Imágenes de páginas

a soldier; not doubting but that, by his military merit and the fortune of war, he should return a general officer, to the confusion of those who would have buried him in the obscurity of a compting-house. He found means effectually to elude the inquiries of his friends, and it was of the utmost importance to prevent their officious endeavours to ruin his project and obstruct his advancement.

He was sent with other recruits to London, and soon after quartered with the rest of his company in a part of the country, which was so remote from all with whom he had any connection, that he no longer dreaded a difcovery

It happened that he went one day to the house of a neighbouring gentleman with his comrade, who was become acquainted with the chambermaid, and by her interest admitted into the kitchen. This gentleman, whose age was something more than fixty, had been about two years married to a second wife, a young woman who had been well educated, and lived in the polite world, but had no fortune. By his first wife, who had been dead about ten years, he had several children; the youngest was a daughter, who had just entered her seventeenth year; she was very tall for her age, had a fine complexion, good features, and was well shaped; but her father, whose affection for her was mere instinct, as much as that of a brute for its young, utterly neglected her education. It was impoffible for him, he said, to live without her; and as he could not afford to have her attended by a governess and proper masters in a place fo remote from London, she was suffered to continue illiterate and unpolished; Dhe knew no entertainment higher than a game at romps with the servants; she became their confidant, and trusted them in return; nor did she think herself happy any where but in the kitchen.

As the capricious fondness of her father had never conciliated her affection, the perceived it abate upon his marriage without regret. She suffered no new re


straint from her new mother, who observed, with a fecret fatisfaction, that Miss had been used to hide herself from visitors, as neither knowing how to behave nor being fit to be seen, and chose rather to conceal her defects by excluding her from company, than to supply them by putting her to a boarding-school.

Mifs, who had been told by Betty that she expected her sweetheart, and that they were to be merry, stole down stairs, and, without any scruple, made one in a party at blindman's buff. The foldier of fortune was Itruck with her perfon, and discovered, or thought he discovered, in the fimplicity of nature, fome graces which are polished away by the labour of art. However, nothing that had the appearance of an adventure could be indifferent to him; and his vanity, was flattered by the hope of carrying off a young lady under the disguise of a common foldier, without revealing his birth, or boasting of his expectations.

In this attempt he became very afsiduous, and fucceeded. The company being ordered to another place, Betty and her young mistress departed early in the morning with their gallants; and there being a privileged chapel in the next town, they were married.

The old gentleman, as soon as he was informed that his daughter was missing, made fo diligent and fcrupulous an inquiry after her, that he learned with whom and which way she was gone: he mounted his horse, and pursued her, not without curses and imprecations; discovering rather the transports of rage than the emotions of tenderness, and resenting her offence rather as the rebellion of a slave than the disobedience of a child. He did not, however, overtake them till the marriage had been confummated; of which, when he was informed by the husband, he turned from him with expressions of brutality and indignation, swearing never to forgive a fault which he had taken no care to prevent.

The young couple, notwithstanding their union frequently doubled their distress, still continued fond of each other. The spirit of enterprize and the hope of


presumption presumption were' not yet quelled in the young' foldier'; and he received orders to attend King William, when he went to the fiege of Namur, with exultation and transport, believing his elevation to independence and distinction as certain as if he had been going to take poffesfion of a title and estate. His wife, who had been some months pregnant, as she had no means of subfiftence in his absence, procured a passage with him When she came on shore and mingled with the crowd that followed the camp, (wretches who, without com punction, wade in human blood to strip the dying and the dead, to whom horror is become familiar and compassion imposlible) she was terrified; the discourse of the women, rude and unpolished as the was, covered her with confufion; and the brutal familiarity of the men filled her with indignation and difguft; her maid Betty, who had also attended her husband, was the only person with whom she could converse, and from whom she could hope the assistance of which she was so foon to stand in need.

