Hannah Webster Foster (1759–1840). The Coquette, or The History of Eliza Wharton. 1855.
She went, as she told me she expected, into the garden, and met her detestable paramour. In about an hour she returned, and went directly to her chamber. At one o’clock I went up, and found her writing, and weeping. I begged her to compose herself, and go down to dinner. No, she said, she should not eat; and was not fit to appear before any body. I remonstrated against her immoderate grief, represented the injury she must sustain by the indulgence of it, and conjured her to suppress the violence of its emotions.
She entreated me to excuse her to her mamma; said she was writing to her, and found it a task too painful to be performed with any degree of composure; that she was almost ready to sink under the weight of her affliction; but hoped and prayed for support both in this and another trying scene which awaited her. In compliance with her desire, I now left her, and told her mamma that she was very busy writing, wished not to be interrupted at present, but would take some refreshment an hour or two hence. I visited her again about four o’clock; when she appeared more calm and tranquil.
“It is finished,” said she, as I entered her apartment; “it is finished.” “What,” said I, “is finished?” “No matter,” replied she; “you will know all to-morrow, Julia.” She complained of excessive fatigue, and expressed an inclination to lie down; in which I assisted her, and then retired. Some time after, her mamma went up, and found her still on the bed. She rose, however, and accompanied her down stairs. I met her at the door of the parlor, and, taking her by the hand, inquired how she did. “O Julia, miserably indeed,” said she. “How severely does my mother’s kindness reproach me! How insupportably it increases my self-condemnation!” She wept; she rung her hands, and walked the room in the greatest agony. Mrs. Wharton was exceedingly distressed by her appearance. “Tell me, Eliza,” said she, “tell me the cause of your trouble. O, kill me not by your mysterious concealment. My dear child, let me by sharing alleviate your affliction.” “Ask me not, madam,” said she; “O my mother, I conjure you not to insist on my divulging to-night the fatal secret which engrosses and distracts my mind; to-morrow I will hide nothing from you.” “I will press you no further,” rejoined her mamma. “Choose your own time, my dear; but remember, I must participate your grief, though I know not the cause.”
Supper was brought in, and we endeavored to prevail on Eliza to eat, but in vain. She sat down in compliance with our united importunities; but neither of us tasted food. It was removed untouched. For a while, Mrs. Wharton and I gazed in silent anguish upon the spectacle of woe before us. At length Eliza rose to retire. “Julia,” said she, “you will call at my chamber as you pass to your own?” I assented. She then approached her mamma, fell upon her knees before her, and clasping her hand, said, in broken accents, “O madam, can you forgive a wretch, who has forfeited your love, your kindness, and your compassion?” “Surely, Eliza,” said she, “you are not that being! No, it is impossible! But however great your transgression, be assured of my forgiveness, my compassion, and my continued love.” Saying this, she threw her arms about her daughter’s neck, and affectionately kissed her. Eliza struggled from her embrace, and looking at her with wild despair, exclaimed, “This is too much! O, this unmerited goodness is more than I can bear!” She then rushed precipitately out of the room, and left us overwhelmed in sympathy and astonishment.
When Mrs. Wharton had recovered herself a little, she observed that Eliza’s brain was evidently disordered. “Nothing else,” continued she, “could impel her to act in this extraordinary manner.” At first she was resolved to follow her; but I dissuaded her from it, alleging that, as she had desired me to come into her chamber, I thought it better for me to go alone. She acquiesced, but said she should not think of going to bed, but would, however, retire to her chamber, and seek consolation there. I bade her good night, and went up to Eliza, who took me by the hand, and led me to the toilet, upon which she laid the two enclosed letters, the one to her mamma, and the other to me. “These,” said she, “contain what I had not resolution to express. Promise me, Julia, that they shall not be opened till to-morrow morning.” “I will,” said I. “I have thought and wept,” continued she, “till I have almost exhausted my strength and my reason. I would now obtain a little respite, that I may prepare my mind for the account I am one day to give at a higher tribunal than that of earthly friends. For this purpose, what I have written, and what I shall yet say to you, must close the account between you and me.” “I have certainly no balance against you,” said I. “In my breast you are fully acquitted. Your penitential tears have obliterated your guilt and blotted out your errors with your Julia. Henceforth, be they all forgotten. Live, and be happy.” “Talk not,” said she, “of life; it would be a vain hope, though I cherished it myself.
At this intelligence she gave a shriek, and fell back on her bed. I alarmed the family, and by their assistance soon recovered her. She desired me to inform her of every particular relative to her elopement, which I did, and then delivered her the letter which Eliza had left for her. “I suspect,” said she, as she took it; “I have long suspected what I dared not believe. The anguish of my mind has been known only to myself and my God.” I could not answer her, and therefore withdrew. When I had read Eliza’s letter to me, and wept over the sad fall, and, as I fear, the total loss of this once amiable and accomplished girl, I returned to Mrs. Wharton. She was sitting in her easy chair, and still held the fatal letter in her hand. When I entered, she fixed her streaming eyes upon me, and exclaimed, “O Julia, this is more than the bitterness of death.” “True, madam,” said I, “your affliction must be great; yet that all-gracious Being who controls every event is able, and I trust disposed, to support you.” “To him,” replied she, “I desire humbly to resign myself; but I think I could have borne almost any other calamity with greater resignation and composure than this. With how much comparative ease could I have followed her to the grave at any period since her birth! O, my child, my child! dear, very dear, hast thou been to my fond heart. Little did I think it possible for you to prepare so dreadful a cup of sorrow for your widowed mother. But where,” continued she, “where can the poor fugitive have fled? Where can she find that protection and tenderness, which, notwithstanding her great apostasy, I should never have withheld? From whom can she receive those kind attentions which her situation demands.”
The agitation of her mind had exhausted her strength, and I prevailed on her to refresh and endeavor to compose herself to rest, assuring her of my utmost exertions to find out Eliza’s retreat, and restore her to a mother’s arms.
I am obliged to suppress my own emotions, and to bend all my thoughts towards the alleviation of Mrs. Wharton’s anxiety and grief.
Major Sanford is from home, as I expected; and I am determined, if he return, to see him myself, and extort from him the place of Eliza’s concealment. Her flight in her present state of health is inexpressibly distressing to her mother; and unless we find her soon, I dread the effects.
I shall not close this till I have seen or heard from the vile miscreant who has involved a worthy family in wretchedness.
Friday morning.—Two days have elapsed without affording us much relief. Last evening, I was told that Major Sanford was at home. I immediately wrote him a billet, entreating and conjuring him to let me know where the hapless Eliza had fled. He returned me the following answer:—
“Miss Granby need be under no apprehensions respecting the situation of our beloved Eliza. She is well provided for, conveniently accommodated, and has every thing to make her happy which love and affluence can give.
“Major Sanford has solemnly sworn not to discover her retreat. She wishes to avoid the accusations of her friends till she is better able to bear them.
“Her mother may rest assured of immediate information, should any danger threaten her amiable daughter; and also of having seasonable notice of her safety.”
Although little dependence can be placed upon this man, yet these assurances have, in a great degree, calmed our minds. We are, however, contriving means to explore the refuge of the wanderer, and hope, by tracing his steps, to accomplish our purpose. This we have engaged a friend to do.
I know, my dear Mrs. Sumner, the kind interest you will take in this disastrous affair. I tremble to think what the event may be. To relieve your suspense, however, I shall write you every circumstance as it occurs; but at present, I shall only enclose Eliza’s letters to her mamma and me, and subscribe myself your sincere and obliged friend,