bear the thought of accusing him
While, with agitation in the extreme, she thus deliberated, the
proposition again was put,
"Whether she would trust to the mercy of her father by confessing,
or draw down his immediate vengeance by denying her guilt?"
She made choice of the former--and with tears and sobs "owned
herself the mother of the boy."
But still--"Who is the father?"
Again she shrunk from the question, and fervently implored "to be
spared on that point."
Her petition was rejected with vehemence; and the curate's rage
increased till she acknowledged,
"Henry was the father."
"I thought so," exclaimed all her sisters at the same time.
"Villain!" cried the curate. "The dean shall know, before this hour
is expired, the baseness of the nephew whom he supports upon
charity; he shall know the misery, the grief, the shame he has
brought on me, and how unworthy he is of his protection."
"Oh! have mercy on him!" cried Rebecca, as she still knelt to her
father: "do not ruin him with his uncle, for he is the best of
"Ay, ay, we always saw how much she loved him," cried her sisters.
"Wicked, unfortunate girl!" said the clergyman (his rage now
subsiding, and tears supplying its place), "you have brought a
scandal upon us all: your sisters' reputation will be stamped with
the colour of yours--my good name will suffer: but that is trivial-
-your soul is lost to virtue, to religion, to shame--"
"No, INDEED!" cried Rebecca: "if you will but believe me."
"Do not I believe you? Have you not confessed?"
"You will not pretend to unsay what you have said," cried her eldest
sister: "that would be making things worse."
"Go, go out of my sight!" said her father. "Take your child with
you to your chamber, and never let me see either of you again. I do
not turn you out of my doors to-day, because I gave you my word I
would not, if you revealed your shame; but by to-morrow I will
provide some place for your reception, where neither I, nor any of
your relations, shall ever see or hear of you again."
Rebecca made an effort to cling around her father, and once more to
declare her innocence: but her sisters interposed, and she was
taken, with her reputed son, to the chamber where the curate had
sentenced her to remain, till she quitted his house for ever.
The curate, in the disorder of his mind, scarcely felt the ground he
trod as he hastened to the dean's house to complain of his wrongs.
His name procured him immediate admittance into the library, and the
moment the dean appeared the curate burst into tears. The cause
being required of such "very singular marks of grief," Mr. Rymer
described himself "as having been a few moments ago the happiest of
parents; but that his peace and that of his whole family had been
destroyed by Mr. Henry Norwynne, the dean's nephew."
He now entered into a minute recital of Henry's frequent visits
there, and of all which had occurred in his house that morning, from
the suspicion that a child was concealed under his roof, to the
confession made by his youngest daughter of her fall from virtue,
and of her betrayer's name.
The dean was astonished, shocked, and roused to anger: he vented
reproaches and menaces on his nephew; and "blessing himself in a
virtuous son, whose wisdom and counsel were his only solace in every
care," sent for William to communicate with him on this unhappy
William came, all obedience, and heard with marks of amazement and
indignation the account of such black villainy! In perfect sympathy
with Mr. Rymer and his father, he allowed "no punishment could be
too great for the seducer of innocence, the selfish invader of a
whole family's repose."
Nor did William here speak what he did not think--he merely forgot
his own conduct; or if he did recall it to his mind, it was with
some fair interpretations in his own behalf; such as self-love ever
supplies to those who wish to cheat intruding conscience.
Young Henry being sent for to appear before this triumvirate, he
came with a light step and a cheerful face. But, on the charge
against him being exhibited, his countenance changed--yet only to
the expression of surprise! He boldly asserted his innocence,
plainly told the real fact, and with a deportment so perfectly
unembarrassed, that nothing but the asseverations of the curate,
"that his daughter had confessed the whole," could have rendered the
story Henry told suspected; although some of the incidents he
related were of no common kind. But Mr. Rymer's charge was an
objection to his veracity too potent to be overcome; and the dean
exclaimed in anger -
"We want not your avowal of your guilt--the mother's evidence is
"The virtuous Rebecca is not a mother," said Henry, with firmness.
William here, like Rebecca's sisters, took Henry aside, and warned
him not to "add to his offence by denying what was proved against
But Henry's spirit was too manly, his affection too sincere, not to
vindicate the chastity of her he loved, even at his own peril. He
again and again protested "she was virtuous."
