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

Letter LXIV


Dear madam: I have arrived in safety to the mansion of our once happy and social friends. But I cannot describe to you how changed, how greatly changed this amiable family appears since I left it. Mrs. Wharton met me at the door, and, tenderly embracing, bade me a cordial welcome. “You are come, Julia,” said she, “I hope, to revive and comfort us. We have been very solitary during your absence.” “I am happy, madam,” said I, “to return; and my endeavors to restore cheerfulness and content shall not be wanting. But where is Eliza?” By this time we had reached the back parlor, whither Mrs. Wharton led me; and, the door being open, I saw Eliza reclined on a settee, in a very thoughtful posture. When I advanced to meet her, she never moved, but sat, “like Patience on a monument, smiling at Grief.”

I stopped involuntarily, and involuntarily raising my eyes to heaven, exclaimed, “Is that Eliza Wharton?” She burst into tears, and attempted to rise, but sank again into her seat. Seeing her thus affected, I sat down by her, and, throwing my arm about her neck, “Why these tears?” said I. “Why this distress, my dear friend? Let not the return of your Julia give you pain; she comes to soothe you with the consolations of friendship.” “It is not pain,” said she, clasping me to her breast; “it is pleasure too exquisite for my weak nerves to bear. See you not, Julia, how I am altered? Should you have known me for the sprightly girl who was always welcome at the haunts of hilarity and mirth?” “Indeed,” said I, “you appear indisposed; but I will be your physician. Company and change of air will, I doubt not, restore you.” “Will these cure disorders of the mind, Julia?” “They will have a powerful tendency to remove them, if rightly applied; and I profess considerable skill in that art Come,” continued I, “we will try these medicines in the morning. Let us rise early, and step into the chaise, and, after riding a few miles, call and breakfast with Mrs. Freeman. I have some commissions from her daughter. We shall be agreeably entertained there, you know.”

Being summoned to supper, I took her by the hand, and we walked into another room, where we found her brother and his wife, with her mamma, waiting for us. We were all very chatty; even Eliza resumed, in a degree, her former sociability. A settled gloom, notwithstanding, brooded on her countenance; and a deep sigh often escaped her in spite of her evident endeavors to suppress it. She went to bed before us, when her mamma informed me that her health had been declining for some months; that she never complained, but studiously concealed every symptom of indisposition. Whether it were any real disorder of body, or whether it arose from her depression of spirits, she could not tell, but supposed they operated together, and mutually heightened each other.

I inquired after Major Sanford; whether he and Eliza had associated together during my absence. Sometimes, she said, they seemed on good terms, and he frequently called to see her; at others they had very little, if any, correspondence at all. She told me that Eliza never went abroad, and was very loath to see company at home; that her chief amusement consisted in solitary walks; that the dreadful idea of her meeting Major Sanford in these walks had now and then intruded upon her imagination; that she had not the least evidence of the fact, however, and, indeed, was afraid to make any inquiries into the matter, lest her own suspicions should be discovered; that the major’s character was worse than ever; that he was much abroad, and frequently entertained large parties of worthless bacchanalians at his house; that common report said he treated his wife with indifference, neglect, and ill nature; with many other circumstances which it is not material to relate.

Adieu, my dear friend, for the present. When occasion requires, you shall hear again from your affectionate