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

Letter LX


Dear madam: Agreeably to your desire every art has been tried, every allurement held out, every argument used, and every plan adopted, which Mrs. Wharton and I could devise to induce Eliza to accompany me to Boston; but all in vain. Sometimes she has been almost persuaded to a compliance with our united request, but soon has resolutely determined against it. I have observed her sentiments to be suddenly changed after being in company with Major Sanford. This alarms us exceedingly. Indeed, the major seems to have insinuated himself into her good opinion more than ever. She is flattered into the belief that his attention to her is purely the result of friendship and benevolence.

I have not so favorable an opinion of the man as to suppose him capable of either. He has become very familiar here. He calls in almost every day. Sometimes he but just inquires after our health, and sometimes makes long visits. The latter is his invariable practice when he finds Eliza alone. Mrs. Wharton always avoids seeing him if she can. She dreads, she says, his approaching the house.

I entered the parlor the other day, somewhat suddenly, and found him sitting very near Eliza, in a low conversation. They both rose in apparent confusion, and he soon retired.

When he was gone, “I suspect,” said I, “that the major was whispering a tale of love, Eliza.” “Do you imagine,” said she, “that I would listen to such a theme from a married man?” “I hope not,” said I, “but his conduct towards you indicates a revival of his former sentiments, at least.” “I was not aware of that,” said she. “As yet I have observed nothing in his behavior to me inconsistent with the purest friendship.”

We drank tea not long since at Mr. Smith’s. Late in the afternoon Major Sanford made his appearance, to apologize, as he said, for Mrs. Sanford, who was indisposed, and could not enjoy the pleasure of the visit she had contemplated. He was very gay the whole evening; and when the company separated, he was the first to present his arm to Eliza, who accepted it without hesitation. A Mr. Newhall attended me, and we endeavored to keep them company; but they evidently chose to walk by themselves. Mr. Newhall observed, that if Major Sanford were not married he should suspect he still intended a union with Miss Wharton. I replied, that their former intercourse, having terminated in friendship, rendered them more familiar with each other than with the generality of their acquaintance.

When we reached the house, Mr. Newhall chose not to go in, and took his leave. I waited at the door for Eliza and Major Sanford. At some little distance, I saw him press her hand to his lips. It vexed me exceedingly; and no sooner had they come up, than I sullenly bade them good night, and walked directly in. Eliza soon followed me. I sat down by the fire in a thoughtful posture. She did the same. In this situation we both remained for some time without speaking a word. At length she said, “You seem not to have enjoyed your walk, Miss Granby: did you not like your gallant?” “Yes,” said I, “very well; but I am mortified that you were not better provided for.” “I make no complaint,” rejoined she; “I was very well entertained.” “That is what displeases me,” said I; “I mean your visible fondness for the society of such a man. Were you averse to it, as you ought to be, there would be no danger. But he has an alluring tongue and a treacherous heart. How can you be pleased and entertained by his conversation? To me it appears totally repugnant to that refinement and delicacy for which you have always been esteemed.

“His assiduity and obtrusion ought to alarm you. You well know what his character has been. Marriage has not changed his disposition. It is only a cloak which conceals it. Trust him not, then, my dear Eliza; if you do, depend upon it you will find his professions of friendship to be mere hypocrisy and deceit. I fear that he is acting over again the same unworthy arts which formerly misled you. Beware of his wiles. Your friends are anxious for you. They tremble at your professed regard and apparent intimacy with that unprincipled man.” “My friends,” said she, “are very jealous of me lately. I know not how I have forfeited their confidence, or incurred their suspicion.” “By encouraging that attention,” I warmly replied, “and receiving those caresses, from a married man which are due from him to none but his wife. He is a villain if he deceived her into marriage by insincere professions of love. If he had then an affection for her, and has already discarded it, he is equally guilty. Can you expect sincerity from the man who withholds it from an amiable and deserving wife? No, Eliza; it is not love which induces him to entertain you with the subject. It is a baser passion; and if you disdain not his artifice, if you listen to his flattery, you will, I fear, fall a victim to his evil machinations. If he conducted like a man of honor, he would merit your esteem; but his behavior is quite the reverse: yet, vile as he is, he would not dare to lisp his insolent hopes of your regard if you punished his presumption with the indignation it deserves; if you spurned from your presence the ungrateful wretch who would requite your condescension by triumphing in your ruin.”

She now burst into tears, and begged me to drop the subject. Her mind, she said, was racked by her own reflections. She could bear but little. Kindness deceived, and censure distressed her.

I assured her of my good intentions; that, as I saw her danger, I thought it a duty of the friendship and affection I bore her solemnly to warn her against it before we parted. We talked over the matter more calmly, till she professed herself resolved in future to avoid his company, and reject his insinuations.

The next day, as I walked out, I met Major Sanford. He accosted me very civilly. I barely bade him good morning, and passed on.

I made it in my way to call at his house, and bid Mrs. Sanford adieu; not expecting another opportunity equally favorable. When I entered the parlor, she was playing a melancholy air on the harpsichord. She rose, and gave me a polite and graceful reception. I told her, as I was soon to leave the town, I called to take my leave of her—a compliment which her attention to me required. “Are you going to leave us then, Miss Granby?” said she. “I shall regret your departure exceedingly. I have so few friends in this part of the country, that it will give me sensible pain to part with one I so highly value.”

I told her, in the course of conversation, that I expected the pleasure of seeing her yesterday at Mr. Smith’s, and was very sorry for the indisposition which prevented her favoring us with her company. “Indeed,” said she, “I did not know I was expected there. Were you there, pray?” “Yes,” said I; “and Major Sanford excused your not coming, on the account I have mentioned.” “Well,” said she, “this is the first word that I ever heard about it; he told me that business led him abroad. Did he gallant any lady?” “O,” said I, “he was with us all together. We had no particular gallants.”

Seeing her curiosity excited, I heartily repented saying any thing of the matter, and waived the subject. Little did I suspect him to have been guilty of so base an artifice. It was evidently contrived to facilitate an interview with Eliza.

When I returned, I related this affair to Mrs. Wharton and her daughter. The old lady and I expatiated largely on the vileness of this conduct, and endeavored to expose it to Eliza’s view in its true colors. She pretended not to justify it; yet she looked as if she wished it in her power.

I am now preparing for my journey to Boston, which I must, however, defer another week for the sake of a more agreeable passage in the stage. I regret leaving Eliza. I tremble at her danger. She has not the resolution to resist temptation which she once possessed. Her mind is surprisingly weakened. She appears sensible of this, yet adds to it by yielding to her own imbecility. You will receive a letter from her with this, though I had much difficulty to persuade her to write. She has unfortunately become very averse to this, her once favorite amusement.

As I shall soon have the pleasure of conversing with you personally, I conclude without any other addition to this scrawl than the name of your obliged