"Let her instantly be sent for," said the dean, "and this madman
confronted with her." Then adding, that as he wished everything
might be conducted with secrecy, he would not employ his clerk on
the unhappy occasion: he desired William to draw up the form of an
oath, which he would administer as soon as she arrived.
A man and horse were immediately despatched to bring Rebecca:
William drew up an affidavit as his father had directed him--in
REBECCA'S NAME SOLEMNLY PROTESTING SHE WAS A MOTHER, AND HENRY THE
FATHER OF HER CHILD. And now, the dean, suppressing till she came
the warmth of his displeasure, spoke thus calmly to Henry:-
"Even supposing that your improbable tale of having found this
child, and all your declarations in respect to it were true, still
you would be greatly criminal. What plea can you make for not
having immediately revealed the circumstance to me or some other
proper person, that the real mother might have been detected and
punished for her design of murder?"
"In that, perhaps, I was to blame," returned Henry: "but whoever
the mother was, I pitied her."
"Compassion on such an occasion was unplaced," said the dean.
"Was I wrong, sir, to pity the child?"
"Then how could I feel for THAT, and yet divest myself of all
feeling for its mother?"
"Its mother!" exclaimed William, in anger: "she ought to have been
immediately pursued, apprehended, and committed to prison."
"It struck me, cousin William," replied Henry, "that the father was
more deserving of a prison: the poor woman had abandoned only one--
the man, in all likelihood, had forsaken TWO pitiable creatures."
William was pouring execrations "on the villain if such there could
be," when Rebecca was announced.
Her eyes were half closed with weeping; deep confusion overspread
her face; and her tottering limbs could hardly support her to the
awful chamber where the dean, her father, and William sat in
judgment, whilst her beloved Henry stood arraigned as a culprit, by
her false evidence.
Upon her entrance, her father first addressed her, and said in a
stern, threatening, yet feeling tone, "Unhappy girl, answer me
before all present--Have you, or have you not, owned yourself a
She replied, stealing a fearful look at Henry, "I have."
"And have you not," asked the dean, "owned that Henry Norwynne is
the father of your child?"
She seemed as if she wished to expostulate.
The curate raised his voice--"Have you or have you not?"
"I have," she faintly replied.
"Then here," cried the dean to William, "read that paper to her, and
take the Bible."
William read the paper, which in her name declared a momentous
falsehood: he then held the book in form, while she looked like one
distracted--wrung her hands, and was near sinking to the earth.
At the moment when the book was lifted up to her lips to kiss, Henry
rushed to her--"Stop!" he cried, "Rebecca! do not wound your future
peace. I plainly see under what prejudices you have been accused,
under what fears you have fallen. But do not be terrified into the
commission of a crime which hereafter will distract your delicate
conscience. My requesting you of your father for my wife will
satisfy his scruples, prevent your oath--and here I make the
"He at length confesses! Surprising audacity! Complicated
villainy!" exclaimed the dean; then added, "Henry Norwynne, your
first guilt is so enormous; your second, in steadfastly denying it,
so base, this last conduct so audacious; that from the present hour
you must never dare to call me relation, or to consider my house as
William, in unison with his father, exclaimed, "Indeed, Henry, your
actions merit this punishment."
Henry answered with firmness, "Inflict what punishment you please."
"With the dean's permission, then," said the curate, "you must marry
Henry started--"Do you pronounce that as a punishment? It would be
the greatest blessing Providence could bestow. But how are we to
live? My uncle is too much offended ever to be my friend again; and
in this country, persons of a certain class are so educated, they
cannot exist without the assistance, or what is called the
patronage, of others: when that is withheld, they steal or starve.
Heaven protect Rebecca from such misfortune! Sir (to the curate),
do you but consent to support her only a year or two longer, and in
that time I will learn some occupation, that shall raise me to the
eminence of maintaining both her and myself without one obligation,
or one inconvenience, to a single being."
Rebecca exclaimed, "Oh! you have saved me from such a weight of sin,
that my future life would be too happy passed as your slave."
"No, my dear Rebecca, return to your father's house, return to
slavery but for a few years more, and the rest of your life I will
"And can you forgive me?"
"I can love you; and in that is comprised everything that is kind."
The curate, who, bating a few passions and a few prejudices, was a
man of some worth and feeling, and felt, in the midst of her
distress, though the result of supposed crimes, that he loved this
neglected daughter better than he had before conceived; and he now
agreed "to take her home for a time, provided she were relieved from
the child, and the matter so hushed up, that it might draw no
imputation upon the characters of his other daughters."
