Hannah Webster Foster (1759–1840). The Coquette, or The History of Eliza Wharton. 1855.

Letter LV


A new scene has opened upon us to-day, my dear Mrs. Sumner—a visit from Major Sanford. My mamma, Miss Granby, and myself were sitting together in the chamber. Miss Granby was entertaining us by reading aloud in Millot’s Elements of History, when a servant rapped at the door, and handed in the following billet:—

“Will Miss Wharton condescend to converse a few moments with her once-favored Sanford? He is but too sensible that he has forfeited all claim to the privilege. He therefore presumes not to request it on the score of merit, nor of former acquaintance, but solicits it from her benevolence and pity.”

I read and showed it to my mamma and Julia. “What,” said I, “shall I do? I wish not to see him. His artifice has destroyed my peace of mind, and his presence may open the wounds which time is closing.” “Act,” said my mamma, “agreeably to the dictates of your own judgment.” “I see no harm in conversing with him,” said Julia. “Perhaps it may remove some disagreeable thoughts which now oppress and give you pain. And as he is no longer a candidate for your affections,” added she with a smile, “it will be less hazardous than formerly. He will not have the insolence to speak, nor you the folly to hear, the language of love.”

He was accordingly invited in. When I rose to go down, I hesitated, and even trembled. “I fear,” said I to myself, “it will be too much for me; yet why should it? Conscious innocence will support me. This he has not.” When I entered the room he stepped forward to meet me. Confusion and shame were visibly depicted in his countenance. He approached me hastily and without uttering a word, took my hand. I withdrew it. “O Miss Wharton,” said he, “despise me not. I am convinced that I deserve your displeasure and disdain; but my own heart has avenged your cause.” “To your own heart, then,” said I, “I will leave you. But why do you again seek an interview with one whom you have endeavored to mislead—with one whom you have treated with unmerited neglect?” “Justice to myself required my appearing before you, that, by confessing my faults and obtaining your forgiveness, I might soften the reproaches of my own mind.” “Will you be seated, sir?” said I. “Will you,” rejoined he, “condescend to sit with me, Eliza?” “I will, sir,” answered I “The rights of hospitality I shall not infringe. In my own house, therefore, I shall treat you with civility.” “Indeed,” said he, “you are very severe; but I have provoked all the coldness and reserve which you can inflict.

“I am a married man, Eliza.” “So I understand,” said I; “and I hope you will never treat your wife with that dissimulation and falsehood which you have exercised towards me.” “Would to Heaven,” exclaimed he, “that you were my wife. I should not, then, fail in my love or duty as a husband; yet she is an amiable girl, and, had I a heart to give her, I might still be happy; but that, alas! I can never recall.” “Why, then,” said I, “did you marry her? You were, doubtless, master of your own actions.” “No,” said he, “I was not. The embarrassed state of my affairs precluded the possibility of acting as I wished. Loving you most ardently, I was anxious to prevent your union with another, till I could so far improve my circumstances as to secure you from poverty and want in a connection with me. My regard was too sincere to permit me to deceive you by a marriage which might have proved unhappy for us both. My pride forbade my telling you the motives of my delay; and I left you to see if I could place myself in a situation worthy of your acceptance. This I could not effect, and, therefore, have run the risk of my future happiness by marrying a lady of affluence. This secures to me the externals of enjoyment, but my heart, I fear, will never participate it; yet it affords me some degree of satisfaction that I have not involved you in distress. The only alleviation of which my banishment from you is capable, is your forgiveness. In compassion, then, refuse it not. It cannot injure you. To me it will be worth millions.” He wept. Yes, Lucy, this libertine, this man of pleasure and gallantly, wept. I really pitied him from my heart. “I forgive you,” said I, “and wish you happy; yet on this condition only, that you never again pollute my ears with the recital of your infamous passion. Yes, infamous I call it; for what softer appellation can be given to such professions from a married man? Harbor not an idea of me, in future, inconsistent with the love and fidelity which you owe your wife; much less presume to mention it, if you wish not to be detested by me, and forever banished from my presence.” He expressed gratitude for his absolution, even upon these terms, and hoped his future conduct would entitle him to my friendship and esteem. “That,” I replied, “time only can determine.”

One favor more he begged leave to solicit; which was, that I would be a neighbor to his wife. “She was a stranger,” he said, “and would deem my society a particular privilege.” This, I told him, I could not grant at present, whatever I might do hereafter. He did not urge it any further, but inquired after my mamma, and expressed a wish to see her. I rang the bell, and ordered her and Miss Granby to be called. When they came he was very polite to them both, and, after usual compliments, told my mamma that he was happy in having obtained my forgiveness, to which he was anxious to have her seal affixed. “My daughter,” said she, “is the injured party; and if she be satisfied, I shall not complain.” He thanked her for her condescension, informed her that he was married, and requested her to visit his wife. We then conversed upon different subjects for a short time, and he took his leave. A sigh escaped him as he departed, and a gloom was visible in his countenance which I never observed before.

I must acknowledge that this interview has given me satisfaction. I have often told you, that if I married Major Sanford, it would be from a predilection for his situation in life. How wretched must have been my lot, had I discovered, too late, that he was by no means possessed of the independence which I fondly anticipated! I knew not my own heart, when I contemplated a connection with him. Little did I think that my regard for Mr. Boyer was so deeply rooted as I now find it. I foolishly imagined that I could turn my affections into what channel I pleased. What, then, must have been my feelings, when I found myself deprived both of inward peace and outward enjoyment! I begin now to emerge from the darkness in which I have been long benighted. I hope the tragic comedy, in which I have acted so conspicuous a part, will come to a happy end.

Julia and I talk, now and then, of a journey to Boston. As yet, I have not resolution to act with much decision upon the subject; but, wherever I am, and whatever may be my fate, I shall always be yours in truth,