In the mean time she found it difficult to fubfift; but accidentally hearing the name of an officer, whom she remembered to have visited her mother foon after her marriage, the applied to him, told him her name, and requested that he would afford her his protection, and permit her to take care of his linen. With this request the captain complied; her circumstances became less distressed, and her mind more easy: but new calamity suddenly overtook her; she faw her husband march to an engagement in the morning, and saw him brought back desperately wounded at night. The next day he was removed in a waggon with many others who were in the same condition, to a place of greater safety, where proper care might be taken of their wounds. She intreated the captain to let her go in the waggon with him; but to this he could not consent, because the waggon would be filled with those who neither were able to walk, nor could be left behind. He promised, however, that if she would stay till the


[ocr errors]

next day, he would endeavour to procure her a passage ; but the chose rather to follow the waggon on foot, than to be absent from her husband. She could not, however, keep pace with it, and she reached the hospital but jaft time enough to kneel down by him upon some clean straw, to see him fink under the last agony, and hear the

groan that is repeated no more. The fatigue of the journey, and the perturbation of her mind, immediately threw her into labour, and she lived but to be delivered of Melifla, who was thus, in the most helpless state, left without father, mother, or friend, in a foreign country, in circumstances which could afford no hope of reward to the tenderness that should attempt the preservation of her life, and among persons who were become obdurate and insensible, by having been long used to see every species of distrefs.

It happened that, among those whom accident or distress had brought together at the birth of Meliffa, there was a young woman, whose husband had fallen in the late engagement, and who a few days before had lost a little boy that the fuckled. This person, rather perhaps to relieve herself from an inconveniency, than in compassion to the orphan, put it to her breast: but whatever was her motive, she believed that the affording fuftenance to the living conferred a right to the apparel of the dead, of which the therefore took poffeffion; but in searching her pocket she found only a thimble, the remains of a pocket looking-glass, about the value of a penny in Dutch money, and the certificate of her marriage. The paper, which she could not read, the afterwards gave to the captain, who was touched with pity at the relation which an inquiry after his laundress produced. He commended the woman who had preserved the infant, and put her into the place of its mother. This encouraged her to continue her care of it till the captain returned to England, with whom the also returned, and became his fervant.

This gentleman, as soon as he had settled his immediate concerns, fent Melissa, under the care of her


R 3

purse, to her grandfather; and inclosed the certificate of her mother's marriage in a letter containing an account of her death, and the means by which the infant had been preserved. He knew that those who had been once dear to us, by whatever offence they may have alienated. qur affection when living, are generally remembered with tenderness when dead; and that after the grave has fheltered them from our refentment, and rendered reconciliation impoflible, we often regret as fevere that conduct which before we approved as just; he, therefore, hoped, that the parental fondness which an old man had once felt for his daughter, would rèvive at the fight of her offspring ; that the memory of her fault would be loft in the sense of her misfortunes; and that he would endeavour to atone for that inexorable resentment which produced them, by cherifhing a life to which she had, as it were, transferred her own. But in these expectations, however reasonable, he was mittaken. The old man, when he was informed by the messenger that the child she held in her arms was his grand-daughter, whom fhe was come to put under his protection, refufed to examine the contents of the letter, and dismissed her with menaces and insult. The knowledge of every uncommon event foon becomes general in a country town. An uncle of Meliffa's, who had been rejected by his father for having married his maid, heard this fresh instance of his brutality with grief and indignation; he sent immediately for the child and the letter, and affured the fervant that his niece fhould want nothing which he could bestow; to bestow much, indeed, was not in his power, for his father han ving obftinately perfifted in his refentment, his whole support was a little farm which he rented of the fquire; but as he was a good economist, and had no children of his own, he lived decently; nor did he throw away content, becaufe his father had denied him afluence.

Meliffa, who was compassionated for her mother's misfortunes, of which her uncle had been particularly informed by her maid Betty, who had returned a wi


« AnteriorContinuar »