The dean did not degrade his consequence by consultations of this
nature: but, having penetrated (as he imagined) into the very
bottom of this intricate story, and issued his mandate against
Henry, as a mark that he took no farther concern in the matter, he
proudly walked out of the room without uttering another word.
William as proudly and silently followed.
The curate was inclined to adopt the manners of such great examples:
but self-interest, some affection to Rebecca, and concern for the
character of his family, made him wish to talk a little more with
Henry, who new repeated what he had said respecting his marriage
with Rebecca, and promised "to come the very next day in secret, and
deliver her from the care of the infant, and the suspicion that
would attend her nursing it."
"But, above all," said the curate, "procure your uncle's pardon; for
without that, without his protection, or the protection of some
other rich man, to marry, to obey God's ordinance, INCREASE AND
MULTIPLY is to want food for yourselves and your offspring."
Though this unfortunate occurrence in the curate's family was,
according to his own phrase, "to be hushed up," yet certain persons
of his, of the dean's, and of Lord Bendham's house, immediately
heard and talked of it. Among these, Lady Bendham was most of all
shocked and offended: she said she "never could bear to hear Mr.
Rymer either pray or preach again; he had not conducted himself with
proper dignity either as a clergyman or a father; he should have
imitated the dean's example in respect to Henry, and have turned his
daughter out of doors."
Lord Bendham was less severe on the seduced, but had no mercy on the
seducer--"a vicious youth, without one accomplishment to endear
vice." For vice, Lord Bendham thought (with certain philosophers),
might be most exquisitely pleasing, in a pleasing garb. "But this
youth sinned without elegance, without one particle of wit, or an
atom of good breeding."
Lady Clementina would not permit the subject to be mentioned a
second time in her hearing--extreme delicacy in woman she knew was
bewitching; and the delicacy she displayed on this occasion went so
far that she "could not even intercede with the dean to forgive his
nephew, because the topic was too gross for her lips to name even in
the ear of her husband."
Miss Sedgeley, though on the very eve of her bridal day with
William, felt so tender a regard for Henry, that often she thought
Rebecca happier in disgrace and poverty, blest with the love of him,
than she was likely to be in the possession of friends and fortune
with his cousin.
Had Henry been of a nature to suspect others of evil, or had he felt
a confidence in his own worth, such a passion as this young woman's
would soon have disclosed its existence: but he, regardless of any
attractions of Miss Sedgeley, equally supposed he had none in her
eyes; and thus, fortunately for the peace of all parties, this
prepossession ever remained a secret except to herself.
So little did William conceive that his clownish cousin could rival
him in the affections of a woman of fashion, that he even slightly
solicited his father "that Henry might not be banished from the
house, at least till after the following day, when the great
festival of his marriage was to be celebrated."
But the dean refused, and reminded his son, "that he was bound both
by his moral and religious character, in the eyes of God, and still
more, in the eyes of men, to show lasting resentment of iniquity
William acquiesced, and immediately delivered to his cousin the
dean's "wishes for his amendment," and a letter of recommendation
procured from Lord Bendham, to introduce him on board a man-of-war;
where, he was told, "he might hope to meet with preferment,
according to his merit, as a sailor and a gentleman."
Henry pressed William's hand on parting, wished him happy in his
marriage, and supplicated, as the only favour he would implore, an
interview with his uncle, to thank him for all his former kindness,
and to see him for the last time.
William repeated this petition to his father, but with so little
energy, that the dean did not grant it. He felt himself, he said,
compelled to resent that reprobate character in which Henry had
appeared; and he feared "lest the remembrance of his last parting
from his brother might, on taking a formal leave of that brother's
son, reduce him to some tokens of weakness, that would ill become
his dignity and just displeasure."
He sent him his blessing, with money to convey him to the ship, and
Henry quitted his uncle's house in a flood of tears, to seek first a
new protectress for his little foundling, and then to seek his
The wedding-day of Mr. William Norwynne with Miss Caroline Sedgeley
arrived; and, on that day, the bells of every parish surrounding
that in which they lived joined with their own, in celebration of
the blissful union. Flowers were strewn before the new-married
pair, and favours and ale made many a heart more gladsome than that
of either bridegroom or bride.
