Volume 2, Chapter 16
Volume 2, Chapter 16
Why did these days of yet un-experienced delight pass so quickly away! Mr. Macneil, before I knew him, had determined to pass over with his family to Italy, with the intention of spending the remainder of his days there. He had a friend in the Milanese with whom he had contracted the strictest bonds of intimacy, and who had often pressed him to take up his residence in his neighborhood; he was promised that circle of female associates and acquaintance, which was denied to Mrs. Macneil in England; and this, though the admirable matron could have dispensed with it for herself without repining, he judged to be an advantage of the first importance to his daughters. Having formed a project of this sort, he had proceeded so far as to have settled to dispose of all his property in England, and to vest his fortune in lands to be purchased on the spot of his destined abode. The affairs which related to this intended transplantation had already detained the family in England longer than they wished; and I agreed to purchase the Westmorland estate, rather to facilitate the projects of my friend, than with any intention to take up my residence in this part of the island. The property was transmitted, and lodged in the hands of a banker at Genoa; and Mr. Macneil determined to take his passage by sea, from Falmouth for that city. The adventurers in this voyage were Mr. Macneil, his wife, and his two eldest daughters; the youngest was to remain, at least till the next season, upon a visit to a family, who in the winter resided in London, and during the summer upon their estate in Gloucestershire.
Every thing being prepared for the journey, the whole establishment removed from the Windermere, and set out for Falmouth, I myself, as well as the charming cadette, making part of the escort. I shall not dwell upon the particulars of a tour, stretching almost from one extremity of the kingdom to another; we reached the celebrated and commodious port from which my friends were to take their passage. Here we spent a period of seven or eight days, which was rendered so much the more interesting to me, as I knew not whether I should ever meet this amiable family again, and as it seemed to be at the mercy of the winds whether almost every hour of our intercourse should be the last.
The day after our arrival, Macneil and myself took an excursion on the sea coast and among the cliffs, to explore the beauties of this delicious country. Previously to our quitting the borders of the lakes, I had come to a more precise explanation with my friend, of the thoughts I entertained respecting his youngest daughter. The removal, which was impending, had brought on somewhat the more hastily the communication of my views. I fairly confessed that the married life was now much in my thoughts; and I owned that the eyes of Mary had perhaps contributed more to my conversion, than the arguments of her father. My friend asked me, if I had ever opened myself to her on the subject, or was informed of the state of her inclination toward me?
I owned, I had not. The subject was in itself so interesting, and was so new to my thoughts, that, whenever the impulse of confessing my partiality had presented itself to me, it had always brought with it such a palpitation of the heart, and tremulousness of voice, as had compelled me for the time to desist from my purpose. Nor could there ever, in my mind, be sufficient reason for an early declaration, except where the parties were so circumstanced, that they could not otherwise have the opportunity of a protracted intercourse, and a more minute acquaintance with each other's qualifications and temper. Was it not much more gratifying to a delicate mind, by silent attentions to steal away the soul, and to observe the gradual demonstrations of kindness in a mistress, growing up unconsciously to herself, than by an abrupt question to compel her to check or to anticipate the progress of sentiment?
Should I own the truth? Whenever I meditated the proposing of the question, I was immediately beset in two ways with the passion of fear. I feared to be refused: else why did I put the question? I also feared to be accepted: perhaps no ingenuous mind, not yet lost to a serious anticipation of the future, could be free from that fear. It was a question of so deep a stake, to both the parties to whom it related! The man who was about to form it, could scarcely help recollecting on the verge, Now I am free; I am master of my own actions and of my plans of life: before the clock shall strike again, it may be I shall be bound by the sacred ties of honor, and the fate of my future life will be at the disposal of another! The season of courtship is, at least to the man who has outlived the first heyday of his boiling blood, a season of probation; it is the business of either party to study the other, and in each interview distinctly to inquire, "Is this the person with whom I ought to embark in the voyage of life? Every species of promise, express or implicit, ought to be kept back, that he may preserve, as long as possible, the healthful and genuine character of the scene in which he is engaged.
"Farewel," said Macneil in the close of the interesting conversation in which we were engaged. "I leave my daughter behind me; and I may say, I leave her in your protection. The family with which she is to spend the winter are very good sort of people; but they are people of fashion, and without hearts. No man knows any thing amiss of them; they are correct in their methods of acting, and punctual in their payments; I feel satisfied that nothing amiss can happen to my daughter, while she is an inmate of their house. But it is to your sentiments, as a man of worth and honor, that I confide her. I believe, she approves of you; I think she will accept of your tender, if you shall judge proper to make it. In this, it is of course as much your desire, as it is mine, that she should be free. Fleetwood, it is a very deep and solemn confidence that I repose in you. If you marry my daughter, you must be to her, father, and mother, and sisters, and all the world in one. If you are unjust to her, she will have no one to whom to appeal. If you are capricious, and rigorous, and unreasonable, she will be your prisoner!"
This pathetic appeal from the father of her I loved, suddenly filled my eyes with a gush of tears. I eagerly pressed his hand. "Macneil," said I, "I will never be unjust to your daughter; she shall never find me capricious, or rigorous, or unreasonable. I swear to you, that I will be such a husband, as the most tender of fathers would choose for his daughter!" — It will be seen how I kept my oath.
After the interval of a few days we parted. I will not repeat here what Mrs. Macneil said to me concerning her child, as that would be to go over again in substance what had been already said by the father. This accomplished woman never appeared so amiable to me as during our short residence at Falmouth. She had as much right, perhaps more, than her husband, to urge upon me the justice I should owe to the lovely Mary. Never had any mother more affectionately or more diligently discharged the duties of a parent; never was mother more amply qualified to discharge them.
I, and Mary, and one of the daughters of the family with whom Mary was invited to visit, attended the rest of the party in a boat, to the side of the vessel in which they embarked for Genoa. We went with them on board the ship, and spent still two hours more in their company. Never was a family so equally or so strongly inspired with love for each other, as the group before me.
"Why am I not going with you?" said Mary.
"Do not talk of that," replied the mother; "we shall else never be able to leave you behind."
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