Susanna Haswell Rowson (17621824). Charlotte Temple: A Tale of Truth. 1905.
IT was with the utmost difficulty that the united efforts of mademoiselle and Montraville could support Charlottes spirits during their short ride from Chichester1 to Portsmouth, where a boat waited to take them immediately on board the ship in which they were to embark for America.
As soon as she became tolerably composed, she entreated pen and ink to write to her parents. This she did in the most affecting, artless manner, entreating their pardon and blessing, and describing the dreadful situation of her mind, the conflict she suffered in endeavoring to conquer this unfortunate attachment, and concluded with saying her only hope of future comfort consisted in the (perhaps delusive) idea she indulged, of being once more folded in their protecting arms, and hearing the words of peace and pardon from their lips.
The tears streamed incessantly while she was writing, and she was frequently obliged to lay down her pen: but when the task was completed, and she had committed the letter to the care of Montraville, to be sent to the postoffice, she became more calm, and indulging the delightful hope of soon receiving an answer that would seal her pardon, she in some measure assumed her usual cheerfulness.
But Montraville knew too well the consequences that must unavoidably ensue should this letter reach Mr. Temple: he, therefore, wisely resolved to walk on the deck, tear it in pieces, and commit the fragments to the care of Neptune, who might or might not, as it suited his convenience, convey them on shore.
All Charlottes hopes and wishes were now concentered in one, namely, that the fleet might be detained at Spithead till she could receive a letter from her friends; but in this she was disappointed, for the second morning after she went on board the signal was made, the fleet2 weighed anchor, and in a few hours (the wind being favorable) they bid [sic] adieu to the white cliffs of Albion.
In the meantime every enquiry that could be thought of was made by Mr. and Mrs. Temple; for many days did they indulge the fond hope that she was merely gone off to be married, and that when the indissoluble knot was once tied, she would return with the partner she had chosen and entreat their blessing and forgiveness.
Forgive her! exclaimed the mother. Oh! yes; whatever be our [sic] errors, is she not our child? And tho bowed to the earth even with shame and remorse, is it not our duty to raise the poor penitent and whisper peace and comfort to her desponding soul? would she but return, with rapture would I fold her to my heart and bury every remembrance of her faults in the dear embrace.
But still, day after day passed on and Charlotte did not appear, nor were any tidings to be heard of her: yet each rising morning was welcomed by some new hopethe evening brought with it disappointment. At length hope was no more; despair usurped her place, and the mansion which was once the mansion of peace became the habitation of pale, dejected melancholy.
The cheerful smile that was wont to adorn the face of Mrs. Temple was fled, and had it not been for the support of unaffected piety, and a consciousness of having ever set before her child the fairest example, she must have sunk under this heavy affliction.
Since, said she, the severest scrutiny can not charge me with any breach of duty, to have deserved this severe chastisement, I will bow before the Power who inflicts it with humble resignation to His will; nor shall the duty of a wife be totally absorbed in the feelings of the mother; I will endeavor to appear more cheerful, and by appearing in some measure to have conquered my own sorrow, alleviate the sufferings of my husband, and rouse him from that torpor into which this misfortune has plunged him. My father, too, demands my care and attention: I must not, by a selfish indulgence of my own grief, forget the interest those two dear objects take in my happiness or misery: I will wear a smile on my face, tho the thorn rankles in my heart; and if by so doing, I in the smallest degree contribute to restore their peace of mind, I shall be amply rewarded for the pain the concealment of my own feelings may occasion.
Note 1. Chichester lies distant from Portsmouth seventeen and one-half miles. Portsmouth then as now was the chief naval arsenal of England, it fortifications being the most important in Great Britain. Its harbor lies close to Spithead, where 1,000 ships of the line, sheltered by the Isle of Wight, could safely ride. Here, in 1782, was lost the Royal George, of 108 guns, with nearly one thousand men on boarda disaster now remembered mainly because it was the subject of Cowpers familiar poem beginning
Note 2. The war preparations here indicated were those which followed the Boston Tea Party of December, 1773. General Gage, having been sent to Boston as Governor of Massachusetts and the Port Bill having been passed by Parilament, reinforcements were being dispatched to America in support of vigorous measures against the rebellious colonists. [back]