Upon this day of ringing and rejoicing the bells were not muffled,
nor was conversation on the subject withheld from the ear of Agnes!
She heard like her neighbours; and sitting on the side of her bed in
her little chamber, suffered, under the cottage roof, as much
affliction as ever visited a palace.
Tyrants, who have embrued their hands in the blood of myriads of
their fellow-creatures, can call their murders "religion, justice,
attention to the good of mankind." Poor Agnes knew no sophistry to
calm HER sense of guilt: she felt herself a harlot and a murderer;
a slighted, a deserted wretch, bereft of all she loved in this
world, all she could hope for in the next.
She complained bitterly of illness, nor could the entreaties of her
father and mother prevail on her to share in the sports of this
general holiday. As none of her humble visitors suspected the cause
of her more than ordinary indisposition, they endeavoured to divert
it with an account of everything they had seen at church--"what the
bride wore; how joyful the bridegroom looked;"--and all the seeming
signs of that complete happiness which they conceived was for
Agnes, who, before this event, had at moments suppressed the
agonising sting of self-condemnation in the faint prospect of her
lover one day restored, on this memorable occasion lost every
glimpse of hope, and was weighed to the earth with an accumulation
Where is the degree in which the sinner stops? Unhappy Agnes! the
first time you permitted indecorous familiarity from a man who made
you no promise, who gave you no hope of becoming his wife, who
professed nothing beyond those fervent, though slender, affections
which attach the rake to the wanton; the first time you interpreted
his kind looks and ardent prayers into tenderness and constancy; the
first time you descended from the character of purity, you rushed
imperceptibly on the blackest crimes. The more sincerely you loved,
the more you plunged in danger: from one ungoverned passion
proceeded a second and a third. In the fervency of affection you
yielded up your virtue! In the excess of fear, you stained your
conscience by the intended murder of your child! And now, in the
violence of grief, you meditate--what?--to put an end to your
existence by your own hand!
After casting her thoughts around, anxious to find some bud of
comfort on which to fix her longing eye; she beheld, in the total
loss of William, nothing but a wide waste, an extensive plain of
anguish. "How am I to be sustained through this dreary journey of
life?" she exclaimed. Upon this question she felt, more poignantly
than ever, her loss of innocence: innocence would have been her
support, but, in place of this best prop to the afflicted, guilt
flashed on her memory every time she flew for aid to reflection.
At length, from horrible rumination, a momentary alleviation came:
"but one more step in wickedness," she triumphantly said, "and all
my shame, all my sufferings are over." She congratulated herself
upon the lucky thought; when, but an instant after, the tears
trickled down her face for the sorrow her death, her sinful death,
would bring to her poor and beloved parents. She then thought upon
the probability of a sigh it might draw from William; and, the
pride, the pleasure of that little tribute, counterpoised every
struggle on the side of life.
As she saw the sun decline, "When you rise again," she thought,
"when you peep bright to-morrow morning into this little room to
call me up, I shall not be here to open my eyes upon a hateful day--
I shall no more regret that you have waked me!--I shall be sound
asleep, never to wake again in this wretched world--not even the
voice of William would then awake me."
While she found herself resolved, and evening just come on, she
hurried out of the house, and hastened to the fatal wood; the scene
of her dishonour--the scene of intended murder--and now the
meditated scene of suicide.
As she walked along between the close-set tree, she saw, at a little
distance, the spot where William first made love to her; and where
at every appointment he used to wait her coming. She darted her eye
away from this place with horror; but, after a few moments of
emotion, she walked slowly up to it--shed tears, and pressed with
her trembling lips that tree, against which she was accustomed to
lean while he talked with her. She felt an inclination to make this
the spot to die in; but her preconcerted, and the less frightful
death, of leaping into a pool on the other side of the wood, induced
her to go onwards.
Presently, she came near the place where HER child, and WILLIAM'S,
was exposed to perish. Here she started with a sense of the most
atrocious guilt; and her whole frame shook with the dread of an
approaching, an omnipotent Judge, to sentence her for murder.
She halted, appalled, aghast, undetermined whether to exist longer
beneath the pressure of a criminal conscience, or die that very
hour, and meet her final condemnation.
