Henry Fielding. (17071754). The History of Tom Jones.
The Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction. 1917.
Book XIII. Containing the Space of Twelve Days
IX. Which Treats of Matters of a Very Different Kind from Those in the Preceding Chapter
IN the evening Jones met his lady again, and a long conversation again ensued between them: but as it consisted only of the same ordinary occurrences as before, we shall avoid mentioning particulars, which we despair of rendering agreeable to the reader; unless he is one whose devotion to the fair sex, like that of the papists to their saints, wants to be raised by the help of pictures. But I am so far from desiring to exhibit such pictures to the public, that I would wish to draw a curtain over those that have been lately set forth in certain French novels; very bungling copies of which have been presented us here under the name of translations.
Jones grew still more and more impatient to see Sophia; and finding, after repeated interviews with Lady Bellaston, no likelihood of obtaining this by her means (for, on the contrary, the lady began to treat even the mention of the name of Sophia with resentment), he resolved to try some other method. He made no doubt but that Lady Bellaston knew where his angel was, so he thought it most likely that some of her servants should be acquainted with the same secret. Partridge therefore was employed to get acquainted with those servants, in order to fish this secret out of them.
Few situations can be imagined more uneasy than that to which his poor master was at present reduced; for besides the difficulties he met with in discovering Sophia, besides the fears he had of having disobliged her, and the assurances he had received from Lady Bellaston of the resolution which Sophia had taken against him, and of her having purposely concealed herself from him, which he had sufficient reason to believe might be true; he had still a difficulty to combat which it was not in the power of his mistress to remove, however kind her inclination might have been. This was the exposing of her to be disinherited of all her fathers estate, the almost inevitable consequence of their coming together without a consent, which he had no hopes of ever obtaining.
Add to all these the many obligations which Lady Bellaston, whose violent fondness we can no longer conceal, had heaped upon him; so that by her means he was now become one of the best-dressed men about town; and was not only relieved from those ridiculous distresses we have before mentioned, but was actually raised to a state of affluence beyond what he had ever known.
Now, though there are many gentlemen who very well reconcile it to their conscience to possess themselves of the whole fortune of a woman, without making her any kind of return; yet to a mind, the proprietor of which doth not deserve to be hanged, nothing is, I believe, more irksome than to support love with gratitude only; especially where inclination pulls the heart a contrary way. Such was the unhappy case of Jones; for though the virtuous love he bore to Sophia, and which left very little affection for any other woman, had been entirely out of the question, he could never have been able to have made any adequate return to the generous passion of this lady, who had indeed been once an object of desire, but was now entered at least into the autumn of life, though she wore all the gaiety of youth, both in her dress and manner; nay, she contrived still to maintain the roses in her cheeks; but these, like flowers forced out of season by art, had none of that lively blooming freshness with which Nature, at the proper time, bedecks her own productions. She had, besides, a certain imperfection, which renders some flowers, though very beautiful to the eye, very improper to be placed in a wilderness of sweets, and what above all others is most disagreeable to the breath of love.
Though Jones saw all these discouragements on the one side, he felt his obligations full as strongly on the other; nor did he less plainly discern the ardent passion whence those obligations proceeded, the extreme violence of which if he failed to equal, he well knew the lady would think him ungrateful; and, what is worse, he would have thought himself so. He knew the tacit consideration upon which all her favours were conferred; and as his necessity obliged him to accept them, so his honour, he concluded, forced him to pay the price. This therefore he resolved to do, whatever misery it cost him, and to devote himself to her, from that great principle of justice, by which the laws of some countries oblige a debtor, who is no otherwise capable of discharging his debt, to become the slave of his creditor.
While he was meditating on these matters, he received the following note from the lady:
A very foolish, but a very perverse accident hath happened since our last meeting, which makes it improper I should see you any more at the usual place. I will, if possible, contrive some other place by to-morrow. In the meantime, adieu.
This disappointment, perhaps, the reader may conclude was not very great; but if it was, he was quickly relieved; for in less than an hour afterwards another note was brought him from the same hand, which contained as follows:
I have altered my mind since I wrote; a change which, if you are no stranger to the tenderest of all passions, you will not wonder at. I am now resolved to see you this evening at my own house, whatever may be the consequence. Come to me exactly at seven; I dine abroad, but will be at home by that time. A day, I find, to those that sincerely love, seems longer than I imagined.
If you should accidentally be a few moments before me, bid them show you into the drawing-room.
To confess the truth, Jones was less pleased with this last epistle than he had been with the former, as he was prevented by it from complying with the earnest entreaties of Mr. Nightingale, with whom he had now contracted much intimacy and friendship. These entreaties were to go with that young gentleman and his company to a new play, which was to be acted that evening, and which a very large party had agreed to damn, from some dislike they had taken to the author, who was a friend to one of Mr. Nightingales acquaintance. And this sort of fun, our heroe, we are ashamed to confess, would willingly have preferred to the above kind appointment; but his honour got the better of his inclination.
Before we attend him to this intended interview with the lady, we think proper to account for both the preceding notes, as the reader may possibly be not a little surprized at the imprudence of Lady Bellaston, in bringing her lover to the very house where her rival was lodged.
First, then, the mistress of the house where these lovers had hitherto met, and who had been for some years a pensioner to that lady, was now become a methodist, and had that very morning waited upon her ladyship, and after rebuking her very severely for her past life, had positively declared that she would, on no account, be instrumental in carrying on any of her affairs for the future.
The hurry of spirits into which this accident threw the lady made her despair of possibly finding any other convenience to meet Jones that evening; but as she began a little to recover from her uneasiness at the disappointment, she set her thoughts to work, when luckily it came into her head to propose to Sophia to go to the play, which was immediately consented to, and a proper lady provided for her companion. Mrs. Honour was likewise despatched with Mrs. Etoff on the same errand of pleasure; and thus her own house was left free for the safe reception of Mr. Jones, with whom she promised herself two or three hours of uninterrupted conversation after her return from the place where she dined, which was at a friends house in a pretty distant part of the town, near her old place of assignation, where she had engaged herself before she was well apprized of the revolution that had happened in the mind and morals of her late confidante.