Hannah Webster Foster (1759–1840). The Coquette, or The History of Eliza Wharton. 1855.
She has become quite romantic in her notions. She would not permit me to accompany her, lest it should be reported that we had eloped together. I provided amply for her future exigencies, and conveyed her by night to the distance of ten or twelve miles, where we met the stage, in which I had previously secured her a seat. The agony of her grief at being thus obliged to leave her mother’s house baffles all description.
It very sensibly affected me, I know. I was almost a penitent. I am sure I acted like one, whether I were sincere or not. She chose to go where she was totally unknown. She would leave the stage, she said, before it reached Boston, and take passage in a more private carriage to Salem, or its vicinity, where she would fix her abode; chalking the initials of my name over the door, as a signal to me of her residence.
She is exceedingly depressed, and says she neither expects nor wishes to survive her lying in. Insanity, for aught I know, must be my lot if she should die. But I will not harbor the idea. I hope, one time or other, to have the power to make her amends, even by marriage. My wife may be provoked, I imagine, to sue for a divorce. If she should, she would find no difficulty in obtaining it, and then I would take Eliza in her stead; though I confess that the idea of being thus connected with a woman whom I have been enabled to dishonor, would be rather hard to surmount. It would hurt even my delicacy, little as you may think me to possess, to have a wife whom I know to be seducible. And on this account I cannot be positive that even Eliza would retain my love.
My Nancy and I have lived a pretty uncomfortable life of late. She has been very suspicious of my amour with Eliza, and now and then expressed her jealous sentiments a little more warmly than my patience would bear. But the news of Eliza’s circumstances and retirement, being publicly talked of, have reached her ears, and rendered her quite outrageous. She tells me she will no longer brook my indifference and infidelity; intends soon to return to her father’s house, and extricate herself from me entirely. My general reply to all this is, that she knew my character before we married, and could reasonably expect nothing less than what has happened. I shall not oppose her leaving me, as it may conduce to the execution of the plan I have hinted above.
To-morrow I shall set out to visit my disconsolate fair one. From my very soul I pity her, and wish I could have preserved her virtue consistently with the indulgence of my passion. To her I lay not the principal blame, as in like cases I do the sex in general. My finesse was too well planned for detection, and my snares too deeply laid for any one to escape who had the least warmth in her constitution, or affection in her heart. I shall, therefore, be the less whimsical about a future connection, and the more solicitous to make her reparation, should it ever be in my power.
Her friends are all in arms about her. I dare say I have the imprecations of the whole fraternity. They may thank themselves in part, for I always swore revenge for their dislike and coldness towards me. Had they been politic, they would have conducted more like the aborigines of the country, who are said to worship the devil out of fear.
I am afraid I shall be obliged to remove my quarters, for Eliza was so great a favorite in town that I am looked upon with an evil eye. I pleaded with her, before we parted last, to forgive my seducing her, alleged my ardent love, and my inability to possess her in any other way. “How,” said she, “can that be love which destroys its object? But granting what you say, you have frustrated your own purpose. You have deprived yourself of my society, which might have been innocently enjoyed. You have cut me off from life in the midst of my days. You have rendered me the reproach of my friends, the disgrace of my family and a dishonor to virtue and my sex. But I forgive you,” added she. “Yes, Sanford, I forgive you, and sincerely pray for your repentance and reformation. I hope to be the last wretched female sacrificed by you to the arts of falsehood and seduction. May my unhappy story serve as a beacon to warn the American fair of the dangerous tendency and destructive consequences of associating with men of your character, of destroying their time and risking their reputation by the practice of coquetry and its attendant follies. But for these I might have been honorably connected, and capable, at this moment, of diffusing and receiving happiness. But for your arts I might have remained a blessing to society, as well as the delight and comfort of my friends. You being a married man unspeakably aggravates both your guilt and mine. This circumstance annexes indelible shame to our crime. You have rent asunder the tenderest ties of nature. You have broken the bonds of conjugal love, which ought ever to be kept sacred and inviolate. You have filled with grief and discontent the heart of your amiable wife, whom gratitude, if no other principle, should have induced you to cherish with tenderness; and I, wretch that I am, have been your accomplice. But I cease to reproach you. You have acted but too consistently with the character which I was sufficiently apprised you sustained. The blame, then, may be retorted on myself, for disregarding the counsels, warnings, and admonitions of my best friends. You have prided yourself in the character of a libertine. Glory no longer in your shame. You have accomplished your designs, your dreadful designs, against me. Let this suffice. Add not to the number of those deluded creatures who will one day rise up in judgment against you and condemn you.”
By this time we had nearly reached the inn, and were soon to part. I seized her hand, and exclaimed, “You must not leave me, Eliza, with that awful anathema on your lips. O, say that you will forget my past faults.” “That,” said she, “I shall soon do; for in the grave there is no remembrance.” This, to my mind, was a harsher sentence than the other, and almost threw me into despair. Never was I so wrought upon before. I knew not what to say or do. She saw my distress, and kindly softened her manner. “If I am severe,” said she, “it is because I wish to impress your mind with such a sense of your offences against your Maker, your friends, and society in general, as may effect your repentance and amendment. I wish not to be your accuser, but your reformer. On several accounts, I view my own crime in a more aggravated light than yours; but my conscience is awakened to a conviction of my guilt. Yours, I fear, is not. Let me conjure you to return home, and endeavor, by your future kindness and fidelity to your wife, to make her all the amends in your power. By a life of virtue and religion, you may yet become a valuable member of society, and secure happiness both here and hereafter.”
I begged leave to visit her retirement next week, not in continuation of our amour, but as a friend solicitous to know her situation and welfare. Unable to speak, she only bowed assent. The stage being now ready, I whispered some tender things in her ear, and kissing her cheek, which was all she would permit, suffered her to depart.
My body remains behind; but my soul, if I have any, went with her.
This was a horrid lecture, Charles. She brought every charge against me which a fruitful and gloomy imagination could suggest. But I hope when she recovers she will resume her former cheerfulness, and become as kind and agreeable as ever. My anxiety for her safety is very great. I trust, however, it will soon be removed, and peace and pleasure be restored to your humble servant,