She proceeded a few steps farther, and beheld the very ivy-bush
close to which her infant lay when she left him exposed; and now,
from this minute recollection, all the mother rising in her soul,
she saw, as it were, her babe again in its deserted state; and
bursting into tears of bitterest contrition and compassion, she
cried--"As I was merciless to THEE, my child, thy father has been
pitiless to ME! As I abandoned THEE to die with cold and hunger, he
has forsaken, and has driven ME to die by self-slaughter."
She now fixed her eager eyes on the distant pond, and walked more
nimbly than before, to rid herself of her agonising sensations.
Just as she had nearly reached the wished-for brink, she heard a
footstep, and saw, by the glimmering of a clouded moon, a man
approaching. She turned out of her path, for fear her intentions
should be guessed at, and opposed; but still, as she walked another
way, her eye was wishfully bent towards the water that was to
obliterate her love and her remorse--obliterate, forever, William
and his child.
It was now that Henry, who, to prevent scandal, had stolen at that
still hour of night to rid the curate of the incumbrance so irksome
to him, and take the foundling to a woman whom he had hired for the
charge--it was now that Henry came up, with the child of Agnes in
his arms, carefully covered all over from the night's dew.
"Agnes, is it you?" cried Henry, at a little distance. "Where are
you going thus late?"
"Home, sir," said she, and rushed among the trees.
"Stop, Agnes," he cried; "I want to bid you farewell; to-morrow I am
going to leave this part of the country for a long time; so God
bless you, Agnes."
Saying this, he stretched out his arm to shake her by the hand.
Her poor heart, trusting that his blessing, for want of more potent
offerings, might, perhaps, at this tremendous crisis ascend to
Heaven in her behalf, she stopped, returned, and put out her hand to
"Softly!" said he; "don't wake my child; this spot has been a place
of danger to him, for underneath this very ivy-bush it was that I
"Found what?" cried Agnes, with a voice elevated to a tremulous
"I will not tell you the story," replied Henry; "for no one I have
ever yet told of it would believe me."
"I will believe you--I will believe you," she repeated with tones
yet more impressive.
"Why, then," said Henry, "only five weeks ago--"
"Ah!" shrieked Agnes.
"What do you mean?" said Henry.
"Go on," she articulated, in the same voice.
"Why, then, as I was passing this very place, I wish I may never
speak truth again, if I did not find" (here he pulled aside the warm
rug in which the infant was wrapped) "this beautiful child."
"With a cord?--"
"A cord was round its neck."
"'Tis mine--the child is mine--'tis mine--my child--I am the mother
and the murderer--I fixed the cord, while the ground shook under me-
-while flashes of fire darted before my eyes!--while my heart was
bursting with despair and horror! But I stopped short--I did not
draw the noose--I had a moment of strength, and I ran away. I left
him living--he is living now--escaped from my hands--and I am no
longer ashamed, but overcome with joy that he is mine! I bless you,
my dear, my dear, for saving his life--for giving him to me again--
for preserving MY life, as well as my child's."
Here she took her infant, pressed it to her lips and to her bosom;
then bent to the ground, clasped Henry's knees, and wept upon his
He could not for a moment doubt the truth of what she said; her
powerful yet broken accents, her convulsive embraces of the child,
even more than her declaration, convinced him she was its mother.
"Good Heaven!" cried Henry, "and this is my cousin William's child!"
"But your cousin does not know it," said she; "I never told him--he
was not kind enough to embolden me; therefore do not blame HIM for
MY sin; he did not know of my wicked designs--he did not encourage
"But he forsook you, Agnes."
"He never said he would not. He always told me he could not marry
"Did he tell you so at his first private meeting?"
"Nor at the second?"
"No; nor yet at the third."
"When was it he told you so?"
"I forget the exact time; but I remember it was on that very evening
when I confessed to him--"
"That he had won my heart."
"Why did you confess it?"
"Because he asked me and said it would make him happy if I would say
"Nay, do not blame him; he cannot help NOT loving me, no more than I
can help LOVING him."
Henry rubbed his eyes.
"Bless me, you weep! I always heard that you were brought up in a
savage country; but I suppose it is a mistake; it was your cousin
"Will not you apply to him for the support of your child?" asked
"If I thought he would not be angry."
"Angry! I will write to him on the subject if you will give me
"But do not say it is by my desire. Do not say I wish to trouble
him. I would sooner beg than be a trouble to him."
"Why are you so delicate?"
"It is for my own sake; I wish him not to hate me."
"Then, thus you may secure his respect. I will write to him, and
let him know all the circumstances of your case. I will plead for
his compassion on his child, but assure him that no conduct of his
will ever induce you to declare (except only to me, who knew of your
previous acquaintance) who is the father."
To this she consented; but when Henry offered to take from her the
infant, and carry him to the nurse he had engaged, to this she would
"Do you mean, then, to acknowledge him yours?" Henry asked.
"Nothing shall force me to part from him again. I will keep him,
and let my neighbours judge of me as they please."
Here Henry caught at a hope he feared to name before. "You will
then have no objection," said he, "to clear an unhappy girl to a few
friends, with whom her character has suffered by becoming, at my
request, his nurse?"
"I will clear any one, so that I do not accuse the father."
"You give me leave, then, in your name, to tell the whole story to
some particular friends, my cousin William's part in it alone
Henry now exclaimed, "God bless you!" with greater fervour than when
he spoke it before; and he now hoped the night was nearly gone, that
the time might be so much the shorter before Rebecca should be
reinstated in the esteem of her father, and of all those who had
"God bless YOU!" said Agnes, still more fervently, as she walked
with unguided steps towards her home; for her eyes never wandered
from the precious object which caused her unexpected return.
Henry rose early in the morning, and flew to the curate's house,
with more than even his usual thirst of justice, to clear injured
innocence, to redeem from shame her whom he loved. With eager haste
he told that he had found the mother, whose fall from virtue
Rebecca, overcome by confusion and threats, had taken on herself.
Rebecca rejoiced, but her sisters shook their heads, and even the
father seemed to doubt.
Confident in the truth of his story, Henry persisted so boldly in
his affirmations, that if Mr. Rymer did not entirely believe what he
said, he secretly hoped that the dean and other people might;
therefore he began to imagine he could possibly cast from HIS family
the present stigma, whether or no it belonged to any other.
No sooner was Henry gone than Mr. Rymer waited on the dean to report
what he had heard; and he frankly attributed his daughter's false
confession to the compulsive methods he had adopted in charging her
with the offence. Upon this statement, Henry's love to her was also
a solution of his seemingly inconsistent conduct on that singular
The dean immediately said, "I will put the matter beyond all doubt;
for I will this moment send for the present reputed mother; and if
she acknowledges the child, I will instantly commit her to prison
for the attempt of putting it to death."
The curate applauded the dean's sagacity; a warrant was issued, and
Agnes brought prisoner before the grandfather of her child.
She appeared astonished at the peril in which she found herself.
Confused, also, with a thousand inexpressible sensations which the
dean's presence inspired, she seemed to prevaricate in all she
uttered. Accused of this prevarication, she was still more
disconcerted; said, and unsaid; confessed herself the mother of the
infant, but declared she did not know, then owned she DID know, the
name of the man who had undone her, but would never utter it. At
length she cast herself on her knees before the father of her
betrayer, and supplicated "he would not punish her with severity, as
she most penitently confessed her fault, so far as is related to
While Mr. and Mrs. Norwynne, just entered on the honeymoon, were
sitting side by side enjoying with peace and with honour conjugal
society, poor Agnes, threatened, reviled, and sinking to the dust,
was hearing from the mouth of William's father the enormity of those
crimes to which his son had been accessory. She saw the mittimus
written that was to convey her into a prison--saw herself delivered
once more into the hands of constables, before her resolution left
her, of concealing the name of William in her story. She now,
overcome with affright, and thinking she should expose him still
more in a public court, if hereafter on her trial she should be
obliged to name him--she now humbly asked the dean to hear a few
words she had to say in private, where she promised she "would speak
nothing but the truth."
This was impossible, he said--"No private confessions before a
magistrate! All must be done openly."
She urged again and again the same request: it was denied more
peremptorily than at first. On which she said--"Then, sir, forgive
me, since you force me to it, if I speak before Mr. Rymer and these
men what I would for ever have kept a secret if I could. One of
your family is my child's father."
"Any of my servants?" cried the dean.
"No; one who is nearer still."
"Come this way," said the dean; "I WILL speak to you in private."
It was not that the dean, as a magistrate, distributed partial
decrees of pretended justice--he was rigidly faithful to his trust:
he would not inflict punishment on the innocent, nor let the guilty
escape; but in all particulars of refined or coarse treatment he
would alleviate or aggravate according to the rank of the offender.
He could not feel that a secret was of equal importance to a poor as
to a rich person; and while Agnes gave no intimation but that her
delicacy rose from fears for herself, she did not so forcibly
impress him with an opinion that it was a case which had weighty
cause for a private conference as when she boldly said, "a part of
HIS family, very near to him, was concerned in her tale."
The final result of their conversation in an adjoining room was--a
charge from the dean, in the words of Mr. Rymer, "to hush the affair
up," and his promise that the infant should be immediately taken
from her, and that "she should have no more trouble with it."
"I have no trouble with it," replied Agnes: "my child is now all my
comfort, and I cannot part from it."
"Why, you inconsistent woman, did you not attempt to murder it?"
"That was before I had nursed it."
"'Tis necessary you should give it up: it must be sent some miles
away; and then the whole circumstance will be soon forgotten."
"_I_ shall never forget it."
"No matter; you must give up the child. Do not some of our first
women of quality part with their children?"
"Women of quality have other things to love--I have nothing else."
"And would you occasion my son and his new-made bride the shame and
Here Agnes burst into a flood of tears; and being angrily asked by
the dean "why she blubbered so--"
"_I_ have had shame and uneasiness," she replied, wringing her
"And you deserve them: they are the sure attendants of crimes such
as yours. If you allured and entrapped a young man like my son--"
"I am the youngest by five years," said Agnes.
"Well, well, repent," returned the dean; "repent, and resign your
child. Repent, and you may yet marry an honest man who knows
nothing of the matter."
"And repent too?" asked Agnes.
Not the insufferable ignorance of young Henry, when he first came to
England, was more vexatious or provoking to the dean than the rustic
simplicity of poor Agnes's uncultured replies. He at last, in an
offended and determined manner, told her--"That if she would resign
the child, and keep the father's name a secret, not only the child
should be taken care of, but she herself might, perhaps, receive
some favours; but if she persisted in her imprudent folly, she must
expect no consideration on her own account; nor should she be
allowed, for the maintenance of the boy, a sixpence beyond the
stated sum for a poor man's unlawful offspring." Agnes, resolving
not to be separated from her infant, bowed resignation to this last
decree; and, terrified at the loud words and angry looks of the
dean, after being regularly discharged, stole to her home, where the
smiles of her infant, and the caresses she lavished on it, repaid
her for the sorrows she had just suffered for its sake.
Let it here be observed that the dean, on suffering Agnes to depart
without putting in force the law against her as he had threatened,
did nothing, as it were, BEHIND THE CURTAIN. He openly and candidly
owned, on his return to Mr. Rymer, his clerk, and the two constables
who were attending, "that an affair of some little gallantry, in
which he was extremely sorry to say his son was rather too nearly
involved, required, in consideration of his recent marriage, and an
excellent young woman's (his bride's) happiness, that what had
occurred should not be publicly talked of; therefore he had thought
proper only to reprimand the hussy, and send her about her
The curate assured the dean, "that upon this, and upon all other
occasions, which should, would, or COULD occur, he owed to his
judgment, as his superior, implicit obedience."
The clerk and the two constables most properly said, "his honour was
a gentleman, and of course must know better how to act than they."
The pleasure of a mother which Agnes experienced did not make her
insensible to the sorrow of a daughter.
Her parents had received the stranger child, along with a fabricated
tale she told "of its appertaining to another," without the smallest
suspicion; but, by the secret diligence of the curate, and the
nimble tongues of his elder daughters, the report of all that had
passed on the subject of this unfortunate infant soon circulated
through the village; and Agnes in a few weeks had seen her parents
pine away in grief and shame at her loss of virtue.
She perceived the neighbours avoid, or openly sneer at HER; but that
was little--she saw them slight her aged father and mother upon her
account; and she now took the resolution rather to perish for want
in another part of the country than live where she was known, and so
entail an infamy upon the few who loved her. She slightly hoped,
too, that by disappearing from the town and neighbourhood some
little reward might be allowed her for her banishment by the dean's
family. In that she was deceived. No sooner was she gone, indeed,
than her guilt was forgotten; but with her guilt her wants. The
dean and his family rejoiced at her and her child's departure; but
as this mode she had chosen chanced to be no specified condition in
the terms proposed to her, they did not think they were bound to pay
her for it; and while she was too fearful and bashful to solicit the
dean, and too proud (forlorn as she was) to supplicate his son, they